While getting a big gross settlement check for your personal injury case sounds flashy, what you ultimately care about is how much of that you get to take home as your “net.”
The reality is there are a variety of expenses that can come out of the gross settlement that could significantly reduce your “net” takeaway. Some of these expenses are typical to every case, whereas others can vary wildly on a case-by-case basis.
The truth is it is certainly possible for someone who has a lower gross settlement than you to take home a larger “net” in the end.
Let’s start with the constants in any case. In every case that any attorney is involved representing the injured party, the attorney is going to take a percentage fee of the gross. This typically falls in the window of 33-40%. Note that this is off the gross figure before any expenses are calculated. Therefore, if the gross settlement is for $100,000, the attorney fee will likely be between $33,000-$40,000.
Additionally, every case is going to have some sort of case expenses. These are hard costs the attorney typically fronts, so that the injured party does not have to pay anything “until you win.” When the settlement or verdict is finally achieved, the attorney will reimburse himself penny for penny for those hard costs he paid.
If the case was able to be settled without a lawsuit, these expenses are typically around $500, and consist mainly of things like costs for ordering medical bills and records and public record documents. If the case involved litigation, these will almost certainly be at least $1,500, and can sometimes even be $10,000 or more, depending on if it went to trial, and if a doctor was deposed for trial.
Now in some cases this is the extent of the expenses that come off the net. However, usually there is at least one other expense that must be paid in addition. These variable expenses consist primarily of medical costs in the form of bills owed either directly to your medical providers or as reimbursement to your health insurance provider (it is a complex area of law as to whether you must reimburse your health insurer, and if so, in what amount). Some people don’t have health insurance and treated on a medical lien. If so, the lien will need to be satisfied as part of the final settlement.
There are even some other non-medical expenses that might need to be paid out of the settlement. There are some instances where a client obtained a cash advance of their settlement during the case. If so, these were granted on a lien and need to be paid back out of the settlement. There might even be times where you received disability income during your recovery, and that could possibly need to be reimbursed.
On the flip side, it is possible that you had medical payments coverage on your auto policy, which resulted in a separate recovery for you. This bumped up in your net even though it most likely was not part of the gross settlement amount. Med pay payments are contractual in nature, and therefore often don’t even result in an attorney fee.
So putting it altogether, there are circumstances where a $90,000 gross settlement could net a client only $35,000. Conversely, it is possible to get an $80,000 gross settlement and net out $55,000.
The point is separate and apart from your attorney fees percentage, there are a lot of expenses and benefits related to your personal injury case that are collateral in nature and don’t come into play in every case. These greatly affect what you ultimately take home as a “net” in the end. As such, I always encourage clients to focus in on their “net,” and not the gross number.