If you live in the state of New York and you’re thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should know about a (somewhat controversial) New York statute that places a limitation on the amount of legal fees that your attorney can collect for representing you. In this article, we’ll discuss New York’s “sliding scale” cap on contingency fees in medical malpractice cases, a state law that can be found at N.Y. Jud. Law section 474-a.
(Get more information on New York Medical Malpractice Laws.)
Contingency Fees and New York’s “Sliding Scale”
When an attorney agrees to represent you under a “contingency fee” in a medical malpractice case, he or she is agreeing to take a certain percentage of any economic recovery you get, either via settlement or after a civil trial. If you don’t “win,” the attorney doesn’t get paid (although always check the fine print to see whether you’re still on the hook for “costs” and other expenses related to the case.)
This kind of attorney fee agreement is common in personal injury cases, including those stemming from medical malpractice.
In New York, N.Y. Jud. Law section 474-a places a sliding scale “cap” on the percentage that an attorney can take as a fee after a successful medical malpractice case. The percentage that the attorney can collect goes down as the total amount of the settlement or award increases. Here are the details:
- The attorney can take 30 percent of the first $250,000 that the medical malpractice plaintiff receives.
- The attorney can take 25 percent of the next $250,000.
- The attorney can take 20 percent of the next $500,000.
- The attorney can take 15 percent of the next $250.000.
- The attorney can take 10 percent of any amount over $1.25 million.
The Future of Attorney Fees in N.Y. Medical Malpractice Cases
In early 2013, a bill was introduced in the New York State Senate (sponsored by Senator John A. DeFrancisco) which would repeal New York's sliding scale caps on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases. Here is the stated justification for Bill Number S554 and its call for the repeal of N.Y. Jud. Law section 474-a:
Since this statute was passed, experience has shown that the sliding scale fee schedule works to the detriment of the injured citizen. It creates an inherent conflict between the interest of the injured patient and the attorney that has agreed to take on the task of proving the case.
We'll keep you updated on the progress of this bill. Stay tuned.