DO YOU NEED A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY ?
You May Need a Personal Injury Attorney
You've been hurt through the fault of another person. Insurance companies are calling you asking you to fill out forms, sign documents, and give recorded statements. Medical bills are mounting. You may be out of work and losing income. If all these things are happening to you, it's a good idea to consult with an attorney.
You May Not Need a Personal Injury Attorney
You're in a minor fender bender. Your insurance company pays for your collision damage. You see the doctor one or two times and fully recover within a month. All of your medical bills are paid and you do not lose any time at work. You have Full Tort automobile insurance coverage. This may be a case where you can consult with an attorney but may not need to hire an attorney so long as you are comfortable with settling for the few hundred dollars offered for your injury.
Reasons to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
You should be retaining an attorney for your personal injury case for two main reasons. First, you are entitled to get money for medical bills, work loss, and pain/suffering. Second, you need to make sure all liens (demands by insurance companies for repayment) are accounted for and repaid. Third, you should make sure you're not getting screwed in some other way. After you Settle your case and sign a Release, there is no more compensation you will get. Your case is closed.
Money for Medical Bills, Work Loss, and Pain/Suffering
So long as your attorney can increase the offer to at a minimum cover the attorney's percentage fee, it's worth it to hire an attorney. If you want to proceed on your own, you better make sure that all past medical bills are paid, the money is set aside for future medical bills, that all past wage loss is paid, that money is set aside for future wage loss, and that you are fairly reimbursed with money for the pain, suffering, inconvenience and lifestyle changes you endured as a result of your injuries. Unless you have been injured by someone's fault, you cannot really appreciate how your life can be changed by an accident.
Repayment of Liens
What are these things called Liens? When insurance companies pay out money on your behalf because of the fault of another person, often they have the right to be paid back from your settlement by the person who caused your injury.
I have seen people settle their personal injury case without a lawyer and are totally unaware that medical bills that have been paid by their health insurance company need to be paid back from their settlement money. If this was never taken into account during the settlement, the settlement was far short of its true value. Then Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Workers' Compensation, Medicare, Medicaid, Department of Public Welfare or some other Lienholder come after you to be repaid. You have spent your settlement money, and have nothing left to repay. Now you're in trouble.
I've also seen people settle cases without an attorney and sign a Release that releases many more people than only the person who was at fault for an injury. This form is called a General Release. A General Release often has the effect of releasing everybody connected in any way with the accident and other unrelated accidents. For example, you settle a case on your own and sign a General Release. Unfortunately, a Doctor who treated you for your accident failed to treat an injury and could be liable for Medical Malpractice. Well, you have just released that Doctor as well. Or you had another accident a year before the one that you are releasing. You released that person as well. General Releases are overly broad. Avoid the General Release.
I have seen injured victims endorse and cash an insurance check with no intention of releasing anyone. On the back of the insurance check that they signed in tiny print was a one sentence General Release. Courts have upheld that Release because the person signed the back of the check right above the release language.
Other injury victims just want to settle their case quickly and "move on with their life." They don't hire an attorney, settle for a few hundred or few thousand dollars, and sign a Release a month after the injury. The injured person is a tough nut who believes he will be fine. Unfortunately, what he believed to be just a sore back starts to get worse. The next month he develops shooting pain down both legs with feelings of hot/cold, numbness, pins and needles, and weakness. He can't perform his job. In fact, he can barely drive to work. It turns out that he has herniated discs in his low back and will require surgery. Well, there's no recourse anymore against the person who caused his injury. He settled too quickly without understanding the full extent of his injuries.
The Reluctant Claimant
Some folks just don't feel its right to make a personal injury claim. Only frauds, charlatans, and gold diggers do that. It's morally wrong to make a claim for an injury. Besides, money isn't going to make anybody better. And how about all those people who get assaulted, gunned down, or even murdered. They sure didn't get any money from an insurance company. Anyway, making a legal claim and getting insurance money will just drive up everyone's insurance rates. So, I'm not going to make a legal claim for my injury.
My answer to this way of thinking is "OK." Let AIG keep its insurance premiums and not pay out those pesky claims. So what if you need future medical treatment. So long as you hold onto your job, I hope your current health insurance covers your treatment, because your next health insurance policy probably won't cover a pre-existing condition (we'll see how the new healthcare law works). And I understand that you don't want any money for that "pain and suffering" that fakers are always getting. I hope you don't care if you can't walk or lift without pain. So what if you can't play with your little kids. Who needs to play golf or tennis anymore? Money won't make your life any better. I understand why some folks just don't believe in taking money for being injured. It's your decision.
Other people believe that making a personal injury claim will subject them to fierce and humiliating cross-examination at a jury trial. They don't realize that in Pennsylvania you have two years to settle a legal claim without having to file a lawsuit. So, it is very possible that your attorney will gather all evidence and medical records, make a demand, and settle your case without you ever needing to face the other insurance company of its defense lawyer.
In summary, if you are injured, you don't "need" a lawyer for your personal injury claim. However, if you decide to pursue a personal injury claim even for only out-of-pocket expenses, it's usually a good idea.
So you decide that you need an attorney and want to retain one for your Personal Injury Case. How do you go about finding the right attorney to represent you in your Personal Injury Case?
If you found a lawyer with whom you have been satisfied, most likely you will turn to the lawyer to either work on your personal injury case or to refer you to an attorney who will. That makes sense so long as you are satisfied with the performance of that attorney in a prior case. If that attorney is a good stand up attorney and does not practice much personal injury law, that attorney should refer to an attorney who does concentrate in Personal Injury Law. For the referring attorney, it can be well worth it. He will make a 3rd of whatever fee the ultimate personal attorney will male usually. So take a typical example. Your Divorce Lawyer refers you to a Personal Injury Attorney. The Personal Injury Attorney ends up settling your case for $45,000 and has a 1/3rd Contingency Fee. The personal Injury attorney will take $15,000 fee off your settlement. The referring attorney might have agreed with the personal injury attorney for 1/3 referral fee. Thus, the referring attorney (your friend) will make $5,000 for doing virtually no work.
The Law works favorably on this referral system. The referring attorney who does not practice Personal Injury Law recognizes his limitations and is motivated to find an attorney who concentrates on Personal Injury Law which is in your best interest. Thus, the referral fee paid to your friend is usually worth it. It doesn't cost you anymore. And your case gets referred to an attorney who is skilled in the area of Personal Injury Law which is in your best interest.
If you don't have an attorney that you used before and trusted, you may asked friends what attorney they used and who they can refer. If you trust your friend's judgment, this could be a good source for referral. Again, make sure the attorney that you're being referred to concentrates in Personal Injury Law and does not dabble in it.
If you don't know of an attorney, have no friends or have no friends who have used good attorneys, you turn to advertising.
Attorneys' pay big money for cheesy full page ads in the Yellow Pages. In a small market as in Reading Pennsylvania, I've waded through 89 pages of attorneys' ads, many of which advertise and scream out Personal Injury, I can make you money. While it's perfectly legal and ethical for attorneys to advertise in the Yellow Pages or elsewhere, this is not your best way to find the attorney that is right for you.
Attorneys' like all business people need to advertise to bring in clients. Personal Attorneys also advertise in Billboards, Newspapers, Church Guides, TV, Radio, you name it. For a Personal Injury Attorney anyone could be your client. That means you should be advertising everywhere.
Nevertheless, relying on advertising alone without substance is not a good way to select a good personal injury attorney.
If you do select a personal injury attorney off of advertising, I would find a website for the attorney or you could get some substance about the attorney, the attorney's legal practice, the attorney's results, the attorneys' experience, the attorney's area of practice, etc. At lease then you have a fighting chance to learn something about the attorneys that you are comparing and want to select.
Interview your attorney. I can't believe how many clients wonder into an attorney's office, sign a fee agreement to retain the attorney and never talk to another attorney to compare styles, areas of practice, fee's to be charged, etc. It's like the Personal Injury Victim is so scared to even meet with an attorney that they sign up without asking any questions. You should interview more than one attorney and ask questions. If you get thrown out of an office, that attorney should not be on your list. You need to reach a comfort level with the attorney your interviewing. Remember, your interviewing the attorney just as much as the attorney is interviewing you.
How do personal injuries charge? Fees. You heard the ads screaming on the television or the radio. We do not collect any money until we recover money for you. That is true. Personal Injury Attorney's take a percentage of the recovery that they get on your behalf as payment. Two factors play as to whether the attorney gets paid. The dollar settlement and the percentage of the Contingency Fee. For example, say your case settles for $6,000 and the attorney agreed to take a 1/3rd fee. Obviously, the attorney would get paid $2,000 and recover any cost advanced on the case. You would get paid $4,000 minus any cost the attorney had to advance to get that settlement.
Another example is a Wrongful Death Case. Say somebody runs a red light, slams into a car at 55 mph killing the other driver. The Insurance Policy Limits are $100,000 on the person who ran the red. The attorney agrees to represent the deceased for a 1/3rd fee. Since the liability is obviously against the person who ran the red light and the person was CEO of a corporation earning big money the case is a no brainer slam dunk $100,000 settlement. In that case, a lawyer is going to get paid $33,000 for doing little work.
The moral is that you have to look at all circumstances of the case to decide what percentage fee is fair. In a small case, a percentage fee of 50% may not be enough to make an attorney motivated to work on your case. In a larger case, 25% might be plenty to make an attorney want to take on your case. The issues involved in any personal injury case are who is responsible (Liability), (Causation what injuries did the negligent party cause), and Damages, Economic money lost and pain and suffering resulting from the accident. You have to look at all these issues to decide what a fair fee is. There is no Standard Fee in Personal Injury Law.
A big dividing line in any Contingency Fee Agreement is that the case settles before having to file a law suit or if the case requires filing a lawsuit.
Should the attorney be a Local Attorney or an Out of City/County Attorney? I work in Reading Pennsylvania. I've worked for a 25 Attorney Firm defending Insurance Companies that were based in Pennsylvania with Satellite Offices throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. I've also worked for a Personal Injury Firm based in Philadelphia Center City with 7 Satellite Offices throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. Those working in Reading verses working in Philadelphia make you a better and more qualified personal injury attorney. It doesn't matter.
I've seen lousy attorneys in both Reading and Philadelphia. I have seen stellar attorneys in both Reading and Philadelphia. You have to look at the Attorney and not where they are located.
The positive to finding a Local Attorney is that you could actually talk to and meet the local attorney at the attorney's office when needed. It sure beats having the other attorney come into town once a week or once a month and trying to be on a score card of 10 clients that the attorney is going to meet all on one morning or afternoon. I would recommend with all things being equal hiring the attorney who lives in the jurisdiction where your case will be heard. For example, if the case is gonna be heard in Philadelphia I would hire a Philadelphia Attorney. If the case is a case in Reading I would hire a Reading Attorney. Reading attorneys' are more familiar with the Reading Court system and Philadelphia Attorneys are more familiar with the Philadelphia Court System. In my case, having worked in both systems, I am familiar with both. There are Regional Attorneys who are based at one place but handle cases in many counties. They would be good attorneys to have no matter what the Jurisdiction.
Make sure your attorney is willing to advance the cost of your case. You should never have to pay to get Medical Records, Employment Records, Tax Records, or any records. You should never have to pay money to an attorney for the attorney to file your personal injury suit should it not settle. And should this case require filing suit, he should never have to pay an attorney for the cost of Conducting a Deposition, Obtaining a deposition transcript, and the biggest cost of all, hiring an expert. Your personal injury attorney should pay for all of those items with your knowledge that should you get a recovery that money that the attorney advances will be repaid to the attorney from your share of the settlement proceeds. I've had people upset about this arrangement. The client must know that the attorney takes in some cases a bigger risk then other cases, but always a risk by advancing costs and time in a case on a percentage fee basis.
Make sure your attorney has tried personal injury cases in
court before a jury. There are some personal injury attorneys who are notorious for never stepping foot into a trial before a jury. They settle all cases, and if they can't settle a case, will refer you to an attorney who is supposedly great at trial.
There is a reason that most Contingency Fee Agreements increase the percentage fee to the attorney from settling a case to having to sue and go to court to get money. That's because having to go to court takes a lot more time, a lot more effort, and a lot more nerves.
Size up how you believe your attorney will be in court. Most attorneys have to understand that it is good to be firm but not a jerk. If you don't like a jerk, do you think a Jury would? Do you think a Judge Would? Of course not. Attorneys who are jerks usually don't get as much money for there clients. At the same time you can't be a spineless wimp. You have to be able to command a jury and help them to understand why your client deserves a recovery.
Finally, use your gut instincts. As we all know, sometimes you can think too much about a question knowing all along that your gut is telling you something. Trust your gut.