If parents suspect that medical malpractice caused harm during childbirth, they should strongly consider hiring a birth injury lawyer to help them file a lawsuit for compensation. These cases are more complex than most personal injury cases. They typically involve expert testimony and may trigger distinctive procedural rules. Even if a birth injury case does not go to trial, professional representation can make a significant difference to the outcome. Simply hiring an attorney signals that a family is taking the case seriously, which may motivate a defendant or insurer to offer a better settlement. In addition, an attorney can handle tasks such as:
Retaining experts to prove the liability of a defendant
Retaining experts to prove damages based on permanent disabilities
Conducting depositions of opposing parties and witnesses (these provide sworn out-of-court testimony that can be used at trial for certain purposes)
Fighting motions to dismiss the case on procedural grounds
Developing a litigation strategy tailored to state laws and local court procedures
Helping evaluate whether a settlement offer is appropriate
Advising a family on the pros and cons of going to trial, based on their situation and the attorney’s experience in similar cases
A family usually has only one opportunity to bring a lawsuit based on a birth injury. They may not be able to start over with an attorney if a case that they brought on their own is dismissed, unless the judge grants permission to refile. Thus, a family should not leave anything to chance when so much is at stake. Health care providers usually fight birth injury cases vigorously, with the assistance of sophisticated defense lawyers. A family who does not hire their own attorney will find themselves at a strategic disadvantage.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to anyone whom you know and trust who may have hired a birth injury attorney. Each case is unique, though, and the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
Not all personal injury lawyers, and not even all medical malpractice lawyers, regularly handle birth injury cases. You should hire an attorney who has experience in this distinctive area of the law. Experience in the courtroom also can carry significant weight, since these cases are often hard-fought, and you may not want to take the first settlement offer.
If possible, you may want to hire a lawyer who has represented children living with conditions similar to your child’s condition. For example, if your baby developed cerebral palsy due to medical errors during childbirth, you may want to hire a lawyer who has assisted children suffering from cerebral palsy. They may have connections to experts who can persuasively describe the impact of this condition on your child’s life. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to undermine a case that is otherwise strong, especially since your financial security may depend on the outcome.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by judges and defense attorneys, which can help resolve your case more favorably and efficiently.
Verdicts and Settlements
Often, a birth injury lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each case is decided on its own facts, so you should not rely on a past verdict or settlement as an estimate of the compensation that you will receive. However, consistently substantial awards obtained by an attorney for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the cases in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of situation.
If you are especially impressed by a certain result, you may want to figure out the extent to which the attorney handled the key aspects of that case. Sometimes several lawyers or law firms work together on a birth injury case, and the scale of their contributions may vary.
Most birth injury lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your case, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to ask about their initial perceptions of the strength and value of your case. You should not expect a precise answer, but a general impression can help set your expectations. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees and Costs
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. Birth injury lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they do not charge fees upfront but instead collect their fee as a percentage of the verdict or settlement that they obtain for a client. Typically, the attorney will collect about 30 to 40 percent of the award, but the percentage can vary depending on the stage that the case reaches and the work that the attorney performs. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
In addition to attorney fees, a birth injury case may involve court costs and other litigation costs. These may include expenses such as service fees, expert witness fees, court reporter fees, and document copying fees. You may want to find out how these costs will be handled before signing a representation agreement.