The "Poor Man's Keys to the Courthouse"

Spring and summer bring pleasant weather, but they also bring a high number of unpleasant accidents. More people are hurt in these seasons because they are outside and more active. I don't advocate hiring a lawyer and making a claim unless two conditions are met. First, the other party's negligence or carelessness caused the injury. Second, the injury is serious.

Bruises, small sprains, and other minor injuries shouldn't clog the courts. Assuming these conditions are met, how does an injured person get a lawyer if he's not wealthy enough to pay an hourly fee for legal services? The answer is: by hiring the lawyer on a contingency. That means that if the attorney wins the case for the injured person, he or she gets paid for the work. On the other hand, if the case is not settled or tried successfully for the client, the lawyer gets no pay.

In England, a very descriptive phrase is applied to our contingent fee system for injury cases. It's simply, "No win, no fee." Here, we sometimes say the contingent fee system in injury cases is the "poor man's keys to the courthouse." Injured people can get the best and most experienced lawyers available by agreeing to pay them a percentage of their recovery, which is the amount they get paid by the defendant's insurance company. The fee usually works out to 1/3 of that amount. If it weren't for lawyers agreeing to work for free unless they win, most people who are hurt and can't work because of their injuries would never be able to afford legal services.

In Florida and most other states, this system is used in worker's compensation cases, too. In some kinds of cases, like criminal and divorce cases, it is illegal for a lawyer to work on a contingency. In addition to providing access to the courts for those who cannot afford to pay, the contingent fee system gives the attorney powerful motivation to work hard and well on a client's case. The courthouse is open to everyone, not just the rich.

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