What is the Standard Contingency Fee For a Car Accident Lawyer?

Here's how contingency fees work in a car accident case, and the percentage you can expect your lawyer to take out of your financial recovery.

There isn’t necessarily a "standard" percentage when it comes to contingency fee agreements in car accident cases, but it’s normal for an attorney to take around one-third of any settlement or court award earned on behalf of a client. That's the short answer. For the longer answer (including some key details to consider), read on.

What is a Contingency Fee?

Taking a step back for a moment, a contingency fee arrangement is one where the attorney agrees to represent the client with the understanding that the attorney will only collect a fee if the case is resolved in favor of the client -- in other words, the client receives either:

So, the attorney’s fee is "contingent" upon a successful outcome to the case.

How are "Costs" Handled?

With contingency fee agreements, the idea (as you’ve no doubt read or heard in lawyer ads) is that "You don't pay if you don’t win." That’s not always technically true, though. You need to read the fine print of your contingency fee agreement and determine whether you will be responsible for "costs" associated with your case -- that includes things like filing fees, costs of photocopying, expert witness fees, et cetera.

In many contingency agreements, costs will be absorbed by the attorney as they arise, but if you receive a settlement or court award, the costs will be deducted from that final amount, on top of the agreed-upon contingency percentage. One thing you want to be sure of is that you’re not on the hook to pay for costs even if your case isn’t successful.

Contingency Fee Agreements Are For Plaintiffs Only

Another point worth mentioning is that a contingency fee agreement is only an option when an attorney is representing a plaintiff -- the one filing the car accident lawsuit and seeking compensation from the at-fault driver (the defendant in the lawsuit).

When you're the defendant (the one being sued), if you have liability car insurance, your policy almost certainly mandates that the car insurance company provide (and pay for) an attorney to represent you in the lawsuit. This is part of the insurance company's "duty to defend."

If you don't have car insurance, or if the limits of your coverage have been exceeded and the insurance company is no longer under an obligation to pay for an attorney to defend the lawsuit, you can hire an attorney on your own, but you'll probably need to pay that attorney a hefty hourly fee (anywhere from around $150 to $500 per hour, depending on where you live and the attorney's experience/reputation).

Learn more about how much car accident lawyers cost.

A Typical Contingency Fee is 33 Percent in a Car Accident Case

Now, back to the original question. It’s pretty typical for an attorney to set a contingency fee percentage anywhere between 25 percent and 40 percent when agreeing to represent the plaintiff in a car accident case (33 percent may be the closest there is to a "standard"). There may be specific guidelines and limits set by statute or by attorney ethics rules in your state.

In many personal injury cases, the attorney’s contingency fee percentage is determined on a "sliding scale," depending on when the case is resolved. For example, an attorney may charge:

  • 25 percent if the case settles before a car accident lawsuit needs to be filed
  • 33 percent if a lawsuit is filed but the case settles before trial, and
  • 40 percent if the case goes to trial.

Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim.

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