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How much does it cost to hire a San Diego car accident lawyer?

If you have ever seen an ad for a personal injury attorney, just about all of them have a "no fee unless you win" or some other tagline that promises nothing has to be paid to hire them. Any good injury attorney will handle your car accident case on a "contingency fee basis." In a nutshell, this means you will not have to pay anything up front to hire an attorney for your case. You only will only owe the attorney a fee if he or she obtains a settlement  or wins a verdict at trial. Let's focus on exactly what that means. 

A quick note - this article focuses on a contingency fee case for the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. Attorneys that do defense work are usually paid an hourly rate and in most accident cases are paid by your insurance company. 

What is a contingency fee for a car accident case?

A contingency fee means that you don't pay anything unless your attorney "wins" your case. This means that the attorney will front all of the expenses of the litigation and will work on your case through settlement or trial. 

What kinds of expenses are covered in a contingency fee car accident case?

Expenses in civil litigation can add up quickly. The following are examples of some of the costs that can be incurred in a San Diego car accident case:
  • Investigator fees - $1,200 to $3,000
  • Filing fees - $435 (plus electronic filing costs)
  • Depositions - $600 - $1,200 per deposition up to $2,000 or more if it is by video
  • Expert witness fees - $2,500 up to $30,000
  • Court reporter fees - vary by count but can be as high as $400 per day
  • Trial costs - $1,500 for a simple trial up to $30,000 or more depending on technology and staff needed
  • Appellate filing costs - $1,200 - $2,000
In a contingency fee case, the lawyer handling the case will front all of these fees and will not be paid until the case is settled or one. 

How is a lawyer paid in a contingency car accident case?

Any time a lawyer is hired to work on a case, the scope of the work should be set forth in a fee agreement. This is definitely required by the California State Bar in any California based car accident case (or any type of case for that matter). In this agreement, the lawyer will set out how he is paid. In the vast majority of these cases the lawyer is paid a percentage of the gross amount recovered and is reimbursed all costs. 

A quick example. Let's say you hired Lawyer A for you San Diego car accident case and he charges a 1/3 contingency fee plus any costs. Your case is litigated to a settlement of $30,000 and your attorney spends $1,500 on costs. This means that the lawyer will be paid $11,500 total. That includes 1/3 of the gross amount ($10,000), plus the costs that were fronted ($1,500).

What if I want to fire my lawyer? Does he still get paid?

This question is best answered by looking to the contract itself. In most contingency fee cases, there is language that a lawyer will be able to put a lien on a settlement if the client decides to terminate the attorney prior to settlement. This prevents a dishonest client from firing a lawyer right before settling a case. Also, the lawyer would have a significant amount of costs involved in a case if they have litigated it for some time. Our best advice to anyone looking to hire a different lawyer for an accident case is to let your lawyer know that you are looking to do that and get something in writing regarding what they want to be paid. If they were just hired on a case and have done little to nothing, there would not be much of a reason that they should be paid anything. 

How do I get help with my San Diego Car Accident Case?

To speak to an experienced attorney about your case, call Rist Law Office at (619) 377-4660 or contact us here. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis and there is no fee for an initial consultation. 
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