01/25/2017 05:51 EST | Updated 01/25/2017 11:05 EST

The High Cost Of 'No Fee' Lawyers

Close up businessman signing documents.
Choreograph via Getty Images
Close up businessman signing documents.

Every year in Ontario, without warning and through no fault of their own, thousands of people are severely injured in car accidents. It could happen to you, because it happened to us. We come from different backgrounds, different parts of the province, and have lived very different lives; we never met until this year.

What we do have in common is our stories. We wanted to share our experiences, in the hope others can avoid a similar ordeal. We are car accident victims who turned to personal injury lawyers for help, and became victims all over again. Hit once in a collision, we were "hit" a second time by greedy lawyers and unfair billing practices.

legal system

(Photo: Peter Samuels via Getty Images)

Our accidents were as different as we are. One of us, Michelle, was blocks away from home when she was hit from behind while stopped at a light. On the other hand, Elizabeth is lucky to be alive after the car she was travelling in on the 403 was hit by a tractor trailer, and landed upside down off the road. Two different accidents, locations, and victims - but an aftermath that was nearly identical.

We hired personal injury lawyers who promised to take care of us. Just like so many lawyers on television they promised, "You don't pay if we don't win!" That's called a contingency fee, and that's how many lawyers in this field operate.

Instead of protecting our interests, however, it became clear our lawyers were only interested in their own bottom line. We endured lawyers who refused a request to settle saying, "We don't pick fruit before it's ripe." Another lawyer rejected a proposed settlement deal because it didn't include enough for his fees.

"Being a victim in one accident is bad enough; no one deserves to be hit twice."

It feels terrible to have someone treat your pain and suffering like nothing but their own personal paycheck.

When we finally reached settlements in our cases, it was mainly out of frustration. Emotionally exhausted and financially strapped, we felt pressured to settle and finally be done with it. After years of meetings, medical assessments, lost jobs, strained relationships, and personal pain, we had enough. Outrageously, that is when our lawyers took almost half of the settlements in fees for themselves.

This was money to compensate for pain and trauma, to help us recover and heal. Their fees were well above the percentage either of us agreed to, and far beyond what anyone would consider reasonable, fair, or decent.

Anyone who has ever been taken advantage of knows how discouraging this type of experience is. The embarrassment and distress is overwhelming. When we heard Mark Clatney on the radio talking about the Hit Twice campaign, it was both shocking and comforting -- someone else has been through the same experience as us and was also fighting through it.

tim hudak

Former MPP Tim Hudak. (Photo: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

We got in touch with Hit Twice, and learned how many more people had stories like ours. We wanted to help, to tell our stories too, and make sure other victims knew they were not alone. The public needs to know about the human cost of contingency fees in Ontario.

Tim Hudak brought forth a promising private member's bill to cap contingency fees just before he retired as an MPP.

We dearly hope another MPP will carry on this bill and bring changes that will protect accident victims in the future. This is a chance for the Ontario Liberal government to do what it should: protect people when they are the most vulnerable.

We had to learn the hard way that "No Fees" is not the same as no cost. We paid a price financially, physically, and emotionally for our lawyers' greed -- and we think that's a cost others should be spared.

Being a victim in one accident is bad enough; no one deserves to be hit twice.

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