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Understanding the Importance of Contingency Fee Agreements

Many portrayals of attorneys in TV, movies, and even newspaper stories paint the picture of legal professionals who are greedy and only out for maximizing their own pocketbook. Unfortunately, these stereotypes actual influence public opinion and sometimes seep into actual policy matters affecting the legal professional and the civil justice system as a whole.

For example, contingency agreements are often looked at with suspicion. Many personal injury cases, including Chicago nursing home neglect matters, are taken via contingency fee arrangements. This basically means that the plaintiff does not have to pay for attorney fees, court costs, or other expenses unless they recover. The payments are then made out of this recovery.

CJ&D Study
Recently the Center for Justice and Democracy issued a new report which emphasizes the critical role of fee arrangements. The full report is entitled Courthouse Cornerstone: Contingency Fees and Their Importance for Everyday Americans.

The report notes how the fee arrangement has been around for hundreds of years. The purpose of the arrangement is clear: allowing everyone harmed by negligence access to the civil justice system regardless of their economic situation. Justice should never be available only to the wealthy. This fee system ensures that legitimate injuries do not go without recourse simply because the person hurt does not have enough money to hire an attorney. Not only that, but plaintiffs are often able to pursue the most able of attorneys related to their specific need–not just those who happen to be charging the least. You can be sure that large insurance companies are hiring the best legal defense they can find, and it seems logical to support a system that allows injured parties the same, even though their coffers do not even run a fraction as deep.

For example, consider a nursing home neglect case where a resident is left in bed without proper nutrition or hydration for weeks on end. She is not properly re-positioned or cared for and she develops bed sores down to the bone. The neglect by caregivers is obvious, as the senior’s condition is abysmal. She lives in constant pain. As with most local nursing home residents, the senior is on Medicaid, having virtually no money of her own or means to make additional income. There is no way that the senior can afford to hire an attorney to hold the nursing home accountable. The costs and fees associated with pursuing these cases is well beyond her means–and that of most middle class families. Should the nursing home get off without any accountability because the resident that they harm is financially poor? Contingency fee arrangements change that by providing a clear path for the senior to hire supremely competent attorneys experienced in these cases to pursue justice.

The Filtering Role
One often overlooked side effect of contingency fee arrangements is the way that they filter questionable cases from ever being filed. In all of these cases, the attorneys bear the risk of loss. If a case does not result in a favorable settlement or verdict then the attorneys receives nothing for the time spent on the matters and lose the costs already doled out. This has the effect of incentivizing lawyers not to take cases that might be questionable. For all the talk by those pushing tort reform, they forget that the attorneys themselves are the ones who stand to lose financially if a case is brought without the means to fairly prove the claims.

See Other Blog Posts:

Understanding Medicaid and Long-Term Senior Care

Levin & Perconti Settle Illinois Nursing Home Fall Case