If you or a loved one has been injured by someone else’s reckless or negligent actions, you may be wondering what to do next. It’s important to find an experienced personal injury attorney to protect your legal rights, advocate on your behalf, and help you get the compensation you need to recover.
Why You Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Not every injury calls for an attorney’s services. But generally, if you’re injured enough to miss work, incur medical expenses, or have short- or long-term health consequences as a result of the other person’s negligence, it’s a good idea to involve an attorney. Your attorney can explain your rights, what you’ll need to show to recover damages, and what you may be able to expect.
Situations When an Attorney is Needed
Because no two accidents are quite alike, having advice that’s tailored to your unique situation can be essential. There are a few common situations in which having an attorney is important.
You’ve suffered a severe injury or a permanent disability.
Some injuries can carry lifelong consequences. From traumatic brain injuries that may cause permanent memory loss to orthopedic injuries that can cause early-onset arthritis or chronic pain, if you’re going to be dealing with the aftermath of an accident for some time, an attorney can help you fight for the money you need to pay for long-term follow-up care.
More than one person is at fault (or you’re not sure who is at fault).
Fault isn’t always clear-cut. If you were injured in a traffic accident, the driver who hit you may not be the only one responsible. Depending on the circumstances, you might also have a potential claim against the driver’s employer, the vehicle manufacturer or dealership, or the governmental entity responsible for keeping the road in good repair. An attorney can investigate the circumstances of your injury and ensure that anyone (or any entity) that helped contribute will be held accountable for your recovery costs.
You’re having trouble dealing with the insurance company.
In most cases, you won’t be dealing directly with an individual defendant, but with their liability insurance company. And in states that have no-fault auto insurance laws, if you’re injured in an accident you’ll be dealing with your own insurance company. (The same is true in at-fault states if you’re injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.)
Whether they represent you or the at-fault party, insurance companies have a vested interest in paying out as little as possible. This can be accomplished by either denying the claim outright and hoping you won’t press the issue further, or by slow-walking your claim so that you have a financial incentive to take the earliest settlement offer.
Why You Shouldn’t Handle Your Own Personal Injury Claim
Simply put, having a personal injury attorney handle your claim is likely to increase the amount of your recovery—even after accounting for the attorney’s fee. Trying to handle your claim on your own can mean leaving money on the table. Personal injury attorneys have extensive experience in taking cases through all stages of litigation, from thoroughly investigating claims to engaging in settlement discussions to hiring experts to establish liability and show how severe your injuries are.
Finding a Personal Injury Attorney
Not all personal injury attorneys are equally skilled, and there are a few common questions you’ll want to ask of your prospective attorney to ensure you have the same goals in mind.
How Personal Injury Attorneys are Paid
Because personal injury attorneys aren’t usually paid by the hour, like criminal defense attorneys and some types of civil litigators, it’s important to understand the attorney pay structure before you embark on an attorney-client relationship. Your attorney should thoroughly explain the terms of any agreement before you sign, and if you have any questions or are uncomfortable with any provisions, it’s important to speak up.
Personal injury lawyers are usually paid through contingency fee agreements. In these agreements, the attorney won’t charge any funds up-front and will take a fee only if they’re able to recover damages on your behalf—whether through a settlement or an in-court judgment. This can help remove any financial hurdles to filing a lawsuit, as you won’t be expected to pay any retainer before your complaint can be filed in court.
Most contingency fees range between 30 and 40 percent of the total amount recovered. This may or may not include costs associated with the lawsuit (like filing fees). Some state bar associations place caps on the amount an attorney may recover in a contingency fee agreement. The contingency amount may also vary based on the stage of the case—because preparing for trial can be expensive, an attorney may charge 30 percent if the case settles pre-trial or 40 percent if the case proceeds through trial to judgment.
Questions to Ask When Looking for a Personal Injury Attorney
There are a few important questions to ask that can give you a better insight as to whether you and your attorney will be compatible.
Do you only represent plaintiffs?
Firms that specialize in personal injury lawsuits often have more resources to devote to a case than firms that handle a variety of cases (like criminal defense, civil defense, workers’ compensation, and environmental law). Each state’s statutory laws and common laws can evolve quickly, and trying to stay on top of changes in a variety of fields can make it hard to gain expertise in one particular area.
Personal injury law firms specialize in this area of law. Handling the same types of cases on a daily basis can improve efficiency and potentially increase the amount of your financial recovery.
Do you have good reviews?
Even in today’s tech-focused society, one of the best ways to get a good gauge of a law firm’s reputation is to ask around. Word of mouth is one of the most reliable forms of advertising if you’re seeking advice from people whose judgment you trust. Look online for reviews, but also ask others who have had claims similar to yours to see if they have any words of wisdom.
What cases like mine have you handled before?
Though attorney-client confidentiality can prevent your law firm from sharing names or specific details, your attorney should be able to discuss some cases they’ve handled before that have a similar fact pattern to yours. Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, knowing what has happened in a similar case can give you some insight on what to expect—as well as how your attorney will move your case forward.
How do you communicate with your clients?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some clients prefer to be contacted by their attorney only when there’s some news to report or a decision to be made. Others would like to be notified about the status of their case on a regular basis, regardless of whether anything has happened since the last report. Your attorney should be able to tell you their typical client contact protocol, giving you the information you need to decide whether this is compatible with your communication style.
What steps do you take to settle a case before proceeding to trial?
Settling a case before trial isn’t always an option (or the best option). However, settlements can provide benefits to both parties. For the defendant, it can provide certainty and finality—settling a case settles all legal claims, which means that the plaintiff can’t later come back and ask for more money. And for the plaintiff, a settlement can avoid the financial and emotional costs of a trial, put money in your pocket now, and allow you to move forward.
On the other hand, settlement isn’t always a good idea. The other party or their insurance company may simply be unwilling to give you the full compensation you deserve. In these situations, it’s important to have an attorney who is willing to take your case to the mat and fight for your legal rights.
How many of your cases settle?
As part of the settlement-or-trial calculation, it’s important to know what approximate percentage of your attorney’s cases settle pre-trial. Nationwide, about two in every three personal injury claims settle before trial. If your attorney tends to settle something closer to nine in every 10 claims, it’s worth thinking about whether this attorney will proceed to trial if warranted. This may not be a disqualifying factor in and of itself, but is just something else to consider when deciding whether a law firm is the right one for you.
Will you be the attorney who handles my case?
Ultimately, your personal injury claim is your story. And it’s important to have a high level of trust in your attorney to tell your story. You need to be able to level with your attorney, giving them all the information they need to pursue your claim—even if not all this information is very flattering. If your case is being passed around from attorney to attorney, or the person you meet with most often isn’t actually the one who is litigating your case, it can be tough to maintain that level of trust. Ideally, the same attorney or team of attorneys will handle your claim from start to finish.
By keeping these questions in mind when interviewing prospective attorneys or law firms to handle your case, you’ll have the tools you need to make the most well-informed decision you can.