Some people do not want to hire attorneys to handle their personal injury cases because they think it will cost too much, they think they can do it themselves, and besides, they say, they do not know any attorneys and aren’t sure how to hire the right one. These points turn out to be not reasons but excuses for not getting the help they all need.
Many if not all skilled and experienced personal injury attorneys charge no fee for an initial consultation to evaluate a case and determine its difficulty in proof and its worth in damages as fair compensation for the claimant’s injury. Not only does the consultation cost the claimant nothing, but in cases of clear merit the attorney may proceed on a contingent arrangement and charge the client nothing for representation, advice, and advocacy through the entire case unless and until there is a settlement or an award of damages, and at that point charge a fee as a proportion, typically a third, of the recovery under the contingency agreement. If there is no recovery for the client, there is no fee for the attorney. In any case, there is no cost up front for the claimant.
Hiring an Attorney
To hire the right attorney, claimants may ask about fees over the phone before coming in for the initial case consultation. During the consultation, they should feel free to ask as many questions as cross their minds and take note of whether the attorney answers them directly and completely. A consultation does not oblige the claimant to hire the attorney, nor is there any limit on the number of attorneys with whom a claimant may consult. The fee agreement, contingent or other, should be in writing.
Doing It Themselves
Those who say they can do it themselves should consider that insurance adjusters deal with personal injury cases every day with assistance from seasoned investigators, medical experts, and attorneys practiced in the arts of deception and delay. From experience, the adjusters know what the claimant’s case is worth, and they assume, usually accurately, that the claimant does not.
Dealing with Adjusters
In negotiations with claimants, insurance adjusters enjoy every unfair advantage. They offer absurdly inadequate settlements and then, if the claimants do not accept them, demand impossible proof to justify the claims. Negotiations may drag on so long that many claimants settle for much less than they should simply from discouragement and frustration. If they persevere, however, they may find that long delays make loss of evidence likely, and at some point important proof from witnesses, documents, photographs, and case artifacts is no longer available. In some cases, adjusters have prolonged negotiations with unrepresented claimants past statute of limitation deadlines, after which their claims are time-barred and worthless.
Personal injury cases vary in complexity, but the process typically involves investigation, negotiation, and, if necessary, litigation. The personal injury attorney studies all paperwork from the client and retrieves additional documentation as needed, contacts and interviews all witnesses, sometimes deposes them, subpoenas them to secure their testimony, and arranges for testimony from experts when required by law.
Along with a complete and thorough investigation of the facts, the personal injury attorney reviews the law to determine whether negligence or intent caused the injury and whether there is any issue or proof of contributory fault or negligence by the claimant.
The personal injury attorney makes an honest effort in good faith to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement from the defendant’s insurer before resorting to a lawsuit to enforce the claim for damages. At this stage of the process, claimants at first skeptical about the value of the personal injury attorney’s services come to appreciate them immensely. The insurance adjuster’s underhanded tactics and dirty tricks are of no use against a skilled, experienced attorney as comfortable and confident in a courtroom as in a conference room; discreet adjusters who realize that they stand to lose much more at trial to an attorney who may persuade a jury to award damages they would see as excessive are quick to settle on terms of full and fair compensation.
If a reasonable settlement is not possible, the case must proceed to litigation. The defense often files motions for dismissal or summary judgment on legal issues to which the attorney must respond to preserve the client’s claim and, if successful, proceed to trial with selection of jurors, presentation of evidence, cross-examination of defense witnesses, presentation of rebuttal evidence in some cases, and closing arguments on the issues raised by the evidence. The entire dynamically labor-intensive process demands powers of concentration acquired, as in any form of combat, only through experience. It is difficult to imagine how any unrepresented plaintiff could prosecute a trial successfully though there have been rumors of such cases.