Interviewer: Are there any out-of-pocket fees that someone might have to pay before it’s deducted?
Daniel Hoarfrost: Well, there are no out-of-pocket fees, but there are out-of-pocket costs. What I basically tell my clients is that I don’t charge them for my time, per se, in an injury claim. It’s a contingent fee, which just means that it’s contingent on recovering from the other side. If we don’t recover anything, then I don’t get paid for my time. But there are what we call costs. They’re out of pocket expenses. In the early going, basically the settlement phase, the costs are fairly minimal. The only expense you run into is obtaining medical records or sometimes a letter from a doctor explaining the injuries and why they relate to the claim, so that’s fairly minimal – typically around 100 bucks or a few hundred if you have to get a letter from the doctor.
Once a lawsuit’s filed, there are a lot of costs that are involved that have to be taken into consideration because those will basically end up being paid by the client, usually by way of reduction of the recovery amount. There are filing fees with the court and court reporter fees. There are always depositions that are taken, and transcript fees, and then if you actually go to trial, the court charges you a trial fee and a fee for the jury. The primary expense involved is having to pay the doctor for expert witness fees because, at trial, you have to have a medical person explain what the nature of the injury was, and how it’s related to the accident claim. That can be quite expensive.
I always explain to people, “Before you make that decision to file the case, we need to have a further discussion about whether or not the likely result of the claim justifies the expense that’s going to be invested to get from the beginning to the end.”
Interviewer: Do the fees or costs also cover witnesses?
Daniel Hoarfrost: Yes, typically, although that varies a lot. There are subpoena fees if you actually have to subpoena somebody in to testify, but typically you don’t see that too often unless somebody needs a subpoena to convince their employer that they have to go to court and testify as opposed to taking time off. Generally, when you’re bringing an injury claim, you’re asking what we call “friendly witnesses” to testify on your behalf. You don’t like to have to resort to a subpoena and have somebody on the witness stand that’s not necessarily feeling friendly to your claim.
The primary witness fees are when you put an expert on, like a doctor or an accountant or somebody, to talk about wage earning capacity projections and that sort of thing. Those are professionals and they expect to be paid for their time, and that tends to be very expensive.
Most of those fees, except for the witness fees, or expert witness fees, are recoverable expenses, like filing fees and trial fees that the court charges. Assuming you win in court, the other side ends up having to pay you back. Unfortunately, except in unusual cases, the expert witness fees are not a recoverable expense, and that’s the primary one that you have to make a determination on whether the amount involved and the likelihood of success justifies the expenses that you’re going to have to pay out in order to get through a trial.