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What Is a Contingency Fee?

Episode 56: Calloway County attorney Jeff Roberts answers the question, what is a contingency fee.  He handles personal injury cases (including car wrecks, motorcycle accidents and trucking collisions), workers’ comp claims and social security disability claims on a contingency fee basis.  This type of fee makes it much easier for someone who’s been injured to hire an attorney.

Contingency Fees in General

This type of fee is contingent upon the recovery.  If there is no recovery, there is no fee.  Attorneys normally charge a percentage of any money they recover on the behalf of their client either via a settlement or jury verdict.

A contingency fee allows anyone to have access to the legal system, after an injury.  If you had to pay a retainer and an hourly rate, many people may not be able to afford to pay an attorney to represent them. 

Attorney Jeff Roberts explains a contingency fee

Contingency Fee Percentages Vary

Jeff explains that the percentage charged by an attorney changes by the type of case and the which firm is handling the case. 

Other Fees and Expenses

In Kentucky, there are fees and expenses associated with handling your case.  These are in addition to the attorney fees.  Payment of those fees are the responsibility of the client, at the end of the case.  However, at the Roberts Law Office, even those fees and expenses are handled on a contingency fee.  Not every firm handles these the same way.

While Jeff will advance the cost of the fees and expenses related to your case, if he loses your case, he does not ask the client to reimburse him.  It was his decision to take on your case and you placed a lot of trust in him to do his best.  Jeff takes that responsibility very seriously.

Why Did an Attorney Turn Down My Case?

Jeff explains that if takes on a case for an injured client, he has a lot of skin in the game.  The expenses related to expert witnesses, depositions, travel, case filing fees and more.  There are situations in which an attorney might not be sure he/she can win the case or it may be a flimsy set of facts that might not merit a significant financial settlement.  It’s likely the expenses and fees could be larger than the ultimate award.  For this reason, and others, an attorney may decide not to take your case.  They could dedicate months or years on the case they aren’t sure is strong enough to win.

Contingency Fees for a Personal Injury Case

At the Roberts law office, Jeff handles a variety of types of personal injury cases.  The vast majority of these are car wrecks or motorcycle accidents. 

For car wreck and motorcycle cases, he charges 33.3% (or 1/3) of the recovery, plus the reimbursement of related fees and expenses.  As stated earlier, the attorney fee, fees and expenses are contingent upon Jeff successfully settling your case or winning a verdict at trial.

Some law firms are currently charging 35-40% for car wreck cases.  Other contracts start at 33.3% for a pre-trial settlement.  That fee increases if they have to go to trial.  Then, the fee increases again if they have to appeal the decision.  That’s not how Jeff handles the situation.

When Jeff Roberts takes your case, that fee is to handle your case to its completion.  This is regardless of how far he has to take the case.  It remains 33.3%.

A Special 40% Provision

Jeff does have a special provision in his contract which would increase the fee to 40%, based on a situation he heard about by another firm.  He states he’s never had to use this provision, but he wants to explain it.  The attorney handling the case recommended the client accept a certain settlement dollar amount, if the opposing side were to offer it.  It would be a fair and reasonable number.  The insurance company actually did get to that number.  The client rejected the offer and the case went to trial.  At the conclusion of the trial, the final number was actually less than what the insurance company had offered before the trial.  Had the client followed the attorney’s advice, they would have received more than they did after the trial. 

For this reason, Jeff and others decided to insert a special provision into their attorney fee contracts increasing the fee, if there’s an offer the attorney recommends in writing but the client rejects the offer on the table.  Again, he’s never had to use this provision.

People trust Jeff Roberts and his reputation for fair and honest legal work.  Most of his clients are willing to take his advice, based on his 30+ years of experience practicing injury law.  Ultimately, it’s the client’s decision. 

Recognized Knowledge and Experience

It’s not uncommon for other attorneys across the state to contact Jeff to have him help with a case.  If Jeff associates with another attorney’s case, it does not affect the attorney fee contract you already have in place.  Even though the original attorney and Jeff are now working together on the case, the original percentage will be divide between the attorneys.

Contingency Fees for a Workers’ Compensation Case

Jeff explains that workers’ comp claims are handled under the administrative law system, which is different from civil law used for motor vehicle accident claims.

The vast majority of workers’ comp cases Jeff handles are done on a contingency fee basis.  There is a small group of cases that are medical fee disputes.  He’ll explain how those are handled, later in this episode.

For the normal workers’ comp claim, the fee is set by the law.  It’s not up to the attorney.  The fee is also capped in a worker’s compensation case.  The current attorney fees according to the law are:

  • 20% on the first $5,000
  • 15% on the next $15,000
  • 10% of anything over that first $20,000
  • Total attorney fees are capped at $18,000 or 20% of the award

Similar to civil cases, Jeff handles the attorney fees and reimbursement for fees and expenses on a contingency fee basis.

Jeff also points out that the fee he charges his client at the end of a workers’ comp case still has to be approved by an administrative law judge.  It’s another safeguard for injured Kentucky workers.

Medical Fee Disputes in Workers’ Compensation Cases

In most worker’s comp claims Jeff settles, future medical expenses are “left open.”  This means the workers’ comp insurance carrier will have to pay reasonable and necessary expenses for medical treatment on an ongoing basis, after the claim is settled.  It’s left open for minimum of 15 years from the date of accident.  It’s potentially a lifetime obligation.

A medical fee dispute arises if the insurance carrier challenges on a basis of that a particular expense is not reasonable or necessary.  They could argue the treatment isn’t necessary or related to the work injury. 

When this happens, if the case gets litigated, the doctor simply gets paid and the client will receive the treatment.  There’s no money actually going to the client.  In this situation, the attorney fee is paid by the client.  In rare cases, the judge can order the insurance carrier pay the attorney fee. 

In these types of situations, Jeff will charge a retainer and an hourly rate.  This is how most other attorneys also handle medical fee disputes.

Contingency Fees for a Social Security Disability Claim

To clarify, Jeff is not talking about social security retirement.  He’s focusing on disability claims.  They are different funds.  The fees for social security disability insurance (SSDI) and for social supplemental security income (SSI) are handled the same way from an attorney fee standpoint.

Jeff handles these on a contingency fee basis.  The social security judge has to approve the fee agreement.  The Social Security Administration will pay the attorney fee to the client and it will then be dispersed to the attorney. 

Jeff charges 25% of the past due benefits, subject to a cap.  The cap can change.  However, it’s currently capped at $7,200. 

Jeff specifies that related expenses and fees are also handled on a contingency fee basis.  This amount would be deducted from the past due benefits (“back pay”). 

Social security is a federal program.  Jeff is licensed to handle these types of cases in all 50 states.  He handles many cases in Kentucky and Tennessee.  However, it’s not uncommon for his client to live in other states, for a variety of reasons.

An Attorney Can Only Handle Specific Expenses

By law, an attorney is only allowed to advance expenses and fees specifically related to the case.  The cost of medical treatment is not something Jeff could cover on behalf of the client.  Rent expense is also prohibited from being paid by the attorney on behalf of his/her client.  Doing so would be an ethical violation, which could actually cause the attorney to lose his/her law license.

In conclusion, contingency fees enable injured people to pursue justice in our legal system.  The ability to avoid having to pay an attorney upfront makes it much easier file a claim or lawsuit for your damages. 

Jeff Roberts Represents Injured Clients Throughout Kentucky

With offices located in Calloway County and now Christian County, Jeff has a history of representing personal injury clients, workers’ compensation clients and social security disability clients across the state.  He’s represented clients from Paducah, Bowling Green, Louisville, Covington, Whitesville and many other Kentucky locations.  He’s not just a Western Kentucky injury attorney. 

We hope you found this episode insightful and helpful.  Thank you for listening!

Is It Time to Speak with an Attorney about Your Injury Claim?

The office phone number is (270) 753-0053 or toll free at 800-844-5108.  For more information, visit This podcast is meant to provide information and is not legal advice.  Jeff’s principal office is located at 509 Main Street, Murray, Kentucky.  Co-host Jim Ray is a non-attorney spokesperson.  This is an advertisement.