INTRODUCTION AND DISCLAIMERS
This FAQ file is a general response to questions that are often asked, especially by someone who’s had the misfortunate to suffer injury in an accident, be it a car crash, a workplace injury, or other type of circumstance where someone else was at fault.
The law differs in every jurisdiction, and you should not rely on any opinion except that of an attorney you have retained, who has a professional duty to advise you after being fully informed of all the pertinent facts and who is familiar with the applicable law.
Often a case may turn on a fact which did not seem important at the beginning of a case, which is one reason it is especially important to have professional representation as soon as possible after you have been injured.
The following information is very general. The legal rules governing insurance coverage and liability of negligent parties very greatly from state to state; the comments herein should be taken as a starting point, not a final answer.
Finally, these comments include the opinions of an attorney who frequently represents injured parties. Other experienced attorneys may look at some things differently, so this is not meant as the final word. This article is not meant to be a neutral view of the law, but rather a guide to protecting your own interests.
WHAT SHOULD I DO FIRST?
First, get medical treatment. If you were seriously hurt, you may have been admitted to a hospital. Once your condition has stabilized, there will be plenty of time to deal with lawyers and insurance. When you’re out of the hospital, you should call your regular family doctor, so he can help coordinate any followup treatment, and so his records will reflect your injury.
If you have any pre-existing injuries or ailments, you should give any doctors, as well as your lawyer, the full history. The insurance companies participate in an “Index Bureau” which tabulates the names of everyone who reports or claims injuries, no matter how minor, so it’s much better for the people on your side to know about these things from you, up front.
Second, if you were in an auto accident, call your insurance company to report the accident. But DO NOT AGREE TO GIVE A RECORDED STATEMENT TO ANYONE! You can and should politely decline to have any discussions with the other driver or any insurance companies. If anyone tries to contact you, just tell them to contact your lawyer. This is vitally important. If you talk to the other side, they may twist your words around. Even such innocent conversation as “How are you?” “Not too bad” could be used against you.
Finally, keep copies of every piece of paper you get that has anything at all to do with the accident. It’s also very helpful to get photos of the damage, both as to the car or any physical evidence of the accident, and of any bruises, stitches, casts, etc. Keep copies of all receipts related to your medical treatment: pharmacy costs, travel for treatment, even parking at the hospital. Those will be important evidence of your expenses and trouble.
HOW DO I FIND A LAWYER?
As soon as possible after an accident, you should see a lawyer, even if you don’t think you have a claim. Lawyers who specialize in accident cases will be happy to meet with you, with no charge or obligation. Frankly, nothing will get a plaintiffs’ lawyer to return a phone call more quickly than the phrase, “new case.”
Feel free to talk with several attorneys until you find one you are comfortable with. This web site, Legalview, is designed to help people find attorneys for their particular type of claim. You can also ask friends and family for recommendations.
WHAT ABOUT ATTORNEY FEES?
Personal injury cases are almost always handled on a contingent fee basis. A contingent fee means that the attorney’s fee depends on recovering money for you. The amount of the fee is figured on a percentage of the money recovered. In many areas, 40% is considered standard. In cases involving death or very serious injury, a lower fee may be appropriate. In some states, there are legal rules regulating the amount of the fee.
In addition, costs of litigation, which can be substantial, are advanced by the lawyer, and will be reimbursed from the recovery. Sometimes the percentage fee will be figured on the gross fee, before case costs are deducted; other times the fee may be a percentage of the net recovery. Depending on state rules, the firm’s policies, and the nature of the case, you may or may not be obligated to repay the out-of-pocket expenses if there is not a recovery. But in any case, the value of the attorney’s time investment greatly exceeds the expenses. In any event, you should make sure you understand and agree with the terms of your fee agreement.
The contingent fee system allows victims of disabling injuries, who are often hard-pressed to meet their basic needs, to afford the services of highly skilled attorneys. It has been called the “poor man’s key to the courthouse.”