I have been thinking about what non-lawyers might want to know when they contact a personal injury attorney or auto accident attorney for the first time, particularly if they do not work in a profession or industry where they regularly deal with lawyers in a business capacity. In other words, if they are contacting an attorney or law firm for the first time, they must be wondering what they should expect from their personal injury attorney. So I thought I would enlighten you. This discussion primarily involves auto accidents, and auto accident attorneys, although there are many other potential injury claims, all of which have slightly different procedures.
Detailed Intake, Sometimes
You should generally expect and require that you speak at length with a personal injury attorney if that attorney or law firm has agreed to take your case and you have decided to hire them. But many personal injury firms have an initial round of questions that tell them very quickly whether they will be able to help you. For instance, if you were at-fault in the accident, in many cases auto accident attorneys cannot help you. So that would be an early question. If you were at-fault, then the conversation might end very quickly, which is okay, because, again, they cannot help you.
But, let’s just say that you made it through the initial round of questioning and the attorney or firm has decided that you have a potentially legitimate auto accident claim and that they might be able to help you. At that point, you should expect to be asked detailed questions about the accident, the police report, insurance coverage, witnesses, passengers, injuries and medical treatment, among other relevant issues. These detailed facts help auto accident attorneys decide how they might best help you. They should also answer any and all of your questions regarding how they might handle your case, including how often you might hear from them. Cases are won or lost based on development of facts and evidence. And only the client and attorney working closely together can properly prepare a case for settlement or trial.
Your Important Work In Your Personal Injury Case
The most important things that you can do to help your personal injury case are to:
(1) Communicate openly and honestly with your auto accident attorney.
And correct yourself as soon as possible if you realize that you made a mistake. Your attorney is YOUR advocate and, particularly in a personal injury case where his or her fee is contingent on your recovery, absolutely wants to help you. But he or she cannot help you if he or she does not know the truth about everything. Trust him or her to be on your side. If you do not, find someone else. Attorneys have many ways of dealing with potential problems in lawsuits, but, again, an attorney cannot help if he or she does not know the truth.
(2) Seek and receive immediate medical treatment for ALL of your injuries.
I cannot overstate the need to receive prompt initial evaluation and ongoing treatment for all of your injuries. Some clients, not wanting to burden others, will downplay their injuries to their medical providers. This is a BAD idea. The only way for your lawyer to prove the injuries in your case is with medical records. And your doctor writes information that you provide in your medical records (and so do you, sometimes, in documents like intake forms at physical therapy). And doctors are used to treating the worst injuries first (or, sometimes, only), but you should continuously insist that you want treatment for all areas that are causing pain. This might include surgery in severe cases, or a combination of physical therapy, injections, and chiropractic or other treatment in less severe cases, or after surgery. You also need to follow your doctor’s advice. Ignoring your doctor’s advice reduces your potential recovery in most cases. Sometimes you might need a second opinion, or a second doctor, if your doctor cannot find the source of your pain or if your doctor ignores some of your symptoms. Your attorney should be giving you ongoing information about how best to handle situations that might arise with treatment, questions about how various treatments might impact your settlement, and a whole host of other important issues. This is critically important because, again, your medical records are the one and only way that your auto accident attorney can prove the damages in your case. And clients without this careful guidance may bounce around the medical world with symptoms being ignored or undertreated. This is bad for your health and your legal case. So you have to be proactive and your attorney should be providing guidance about how various treatments might impact your legal case every step of the way.
(3) Gather any and all evidence that your attorney requests from you.
This might include photographs of the vehicles or the accident scene, witness information, and wage receipts. Lawyers cannot prove cases without evidence. And they very often cannot get evidence without your cooperation.
(4) Respond promptly to any requests from your attorney.
Very often your attorney cannot prove your case without your help. For example, your attorney cannot prove your case without medical records. And your attorney cannot get your records unless you have signed a release form. So, if your attorney asks you to sign and return a release, then it is important that you do.
(5) Report the accident to your insurance company and cooperate fully with them.
You can lose coverage under your policy if you do not report early and cooperate fully.
(6) Never, ever, ever lie to your attorney, another attorney or the court.
Please trust me when I tell you that the single most important factor in determining the amount that someone will receive in a lawsuit (aside from their injuries) is their own credibility. If you lie about one thing, and the jury discovers that you were not truthful, then they are not likely to believe anything else you say (like how much your neck hurts). And lawyers have many ways of catching people in lies, such as hiring private investigators to take videos of you working when you say that you cannot work, or talking to any number of potential witnesses, or reviewing documents to prove that you were working, etc.
(7) Do your best to help yourself by pursuing all potentially helpful medical treatment and keep working if at all possible.
If you are too severely injured, then you might not be able to work. But, if you are on the line, then you need to try to do everything possible to stick with your medical treatment (trying to get better) and continue working if at all possible. Jurors tend to like and believe those who have records proving that they have done everything within their power to help themselves, which includes trying all available medical treatment in their attempt to get better and continuing to work if at all possible (sometimes this may be impossible if you are genuinely too injured, which is okay if it is true).
(8) Be respectful throughout the process, especially when being deposed and definitely at trial.
Jurors like those people who are respectful and defense attorneys evaluate plaintiffs (typically during depositions) based on how they think a jury will perceive the person. This evaluation can have a huge impact on settlement offers.
Your Attorney’s Job Early In Your Personal Injury Case
When your personal injury attorney first accepts your case, a flurry of activity should begin, including obtaining the police report, taking steps to preserve evidence (including taking photos of vehicles involved in the accident), requesting and receiving any early medical records, collecting your wage receipts, talking in detail to you or any witnesses about the accident itself and any resulting injuries, symptoms, and associated medical treatment, sending letters to the potential defendants asking them to preserve any important evidence, notifying all insurance carrier that they represent you, evaluating whether there might be any other insurance policies that might cover your claims, and advising you of the next steps to take to best protect your financial interests in the case. Once your attorney has spoken to you at length about the facts of your case, and reviewed all available evidence, photographs, and medical records, then your attorney should prepare a detailed demand letter to send to the various insurance carriers. This is a precursor to a lawsuit and gives the insurance company an opportunity to settle the claim without having to hire their own defense attorney.
Your Attorney’s Next Step Involves Filing A Lawsuit
If the insurance company of the at-fault driver or your own underinsured /uninsured motorist carrier will not pay a fair amount to settle the claim (and they often do not because most insurance companies have a planned policy to undervalue claims), and if your attorney determines that your injury justifies a lawsuit (generally only if you have sustained some type of permanent injury), then your attorney will sue the defendant in your case. This begins an avalanche of detailed and sometimes complex paperwork, far beyond the scope of this blog post. But your attorney will need to gather and develop evidence through a process called discovery. Your attorney may also have to hire experts to prove either liability or medical damages in your case. For example, your attorney might hire an accident reconstruction expert to prove that the other driver caused the accident. Your attorney’s primary goal during the pre-trial phase of any lawsuit is to gather enough evidence to prove that the other driver caused your accident and that your medical injuries are serious. Sometimes your case can be dismissed before you ever get to a jury, if the judge decides that you cannot legally prove certain required aspects of your case. All of these steps involve a massive amount of detailed investigation and careful legal work to establish that you are legally entitled to compensation for your injuries. If you do not trust that your attorney will handle every stage of your lawsuit with extreme care, then you should be concerned.
The overwhelming majority of lawsuits settle before trial. But your attorney should prepare your case as if you were going to trial because the insurance company’s attorney will be evaluating how much money he or she thinks you might recover if a jury were to decide your case. So your case will either lead to settlement at some point during the pre-trial phase of the lawsuit, or your case will be one of the relatively few that proceeds to trial, and a jury will decide how much compensation you should receive.Share