Do I need a personal injury lawyer? After a car accident, you may want to reach out to a personal injury lawyer to help with your case. Click to find out why.
Injuries can happen as a result of drowning, sharp objects, firearms, automobile accidents, fires, trip and fall, accidental poisoning, drug overdose, dog bites, and more. In Massachusetts, unintentional injuries were the cause of 74% of the 72,581 injury-related hospital stays in 2014.
When you or a loved one suffers an injury, you may wonder “do I need a personal injury lawyer?” Read on to learn what a personal injury lawyer is, what they do, and when you need to consult with one.
Do I Have a Personal Injury or Worker’s Compensation?
With both workers’ compensation and personal injury, you will need medical records to support your claim of an injury and its severity. This is how “damages” are determined, including whether it is a permanent, life-altering injury.
Personal injury claims are for injuries that occur during your personal life. This type of injury occurs when another person’s wrongdoing or negligence results in you suffering bodily harm. If actions result in you being severely hurt you may be able to receive payment for the damages you incur from that injury.
Workers’ Compensation covers physical injuries you suffer as a result of an accident at work. It also covers other work-related disabilities such as psychological injury, disease or disorder caused by occupational conditions, or a long-term repetitive stress injury (RSI) from work-related events. Workers’ compensation requires proof that your injury took place during the course of performing your job.
Can I Represent Myself?
The State of Massachusetts has several laws and web sources available for those who wish to self-represent themselves in court. Unless you are familiar with the process for obtaining evidence, securing expert witnesses, litigating with attorneys, and know the law regarding personal injury claims, you are putting yourself at risk of receiving a lower settlement than you are entitled to.
Insurance companies want to pay you as little as possible, and generally have attorneys who work to discredit your claim. Self-representation, when you are trying to recover, will be stressful and difficult.
What Is a Personal Injury Attorney?
An attorney who specializes in personal injury seeks to obtain compensation for persons who have injuries resulting from the negligent actions of another. They will seek to obtain coverage for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of quality of life.
The personal injury attorney is familiar with the laws specific to this type of case and will know how to obtain the evidence necessary for proving your case. They will handle litigation and if necessary, take the matter to trial.
What Is a Personal Injury Attorney?
Personal injury attorneys handle your case on a contingency fee. This is a percentage of the amount they recover on your behalf, normally 33.3% of the recovery.
When you hire an attorney to handle your personal injury claim, they will have you sign a retainer or fee agreement. This will state what you are hiring the attorney to do, what their contingency fee amount is, and if there are other expenses such as court filing fees that you are responsible for. You will receive a copy of the fee agreement for your files.
If the attorney does not win your case, they do not receive any attorney fees.
The Initial Consultation
During the initial consultation a personal injury lawyer will evaluate your case and advise you on whether you have a case. In evaluating your case they will look at several factors:
1. Severity of Injury
Medical records are a key factor in litigation on a personal injury case. If your injuries are life-altering or likely to result in a lifetime of pain and suffering with ongoing medical bills, this information will be used to negotiate a higher settlement. It will also be beneficial to your case at trial.
2. The Insurance Company
Insurance companies are out to make money, not pay on claims. They know that a person without an attorney likely does not know the law. The insurance company will use that vulnerability to offer a quick, low-ball settlement or completely deny your claim.
Another technique insurance companies use is to delay making a determination on your claim. This is done because they know you will have horrendous medical bills and no income. The longer they delay your claim, the more likely you are to accept a low settlement offer.
When an insurance company offers you a settlement, the first thing you need to do is take it to a personal injury attorney for review prior to signing.
3. The Other Party Denys Fault
If you are in an accident, even if the police report determines the other party to be at fault, the insurance company’s legal representation will try to place blame for the accident on you. This is a way of trying to lessen their liability for your injuries. They may even file a counterclaim against you, stating contributory negligence.
4. Multiple Parties May Be Liable
When you are in an accident there may be multiple parties liable for your injuries. A personal injury lawyer will know how to negotiate with various companies who may be responsible. They will also know the process of filing a lawsuit with multiple defendants and be comfortable negotiating with several different lawyers at one time.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Handles Your Claim
Many people think of an attorney as someone who shows up at court, spends a few minutes in front of the judge, and collects a big fee. The reality is that the attorney spends a lot of time behind the scenes gathering and reviewing documents, talking with other attorneys and companies, preparing pleadings and motions, responding to discovery requests, and more.
Here are some of the things your personal injury lawyer will be working on:
1. Gathering of Evidence
Proof that is necessary to prove not only you have injuries, but also the extent of those injuries, requires more than just your emergency room bill. Your attorney will request medical records from the emergency room, doctors you see for follow-up care, physical therapists, pain treatment facilities, visiting nurses, ambulance paramedics, and more.
These records collectively show the extent of your injuries. The attorney may request your doctors provide reports in writing that state your long-term prognosis. Photographs will be gathered that were taken of your injuries as evidence of the severity.
Your attorney will interview any eyewitnesses to the accident, possibly securing sworn affidavits for use later in court. They will take depositions of anyone they deem appropriate to obtain information on your case. If opposing counsel deposes you, your attorney will accompany you to the deposition.
2. Filing Lawsuit
While your attorney may attempt to negotiate a settlement prior to filing a lawsuit, they will be aware of when the statute of limitations expires.
Insurance companies will sometimes drag things out, acting as if a settlement may be at hand while hoping the negotiations will go beyond the filing deadline and they will not have to pay. Your attorney will watch that deadline, be familiar with this delay tactic, and will make sure they file the complaint prior to that date.
3. Valuation of Claim
Insurance companies are aware of what a claim is worth. They also know that a person with injuries who has not retained an attorney is more likely to accept an offer that is far below what their claim is worth.
The insurance company will act like they are sympathetic and making you a great deal. The problem is it is a great deal for them, not you.
Your attorney will know how to determine the value of a claim and will negotiate to secure the best result possible. If the matter comes to an impasse your attorney may have an outside expert review and value the claim. This provides further leverage in negotiations and often leads to an out-of-court settlement.
4. Prevention of Errors
Personal injury cases have numerous deadlines that must be followed. Each step of the legal process comes with deadlines and required procedures. This includes:
- Filing the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires
- Responding to counterclaims
- Filing or responding to motions
- Filing or responding to a request for summary disposition
- Deadlines for submission of witness lists and exhibit lists
- Deadlines for serving and/or responding to interrogatories
- Deadlines for answering requests for admissions
- Deadlines for making and/or responding to demands for discovery
5. Out-Of-Court Negotiations
When dealing with a personal injury claim there is a tremendous amount of time spent in negotiations with insurance company adjusters and/or attorneys who represent the insurance company.
These professionals are familiar with the court process and will work to deny your claim. Your attorney will be knowledgeable in those techniques and will work to obtain you the best settlement possible.
6. Review of Settlement Documentation
When a case settles out of court, settlement documents are signed which state the terms of the agreement. This is where your attorney’s expertise is important in making sure that the insurance company and its attorneys have not slipped anything into this document that will jeopardize your ability to receive the coverage you are entitled to at a later date.
Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Not all injuries qualify for personal injury recovery. The best course of action when asking yourself “Do I need a personal injury lawyer?” is to schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney and let them evaluate your case for validity.
The dedicated attorneys at Fitzpatrick & Associates will review your case and begin the process of working on a settlement for you. The sooner you schedule your consultation, the earlier we can begin the legal process. Don’t hesitate, contact us today!