It is common knowledge that in Georgia, the average injury lawyer charges 1/3 of the gross of an injury settlement if the case is resolved before a lawsuit has to be filed and 40% if it has to be filed. It is important to know that the 40% typically kicks in upon the filing of the suit, not when trial actually starts.
These numbers can be shocking to some people. Why is my lawyer getting almost half of my case value and if medical bills or health insurance needs to be repaid, why is the client getting less than the lawyer sometimes? These are fair questions and a recent argument before the Georgia Supreme Court has some answers for the consumer.
Georgia Department of Corrections v. Couch was argued to the Court last week. The case involved a prisoner who had his urethra severed in a fall while working on the Warden’s house. The plaintiff’s lawyers brought the case against the Department of Corrections and made a very reasonable demand of $24,000 to settle the case under Georgia’s Offer of Judgment statute. The State refused to pay anything and the lawyers were forced to continue litigating the case all the way to trial where the jury returned a verdict of $105,417 to the plaintiff. Under Georgia’s Offer statute, the loser has to pay the winner’s attorneys fees unless they are close on their own offer. The Plaintiffs lawyers showed the trial court that they had spent 370 attorney hours working on the case getting it through to verdict at an average rate in the industry of $250.00 per hour.
You read that right. To get a complicated case to trial it can take 370 hours of work. If Plaintiff’s had to pay the lawyers out of pocket, that comes to over $90,000 to get a $105,417 verdict. It’s not easy to get to trial.
The argument at the Supreme Court involves only one issue that concerns us and that is should a Plaintiff’s lawyer be entitled to get the 40% fees under the offer statute, which in this case totals around $43,000 or the $93,000 that hourly would have totaled. In huge cases lawyers of course want the percentage fee, but in run of the mill complex trial cases, the hourly is much bigger.
The point is for cases that are litigated, the client is actually getting a good deal. The situation is reversed when cases are simple and easily settled out pre-suit. There is is hard to argue sometimes that the client gets the better end of the deal. This is especially true when there is a bad injury and the client likely could have recovered the insurance limits of the policy without the lawyer’s help. The lawyer becomes part of the problem unless they are untangling a lien structure or dealing with an Estate.
It is for this reason that our Firm charges 29% before litigation is filed. We feel it is important for the client to get the best possible deal.