I may have a medical malpractice case against my daughter's doctor. How much can I expect to pay in legal fees to move forward with my case?
For medical malpractice cases, attorneys who represent the plaintiff (the patient who has been injured by medical negligence) usually do so on a “contingency” basis, which means the attorney’s payment comes as a set percentage of what the plaintiff ends up receiving after a settlement or a successful jury trial. If the plaintiff receives no payment or ends up losing at trial, the attorney is not paid. But before you sign a contingency agreement, check to see if you will be on the hook for things like filing fees and other costs.
In a number of states, there are laws in place that limit the percentage that an attorney can receive in a medical malpractice case. Some states, like California, cap the contingency percentage as part of a sliding scale. The lawyer’s fee percentage goes down as the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff goes up.
In California, an attorney may not collect more than the following in representing a medical malpractice client:
* 40 percent of the first $50,000 recovered
* 33 and 1/3 percent of the next $50,000 recovered
* 25 percent of the next $500,000 recovered, and
* 15 percent of any amount over $600,000.
A few other states have similar “sliding scale” laws, although the percentages and dollar amounts vary, including Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.
In a handful of states, the court sets (or at least can consider the reasonableness of) the percentage that a plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer can receive after a successful case. For example, in Arizona, either party may request that the court review the reasonableness of an attorney fee agreement in a medical malpractice case. And in Tennessee, the court itself sets the amount that the attorney will receive, and the lawyer's "cut" may not exceed 33 and 1/3 percent.
by: David Goguen, J.D.
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