When I sit down with a potential new client, one of the important things we go over is what the case is ultimately going to cost them financially. As with almost all attorneys on personal injury and wrongful death cases, the attorney fee is going to be a percentage of the money we are able to obtain for the client, and if there's no recovery, there's no fee. However, in each case we are going to have “costs”- money our firm has to write someone else a check for in order to best pursue the case. In almost all cases we will front those costs, but the ethical rules that govern our profession require that they ultimately be billed to the client at the end of the case, win or lose. We do not “mark up” our costs to make profit on them, we simply charge the client what we had to pay.
So, what amount costs are typical in a personal injury or wrongful death case? Unsatisfying as it may be, the answer is “it depends.” The possible types of costs include (but are not limited to):
- Obtaining medical and police investigation records;
- Hiring an investigator to interview witnesses or conduct other case work;
- Conference time with treating doctors;
- Court-imposed lawsuit filing fees;
- Testimony time for treating doctors;
- The time of expert witnesses to consult, review documents, write reports, and give testimony;
- Fees of court reporters and videographers for depositions.
This is just a small sampling of the possible costs in a given case, but I'd say these are the most common ones. Not all of these costs are going to be incurred in every case. Costs usually do not become significant if a case settles before a lawsuit is filed, because at that point they usually include only the costs of obtaining records and possibly consulting with one or two doctors. This can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
If a case goes into a lawsuit (also known as litigation) there are court fees and process server fees of anywhere from $300-700 depending on the jurisdiction the court is in. As a lawsuit progresses further, the costs usually increase significantly due to depositions, expert witness involvement, and ultimately testimony from all sorts of (sometimes highly costly) witnesses. The lion's share of the costs can sometimes be avoided if a settlement is reached more than a month before trial, because those last weeks are when witness deposits usually become non-refundable.
Ultimately, we must balance the desire to keep costs as low as reasonably possible with the ultimate objective of presenting the most effective case possible for the client. Our firm has established the reputation of being able and willing to outlay significant costs if the case demands it. Obtaining the best result for our clients is always paramount, whether it costs several hundred dollars, or (as can happen in a major injury case with complicated issues) tens of thousands. Most cases fall somewhere in between, and we develop a more accurate estimate of costs as the cases progresses.
In the end the case belongs to the client, and at the outset of representing a client we talk to them about when they want to be contacted and consulted about money we propose to spend on their behalf (such as only for major expenses, etc.). As part of consulting with you about your potential case, we'd be happy to go over the possible costs in more detail.