Can I re-open my case due to further treatment needs?
(Ventnor City, New Jersey)
I had a slip and fall in a store in 2011, and injured my lower back. I hired a lawyer, had 6 Months of physical therapy, and lost time at work (I'm a server for over 30 years). I had no back problems ever in my history. The case took over a year to settle, and I got a minimum settlement, equivalent to a month and half of what I earn.
I didn't want to settle for that amount, but my lawyer said he couldn't get more. I didn't get any future pain and suffering. I am now having some problems at work.
I couldn't get out of bed and had to literally crawl around for 3 days, while still having a young child at home to care for (I'm a single mother). My doctor ordered a chiropractor and more physical therapy, and possibly surgery. I was also ordered to cut down my days at work, which is impossible. I have a mortgage to pay, among other things.
The doctors even said I was going to continue to live with problems because of the slip and fall. That's why I didn't want to settle for that little amount. I let the lawyer convince me that's all I could get from the department store where I fell.
The lawyer came to my job during a busy lunch hour, and said sign here, sign there, here's the check, and it was over. I was busy and didn't even know what I was reading. I didn't have my reading glasses, and it was a 3 minute in and out.
Now I'm facing possible surgery down the road, I'm in pain all the time, with numbness in my feet, for going on 2 years now. I don't know what to do. I have to work. Even though it's very painful most of the time.
Disability insurance benefits won't even be enough for my mortgage, among other things. So that would mean I would lose my house. I'm not saying my lawyer didn't try, but then again, we didn't communicate much. In my opinion, my case wasn't a top priority. But that slip and fall has changed my life. I'm scared I won't be able to work much longer.
After all that, I guess my question is, can I reopen my case? Perhaps because there are further related injuries that still need to be treated? Can I say my previous lawyer didn't properly represent me interests? Thank you for listening, and for any information you can give me.
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ANSWER for "Can I re-open my case due to further treatment needs?":
Lorenza (Ventnor City, New Jersey):
When you accepted the settlement check, your attorney assuredly had you sign an insurance company release. Once the release was signed, you lost your legal right to sue the store in which you fell. The amount you ultimately received in your net settlement is the only amount you will receive from the store or its insurance company.
It is unfortunate your attorney didn't communicate as well as you would have liked. With that said, if you didn't have your reading glasses with you and were unable to read the documents, it was incumbent upon you to tell the lawyer to either leave the documents with you to read, or that you would come into his or her office within the next day or so to review the documents and have the attorney answer any questions you may have had.
From the facts you present, your attorney doesn't appear to have acted inappropriately. It appears your attorney acted expeditiously in bringing you the check and accompanying documents. However, if you would like to speak with another attorney about the possibility of legal malpractice, that's always an option.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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