Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Personal Injury Claims
People are seldom in the best emotional state to make important decisions right after a serious injury. But the decision about hiring a lawyer shouldn’t wait too long. It’s best to have an attorney begin work while the evidence is fresh, before witnesses scatter or forget, and before documents disappear or are destroyed. And in every case, an attorney must be hired before the applicable statute of limitations expires. It doesn’t matter how good the case is — if the applicable statute of limitations expires before the claim has been made, the client’s rights will be lost forever. Different statutes of limitations apply, but some can expire as soon as 6 months after the accident. We can tell you what deadlines apply after an initial consultation.
Most people can’t afford to pay an attorney’s hourly rate to investigate the cause of an injury or to take a case to trial. For most, the doors of the courthouse would be closed were it not for the contingency fee agreement. The contingency fee agreement places the ordinary person on a level playing field with the corporations or governmental entities who may be responsible for an injury or death. Under a contingency fee agreement, the client hires a lawyer, but if there is no settlement or verdict, the client pays nothing to the attorney for his work in investigating the case, initiating the lawsuit, or taking the case through trial. All costs associated with the investigation and the lawsuit are paid by the attorney. The contingency fee agreement allows any victim access to the legal system, regardless of the victim’s financial circumstances.
The costs of litigating an accident case can total hundreds of thousands of dollars. The expenses may include expert fees, deposition costs, investigation costs, and court fees. Under the contingency fee agreement, those costs are paid by the attorney, not the client. The attorney is reimbursed only if there is a settlement or a judgment in the client’s favor.
Not all attorneys have the financial strength to fund a case properly. As the case progresses, some attorneys may feel pressure to settle on terms that aren’t in the client’s best interests rather than risk their “investment” by pressing further. Defendants can sense when a contingency attorney cannot afford to take a case to trial and they take advantage of that weakness. Therefore, before signing a contingency fee agreement, the client should satisfy himself that the attorney is capable of easily funding the litigation all the way to the end.
Only certain family members can sue for the loss of a loved one in. Those family members may all agree to have the same attorney represent them. When the family members don’t agree, each family member is entitled to his own attorney.
Find an attorney with an excellent record of verdicts in a case similar to yours. You don’t want your lawyer to be learning “on the job.” Besides, unless the lawyer has proven that he or she can successfully take a case like yours all the way through trial and to a verdict, it is unlikely the responsible insurance company will take the lawyer seriously when it comes time to discuss settlement.
Some cases can be resolved within a few months of the injury or accident. But in our experience, most cases resolve between 18 months and 3 years from the date we file them.
A decision to cut costs can be found in the chain of events leading to most injury-producing events. By taking the profit out of unsafe business practices, a lawsuit can be the most effective way to bring about change in the industry.
Many clients are surprised to learn that the police or other investigative agencies do nothing after an accident, regardless of what it concludes caused it. For most corporations, unless there’s a lawsuit, it’s “business as usual.”
Yes, sometimes, especially if the injuries are not significant, or if the available insurance is limited. Before doing so, however, be sure to consult with a lawyer. Most will talk things over without charge and advise you whether it makes to settle on your own.
A settlement conference takes place with a judge. The parties and their lawyers meet with the judge in the judge’s chambers (his office) and try to resolve the case. The judge makes no rulings and issues no orders during the conference. The decision either to settle or to proceed to trial remains with the parties.
A mediation is similar to a settlement conference. Your attorney is there with you, and the mediator makes no decisions. But instead of the settlement talks being supervised by a judge, in a mediation, the talks are supervised by a “mediator,” who is a neutral lawyer or a retired judge. The parties pay the mediator for his time.
Cases are often more likely to be resolved in mediation rather than settlement conference. First, the mediator, unlike a sitting judge, has no docket pressures and may spend several days working with the parties if that appears constructive. Second, while a settlement judge is assigned to the case, a mediator is selected by the parties. The parties select a mediator because he or she has experience — as either a lawyer or judge — in cases involving the type of injuries (such as brain, spinal cord, or burn injuries) that the client is dealing with. The expertise means that the mediator is “on the same page” with the parties as well as with any insurers who may be involved.
Regardless of whether you participate in a settlement conference or mediation, the decision as to whether to accept the amount of money defendants offer you or continue on towards trial is always yours to make.