When you have suffered an injury, or you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligent behavior, you may think you need an attorney but worry about the cost. What you may not know is that hiring a personal injury lawyer to represent your interests will very likely not cost you any money upfront. This is because most personal injury attorneys accept cases on a contingency fee basis and all will offer an initial free consultation.
What Happens During a Free Consultation?
When you are injured in an accident and contact a personal injury attorney, they will assess your case and advise you on what legal options are available to you. Your free consultation will allow you to explain the type of accident you were involved in and what injuries you suffered, and will allow you to ask how you should proceed.
When you schedule your consultation, the attorney may ask you to bring certain documentation with you, including:
- Accident reports – The attorney may ask you to bring a copy of any reports including the police report, insurance filings, and photos of the accident if they are available.
- Medical reports – The attorney will ask to see all medical records pertaining to the accident to determine not only what injuries you sustained, but the extent of your injuries.
- Additional information – An attorney will ask you what other relevant information you may have documented regarding your injuries and ask you to bring any other documentation pertaining to the accident.
Remember, the more information you can provide during your free consultation, the better. The attorney will use this information to thoroughly evaluate your potential case and provide you with an accurate assessment.
Questions to Ask During a Free Consultation
A free consultation with a Florida personal injury lawyer is also an opportunity to ask questions. You want to verify that you are hiring the right attorney to handle your personal injury claim.
Some questions you may want to ask will pertain to the following issues:
- Experience – Determine the attorney’s level of experience in handling your specific type of case. If you have a medical malpractice claim but the attorney you are meeting with primarily handles auto accidents, you may need to seek the assistance of a different attorney.
- Communication – One of the most important issues you will face with a personal injury lawsuit is communicating with your attorney. You will want to ask about how the office handles communication. Determine who will be updating you on the status of your case, who will take your telephone calls when you have questions, and whether the attorney you are meeting with will be the lawyer handling your case from beginning to end.
- Fees – Since most attorneys will offer to take a personal injury case on a contingency fee basis, should ask the lawyer how much the fees will be upon settlement of your case. The Florida Bar offers a helpful consumer guide to attorney fees.
Separating Attorney Fees From Costs
While the legal fees associated with your personal injury case are typically taken out of a settlement, there are certain costs you will likely need to pay regardless of the outcome.
Some of these costs may include:
- Fees for expert witnesses.
- Telephone call charges.
- Filing fees for court documents.
- Charges associated with document copying.
Before signing a fee agreement with your attorney, you should talk about how and when you will be expected to pay these costs. When you and the attorney sign a contingency fee agreement, that means you will not pay legal fees unless and until the attorney reaches a settlement on your behalf. However, the costs associated with your lawsuit may not be included in this agreement, which is why it is important to find out how you will be expected to pay these costs.
Car Accident Personal Injury Claims and No-Fault Insurance
For car accident victims in Florida, it is important to understand how no-fault insurance statutes impact your claim. Because Florida has a no-fault law, all drivers are required to carry certain levels of insurance in the state. These include $10,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) as well as $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL). This means that if you are in an accident, you file a claim with your own insurance company to be reimbursed for 80 percent of your claim up to the maximum amount of your PIP or PDL coverage.
Car accident victims can file a personal injury lawsuit only if they suffer:
- An injury that doctors consider permanent – For example, if you suffer a traumatic brain injury, this would be considered a permanent injury.
- Scarring or disfigurement that is permanent – Someone who suffered burns or received serious cuts on their face or arms from broken glass could have permanent scarring.
- Loss of bodily function which is permanent and significant – Depending on the type of motor vehicle accident you are involved in, you could lose part of your vision, hearing, or you may suffer the loss of an organ.
This is why victims of all types of accidents must speak with a personal injury attorney. Insurance company adjusters are going to work from the premise that you do not have a thorough understanding of the law or your rights under Florida statutes. Because you can expect a free consultation with an attorney who may accept your case contingency fee basis, you have little to lose and everything to gain by seeking the assistance of a lawyer.
Other Non-Vehicle Accident Claims
Many people think a personal injury attorney assists only with car accidents or other vehicle accidents. But many personal injury lawyers handle a wide range of other types of injury claims, a well.
These may include:
- Medical malpractice claims – Including wrong diagnosis, nursing home abuse, and medical mistakes. These claims are usually extremely complicated and require the assistance of an attorney who has experience with these types of cases.
- Product liability cases – Whether your injuries are the result of an appliance that caught fire, or you were working and had a piece of equipment malfunction, resulting in a catastrophic injury, you have the right to seek compensation for your injuries.
- Premises liability – For victims who have had a slip and fall accident, suffered a physical attack that resulted in serious injury as a result of negligent security, or fallen down a flight of stairs because the railings were in poor condition, you may have a claim against the property owner or maintenance company.
Remember, until you talk to an attorney after suffering an injury, you may not understand what options you have to seek reimbursement for medical costs and other financial and non-financial damages. Make sure you seek the assistance of an attorney as soon after your injuries as possible. While there is a two-year statute of limitations on filing a personal injury claim, it will take time to gather evidence to support your claim.
Denied Insurance Claims and Personal Injury Lawsuits
Many victims of personal injury file a claim with the other party’s insurance company. Like most of us, they believe insurance companies have an obligation to pay legitimate claims. While in a perfect world the insurer would honor the claim, in general, their first step is often to deny the claim. You may wonder why. The answer is that insurers are in the business of making money. When they pay a claim, they are losing money.
Insurance companies use some unusual methods to ensure they pay as little as possible to accident injury victims. In some cases, they will make a quick settlement offer, which may be tempting to accept. Keep in mind that there is a reason they are making a quick offer. Insurers know that if they can get you to accept a quick offer, they are off the hook for any future obligation.
If you have been injured and you receive an offer from an insurer a short time later, speak with a personal injury lawyer. Chances are that they are offering you a settlement that is well below what you may otherwise be entitled to collect. When you accept a settlement offer from an insurer, they will ask you to sign a waiver. The fine print in that waiver advises you that by accepting the offer you agree that the insurer will not be liable for any future medical bills or other costs associated with your injuries. Hiring a personal injury lawyer can help you get the maximum settlement available for your injuries.
If You Decide to Move Forward With a Personal Injury Claim…
After an initial consultation with a personal injury attorney, you will need to decide whether you want to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit.
Should you decide, based on the attorney’s advice, to move forward, you will want to keep some things in mind:
- Insurance company discussions – Once you have hired an attorney, all negotiations with insurance companies should be handled by your lawyer. Remember, the adjuster or a representative of the insurer will likely contact you to offer a settlement. Once you refer them to your attorney, you should not provide them with any additional information.
- Documents received from either party – When you receive communication from the insurance company or from the party responsible for your injury, you should turn them over to your lawyer right away. Your attorney may also ask you to provide them with a copy of any medical costs you continue to incur as a result of your injury. You need to hand your medical records to your attorney, since they will help your attorney determine how long you will be out of work and the extent of your injuries.
- Recovery log – Your attorney may ask you to keep a log of your activities following an accident. Many people who were victims of an accident suffer trauma above and beyond their physical injuries. Interruptions to your daily routine, issues with your mental health including depression and feelings of helplessness, and other changes in your mental and physical health can all occur following an injury. Documenting these can help your attorney understand the full extent of your suffering after an injury.
Focus on Recovery While Your Lawyer Focuses on Compensation
Recovering from an injury takes a lot of energy. Your focus should remain on your physical and emotional recovery following any type of injury. The more serious the injury, the longer your recovery time will be. An attorney with a proven track record of success handling personal injury cases can work on getting you the compensation you are entitled to while you focus on getting your life back to normal – or as normal as possible.
How Large a Settlement Can You Expect?
One of the most common questions any personal injury lawyer gets is what the amount of a settlement might be once an agreement is reached or the case goes to court. This is the most difficult question to answer because there is no magic formula for determining the final settlement. Instead, several factors come into play. This is why you should schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney who has experience handling these types of cases can help you understand what options you have for resolving your case and provide an estimate of what you might anticipate in terms of a settlement.
In general, monetary awards typically include medical costs, time lost from work, and other out-of-pocket costs associated with your injuries. Medical costs cover everything from your first trip to the doctor through your final recovery, regardless of how long that process may take. Lost wages take into consideration the earnings you are losing while recovering, and may also cover future loss of earnings if you have a serious injury that may prevent you from returning to your previous employment.
Stop thinking about how you are going to pay for an attorney to recover compensation for your injuries. Between a free consultation and contingency fees, you can feel confident that you can afford a personal injury lawyer to work hard on your behalf. Remember, the better the outcome for you, the better the outcome for the attorney. Explore your options and schedule a free consultation today or contact a personal injury attorney to answer questions about your injuries.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814