The answer to this question is almost certainly: "Yes." Every state has hundreds of laws dealing with access to the courts and the circumstances under which a personal injury may be compensated. These laws change almost yearly. Additionally, traditional common law concepts are sometimes difficult to apply to the limitless factual situations that can give rise to a personal injury claim. Obtaining "fair compensation" is certainly the goal of a client and a personal injury lawyer. The creativity of a talented and experienced personal injury lawyer is invaluable in making sure that a persuasive case is presented to the insurance company or to a jury.
Unfortunately, insurance companies do not pay claims because they may morally or even legally owe the money. They only pay claims because they are forced to, either by a court judgment or by the threat of a court judgment. Indeed the very amount of any settlement is an estimate of what a jury might award were the case to go to trial. Obviously, persons who are not lawyers are not equipped to take a case to court and to obtain a judgment. Therefore, the insurance company is under little or no pressure to take the case seriously or to make a substantial offer. Insurance companies very often try to "control" injured people to keep them from obtaining the help of a qualified attorney. Since insurance companies are interested only in maximum profit and minimum payment to injured people, the fact that they try to keep people away from attorneys is the best evidence possible that attorneys are important in helping individuals obtain "fair compensation" for their injuries.
The simple answer to this question is: "As soon as possible." There are countless honest mistakes that an individual can make that would give the insurance company ammunition to deny the claim or that might significantly reduce the value of the case. An experienced and compassionate lawyer can identify these pitfalls early on and make sure that the insurance company does not take advantage of the injured person. Often evidence that is important to proving a personal injury case can be lost if not collected right away. A good personal injury lawyer knows what insurance companies or juries rely on in evaluating cases.
An invaluable benefit to hiring a personal injury attorney is the peace of mind that an injured person can have when they know this difficult and complex situation is in the hands of a committed professional. Frustration and uncertainty can take a very serious toll on a person, especially when they are trying to cope with the physical and emotional consequences of a personal injury.
And here is the good part. It doesn't cost any more to have a lawyer represent you from the first day following your accident than it would if he came to work for you two years after the accident. Why not have the benefit of an attorney's input and advice from day one?
Medical bills are often a very difficult problem for someone who has been injured. Help obtaining the right kind of medical treatment and managing the medical bills are services that an attorney can provide. Often physicians will wait to be paid until after a case is concluded if a lawyer promises that the doctor's bill will be addressed when the case is settled or tried.
The short answer is: "Nothing." Most personal injury attorneys recognize that injured people often don't have the three or four hundred dollars an hour that an experienced lawyer could command if he were to be hired on an hourly basis. As a result, injury lawyers are often retained on a "contingent fee basis." This means that the client owes the attorney no fee for his or her services until the attorney makes a recovery for the client. Then, the fee is calculated as a percentage of the amount recovered. Most lawyers expend their own money to fund a case and are paid back out of any recovery made.
Questions that every injured person should ask themselves before hiring a particular lawyer are:
1. Is the lawyer experienced?
Lawyers, just like any other professional, can be found at any level of experience. Some lawyers handle all types of cases and practice law in many different fields. Some lawyers handle only injury cases. Some lawyers are right out of law school and others have been helping injured people for decades. Reliable information about lawyers is available from the individual lawyers themselves, websites and an organization known as "Martindale-Hubbell." Martindale-Hubbell collects ratings on attorneys as to their skill and level of professionalism. These ratings are obtained from fellow attorneys in their community.
2. Will I get individual attention from my attorney?
Some attorneys by nature do not like dealing directly with their clients. Others enjoy meeting with and developing a relationship. Since proper presentation of a personal injury case requires that the lawyer understand how an injury affects a particular person in order to be forcefully presented, it would seem that a close working relationship between the client and the lawyer would be important. Additionally, there are few more painful and uncomfortable situations than to be represented by a lawyer whom you do not know and trust.
Some lawyers practice in a firm with many lawyers and other lawyers practice in smaller firms. Some clients are impressed by having the resources of a large firm on their case. Other injured people feel that the risk of being just one client among thousands reduces the importance of their case and the attention they get from their lawyer. Smaller firms have fewer clients and therefore each client is more important to the success of the firm.
3. Should I hire a lawyer that advertises?
The Florida Bar advises injured people not to hire a lawyer based solely on advertising. Up until just a few years ago, it was unethical for lawyers to advertise because of the danger of unprofessional and misleading conduct by unscrupulous lawyers. It is now allowed, under strict control on the basis of "freedom of speech."
Advertising can be very expensive. Some firms can spend millions of dollars a year on advertising. Such a large expense dramatically increases the "cost of doing business" and therefore requires that each lawyer produce more money to keep the doors open. That sometimes results in a lawyer being responsible for a huge number of cases, delegating important legal work to non-lawyers, spending less time on each case, spending less time with each client and settling cases because they are too busy to contest them. Some lawyers who work for firms that do a lot of advertising never even meet their clients.
Traditionally, injury lawyers have obtained new clients through word-of-mouth referral from satisfied previous clients or other lawyers in the community who know the quality of the individual lawyer's work.
An injured person should speak with several prospective attorneys before deciding which attorney seems to be the most experienced, hard-working, compassionate and trustworthy. The human factor is very important and should not be over looked.
Personal injury attorneys customarily consult with prospective clients free of charge. You should demand to speak with an attorney, not a subordinate. An injured person should consider obtaining a personal injury consultation whenever an injury occurs. Very often, there are theories of legal liability that an injured person may not be aware of. For example, a person injured by a crime committed on commercial or rental premises might very well have a claim against the owner of the premises for failing to provide adequate security. Similarly, a person injured in an automobile collision might be able to recover from the owner of adjacent premises for obstructed view as a result of foliage.
Delay is an injured person's biggest enemy. The law requires that claims be brought within a specified period of years. As mentioned above, evidence can disappear and insurance companies can take unfair advantage of injured persons as time goes by.