Most personal injury lawyers in Pennsylvania work on what is called a "contingent fee basis". This means that you owe no fees or costs up-front. You pay nothing to us unless we win your case. The amount you would pay as a client at the conclusion of your case is equal to a percentage of your total recovery plus costs that are advanced by the lawyer which can include the price of ordering medical records, taking video depositions of doctors or for the drafting of reports from experts and investigators. Most people could not afford to fund the costs involved in pursuing a personal injury claim. The costs we pay for you in advance are like an interest free loan which we only reimburse ourselves if we win. There is no down side for the client and the client does not have to advance any of the costs to our office.
What do we do for you for this fee? For start, we protect you from destroying your own case. As intelligent and savvy as you may be, if you are not a lawyer or an insurance adjuster, you do not know what you are doing handling a personal injury case. In fact, I have had many clients come to me over the years where the client was represented by a lawyer who didn't know what he was doing. How could this happen? If a lawyer has a "general practice" and handles all kinds of cases like landlord tenant matters and breach of contract matters, he is not focused on personal injury matters. This is the classic example of the proverbial "Jack of all trades, master of none". Even for someone with three years of law school and decades of general practice, some lawyers are not good at personal injury cases and really should not be handling them. Think of it this way: would you have a urologist operate on your heart? Of course not! The law is as specialized as medicine and you owe it to yourself to have an attorney who focuses all or most of his or her law practice on personal injury cases. This is the way you will maximize the result in your case. Your personal injury lawyer's office should operate like a well-oiled machine in moving your case forward. Some cases that have come into my office over the years have been the result of the client not hearing from their old lawyer regarding the progress of their case. Calls can go unreturned because the lawyer is too involved in the myriad other types of cases he is handling or because he does not understand the best strategies for winning the case because he simply does not have the experience in personal injury cases.
Your personal injury lawyer should meet with your (whether in person in the office or virtually in a Zoom type meeting if that is better, and tell you everything you should expect and how he or she will handle the various stages of the case. You will have all necessary or desired medical treatment while the lawyer is getting updates from you regarding the progress of your care and if and when you can return to work or school. Your lawyer will be communicating when necessary with the various insurance adjusters involved in the case so you don't have to, to update the insurance companies about the status of your injuries and what is likely to occur in terms of physical therapy or surgery.
When you have completed medical care for your accident injuries, your lawyer should gather all bills and records and draft a demand letter to send to the defendant insurance company and, if you have Underinsured Motorist Coverage, to the adjuster for your own company. Then, after the insurance adjusters have a chance to review the demand letter, which can be 10-20 pages or more, there may be additional information requested for evaluation. Sometimes those requests are appropriate and sometimes they are "fishing expeditions" to find weaknesses in the case. If your lawyer is experienced and savvy, he or she will know exactly what should and should not be provided at this stage. Once proper information is provided, the adjuster(s) will make an offer. Negotiations will begin and there will be a lot of "back and forth" to determine whether an amicable resolution or settlement can be reached that satisfies the client. If the insurance company is unreasonable and will not offer what the case is at least fair and reasonable for your case, then a law suit must be filed to move the case to litigation and force the issue.
The costs and time involved in filing a law suit in a case increase dramatically once the law suit is filed. Keep in mind there is never a guarantee as to how such a case will turn out so it behooves your lawyer to make a very serious effort to try to get a high dollar figure on your case well before the deadline or "statute of limitations" to at least give you the option of settling. An inexperienced lawyer might wait too long to start the process which can put your case in jeopardy. We try to file suit six months prior to the two year statute of limitations in a case in PA if at all possible, and if you have completed medical care, we like to be negotiating well before that to see if it is possible to settle the case for you if that is what you wish.
All of the above and more is what is provided to you for the contingent fee. Keep in mind that your lawyer may not receive any compensation at all for your case if there isn't a victory. And your lawyer could spend hundreds of hours of time and many thousands in costs which will never be reimbursed if you lose the case. Think about this-how many hours would you work at your job without any guarantee of payment for your services? This is what we do every day. But if we didn't do it, you wouldn't know how and would likely not be able to afford all the costs to do it. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying to me than handing over a large amount of money to a badly injured client to help him put his life back together after a serious accident.
If you have any questions at all about this process, don't hesitate to call Worthington Law Group at 215-576-5150. We are happy to explain anything you might not understand about your case and about how Pennsylvania law applies to it.