In part one of this FAQ, I discussed 1) the need to find a lawyer in your area, and; 2) concerns one should have if they are solicited by an attorney. Now we turn to legal fees:
3. How much are the legal fees in a negligence case?
Most New York personal injury law firms operate the same way:
First, there is no legal fee for an initial consultation. If the case is taken it is usually done on a contingency basis, which means that the lawyer gets paid only if the client gets paid. This is an incentive for the lawyer to only take good cases with serious injuries, and it relieves a burden from clients who would not otherwise be able to afford a good attorney.
Legal fees are governed by the Judiciary Law, which establishes a limit of 1/3 of any recovery as the fee, with the exception of medical and dental malpractice cases where the fee is lower (see below).
Over the course of the representation, there will be expenses that most attorneys will generally advance on behalf of the client, such as for medical records, experts, stenographers, and certain court filings. There may be exceptions to this, and a good attorney will candidly discuss them with you. (For example, if a settlement offer is made that the attorney recommends accepting, and the client refuses, the client might be asked to front any additional expenses.)
At the time of recovery, the firm will first reimburse themselves for the cash outlay for expenses and then do an apportionment of the remaining recovery. For example, if a case settles for $100 and there was $10 in expenses paid by the attorneys on behalf of the client, then the $10 would be paid back to the attorney and the remaining $90 would be used to determine the legal fee.
4. What are the fees in New York medical malpractice and hospital malpractice cases?
Medical, dental and hospital malpractice cases are also governed by the Judiciary Law, which sets forth a legal fee “sliding scale” structure that looks like this:
30% of the first $250,000 of the sum recovered;
25% of the next $250,000 of the sum recovered;
20% of the next $500,000 of the sum recovered;
15% of the next $250,000 of the sum recovered;
10% of any amount over 1,250,000 of the sum recovered.
Thus, while malpractice cases are significantly more difficult to bring, and cost a great deal more (due to the necessity of hiring additional experts), the fees are lower than in other New York personal injury matters. In fact, they are some of the lowest in the nation. Because of this, many New York firms have a much higher threshold barrier in taking malpractice cases. Essentially, the lower fees, greater expense and significant technical difficulty of bringing such suits has given virtual immunity to the medical profession for smaller claims. Samples of some of the New York medical malpractice cases my firm has handled can be viewed at this link, and they demonstrate the complexity of many matters.
In future FAQs, I hope to cover the need for speed in certain things, the issues around how to “value” a potential case, and other subjects.