February 5, 2013

Contingency Agreements Are Crucial to Help Families Following Birth Injuries

by Levin & Perconti

The legal system is time-consuming and expensive. That is particularly true in medical malpractice cases, including Chicago birth injury matters, because the factual issues are quite complex. Hiring an expert witness, combing through medical records, and interviewing all those involved in a matter takes time and resources. The reality is that if those harmed by malpractice related to childbirth were forced to come up with all those costs at the outset, most people would not have any way to use the civil justice system. The costs would be prohibitive.

Fortunately, in birth injury cases, as in virtually all personal injury matters, contingency fee arrangements are used to ensure justice is pursued for all--both rich and poor alike. Recently the Center for Justice & Democracy released a helpful new report on the subject entitled Courthouse Cornerstone: Contingency Fees and Their Importance for Everyday Americans. It offers a range of helpful information about how these systems work and the value that they provide to the community.

Contingency Fee Basics
The main idea in a contingency fee agreement is to allow a plaintiff in a case to pay for legal fees and costs out of a judgement or settlement amount instead of up front. If no judgement or settlement is forthcoming--either because the case is lost or the defendant cannot pay--then the plaintiff loses nothing.

The alternatives are grim. Without contingency fees, only those with significant resources could pay for a case. Others would have to either borrow the money or not pursue justice. Considering the significant risks of borrowing and the fear of crushing debt, many families might choose not to pursue even the most valid cases. Everyone loses in those situations, because accountability is lost. If those who commit errors do not have to worry about paying for the consequences so long as the injured party is not rich, then there is far less incentive to change to improve safety.

Legal Fairness & Efficiency
Besides keeping justice open to everyone, contingency fees also influence attorneys to ensure matters are handled efficiently and that only meritorious cases are brought. In all the clamor from tort reform advocates about frivolous lawsuits, the fact is completely glossed over that attorneys themselves are the ones who stand to lose if failed cases are brought.

Consider the alternative. Besides contingency fee arrangements, the most common way that attorneys are paid are via the billable hour. Like in many other professions, an attorney can charge an hourly rate and then bill the client for the specific work performed based on that amount of time. Under those conditions, an attorney stands to make the most profit by taking any cases from a paying client--regardless of the merit of the case. Similarly, the attorney can make more money by dragging out the matter so that more work hours (and payments) are required.

The exact opposite is true with contingency arrangements. What matters in these situations is fair and efficient settlements. The more time spent on a case does not necessarily mean more money for an attorney. Additionally, there is no benefit to bringing a case that an attorney does not feel can be proven in court. All that will happen in those cases is the attorney will spend significant time and firm resources without any return. A plaintiff’s law firm will not survive as a business if they take frivolous cases or work inefficiently.

See Other Blog Posts:

Insurance Companies: Never Deal With Them on Your Own

Legal Liability and Maternal Injuries