Talc-Asbestos Lawsuits: How Do Lawyers Get Paid

In talc-asbestos cases, lawyers are typically paid under a contingency fee agreement. Here’s what that means—and how “costs” can affect your settlement.

Most personal injury lawyers handle lawsuits on a “contingency fee” basis, and talc-asbestos lawsuits are no different. Under a contingency fee agreement, the attorney collects a fee for representing you only if you receive a favorable outcome in your case. If you’re considering working with an attorney in your talc-asbestos case, it’s important to understand how contingency fee agreements work—including the fine print on issues like "costs."

Contingency Fee Basics

Under a contingency fee agreement, your attorney takes a percentage of any settlement or court judgment you receive, and usually pays for all costs as the case proceeds. If your talc-asbestos case does not reach a settlement, and there is no court judgment in your favor, you typically do not owe the attorney anything.

A contingency fee is often 33%. Some attorneys will handle a talc-asbestos case on a "sliding scale," which works much the same way as a standard contingency fee arrangement, except the percentage goes up as the litigation progresses. For example, if the case settles before the lawyer has to file a lawsuit in civil court, the fee percentage might be 25%. If the plaintiff (the client) wins after a lawsuit is filed and the case goes all the way through trial, the attorney’s fee might be 40%. (Learn more about personal injury attorney fees.)

Some attorneys might have a policy of raising their contingency fee percentage once a talc case is assigned a trial date, because at that point the matter begins to demand more time. If an appeal is necessary, the attorney’s fee might go up as part of the contract, or the attorney might want to draw up a new contract—that is, if you decide to use the same attorney for the appeal.

Learn about recent lawsuits and other legal developments related to asbestos-tainted baby powder and other talcum products.

Typical “Costs” in a Talc-Asbestos Case

Costs and fees are two different things in a lawsuit over asbestos-tainted talc products. Costs are the expenses that the attorney or firm pays in order to move the case along toward settlement or judgment. Costs typically include:

Most plaintiffs' attorneys will try to keep costs down and not spend any money unnecessarily. If unable to settle, the attorney will usually be responsible for the costs. But it's important to make sure that ultimate financial responsibility for costs is spelled out in your fee agreement with your lawyer.

Different from costs, an attorney's fees are paid to compensate the attorney for his or her time, as well as the time of any support staff. Included in this fee is compensation for researching and drafting the complaint and motions, appearing in court, calling witnesses, reviewing documents, taking and defending depositions, and preparing for and putting on a trial.

(Read more about managing lawyer costs and expenses in a personal injury case.)

How Costs Are Calculated in a Talc-Asbestos Case

If you win your case, you will usually be on the financial hook for costs. But whether your attorney takes his or her contingency fee percentage before or after these costs are paid can make a significant difference in how much you ultimately receive.

For example, let’s say your talc-asbestos lawsuit goes to trial, and the jury awards you $200,000. (For more information, read about how much a talc-asbestos case is worth.) Your litigation costs are $25,000, and your attorney’s contingency fee percentage is 33%. If your litigation costs are paid before your attorney takes his or her contingency fee percentage, the attorney gets $57,750 (33% of $175,000) and you get $117,250 ($175,000 minus $57,750).

But if you pay for litigation costs after your attorney takes the contingency fee percentage, your attorney gets $66,000 (33% of $200,000) and you get $109,000 ($134,000 minus $25,000). The timing here results in an $8,250 difference in your settlement.

Again, these kinds of financial details—and whether you could be responsible for any expenses if you don't end up with a settlement or judgment—should be clearly stated in the agreement you sign.

Changing Lawyers in the Middle of Your Case

Let's say that sometime after you hire Attorney A, you decide to end the attorney-client relationship (for whatever reason) and take your talc-asbestos case to Attorney B at a different firm. Attorney A probably has a "lien" on any costs advanced toward your case, and on any proportional fees for representation, which will likely come out of any settlement or judgment Attorney B obtains on your behalf. The attorneys will sort this issue out between themselves, but it's something to keep in mind, and to discuss with a new attorney if you change representation.

Get the basics on how to choose a lawyer for your talc-asbestos case.

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