Most people only deal with a personal injury lawyer once or twice in a lifetime. You’ve probably heard that most work on a contingent fee basis, meaning that they take upwards of forty percent of any settlement or verdict in your favor. If this seems like a lot, remember that the lawyer is, in effect, gambling on your case. If your claim is dismissed or is settled for a small amount, he may receive a fee that’s much lower than the work and time invested justify. Personal injury litigation is a complicated process governed by a host of procedural and other rules. You may think that it’s something you can handle on your own, particularly if you’ve successfully represented yourself or your business in small claims court in the past.
But if you can forgive a sports metaphor, small claims court is to a personal injury suit as a small-town minor league game is to the World Series. It is an entirely different animal and not something you want to try to manage on your own
If you’re wondering exactly what work a plaintiff’s lawyer will do for you if you’re seriously injured in an accident, read on.
He Can Explain Your Rights
The first important thing an experienced personal injury lawyer can do is explain how different legal issues may affect your claim for damages. These may include the degree, if any, to which you were at fault in the accident or what types and amounts of damages you may be able to recover. These typically include so-called special damages, such as lost wages or medical bills not covered by insurance, as well as “general” or “pain and suffering” damages.
Your lawyer can also explain the lawsuit process, what will be in the complaint and where it will be filed and how long the process is likely to take.
He Represents You in Pretrial Proceedings
There are certain pretrial proceedings (known collectively as “discovery”) that occur in virtually all personal injury cases.
The defendant’s lawyers will almost always want to take your deposition. This is an interview taken under oath by their lawyer regarding your claim. It can often make or break a case. An experienced lawyer will prepare you for what to expect at your deposition and be with you throughout to be sure the other side plays by the established rules. He can also make appropriate objections if they don’t. If necessary, disputes regarding discovery can be submitted to a judge to decide.
The defendant will probably also submit interrogatories (written questions), document requests or requests for admissions. How you answer these requests can be critical. Although you must respond under oath, your lawyer will know when and how to answer and can help you prepare your responses. Although the court rules do allow quite a bit of leeway, there are questions the defendant can’t legitimately ask. Your lawyer will know what these are and, as in your deposition, can make the appropriate objections.
He Can Effectively Negotiate On Your Behalf
Insurance companies employ claims adjusters to evaluate and resolve personal injury claims. If your case is relatively clear, it may be possible to settle your claim without ever filing suit by dealing directly with this individual.
The portrayal of adjusters in lawyers’ television ads as “professional deniers” isn’t really accurate. While adjusters don’t get bonuses for paying claims, they often are given incentives to settle legitimate ones quickly.
But it’s important to remember that an adjuster is not on your side and has far greater negotiation experience than you. You don’t want to negotiate with him yourself. In fact, your lawyer will likely advise you not to speak to the defendant’s insurance company at all.
An experienced and capable personal injury lawyer will be able to present an accurate picture of your injuries and may even know the adjuster in your case from prior cases. This can often provide credibility and let the adjuster know that your claim is legitimate.
He Can Represent You In Court Or Arbitration
Although the vast majority of all personal injury cases are settled before trial (some estimates say upwards of 96 percent nationally), it’s essential that you have a lawyer who is experienced in trying cases and is willing to go to trial if necessary. Particularly if there is an insurance company on the other side, they and their attorneys need to know that you are serious and are willing to let a jury decide your claim if they aren’t prepared to settle for an acceptable amount.
In some situations in Massachusetts, you may agree to have your case go to arbitration instead of court, particularly if there’s an insurance company on the other side. This is often faster than waiting for a court date, and your lawyer can advise you as to whether it’s a good idea in your circumstances.
An arbitration hearing is usually held before a court-appointed neutral third party (typically a lawyer) or a panel of such individuals. They will hear your case and that of the defendant and make a ruling on how much, if anything, your case is worth. They will also encourage you to settle whenever possible. Depending upon the outcome and the applicable rules, you may be bound by the result or you may be able to appeal.
Here are some additional ways you might not have considered that an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you.
He Can Complete a Professional And In-Depth Investigation
Personal injury firms usually use experienced investigators to look into the circumstances of a client’s accident. The investigation will include a review of the police report (if any), interviews with any witnesses and, in some cases, a reconstruction of the accident. Experienced investigators are trained in principles applicable to personal injury cases. They can be expected to honestly evaluate your accident claim and provide an unbiased report to your lawyer. This will often dictate whether you’ll want to push for a larger settlement or trial or settle for a smaller amount.
He Can Connect With Appropriate Medical Providers
Medical treatment and evaluation of your injuries by a qualified specialist can be expensive to obtain. An experienced personal injury lawyer will usually have preferred medical providers to whom he can refer you for treatment and an objective evaluation. If necessary, these professionals may also be called upon to testify at trial or in a deposition. Your lawyer will often pay the costs of an evaluation or expert testimony, which you’ll reimburse if you win at trial or settle your claim.