If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence in Florida, you may be able to recover compensation for your damages through a personal injury claim. But you may wonder if you can afford to hire a lawyer. Who is responsible for paying lawyer’s fees under Florida law? Read on to learn more.
The American rule
The general rule applied throughout the United States, including Florida, is known as the American rule. It specifies that each party to a lawsuit pays its own lawyer’s fees, unless a contract or a statute specifically allows otherwise. (See Fleischmann Distilling Corp. v. Maier Brewing Co., 386 U.S. 714 (1967); Trytek v. Gale Industries, Inc., 3 So.3d 1194 (Fla. 2009).) A contract, for example, particularly in a business context, may specify that a party who breaches the agreement must pay lawyer’s fees incurred by the other for enforcing the agreement. (See R.J. & R.K. Inc. v. Spence, 855 So.2d 642 (2003).)
Statutes awarding lawyer’s fees
The legislature creates statutes awarding lawyer’s fees to support the public policy of making the party who prevails in litigation whole – that is, as though the matter had been resolved without litigation in the first place. (See Grider-Garcia v. State Farm Mut. Auto., 14 So.3d 1120 (2009).) Examples of Florida statutes that provide for an award of lawyer’s fees include:
- Florida’s insurance code, which states that an insured who succeeds in litigation against an insurer is entitled to reasonable lawyer’s fees. ( Stat. §627.428);
- Florida’s offer of judgment statute, which states that a defendant is entitled to reasonable lawyer’s fees if it files an offer of judgment against a plaintiff that is not accepted within 30 days and (1) ultimately is found not liable or (2) the plaintiff recovers an amount at least 25 percent less than the offer. Similarly, the plaintiff may recover lawyer’s fees if it files an offer of judgment not accepted by the defendant in 30 days if the plaintiff ultimately recovers a judgment that is at least 25 percent greater than its offer. ( Stat. §768.79); and
- Florida’s statute intended to sanction frivolous claims, under which the prevailing party may recover its lawyer’s fees from both the losing party and its lawyer when a claim or defense has not been supported by facts or law. (Fl. Stat. §57.105).
A contingency fee provides another way for you to afford a lawyer if you are concerned you cannot pay lawyer’s fees. With a contingency fee, your lawyer agrees to accept a portion of any recovery you receive as payment for fees for legal services. If your case is unsuccessful, you are not required to pay any fees, although you may be required to pay certain costs, such as filing fees and witness expenses. The fee is typically set as a percentage of recovery, and a contingency fee contract must be set out in writing at the beginning of the representation. Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers specify what the contract must contain and who must sign it, and also set limits on the percentages for the fee.
Consult a West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer
The experienced personal injury lawyers of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC, have represented Florida clients in a wide variety of personal injury cases. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation about your case.