Here’s what a personal injury attorney can do for your case. See when you need help and how to choose the right attorney for you.
Personal injury lawyers are licensed professionals who pursue financial compensation on the behalf of injured individuals.
Injury attorneys are civil lawyers, meaning they don’t work on criminal cases. They must be licensed in each state and may be qualified to practice personal injury law in multiple states.
Once admitted to the state bar, attorneys must submit proof of continuing legal education to remain in good standing.
Your attorney has a legal and ethical obligation to protect your interests while resolving your injury claim. They not only have to avoid legal errors, but they must also take appropriate actions on your behalf.
If you’re still wondering if you need an attorney, here are 8 ways they help.
8 Ways Personal Injury Lawyers Help Victims
You never have to deal directly with the insurance company or the at-fault party’s lawyer when you’re represented by counsel. Some injury attorneys limit their practice areas to specialize in malpractice, product liability, defective medical devices, and other types of high-dollar injury claims.
1. Give Legal Advice in Plain Language
A good attorney will give you clear advice based on the facts of your case. For example, most attorneys recommend you don’t give a recorded statement to the insurance company on your own, even if the adjuster says they need your statement to process your claim.
Your attorney will walk you through the insurance claim process, or the steps of a lawsuit, and explain what they will need from you to resolve your case, like medical records related to your injury.
The insurance company doesn’t have to tell you about the statute of limitations in your state, but your attorney will explain that you must settle your claim or file a lawsuit before the deadline, or you’ll forfeit your right to compensation.
2. Explain Your Rights and Obligations
Each state has its own tort laws with specific rules and deadlines. An attorney will explain the laws that apply to your case, how they affect you, and what you can do about it.
For example, most states have comparative negligence laws that come into play if you share some of the fault for the circumstances leading to your injuries.
3. Determine the Value of Your Injury Case
If an attorney accepts your case, it’s probably a good case. The attorney can estimate the settlement value of your claim to help you decide if it will be worth the cost of attorney fees. If not, then at least you had an independent and highly trained professional review your case for free.
Compensation for serious injury cases should account for future medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of income potential. Your attorney may hire financial and actuarial experts to support your demand for full compensation. For example, experts can determine how much a 28-year-old electrician would have earned before retirement age if he had not suffered brain injuries in an auto accident.
4. Identify All Liable Parties
More than one person or business can be responsible for your injuries or the wrongful death of a loved one.
For example, employers are generally liable for harm caused by their employees. Malpractice cases may involve a surgeon, hospital, and anesthesiologist, who each have separate liability and insurance policies. A drunk driving victim may have a cause of action against the bar that served the at-fault driver.
5. Discover Sources of Compensation
Your attorney can find out how much insurance coverage the at-fault party carries, and can uncover other sources of compensation that aren’t easily discovered without legal help.
For example, the teen driver who left you crippled may have auto insurance coverage under both divorced parents’ policies. The at-fault party may be covered by an umbrella policy with much higher liability limits. Or, the at-fault party may have significant personal assets.
6. Gather Critical Evidence
Your attorney can contact witnesses for sworn statements, file subpoenas to obtain surveillance camera footage or cell phone records, investigate the at-fault party’s driving or arrest history, and much more that you would have a hard time doing on your own.
When a lawsuit is filed, your attorney will handle the entire discovery phase of litigation, including depositions, interrogatories, and document requests. Your attorney may conduct private investigations into the at-fault party’s prior conduct in similar circumstances.
7. Negotiate Better Settlements
Experienced attorneys have spent years negotiating claims with insurance companies, and often get the maximum compensation for their clients without going to trial. Hiring an attorney lets the adjuster know they have to offer a fair settlement or risk having their insured slapped with a personal injury lawsuit.
Personal injury attorneys are skilled negotiators who won’t fall for the adjuster’s tactics. Your attorney knows how to present the strengths of your claim and has the legal expertise to push back against allegations of shared fault or pre-existing conditions.
When there are multiple injury victims and a limited amount of available funds, your attorney will ensure you get your fair share.
8. Advance Legal Costs
Personal injury attorneys will advance the costs of handling your claim, then deduct those costs from your final settlement. Attorneys who specialize in complex litigation like medical malpractice, catastrophic workplace injuries, defective product claims, and class actions usually advance the costs of preparing for trial.
Legal costs can include:
- Medical expert fees
- Accident reconstruction
- Engineering experts
- Travel for depositions
- Document review and related discovery expenses
In addition to attorney fees, the related costs may have to be repaid out of your settlement or court verdict. However, specialized injury attorneys often win verdicts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions of dollars for their clients.
What Personal Injury Attorneys Can’t Do
Your attorney-client relationship should be based on mutual trust and clear communications. Your attorney can’t properly evaluate your case if you withhold critical information, like pre-existing conditions or prior accidents.
Injury attorneys are civil lawyers. They can’t represent you in criminal proceedings or help you with traffic citations. Similarly, while your attorney might help out with settling your property damage claim after a car wreck, they won’t arrange for a rental car or vehicle repairs.
Attorneys are bound by state laws regarding the payment of settlement funds. Most states require your attorney to clear any liens before cutting a check for your share of compensation. Even if you say you’ll take care of paying any outstanding medical expenses, the attorney is legally obligated to pay the liens directly, before you get paid.
Sometimes attorneys can negotiate medical liens so you walk away with more money in your pocket, but they can’t ignore medical liens, subrogation liens from your health insurer, and past-due child support.
When Hiring an Attorney is Essential
Most minor personal injury claims are straightforward. Often, a claim can be settled with a few telephone calls and letters. Claims adjusters aren’t lawyers, so your discussions won’t include many complex legal terms or concepts.
By using your own gifts of persuasion and a little common sense, you should be able to negotiate a fair settlement.
Serious and complicated personal injury cases require legal representation. Class actions, medical malpractice, and toxic exposure cases require a lot of time, money, and legal expertise to win.
Doctors and hospitals are represented by high-powered defense attorneys, skilled in complex and prolonged litigation, so malpractice cases rarely settle out of court.
You definitely need an attorney when:
- You are sued, or multiple parties share liability
- You’re the victim of medical malpractice or toxic exposure
- Your injury involved a defective product related to a class action
- A death, permanent disability, or permanent scarring occurred
- The victim is under the age of 18
If you’re not sure whether to hire an attorney or handle the claim yourself, get a free consultation before deciding. Most law firms won’t charge for an initial office visit to review your case. It’s okay to tell the attorney you’re not sure whether to handle the claim yourself or hire someone to represent you.
Payment Arrangements with Your Attorney
Most attorneys represent accident victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney won’t be paid any fees unless your claim is settled or you win a verdict in court.
Before retaining your attorney, be sure you understand how fees are calculated. For example, some attorneys will take a lower percentage if the claim settles and a higher percentage if your case goes to trial. It’s also possible in some circumstances to negotiate your attorney’s fees.
Choosing the Right Attorney for You
Most personal injury attorneys offer a free case evaluation. You can meet with as many attorneys as you like to find the right attorney to fight for you.
Talk to attorneys who typically handle injury claims like yours. Smaller law firms and sole practitioners are a good choice for most car accident claims or slip and fall accidents that typically settle out of court.
Product liability, medical malpractice, and other types of claims that are likely to be tied up in prolonged litigation should be handled by larger firms. They can afford to advance the costs of high-priced experts and large-scale discovery.
Bring claim-related documents and photographs with you to the initial consultation meeting.
The initial consultation is not just to see if the attorney is willing to take your case. It’s an opportunity for you to interview the attorney – and their staff – to see if they are a good fit for you.
Be prepared with a list of questions and take notes during the meeting. It’s easy to write down your impressions and make sure you ask important questions using our free Attorney Consultation Worksheet.
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Questions about What an Injury Lawyer Does
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