Personal Injury Q&A
I’ve been seriously injured – how do I find a lawyer I can trust?
Look for a lawyer who specializes in the area in which you need help. The lawyer will have a better understanding of your situation and can offer more effective representation.
Ask your friends and family about lawyers they know or have worked with in the past. The best way to find out if a lawyer is good is to talk to a family member or someone you trust whom they have represented.
Ask questions and expect answers, and choose the lawyer you feel most confident about (and comfortable with) to handle your case.
Look for experience. Find out how often the law firm you are thinking of hiring actually goes to court. Lawyers who prepare cases for trial usually obtain better judgments and settlements for their clients. If your case does go to trial, you need a lawyer who has been there and knows what he is doing, a lawyer who has the respect of other lawyers and judges.
Am I obligated if I call or e-mail to discuss my case?
All consultations are free. Fees are charged only if your case is accepted and a recovery of money damages is accomplished. If, after discussing your case, you decide not to pursue it or decide to do so with another law firm, there is no obligation on your part. Of course, any information you have given us is protected by the attorney-client privilege and will not be disclosed to anyone without your permission.
What documents should I bring with me when I meet with a lawyer?
The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. You should supply any documents that might have a bearing on your case. Accident reports, for example, contain eyewitness accounts and details about auto accidents. Copies of medical reports from doctors and hospitals will describe your injuries. Information about the other driver’s insurance is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident or of your injury. If you haven’t collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, don’t worry – your lawyer will be able to obtain them as well.
What kind of information will a lawyer need from me?
For any kind of claim, a lawyer generally needs information regarding the medical treatment you have been receiving to treat your injury. Usually, the lawyer will need the name and address of your current treating medical provider, as well as any other medical provider you have seen by referral, such as a physical therapist. You should also be prepared to provide the name and address of any medical provider you have seen during the five-year period preceding the injury, because your pre-injury medical condition can often affect the value of your claim. If you were injured in a car accident, it is important that you provide information regarding your own automobile insurance coverage as well, so your lawyer can determine whether medical payments coverage or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage affords additional coverage for you.
What can I expect at the first consultation?
Your lawyer should be able to tell you if you have a legal claim that has merit. If it does, he or she will likely ask you to sign a retainer agreement. A lawyer cannot represent you without a written retainer agreement. Once that agreement is in effect, your attorney should start gathering the information he or she will need to try your case. No competent lawyer should tell you what your case is worth at the first visit. To arrive at a figure for damages, your lawyer will need to determine the extent of your injuries, including pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, the cost of medical treatment and lost wages.
What is the next step in preparing my case?
Your lawyer will provide an estimate of your damages to the other party’s insurer. If the insurer considers it a valid claim, the case is likely to be resolved early on and won’t have to be tried in court. We always assume that the case will be tried, and we begin every case by preparing it for trial. Being ready and willing to go to court, and having the reputation of being successful in the courtroom, is the only way to get top dollar in settlement negotiations.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a statement given under oath, usually done in a lawyer’s office, before a court reporter. Witnesses called to testify in a deposition answer questions posed by the attorneys representing both parties in a case. The court reporter produces a written transcript of everything said at the deposition and the witnesses read and sign the transcript, swearing it to be an accurate rendition of the evidence given under oath.
What is an expert witness?
An expert witness is a witness in a court case who is called because he or she has specific knowledge of a particular field that is generally beyond what is known by an average layperson. An expert is usually permitted to testify to his/her opinion. A layperson can testify only as to the facts in question. In medical malpractice, doctors are typically called to testify as experts. In an accident case, an accident reconstruction expert may be called to testify as to what and how the accident occurred.
What does it mean to settle a case?
Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dismissing your claim against the person who injured you. You’ll actually sign documents releasing the other side of any further liability. To help you decide whether to accept the settlement offer, your lawyer will be able to provide a realistic assessment of whether a lawsuit based on your claim will be successful, a range of possible verdict amounts and how long it will take to get through trial. Settlement also can take place at any point in a lawsuit once it is filed, including before trial or even after a case has been tried but before a jury reaches a verdict and after trial while the case is on appeal.
What are punitive damages, and when are such damages awarded?
In addition to compensating victims for injuries, lost wages and future considerations, punitive damages can be awarded to penalize a defendant whose conduct is deemed to be particularly outrageous. In cases of negligence, punitive damages are typically awarded only when the defendant’s conduct proved to be “reckless” or “willful and wanton”.
I am not happy with the lawyer handling my case and want to replace him. Can I simply fire him and retain another lawyer?
Yes, you have a right to replace your lawyer at any time. As a client, you are entitled to be treated with courtesy and consideration at all times, to have your questions and concerns addressed in a prompt manner, and to have telephone calls returned promptly. If you are dissatisfied with the legal representation you are currently receiving, you can withdraw from the attorney-client relationship at any time.
How long should I wait before contacting a lawyer?
The sooner your lawyer can get started working for you, the better. Remember, you have only a certain amount of time to go to court, and the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to obtain the evidence you need to support your case. Furthermore, if you have submitted your claim to an insurance company, the insurance adjuster you are dealing with may have settled hundreds of cases in the past year alone. He or she is highly trained at negotiations. It is important to be very careful and cautious when talking with an insurance adjuster; you very well may need a lawyer to help you through the process.
Do I have to give a recorded statement to an insurance adjuster?
Some insurance contracts do have cooperation clauses. However, you may not be obligated to give a recorded statement, and if you do, it may later be used against you. If you do choose to give a recorded statement, be sure to ask for a copy of the transcript.
What is informed consent?
In many situations where medical care or treatment is provided to an individual, medical professionals are required to obtain the patient’s “informed consent.” Although the specific definition of informed consent may vary from state to state, it means essentially that a physician (or other medical provider) must tell a patient all of the potential benefits, risks and alternatives involved in any surgical procedure, medical procedure or other course of treatment, and must obtain the patient’s written consent to proceed. If this duty is breached and injuries result, the patient may have a legal claim for damages.