There are many types of lawyers out there - most of them competing with each other to attract clients. And, while all lawyers market their services in some way or another, some of the most well-known and visible lawyers specialize in personal injury. In many places, stretches of highways are splashed with billboards advertising the area’s “best” personal injury law firms. Personal injury lawyers use local and national radio and television commercials to advertise their services, always listing a 1-800 number for the convenience of potential clients. This type of visibility inevitably attracts clients.
Generally, personal injury lawyers represent people (referred to as plaintiffs) who have been injured “through no fault of their own.” The most common type of personal injury claims are those that arise from motor vehicle accidents (all types); premises liability (slip and fall, dog bite) products liability (faulty product or equipment); and medical malpractice. Many personal injury lawyers also represent individuals injured while at work and on the job.
So, what do personal injury lawyers do?
Injury lawyers and their staff work closely with clients to file claims with the insurance companies of those individuals or companies (referred to as defendants) whose negligence directly caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. If a defendant’s insurance company does not provide an acceptable settlement offer in order to resolve the plaintiff’s claims, the plaintiff’s attorney likely will file a lawsuit in order to put pressure on the defendant and in hopes of obtaining a favorable judgment or verdict.
At an initial client meeting, a personal injury lawyer evaluates a potential plaintiff’s case and provides feedback regarding: the strength of the case; whether similar types of cases have been successful in the past; and a very broad estimate regarding the value of the case. The value of a case refers to the settlement amount that likely will be offered by the defendant or a potential verdict amount.
If the attorney believes a plaintiff’s case has a likelihood of success, he or she will enter into a formal, legal relationship with the plaintiff and will then get to work on the case. This includes obtaining any and all police reports, medical records and other information. It is important to note that when a plaintiff files a claim or lawsuit against a defendant (and his or her insurance company), the plaintiff’s medical records become an open book subject to examination and scrutiny. If the defendant’s attorney can find anything that will weaken the plaintiff’s case (such as a past injury, fault on the part of the plaintiff, etc.) it certainly will be exploited to decrease the value of the case.
A plaintiff’s attorney will adhere to deadlines, help the plaintiff deal with healthcare providers and employers, and provide guidance throughout the entire legal process.
Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
Unlike lawyers who practice other types of law, most personal injury lawyers often collect their fees after the fact and on a contingency basis. This means that plaintiffs (generally) do not have to pay their attorneys until after their case settles or a favorable verdict is reached. In the vast majority of cases, personal injury attorneys will agree to accept as their payment one-third of any settlement or verdict amount. While this may pose a risk to an attorney that he or she will not get paid if the case does not go well and/or if the case takes months or years to resolve, the benefits of potential earnings far outweigh the risks of losing money.
Despite the fact that plaintiffs do not have to pay their lawyers up front, they generally are responsible for payment of all costs and fees associated with filing claims and lawsuits. This means that they do have to pay court fees, deposition costs, expert fees, postage, etc.
If you are considering hiring a personal injury attorney to represent you, make sure you understand exactly what the payment arrangement is and what you will pay and when. Also, make sure to research personal injury attorneys in your area before you make a decision. Like with all professionals, some attorneys are better than others. Your state’s bar association website lists attorneys in good standing and is a great place to start. There are also many websites that list attorney reviews.