What Are the “Case Expenses” Charged By Lawyers Who Accept Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases on A Contingent Fee Basis?

Lawyers who work on personal injury and wrongful death cases in Tennessee and other states often work on a contingent fee.  These lawyers also often include a provision in the fee agreement with a client that addresses the subject of litigation expenses.  This post addresses the topic of litigation expenses, and will educate potential personal injury and wrongful death clients what types of litigation expenses they will be asked to pay.

At the outset it is important to remember that the fee agreement with the lawyer controls the amount and basis of the attorney fee and will address the subject of litigation expenses.  The vast majority of personal injury and wrongful death lawyers advance all litigation expenses and expect that the litigation expenses will be repaid at the end of the case if the case is successful.  Some lawyers advance litigation expenses and expect to be repaid the expenses whether or not the case is successful.  Other lawyers do not advance the expenses of litigation or will agree to fund only a certain amount of litigation expenses.

Litigation expenses often include the following types of expenditures:

  • Court filing fees.  In Tennessee it costs approximately $300 to file a personal injury or wrongful death case in court.
  • Service fees.  When a lawsuit is filed it must be formally delivered ("served") on the person or persons who are sued.  There is an expense associated with delivery of these papers.
  • Fees for depositions. Depositions are typically recorded by a court reporter.  Court reporter fees run about $2000 per day.  If the deposition is videotaped the videographer charges another $1000 or so per day.
  • Expert witnesses.  Expert witnesses are not required in every case.   For example, the simple Tennessee auto accident will usually not require an accident reconstruction expert.  On the other hand, a Tennessee trucking accident may require multiple experts, including not only an accident reconstructionist but also a trucking safety expert and perhaps other experts as well.  Medical malpractice cases almost always require several experts.  Expert witnesses are often very expensive;.  For example, complicated automobile product liability cases frequently require experts whose total charges will exceed $100,000.
  • Charges for medical experts.  Most personal injury cases and wrongful death cases require medical proof of the cause of the injury or death and, in injury cases, medical evidence is necessary to demonstrate the impact of the injury on the life of the victim.  Doctors who give this testimony are usually those who treated the victim.  They charge between $400 and $1500 per hour to meet with the victim’s lawyer and to give deposition testimony.
  • Travel expenses.  if the lawyer has to travel in connection with the case, the lawyer will charge mileage and other travel costs such as hotel rooms and meals.  if the lawyer has to fly to another city on the case, the lawyer will incur airfare that will be charged to the client’s file.
  • Exhibit fees.  It costs money to have exhibits prepared.  Some exhibits cost almost nothing.  Other exhibits (an exemplar vehicle, for example) may cost thousands of dollars.)
  • Other expenses.  Lawyers may charge for postage, long-distance telephone fees, and other out-of-pocket expenses.  Jury or other types of consultant fees may also be charged.

Once again, the amount of the expenses that will be incurred in any case depends of the type of case.  Cases with more serious injuries typically require more litigation expenses than those with minor injuries.  Medical malpractice and products liability cases almost always result in substantial litigation expenses.   Litigation expenses tend to increase if a lawsuit is filed and especially after depositions begin.  Litigation expenses can increase dramatically at trial if expert witnesses have to appear live in the courtroom, particularly if they live in another state.  Court reporter fees at trial can also be substantial, once again running about $2000 per day for a transcript.  If daily transcript is ordered court reporter fees can double or triple the regular charge.

I suggest that people looking to hire a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer ask these questions about litigation expenses:

  • Will the lawyer advance 100% of the expenses?
  • Is the client obligated to re-pay the lawyer for any of the advanced expenses if the case is unsuccessful?
  • Ask the lawyer for his or her good faith estimate of the case expenses.  Do not be surprised if the lawyer cannot answer this question at the first meeting.  If the case is complicated, the lawyer may have to think about the answer to this question.
  • Does the lawyer charge interest or other fees on advanced expenses?  Some lawyers do, and the interest and fees can be substantial.
  • Does the lawyer "mark-up" any charges made by outside vendors?

Finally, a person looking for a personal injury lawyer should make a judgment about whether the lawyer can afford to advance the money necessary to prosecute the case.  This judgment is made by looking at the lawyer’s offices, his or her appearance, and other factors.

Here is the litigation expense policy of our firm (Law Offices of John Day, P.C.) on litigation expenses in contingent fee cases:

  • We typically advance 100% of litigation expenses.
  • We typically do not ask for reimbursement of expenses in the event the case is unsuccessful.
  • Our fee agreement includes a written summary of the types of expenses that will likely be incurred in personal injury and wrongful death cases.
  • We do not "mark-up" court reporter bills, expert bills, or any other out-of-pocket expenses.  We charge the exact same amount the service provider charged us.
  • We do not charge interest or other fees on advanced expenses.
  • We make every reasonable effort to keep expenses as low as possible while still spending the amount of money that is reasonably necessary under the facts of the case in light of the potential recovery.

Can we be of assistance to you in a personal injury or wrongful death case?  If so, please call us toll-free at 866-812-8787 or complete this Contact Form and we will call you.