The ABCs of an Injury Case
Anticipate going through an unfamiliar process. Most people will never have to hire an attorney for an injury, but when they do, it's a very foreign course of action. Your attorney should lay out a road map early on that will show you the steps necessary to get your case resolved. It may take more or less time between steps than your attorney can anticipate, so keep this in mind. If you have any questions -NEVER be afraid to ask.
Be ready to listen to and follow your attorney's advice. It may not always seem intuitive or like the best course of action to you, but your attorney has a special set of experiences and training that he will use in your best interest. When in doubt ask, but try to develop trust early on with your attorney.
Cooperate with the police. Make sure you do your best to provide the police with all the facts they ask for, but don't admit liability. The police are free to make inferences from the facts you provide, but if you try to explain liability, you might regret saying something when later on you realize you were scared or confused about what happened to you. If you're not sure of an answer then just say you're not sure.
Don't give recorded statements. Your insurance carrier or the other party's insurance carrier may try to get your to make a recorded statement. Don't do it! While they may seem to ask simple, staight-forward questions, the answers you give can be used against you later. They may try to get you to admit, or partially admit, to things that can be taken out of context. Politely decline to give any further information until you have been advised by your attorney.
Explain in detail everything you can remember to your attorney. Ideally, as soon as you are able to do so, you should make a diary about your accident with everything you remember. There may be things that you think are not important that your attorney will be very interested in knowing. Take your time and tell your story as completely as you remember.
Find an experienced attorney. A personal injury attorney is an essential part of maximizing your financial recovery.
Get well. Make sure that you get the proper care you need and don't delay. If you don't get medical attention immediately, an insurance company can use that to minimize your settlement by arguing that because you waited to be seen by a medical provider, you were only slightly injured, or not injured at all!
Help your attorney. If he asks you to return documentation, or be available for a call at a certain time, do so. We don't like to ask anything out of clients that we don't feel is necessary. So please do your best to work with us. After all, at the end of the day we're doing it to benefit you!
Ignore freelance legal advice. Many non-lawyers may offer you good advice, but use caution when listening. The person may mean well, but they don't have the same training and experience as your attorney. When in doubt, however, ask your attorney for an explanation of why something is done a particular way.
Justice will be served. Our system is not perfect, but it's as good as it gets when compared to other systems around the world. You may be intimidated by the thought of a jury box full of strangers deciding your case, but jurors by and large return fair decisions.
Keep all your records. Make sure you keep copies of your accident report, any correspondence with an insurance company, insurance policies, medical records and bills, etc. for your attorney to review. Your attorney will be able to get a much better picture of your situation if he has material to review during your consultation.
Lying will sink your case. It can be tempting for some people to exaggerate a little or fill in some gaps with convenient facts. Don't do it! If your attorney finds out he will likely withdraw from you case and if the jury finds out you stand a chance of losing even on otherwise good facts. Honesty is the best policy!Lying will sink your case. It can be tempting for some people to exaggerate a little or fill in some gaps with convenient facts. Don't do it! If your attorney finds out he will likely withdraw from you case and if the jury finds out you stand a chance of losing even on otherwise good facts. Honesty is the best policy!
Most cases are settled. Approximately 98% of all civil suits are settled prior to trial. This seems like an astounding number, but contrary to television shows, the vast majority of cases are never put before a jury. That said, your case may very well be arbitrated or mediated before it is settled. An experienced personal injury attorney will thoroughly prepare you for every event throughout the course of your case.
Never speak with anyone other than your attorney about the injury. Insurance companies may try to get you to make a recorded statement, or make a statement to an investigator that can be used against you. Your attorney can make sure that when you do provide answers to the insurance company's questions, that you are not being persuaded or tricked into answering a question in a way that can be twisted. In addition, your conversations with your attorney are privileged, but if you speak with someone else, that conversation may be discoverable by the insurance company and later used against you.
Ordinarily it's not possible to give a ballpark figure for your case. Calculating a possible settlement range takes into account your injury, recovery, medical bills, long-term diagnosis, etc. There's no way to know what your case is worth until you've at least finished being treated, and even then it can take months to get the medical records and opinions necessary to value your claim. Furthermore, many cases are limited by the availability of insurance coverage. For example, if you are struck by an uninsured motorist and you have uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000, then usually the most financial compensation you will be able to receive will be limited to $25,000 even if you have a $1,000,000 case. Many people will ask, "Can't I go after the defendant for the rest of the money?" Sure, but the cold truth is, most people that do not have insurance, or have only minimum policies, do not have assets you can go after.
Photographs can help your case. As soon as you are able, take pictures, or have someone else take pictures, of you and any property that was damaged, e.g., car, motorcycle, surroundings. Try to take these pictures in a way that best shows the extent of the damage. Too often poorly taken pictures have been shown to jurors that failed to show the full extent of the damage. For example, if you were rear-ended, don't take pictures only from directly behind the car, but get pictures from various angles to show the full extent of the damage. In cases where there is minimal or no apparent vehicle damage, make sure to look underneath the car for damage that is not readily visible.
Question your attorney. Some attorneys might not like this one, but you have every right to ask your attorney about the status of your case and the decisions your attorney has or will make. If you don't like something that was done or feel like you're out in the dark, don't get frustrated, ask your attorney for an explanation.
Relax as much as you can. A lawsuit can be an extremely stressful and long-commitment for both you and your attorney. There will be times when a lot seems to be happening at once, but most of the time you and your attorney will be waiting to hear back from the other party. Know in advance that it can take months, even more than a year to settle a case, and trust that your attorney is moving things along as quickly as he can without risking the maximum value of your settlement. If you are in a hurry to settle your case, the insurance company will pickup on that
Sign a release only after you have it reviewed by an attorney, otherwise, you might be signing something you later regret. Even if an attorney charges you for a few hours of his time, the amount you spend might be trivial compared to how much you could be losing out on by signing a release without representation.
Tell others about your experience with your attorney when your case is concluded. Word of mouth referrals are the main source of employment for many attorneys.
Update your attorney promptly. Whenever you are contacted by medical providers, insurance companies, adjusters, police, etc., always keep your attorney informed. Your attorney will be able to advise you on what to do if you are unsure of how to respond to these contacts.
Verdict mindset is the key. Whoever you communicate to, whatever pictures you take, etc., should all be done from the mindset of "how would this look to a jury?" Be polite, be thorough, and follow your attorneys advice to the letter.
Wait patiently between communications. As it was said before, a lot of time during a lawsuit is spent waiting for the other side to respond. Whoever said "the wheels of justice turn slowly" knew what they were talking about!
X-rays, MRIs, EKGs, and medical records in general take time to request and receive. As your attorney is investigating your case he will need to request all of your medical records related to the injury. It is imperative to let your attorney know EVERY medical provider you received care from as a result of your injury.
You, and only you, know when you're done with treatment. If you're not represented, insurance companies are notorious for trying to get you to settle your claim even before you're done being treated, sometimes, even before you start treatment. Don't do it! You have no way of knowing the extent of your injuries until you and your doctor feel that further treatments will not be beneficial. If you're represented, never be afraid to let your attorney know that you're still not 100%.
Zealous advocacy prevails. When you have good facts, and a client and attorney that are both ready to fight to win, you often do.