While an accident victim may be able to handle certain types of claims on their own, other claims may require or strongly benefit from the assistance of an attorney. These are typically claims that are contested, that have a high value, that involve complex theories of liability, or that require expert witnesses or other forms of evidence that may be challenging to get on your own.
When you are looking for a personal injury lawyer, you will want to make sure that you find someone who communicates well with you and whom you trust. They should have experience bringing cases similar to yours. Many attorneys will have relationships with specialists in the relevant field, such as accident reconstruction specialists, forensic experts, doctors, and vocational rehabilitation experts. Their assistance can make your case much stronger, motivating an insurer to settle fairly and promptly. While most personal injury cases do not go to trial, hiring an attorney with trial experience also can signal to an insurer that you are serious about your case. They may be less eager to fight if they know that you are ready to fight too.
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When to Get an Attorney
If you have suffered severe or permanent injuries, you likely will need a significant amount of damages. Moreover, your damages may span many different categories, some of which may be hard to quantify. You may require future treatment over the rest of your life, your earning capacity may decline, and you may suffer substantial pain and suffering. A lawyer can help you determine how much compensation would be appropriate in each of these categories and gather evidence to support your claim. Without a lawyer, a victim runs the risk of accepting a lowball offer from the insurer that does not fully compensate them for their ongoing and future needs.
You should hire an attorney if your case involves scientific or technical evidence, such as claims based on medical malpractice, defective products, or toxic torts. Your lawyer can help you retain expert witnesses and comply with the distinctive procedural rules in these cases. Companies and insurers contesting claims of products liability or professional negligence tend to have ample resources and a greater appetite for litigation than many defendants. You need your own legal professional when you are going up against them.
More broadly, you should get an attorney on your side whenever an insurer is failing to negotiate with you in good faith or failing to pay out on your claim. An insurer may be less inclined to offer a fair settlement to an accident victim without an attorney. Retaining legal counsel may motivate the insurer to behave responsibly, even if your case never goes to trial.
How to Choose an Attorney
You should discuss your situation with several different attorneys and evaluate who seems like the best fit for you. The attorney with the best education and the most awards is not necessarily the right attorney for any given case. You should review an attorney’s testimonials and results for cases similar to yours to get a sense of their experience and proficiency. Online reviews by former clients also can provide insights into an attorney’s strengths and weaknesses, although you should be wary of reviews that are excessively enthusiastic or excessively harsh. The reality is probably somewhere between them.
Be sure to ask about the lawyer’s experience with cases similar to yours, or with handling issues similar to those that are likely to arise in your case.
You should ask an attorney about how much your case is worth and how likely you are to win. The answer will not be precise, since litigation is unpredictable by nature, but an attorney should have enough knowledge and experience in the area to give you an estimate. If one attorney assigns a far greater value to your case than others, you should follow up to find out why. They may be overpromising, which can be a red flag.
Attorneys often have a support staff of paralegals and administrative assistants. They also may assign some of the work to junior attorneys in their firm or network. You can find out how much work the attorney will do on your case, compared to the work done by others. If you want your attorney to handle your case in its entirety, you may be able to find an attorney who will do that, although this may increase your fees.
Attorney Fees and Costs in Personal Injury Cases
Most personal injury attorneys handle their cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you do not owe them a fee for their services unless they get compensation for you. Their fee then becomes a percentage of the settlement award or jury verdict. Typically, this percentage is somewhere around 30% or 33%. (The percentage is often larger when a case goes to trial because this involves more work for the attorney.) However, you should carefully review the details of the fee agreement before signing it to make sure that you understand how and when fees are due.
You should be aware that attorney fees are not the only costs involved in bringing a personal injury case. Whether or not you hire an attorney, you will need to pay fees related to court filings, administrative expenses, document processing, and witnesses, among other issues. Some attorneys will cover these costs if you lose your case, or they may agree to a more favorable fee agreement for you if you agree to cover them. If you win your case, these costs will be paid from your compensation award. The question becomes whether they are paid before or after your attorney deducts their contingency fee. If they are paid before, they will be subtracted from your overall award, so you will walk away with more money than if they are paid from the award following the deduction of the contingency fee.