10 Reasons a Personal Injury Attorney may Refuse Taking Your Case
You took advantage of the personal injury law firm's offer of a free consultation about your case. You thought it went well; the lawyer you met with was professional, confident and listened carefully to what you said. But at the end of your meeting, the attorney gently explained that the law firm could not take on your case. You may have left feeling confused and even a bit upset. Why wouldn't the lawyer agree to move forward? Lawyers legitimately want to help you. However, sometimes the most helpful action is to discourage you from pursuing your case. Experienced attorneys have seen many types of cases go nowhere and don't want to waste your time—or theirs—by chasing a questionable legal claim to a dead end. Here are 10 things that a personal injury attorney may consider to be red flags that can lead them to decide to decline your case.
1. A lack of serious injuries
No one wants you to have been hurt worse, but the truth is that you need to prove you've suffered significant damages from the accident to make the time and effort of pursuing a claim worth your and your attorney's while. The injuries that make a case worth filing can be an ongoing physical injury, a need to change your job or career due to injuries you sustained, or an inability to continue with your family duties or to engage in recreation you once enjoyed. Stubbing your toe in a public place and wanting to file suit “on principle” is an example of a case that wouldn't have much merit in a court of law, or with an experienced lawyer. Personal injury lawsuits are primarily useful for recovering financial losses and compensating significant pain and suffering that someone else's negligence or recklessness caused. When injuries are not serious, the defendant will likely file a motion to dismiss the case and, if it succeeds, everyone's time will have been wasted. So, absent some extenuating circumstances, an experienced personal injury lawyer may decide not to take your case if your injuries were minor and you've successfully healed.
2. It's not clear who's liable in your personal injury claim
Yes, you were hurt—but there's no obvious person or company that caused the injuries through negligence or intention. Without someone to go after for damages, you don't have a case. Generally speaking, a lawyer has to prove four main things to assign liability to another person for your injuries. These are:
- Duty – The defendant had a legal duty to take reasonable care and avoid dangerous behavior.
- Breach of duty – The defendant failed to exercise their legal duty and failed to take appropriate care in their actions (or lack of actions).
- Causation – The defendant's breach of duty impacted the plaintiff by causing injuries that a reasonable person could have seen coming.
- Damages – The plaintiff has injuries or other issues that resulted in financial losses, like medical costs and lost wages.
Let's say you walked into a retail store on a rainy day. At the entrance you slipped and fell on a wet patch, breaking your arm. Now, your lawyer may be able to prove that 14 other people had slipped on that same spot, and the store owner should have known it was a danger. But if there was a sign posted that clearly pointed out the slick spot and a reasonable person should have been aware that the weather could cause issues, it may be pretty tough to prove liability. The defendant may have had a duty, but it's hard to prove they breached that duty. Even if a case goes forward, without proving these four things, it's unlikely that you could get a worthwhile settlement or verdict for your and your attorney's time and effort.
3. You may have been partially responsible for the accident
Florida has what's called comparative negligence laws, meaning that blame for an accident can be partially assigned to multiple parties. If you were injured, but you weren't exercising reasonable care, you may be found to have some responsibility for causing the accident in which you were hurt. For example, maybe you were texting or talking on your phone when you fell; the defendant could claim you were distracted enough to not see and avoid a potentially dangerous situation. Even if you were responsible for 80 percent of the accident, under Florida law, you can sue to recover damages for the remaining 20 percent. However, an attorney may feel you can't recover enough in damages to make taking the case worthwhile.
4. Your personal injury case is really complex.
You stepped into a marked crosswalk and were hit by a vehicle. That's pretty straightforward, and your lawyer has likely handled similar cases. It's probable that most personal injury attorneys could handle your case, especially if they specialized in cases where traffic laws were broken. But if you, for example, were trying on too-tight underwear in your local Victoria's Secret store when a metal fastener broke off and hit you in the eye, that might give even the most experienced lawyer some pause. It would be especially difficult if the injury sustained was irritating but not major, and you wanted to punish the retailer for selling questionable items of clothing. (This is an actual case that was settled out of court.) Some attorneys may be interested in working an offbeat or complicated case, but others may take a pass.
5. You say you've talked to other lawyers about your injury claim
If another attorney wasn't willing to get involved in your case, that makes any experienced lawyer listen extra carefully. Sometimes the fit between lawyer and client isn't right, or the attorney didn't feel competent in the specific area of personal injury that you're seeking help with. But if another lawyer has vetted the case and turned it down, that raises red flags in the eyes of any other legal professional you talk to.
6. You're overly concerned about the amount of settlement money you get from your claim
Lawyers may not want to take you on as a client if they think you're only shopping for the legal representative who promises you the most money. That's because it's really tough to predict exactly what damages can be recovered in a case, especially at its outset. A good lawyer must do considerable research, including reviewing the insurance records, to get a sense of what to ask for in damages. You'll be unlikely to get an accurate estimate during your initial consultation. In fact, the best lawyers often tend to be the ones who tell you up front there's no guarantee at all of a recovery, and that it would be irresponsible of them to guess at how the case could unfold. Instead, you should be looking for an attorney with experience in the area of your case and whom, after meeting with, you can place your trust in.
7. A government employee caused the damage
In Florida, you cannot sue individual government employees, only the state agencies that employ them. Only if the employee was acting as a private person—completely outside of their duties for the government—can you sue them individually. Damages are limited in cases against government agencies and may have to be brought into the county where the agency is located, rather than where the incident occurred. Unless there's a clear case, the added layer of difficulty with suing the government may make an attorney say, “No thanks.”
8. Your accident and claim are from out of state
If you live out of state, it will be more challenging for an attorney to work with you. Sure, in this day of video calls, emails and texts, it's possible to coordinate on a lawsuit from afar. But you'll have to be flown in for some depositions and court appearances that must be done in person, and your attorney may worry about those extra costs piling up. Likewise, if the defendant is out of state, your attorney will have to travel—and incur the resulting costs—to take depositions and do research. This challenge may cause a lawyer to decline a smaller case, where damages aren't likely to be high.
9. The statute of limitations on your injury claim has expired.
You may have a great claim, but you waited just a little too long to contact an attorney. Even if the statute of limitations—typically four years in Florida personal injury cases, and two years in medical malpractice cases—has not expired, enough time may have passed to make the case really hard to win. Remember, you have the best chance of being awarded damages if you consult a personal injury lawyer as soon as you can after the accident takes place.
10. It may be too costly for the attorney.
Lawyers often take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. That means they don't get paid until you receive a settlement or verdict. Oftentimes, lawyers will also agree with their clients to front the court costs and other administrative expenses of a case. If a case looks like it could rack up numerous expenses like that and take a long time to resolve, a lawyer may not be in a position to accept the case. Fortunately, most personal injury cases don't fall into this category.
Why You Should Always Schedule a Free Consultation
Don't let the possibility of an attorney not taking your case keep you from scheduling a free consultation. Lawyers have seen a lot of cases, and will aim to make the best decision they can based on their experience and the facts you present them. Many cases—even those that may raise an initial red flag—are worth pursuing, and a qualified attorney can help you make the right decision on the next steps to take. Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA online or call (727) 451-6900 to schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable lawyer who can evaluate the merits of your personal injury case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/florida-personal-injury-lawyer/