1. How much will it cost?
Almost every personal injury claim is handled on a contingent fee basis. This means that the attorney is paid 'contingent' upon a successful outcome of your case - in other words, there is no legal fee unless there is a successful recovery of money. Therefore, you do not have to worry about payment of any legal fees unless the attorney obtains a settlement or verdict for you. For more information, see my discussion on this topic: How Much Does This Cost?
2. How is the contingent fee paid?
The fee is based upon a percentage that is negotiated with the attorney at the beginning of the case. Traditionally, personal injury fees have been 33.33% of the total settlement amount. Nowadays many firms are charging 40%, at times 45%. At our firm only very complex and time-consuming cases have a fee of 40%, almost all fees are 33.33%. Again, for more information see my discussion on this topic: How Much Does This Cost?
3. Who pays the fee?
This is a good question. The settlement is the amount negotiated by your attorney with the defendant or the defendant's insurance company. In fact, attorney's do not typically take cases unless the defendant is indeed insured. It does little good to obtain a judgment against a defendant who is penniless. Therefore, some cases get turned down because the defendant is simply without insurance to indemnify the defendant for your loss. However, in a car wreck, the defendant may be uninsured but you can still pursue a claim against your own automobile insurance company if you carry uninsured motorists coverage. Check the declarations page of your policy to see if you have this coverage.
4. Are there any other costs?
Yes. In addition to legal fees, the attorney will expect to be reimbursed for any costs that he advances on your behalf. Unfortunately, your doctors and medical providers will charge the attorney for your medical records. Additionally, there are fees for expert witnesses that may be needed in your case and court costs. A good personal injury attorney will advance these costs on your behalf and only expect reimbursement if your case has a successful verdict or settlement.
You may also need to reimburse the medical costs paid by your health insurer or a governmental agency. The medical expenses paid by your automobile policy do not need to be reimbursed. However, after the automobile coverage runs out, your bills are paid by your health insurer. If you have no health insurance, sometimes Medicare, Medicaid or if applicable, workers' compensation may pay the bills. Nearly in all instances the health insurer or government agency wants to be reimbursed from your settlement amount. However, in most cases Attorney Stoehr can negotiate these reimbursement claims, otherwise known as medical liens. There is no cost to you for Attorney Stoehr to negotiate these amounts.
5. Is my settlement taxable?
Fortunately the answer is "no" to this question. As of this writing, there is no federal income taxation or Pennsylvania state taxation for a compensatory personal injury settlement. This is true even if your personal injury claim includes lost wages. Therefore, even though you need to pay legal fees and costs, and reimburse the medical provider, the net amount to you is tax free, which is great under the circumstances.
6. Why is the contingent fee so high?
A contingent fee of 33.33% may seem high to a potential new client. Keep in mind that the attorney is working free for months or even years before your case gets resolved. During this time he has overhead expenses to pay to keep his office open, and he also has to pay himself. The attorney is taking a great risk that the case may not work and he gets paid nothing.
The attorney is hopefully spending a lot of time in getting your case settled. Instead of sending you a monthly invoice, which is based upon hourly billings, the attorney does not charge you anything while he is handling your case. The goal is to persuade the defendant's insurance company to pay your claim. The attorney then takes a percentage of the overall settlement amount.
Representation under a contingent fee is ideal for a client: You do not have to pay anything unless the attorney gets you money. This should provide your attorney with the incentive to obtain the highest settlement possible, in the least amount of time. Attorney Stoehr has represented injured victims on this basis for over 20 years. There is no fee until your case settles, and Attorney Stoehr will advance your claims costs for you while handling your claim. He will not get paid a fee, or reimbursed the costs, unless there is a financial recovery for you.
7. Should I expect my attorney to return my calls?
This seems to be the biggest complaint that clients have against their attorney. Understandably the attorney gets very busy and must prioritize his time. However, this is no excuse for not returning calls by the attorney or his staff to the caller within the same business day or, at the very least, within 24 hours. Attorney Stoehr and his staff can honestly say that returning calls and taking care of the client's needs is a top priority. See the testimonials of Attorney Stoehr's former clients who frequently comment about how well Attorney Stoehr's office serviced their needs.
8. Should I use a local attorney for my injury claim?
The answer is undoubtedly "yes." Local does not necessarily mean within the same town. For example, Attorney Stoehr services Altoona and Blair County and the surrounding counties. There is no need for a client within the region that Attorney Stoehr serves to hire a Pittsburgh or Philadelphia lawyer to handle the case. There seems to be a mystique that big-city lawyers are smarter or better. This is mistaken. Attorney Stoehr graduated from law school on the Dean's List, is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, and works with the same body of law as the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia attorneys. Because Attorney Stoehr is indeed local to west-central Pennsylvania clients, you can see him as often as you like. Your case is also handled by Attorney Stoehr personally, and not a paralegal or junior attorney. Finally, Attorney Stoehr is a former claims representative who used to work for the other side. This gives him great insight into how the insurance companies will view your claim.
9. Do we have to go to court?
Statistically most cases settle without having to go to trial. This is particularly true of automobile accident claims, dog bite cases, and other general personal injury claims. Nevertheless, the insurance company can be unreasonable and a lawsuit may need to be filed. The attorney will take you through the discovery phase, i.e., depositions and perhaps a medical examination by the insurance doctor. At some time during this phase, the case can still settle, at least by the time of jury selection. Attorney Stoehr prepares your case as if it will go to trial. This way he is prepared to fight it out in court on your behalf, if your claim would indeed go that far. See Attorney Stoehr's case results to see the type of cases he has successfully resolved.
10. Is there anything else to think about?
Sometimes an injured person has a legitimate claim but no source of payment for medical bills. Attorney Stoehr and his staff will seek out other sources of payment of your bills. In some instances, Attorney Stoehr will obtain an agreement for your doctor to treat you without charge, until your case settles. This is typically done through a letter of protection. In other instances, your medical provider will continue to treat you after your source of payment has exhausted. However, the provider will need to be paid for the services provided. Attorney Stoehr can often negotiate these outstanding sums for you.
It is important to note that there are various issues that need to be taken care of, in addition to simply handling the injury aspect of your claim. For example, there are the medical bills as stated above, medical liens, insurance matters, and at times, bill collectors. Attorney Stoehr commits that he and his staff will handle all of these matters for you at no additional fee or cost. In fact, some of these matters continue even after the settlement of your claim. It makes no difference, Attorney Stoehr will continue to take care of these matters long after the settlement of your claim at no additional fee.