Who Pays Attorney Fees in Oregon?

If you’ve recently been injured in an accident, you may be asking yourself “how can I get compensated for my injuries if I can’t afford an attorney?” Typically, for these kinds of cases, there is no statutory right to recover attorney fees, and plaintiffs must either pay attorneys out-of-pocket for representation or enter into contingency fee agreements in which the attorney receives a share of the compensation ultimately obtained for the client.  However, more often than not, if your injuries are relatively minor you will bear the cost of pursuing your claim, which can make hiring an attorney cost-prohibitive.

As a result, victims of accidents or other incidents that result in bodily injury or property damage feel that they are not being treated fairly by the at-fault party’s insurance company. Insurance companies and their claims adjusters are well-versed in claim negotiation and are often able to settle claims for less than their full value when injured parties attempt to handle the dispute themselves without the assistance of an attorney.

In order to provide a means for individuals who have suffered property damage or injuries where the amount at issue is relatively small, the Oregon legislature enacted ORS 20.080, which allows for the recovery of attorney fees on tort claims for $10,000 or less. ORS 20.080 helps injured parties obtain the full amount they are entitled to from the at-fault party or insurer because it creates a means for attorneys to take on these kinds of smaller cases.

HOW DOES ORS 20.080 WORK?

ORS 20.080 details a specific process that provides for attorneys fees in an action where the plaintiff requests damages of $10,000 or less, the plaintiff makes a written demand on the defendant at least 30 days prior to filing the complaint in the case, and the plaintiff recovers an award that exceeds the responsive offer (if any) made by the defendant prior to the start of the lawsuit.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Because ORS 20.080 allows for the recovery of attorney fees provided certain conditions are met, an attorney can review your claim and assist in creating a demand that the insurance company will have to take much more seriously. The process of going through trial can be expensive and insurance companies do not want to have to pay a large amount of attorney fees solely because they did not make a sensible offer up front. As such, insurance companies are often more motivated to resolve the smaller cases for reasonable amounts when ORS 20.080 is asserted.

Even if you feel that you have a smaller case, you may want to speak with an attorney to determine if they can help you pursue your claim. Our experienced attorneys can provide a clear explanation of ORS 20.080 and suggest a course of action.