Dealing with an injury is a stressful time. You may need to stay home from work, adjust your normal routines, learn new ways of doing things, and deal with medical bills and appointments. Even under the best of circumstances, these changes are burdensome and frustrating. When the injury is the result of the negligence or intentional action of a third party, managing life with injuries can also feel infuriating.
While it cannot resolve your injury, the responsible party could be accountable for damages associated with the injury. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate the complicated process of securing recovery. Because a personal injury attorney will be an important advocate and partner, you should ask the right questions to choose an attorney and understand your case.
Read on for some questions you should ask before selecting a personal injury attorney and as your case and recovery unfold.
Q: How much will it cost to handle my case?
It is most common for personal injury attorneys to work on a contingency basis. The fee is often an agreed-upon percentage of the recovery. Some attorneys will charge for incidental fees throughout the process, like copying or postage.
Be sure to ask an attorney of their fee structure, and be wary of any attorney who indicates there will be an upfront charge before you secure recovery. Be sure to secure a free case consultation before you move forward with any attorney.
Q: Do I have a strong case?
Ask this question during your free case evaluation. Seek out an attorney who gives an honest and fair assessment, not one who seems to be sugar-coating the facts to secure your business. You will want to select an attorney who will zealously advocate for you while also making sure you have the full picture of your case. It is never pleasant to be surprised to find out that your case has a major weakness after you have spent months pursuing recovery.
Continue to ask this question as the case progresses. As new evidence is uncovered and new facts become known, it could affect the strength of your case, your chances of success, and whether to consider a settlement offer.
Q: Have you handled cases similar to mine?
Personal injury is a wide area of the law and spans from motor vehicle accidents to product liability and medical malpractice. Just because an attorney or law firm has practiced personal injury law for some time does not always mean they have handled a case similar to yours.
The first step is to investigate any potential lawyer’s website. The site should showcase the firm and the attorney’s areas of expertise. No matter what the website says, also ask this question of a potential lawyer. Their firsthand account of experience may be different or more elaborate than the website. Get information on similar cases they have handled as well as the experience of other lawyers in the firm who could help support you in your case.
Q: What types of results have you secured for your other clients?
Most law firms will post a summary of successful verdicts on their website which you can review before contacting an attorney. If you see cases that look similar to yours, ask the lawyer for any additional details they can share on the verdicts. If there are no results on the website, be sure to ask the attorney for an overview of successful verdicts.
Q: How often do you settle cases versus winning in court?
It is very common for personal injury cases to settle before trial, but some cases do need to go all the way to jury verdict to reach the best result for the client. Ask if your attorney has ever fully litigated a personal injury case. If not, you may need to find a new attorney if your case goes to trial.
Your attorney is obligated to update you on any settlement offers received throughout the case process. A settlement is a strategic decision, and the attorney and client can work together to evaluate any offer based on the client’s needs and the strength of the case.
Q: How do you handle communication with clients?
You do not want to hire an attorney only to feel like your case has disappeared into a black hole. Ask questions about a reasonable cadence of communications and make your communication expectations clear upfront. Establishing these parameters early in the relationship will make for easier conversations later on if you begin to feel ignored or out of the loop of communication.
Once you select an attorney, ask for a primary point of contact. This will help streamline points of communication and increase the odds of a prompt reply.
Q: Do you have time for my case with your current caseload?
The statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is four years. This means that if a lawsuit is not filed within four years of the injury, you cannot pursue recovery through the courts.
While this may seem like plenty of time to act, many things need to happen before you file a lawsuit, including:
- Securing evidence to support your case;
- Communicating with the other party and their insurance company, as appropriate;
- Calculating a damages claim;
- Considering any settlement offers proposed by the other party before a lawsuit is filed; and
- Preparing court filings
If the attorney has a heavy workload without additional support from other lawyers at the firm, consider whether they are prepared to do the work necessary to file a case within the statute of limitations. If you have already delayed in taking action on your injuries, it is important to locate an attorney who can jump into your case immediately.
Q: How do you establish that the other party is at fault?
Your lawyer may be critical in evaluating and establishing that the party or multiple parties are responsible for your injuries. Another party must have acted negligently or intentionally in a way that caused your injuries. The relevant evidence demonstrating negligence will depend on the type of action that caused the injury.
An attorney can provide initial high-level guidance on factors that indicate negligence. As they become more deeply involved in your case, they should make recommendations and take action to uncover the necessary evidence.
Examples of negligence in common personal injury actions include:
- Motor vehicle accident: If you were in a car accident, you must determine whether the other driver acted negligently. Any violation of a traffic violation or regulation is good evidence of negligence, including speeding, distracted driving, failing to obey traffic signals, and driving under the influence of alcohol.
- Medical malpractice: Medical professionals are required to act consistently with the level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers. If you were injured while receiving medical treatment, your attorney could work with you to establish evidence that the practitioner failed to act consistently with the required level of care.
- Premise liability: Property owners have a duty of care to individuals who visit their property. The level of care owed will depend on whether the visitor is (a) visiting for the benefit of the property owner such as a business (invitee); (b) visiting for their own benefit such as a personal social visit (licensee); or (c) entering the land without permission (trespasser). An attorney can work with you to understand your status and the corresponding duty owed to you by the property owner.
- Workplace injury: Workplace injuries are unique because most worker’s compensation programs do not require evidence of negligence. An attorney can help you understand how to pursue a worker’s compensation claim.
- Product liability: Manufacturers are obligated to ensure products are safe for their intended use before they are released to the public. The level of testing required will depend on the type of product. An attorney can coordinate with appropriate experts to establish any product malfunction.
Plan to continue to check in with your attorney on the strength of the negligence evidence throughout the case. If you uncover any additional evidence or avenues for uncovering evidence, make sure you update your attorney immediately. This will be an important factor as you consider strategy.
Q: How much can I expect to recover in damages?
Your attorney should work with you to develop a comprehensive damages demand and help you better understand your potential recovery. This will be a difficult question for an attorney to answer without reviewing all the details of your case.
They should, however, explore the most common categories of recovery, including:
- Medical expenses. The negligent party is responsible for all medical expenses related to the injuries caused by their negligent action including doctor’s bills, hospital stays, prescription medication, and physical therapy.
- Loss of income. If your injuries have caused you to miss work or work a reduced schedule, you are entitled to recover for the lost wages. If your injuries will continue to limit your ability to work or progress in your career in the future, the loss of future earnings may also be recoverable.
- Property damage. If your vehicle or other property was damaged or destroyed in the accident, the costs of repair or replacements could be recoverable damages.
- Emotional distress. Many personal injury accidents can result in emotional impacts for the victim, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A jury can choose to award damages to compensate the victims for this emotional distress.
- Loss of enjoyment. If your injuries prevent you from participating in activities you previously enjoyed, damages for this loss should be included in a damages demand.
- Punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the victim. Some states do not allow them and others cap them. In Florida, for example, punitive damages are only awarded against defendants who acted in a grossly negligent manner. An attorney can advise whether punitive damages are an option for your case.
Q: When should I consider a settlement offer?
It might be tempting to accept the first settlement offer proposed by the defendant, but this offer might be significantly below the recovery you deserve. Your attorney should help you evaluate any settlement offer based on your likelihood to succeed in trial and the amount of damages you could be entitled to recover.
Your attorney should be open to discussing settlement offers with you rather than pushing solely for recovery at trial.
Q: How long will it take to secure a recovery for my injuries?
The timeframe will depend on the amount of time spent collecting evidence, the strength of the evidence, the court’s schedule, and the willingness of you and the defense to settle. Just know that your personal injury lawyer will work hard to bring your case to the fastest, best conclusion possible.
Look for a personal injury attorney who checks the boxes on all the above questions and expectations.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814