Should I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
A question that arises often following an accident is “should I hire a personal injury lawyer”? This is an excellent question to ask as being involved in any type of accident can be traumatic, leaving the victim in a vulnerable mindset.
Thankfully, the majority of people around the world will never be involved in a major accident during their lifetime. For those unfortunate victims that are, deciding on how to proceed aftermath can make all the difference when it comes to maximizing the results.
It is true that not all accidents require the professional services of an experienced attorney. The good news is that nearly all ethical attorneys will inform an accident victim if their services are not required for a case. This clarifies the risk free need for a case evaluation or evaluation’s if possible. Similar as when faced with a surgery it is recommended to obtain multiple opinions from doctors to help make a sound decision.
Since making this decision should be deeply researched, this article thoroughly discusses information about personal injury attorneys to help victims have an in-depth understanding to therefore make an educated decision before moving forward.
Although long, the following information is broken down into short manageable sections. Below is the table of contents to quickly access any specific topic.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Introduction to Personal Injury Law
- Educational Background of Personal Injury Lawyers
- Common Types of Personal Injury Cases
- What is a contingency fee and why is it important?
- The value of a personal injury lawyer
- Goals to consider when hiring an experienced personal injury attorney
- Can I Self-Represent?
- Insurance Companies v. Self-Representation
- Ten reasons to hire a personal injury attorney to handle your case
- Tips to remember if involved in an accident that can save you thousands
1. Introduction to Personal Injury Law
When a person is harmed or injured by another party’s negligent, intentional or reckless conduct, the victim has the legal right to pursue monetary compensation in a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is a civil claim – as opposed to a criminal claim – for compensation. The monetary compensatory damages are intended to theoretically “make the injured party whole.” While monetary compensation can obviously never replace a person’s good health, it can and does provide a means to pay for medical treatment and lost income, as well as provide monetary compensation for a victim’s pain and suffering and other specific and intangible expenses. Monetary damages provide an injured victim with the necessary money to quietly heal and continue on in life.
The injuries can be physical, mental or emotional, and they range from slight to serious. For a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove another person, company or entity (such as a city) was negligent, and that their negligence caused the bodily harm and other damage claims. The focus of personal injury law is on the harm to an individual due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another. Lawsuits contain various claims for fair compensation for accident-related expenses such as medical treatment and doctor’s bills, rehabilitation and after-care, lost income and other costs that result from the injuries to that person. Non-physical injury claims are also allowed under negligence laws for other harms, such as wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, damage to reputation.
Personal Injury is different than other types of damage. In some cases, property damage claims may be included in a personal injury lawsuit claim, such as when an auto is damaged in a car accident, but in most cases the main focus is on the harm committed by another who disrupts their lifestyle and causes lost income and/or other harm such as the inability to work, the constant experience of pain, and when a legal heir dies, funeral and burial costs in a wrongful death lawsuit. Because compensation for pain and suffering is often quite challenging to calculate, your personal injury lawyer will often call upon expert witnesses to help express, clarify and “quantify” these intangible damages and potential future costs of that harm to the victim.
These injuries often occur as a result of a vehicular accident, a fall, a professional mistake or a product mishap. In addition to your personal injury claims, your lawyer may also advise you to pursue compensation for property damage, depending on the evidence and exact circumstances of your accident. There may be multiple responsible parties to share the compensatory damages. This is frequently seen in product failures, which could involve a manufacturer, seller, installer or designer of a faulty piece of equipment that caused an injury accident due to a defect or negligent process of design, manufacture or installation.
Premises liability may be another option to pursue to obtain compensation for personal injuries that occur while you are on someone else’s residential or commercial property. People are hurt by items that fall from heights, or when they slip, trip or fall on unkempt floors or walkways, uneven pavement or other hazardous conditions.
2. Educational Background of Personal Injury Lawyers
All lawyers are highly educated in the general practice of law, but before they can even apply to law school, they must first prove their worth in a number of ways. For starters, attorneys must first earn a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited college or university. Getting accepted into law school is highly competitive - only students with the highest grade point averages, exceptional letters of recommendations and other signs of academic promise gain entrance. Before being accepted into law school, the potential law student must take and attain superior test scores on the Law School Admissions Test.
Once accepted into law school, the student is required to successfully master approximately 35 courses. These include:
- Civil procedure
- Criminal law and Criminal Procedure
- Torts – negligence law
- Legal Research and Writing
- Real and Personal Property
- Wills, Trusts, Estates
- Constitutional Law
- Evidence, Courtroom and Trial Procedure
- Ethics, Professional Responsibility
- Many Other Courses – individual study, internships, research, etc.
In addition to the above and other courses, the law student must master Professional Responsibility and Ethics. These courses focus on professional conduct, confidentiality, model ethical codes set by the American Bar Association, handling assets and many of the other aspects of the legal profession. Law school is normally a three year program.
Before a law graduate is allowed to practice in the state(s) of their choosing, they must prepare for and pass the highly rigorous State Bar Exam. In a nutshell, this three day exam tests the law graduate’s knowledge of state and federal laws, legal reasoning skills, and understanding of ethics and professional responsibility. However, before they are even allowed to take the test, they must successfully complete an in-depth application process, which includes a complete criminal background check.
Only after this arduous undergraduate and law school education process, which usually takes about seven years, is the newly sworn-in lawyer permitted to advise and represent clients in and out of court, with the goal of resolving legal issues and disputes. It quickly becomes obvious why an untrained accident victim should hire an educated, qualified and experienced personal injury lawyer.
3. Common Types of Personal Injury Cases
There are an endless number of possible injuries that could be the focus of a negligence case. In most cases, these accidents and the bodily harm they cause are preventable, if not for negligent behavior on the part of the person or entity that generated the accident. There is a long list of accident causes that are brought to a personal injury attorney, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Assaults and attacks
- Automobile accidents and injuries of all kinds
- Bicycle accidents, injuries and deaths
- Birth injuries
- Boating accidents
- Brain injuries
- Bus accidents, including commercial buses, school buses and private buses
- Catastrophic injuries – brain, spine, paralysis, other
- Commercial vehicle accidents including truck, bus, limousine, taxicab, rail, air flight, water vehicle, other
- Construction and work accidents and injuries
- Child injuries
- Dangerous and defective products
- Dog bites and animal attacks
- Drunk driving accidents, injuries and deaths
- Elder abuse – maltreatment, sexual abuse, other
- Medical malpractice
- Motorcycle accidents
- Nursing home abuse
- Pedestrian accidents and deaths
- Premises liability accidents
- Pharmaceutical negligence
- Premises liability including slip and fall and negligent security matters
- Slip, trip and fall accidents and injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Swimming pool accidents, drowning
- Truck accidents – 18 wheelers, big rigs and commercial vehicles
- Work-related accidents and injuries
- Workers’ Compensation
- Wrongful death – legal heirs pursue compensation for loved one’s negligent death
Defective and dangerous product injuries are another common cause of personal injury accidents. A defective brake on a vehicle may cause harm to the driver, passengers or other people when the vehicle collides with another vehicle or an immovable object such as a bridge abutment, guard rail, sign or light pole. Some product defects lead to class action lawsuits when the problem has injured (or resulted in death) for numerous victims. The news is filled with such famous cases as tire failures, bad drugs and other products that affected many users.
Your attorney will advise you, based on their research, if your accident could also be part of an existing class action lawsuit or if it is suitable for initiating such an action. In those cases, a major award could be in the millions of dollars, with the originators of the action receiving a larger part of any award than the broad number of participants.
4. What is a contingency fee and why is it important?
- 1. You do not pay anything if your case is not resolved through settlement or court award.
- 2. Payments are only due when you receive your award or settlement payments.
Personal injury cases are routinely accepted on a contingency fee basis. This means that attorney’s fees are a pre-agreed percentage of the amount of the negotiated settlement or court award. If your case is not won, you owe nothing to the attorney. Because cases are accepted on the contingency fee basis, this means that clients are not chosen on their ability to pay. Cases are accepted on the merits of each particular case. Your attorney will provide specific information to you as to how much their attorney’s fees and other costs, if any, are.
5. The value of a personal injury lawyer
Compensation, Damages, Claims, and Costs
Common personal injury and wrongful death claims often seek compensation for the following:
- Medical care – emergency, doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist, nursing home, long-term care
- Pharmaceutical needs – medicine, equipment, special clothing or shoes/boots
- Special equipment – wheelchairs, crutches, hospital bed rental, special transportation needs
- Rehabilitation expenses – physical therapy, psychological and psychiatric care, retraining for new job because person is unable to return to old job duties
- Lost income – wage losses due to temporary or permanent work loss, future income losses
- Lost relationship – loss of companionship, loss of guidance, loss of future inheritance
- Future medical expenses – calculated by expert witnesses
- Damage/bodily harm caused by previous exposure to chemicals
- Pain and suffering of survivors
- Funeral and burial expenses
Bear in mind that many personal injury claims take a long time to reach a conclusion, often years in duration. The law office bears most costs along the way, but you may also be asked to pay for some out-of-pocket costs after your case is resolved.
The attorney will spend many hours researching your case, examining evidence and discovery information, preparing for negotiations and trial, and in actual trial time when your case goes to court. In addition to the attorney, other costs involve payment for expert witnesses, document preparation and legal staff costs. When there are multiple responsible parties, the attorney will spend many additional hours on your case to discover and research all potential responsible parties. Costs to you may be increased through a reduced amount of compensation if you are found to be partially responsible for the accident, according to the percentage of responsibility you bear.
Most attorneys are willing to work out a payment plan when your share of expenses is a financial burden to you. Remember, they do not receive any payment until your case is successfully settled through negotiation or court award. If the other party cannot pay, you are ahead of the game by having an attorney who already knows the facts of the case and can immediately go forward with collection efforts. There are no guarantees that you will ever receive cash payments, but your opportunity is greatest when you have competent, experience legal representation instead of trying to self-represent and self-collect.
When you or a loved one are injured in an accident, you want to first seek medical care. If you believe that accident was not your fault, or due to negligent behavior by someone else, or that it was due to a product defect, the next step is to seek legal advice right away.
6. Goals to consider when hiring an experienced personal injury attorney
- Maximizing compensation
- Minimizing time to receive fair compensation
- Avoiding mistakes
- Reducing costs of litigation
- Establishing a professional relationship to handle future related issues
7. Can I Self-Represent?
Yes, you can, but for most situations, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is a far better decision. Even lawyers with other practice areas hire personal injury attorneys to handle negligence cases such as car, truck and motorcycle collisions. A lay person simply does not have training in pretrial negotiation skills, courtroom procedure or any of the many legal areas that are second nature to an experienced injury attorney.
Self-representation may at first appear to be cost-efficient and simple, but in reality it could not only be more costly in the long run, it could also slow down progress on your case. Personal injury cases are known to be quite lengthy, sometimes taking years before coming to a successful conclusion. Without proper knowledge of the law and the court system, your chances of winning your case and receiving fair compensation are questionable at best.
Keep in mind, as stated before, obtaining a case evaluation does not cost any money and can prove beneficial in determining the value of using the services of a professional attorney.
8. Insurance Companies v. Self-Representation
Trying to work with insurance companies to settle an injury claim can be shaky at best. First of all, know that an insurance company representative’s job is to work for and protect that company, not you. They will want to save money and deny or limit your opportunity for truly fair compensation for your injury claims. They often offer a “lowball” settlement amount – if any. This amount is almost always significantly less that your personal injury lawyer can negotiate or win via court award.
Never discuss your accident with the insurance companies. Refer them to your personal injury lawyer immediately. It also is important to seek medical attention right away. You can talk with your doctor, because they are bound to keep your information confidential unless you sign a waiver. You usually are entitled to get more than just your deductibles back following a personal injury accident. Do not sign anything without first consulting with your attorney! If you are offered a settlement, do not take it without legal advice. If you do, chances are great that you are settling for far less than you could have received through legal representation.
9. Ten reasons to hire a personal injury attorney to handle your case
- 1. A personal injury lawyer understands how to pursue the maximum amount of compensation for present and future expenses.
- 2. Your lawyer can properly protect your legal rights if you are sued by an injured driver.
- 3. They know what claims to make.
- 4. They know what evidence is needed to prove your case.
- 5. They are aware of the many pitfalls that can arise during a lawsuit.
- 6. They are skilled at negotiations and settlements.
- 7. You are in a superior negotiation position when you have an experienced and successful personal injury attorney at your side.
- 8. They know from experience what the fair and viable compensation amount should be for your type of injuries and expenses.
- 9. They understand that compensation should also take into account future needs as well as current expenses.
- 10. You may need help from this attorney later on either in this case or in a future related case.
10. Tips to remember if involved in an accident that can save you thousands
- Do not discuss your accident with anyone other than your doctor and your lawyer.
- Do not talk about your accident, admit anything or sign anything with insurance company representatives. At least wait until after you speak with your attorney and get their advice about what to do. You can refer insurance companies to your attorney’s office.
- You are entitled to fair compensation when negligence is proved to be the cause of your injury accident.
- Your best chance to get maximum compensation for injury expenses is when you have legal representation from an experienced personal injury lawyer.
- Survivors have rights also in wrongful death cases. Ask your attorney about this.
The most important thing to remember is that you are best served by getting legal representation from an experienced and successful personal injury attorney
There are so many complexities involved in the personal injury lawsuit. It is a job for a professional, not an amateur. You want to avoid jeopardizing any part of your case and to preserve all your rights under applicable personal injury law.
11. Wrapping things up
If you or a loved one is injured by the negligence of another, when a product failure causes bodily harm, or when a family member loses their life from another’s negligent, intentional or reckless conduct it is almost always best to consider using the services of a professional experienced personal injury lawyer. Making an inquiry about this is definitely a smart move, because the best answer to that question may involve complex matters that only a trained legal professional can decipher. A personal injury attorney has the extensive experience and legal knowledge that is needed to get justice and a fair monetary award for your personal injury damage claims.
Another reason it is essential to hire an attorney is because a lay person cannot possibly know the extenuating circumstances and repercussions involved when making case decisions. Even in the most basic personal injury matters, evidence, such as accident reports, witness statements and medical information must be carefully selected and properly introduced as part of the case. Failure to do so can cost the injured victim thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, depending on the case.