What you Need to Know Before Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
If you don't hire the right personal injury lawyer, you may lose out on a good settlement that covers the full cost of your injuries. A good personal injury attorney won't settle for what the insurance company wants to offer. If the settlement offer isn't fair, a good lawyer will take the case to court. The best personal injury attorneys engage in thorough discovery to build the best possible case.
Because of the nature of personal injury cases, you need an attorney who ruthlessly negotiates with insurance companies. Your attorney should not settle for an amount that is too small to cover all your medical expenses, whether they are in the past, current, or ongoing. Your attorney should also be well-versed in workers' compensation law if your injury was due to a workplace accident. Before you retain any lawyer, you should evaluate the lawyer and the firm, because the outcome of the case could determine the quality of your life in the future.
How Much Compensation Should You Receive in a Personal Injury Case?
A fair settlement will cover your medical expenses and compensate you for all of your losses. Depending on the circumstances of your accident, this may amount to thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars. The damages that you may receive can include both compensatory and punitive damages. However, courts only award punitive damages if a defendant engaged in gross negligence that resulted in serious injuries.
Florida law has a cap on punitive damages: three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, if a court determines that the wrongful conduct was meant to benefit by unreasonable financial gain, the caps are four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2,000,000. Additional exceptions include cases of child or elder abuse and intoxication.
Compensatory damages include:
- Medical bills that you've incurred because of your injuries caused by the defendant. This includes current medical bills and those that you may incur later for occupational and/or physical therapy, additional doctors' appointments, surgeries, and nursing home expenses.
- Lost wages for money that you missed out on because your injuries preclude you from working. This also includes work payment because you had to take time off for a doctor's appointment. And, if you are permanently disabled, your compensation will also include wages that you would have been able to earn over your lifetime but cannot because of your injuries.
- Compensation for pain and suffering. However, insurance companies will pay as little as possible toward pain and suffering—usually between 1.5 and 5 times the amount of damages received for financial losses. However, if your case goes to court, you are more likely to get more money for pain and suffering, as long as you can show that the pain stems from injuries caused by the defendant.
- Courts will award compensation for emotional distress if you can show through psychiatric records that the incident harmed you emotionally. A common diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Courts may award compensation for loss of companionship or loss of consortium compensation when a family member has been altered in a significant way or was killed as a result of the actions of the defendant. While no amount of money can take away a person's disabilities or bring your loved one back to life, you can receive compensation to help ease the financial burden.
- Courts may award compensation for wrongful death when a defendant's actions result in the death of one of your family members. To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must have standing. In Florida, the personal representative of the estate of the decedent has standing to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate's beneficiaries.
You may also hear courts distinguish between economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are awarded for actual financial losses, including lost wages and medical bills. Non-economic damages cover the costs of pain and suffering or loss of consortium.
Tips to Help Find the Right Personal Injury Lawyer for You
1. Check the Florida Bar Association's Website
After doing some research on the internet to find personal injury lawyers, or if someone you trust has recommended an attorney, you should consult the Florida Bar Association's website. Any attorney that you are considering should be in good standing and eligible to practice law in Florida. The Bar also publishes any public disciplinary actions taken against an attorney. Check the attorney's 10-year discipline actions. If you are considering a firm, you should research all of the firm's lawyers.
The Florida Bar Association will also tell you where an attorney went to school, how long he or she has been admitted to the Bar, and give you the attorney's most up-to-date contact information. This information, combined with any references that you have from friends or relatives, gives you a great starting point to narrow down your search to three or four qualified attorneys to research further.
2. Research the Personal Injury Lawyer's Reputation
A personal injury lawyer's reputation will tell you a lot about how he or she handles cases. In many situations, an attorney will post his or her best cases on the firm's website. The firm may also post reviews from clients. When the firm posts cases, it might post that it won $500,000 in a car accident or $1,000,000 in a case that involved negligence. If the firm has only small amounts posted, the attorney may not take large cases, or it could be a sign that he or she does not take cases to trial that perhaps should go to trial.
You definitely want to retain an attorney who isn't afraid to litigate your case in court if settlement outside of court proves unviable. Your attorney should be eager to go to court if you can't get a fair settlement, and he or she should be comfortable in the courtroom. Only experience brings the level of comfort in the courtroom that you want your attorney to have.
3. Schedule a Minimum of Three Initial Consultations
After researching many different attorneys and firms, choose at least three and schedule initial consultations with all of them. This way, you will get a chance to meet the attorney and his or her staff and to assess the firm. Once you schedule the consultations, you should create a list of questions that you want to ask the attorneys. These questions should include:
- How long the attorney has been practicing personal injury law. Just because an attorney was admitted to the bar 30 years ago doesn't mean that he or she has always practiced in the realm of personal injury.
- How the attorney charges for his or her time. Most, but not all, personal injury cases are taken on a contingency basis. Make sure yours will be taken on a contingency basis if you do not have the funds to pay the attorney up-front. Also, ask if the court and other costs are paid by the firm or by you. Some attorneys work on a contingency basis but require you to pay the costs associated with the case, including filing fees, postage, copies, and fees for expert witnesses and investigators. If the attorney doesn't work on a contingency basis, ask if the fee is hourly or fixed.
- How many attorneys will be working on your case and whether you are able to meet those attorneys. Also, if more than one attorney will be working on your case, ask which attorney will serve as lead counsel and make sure to speak directly with that attorney.
- Ask about the experience of the firm's staff. A legal assistant that lacks adequate legal knowledgeable may hinder the progress of your case. Whereas a paralegal or legal assistant who is well-versed in personal injury law is an asset to an attorney, as he or she is able to work directly with you on several aspects of the case, including obtaining medical records and the discovery process. Your case will progress faster if the staff is very knowledgeable in personal injury settlements and trials.
- Ask if the attorney is board certified. A board-certified attorney generally has more knowledge and is more involved in one specific area of practice. While personal injury isn't a practice area listed on the Florida Bar for board certification, civil law and workers' compensation law are included.
- Ask about the attorney's trial record. The attorney should have taken many cases to trial with successful outcomes. An attorney who doesn't like to appear in court may not be able to get you the best outcome, because insurance companies will do anything and everything to avoid court and to offer you the least amount of compensation possible.
4. Make Sure You Like the Attorney
Sometimes people just rub each other the wrong way, for many different reasons. Perhaps your personalities just don't mesh. It is important that you like your attorney and the firm's staff. Working with someone you like and respect is much easier than working with someone you don't like, and it will take a lot of stress out of the situation.
5. Always Take Notes
During your consultations, take notes of your discussions with each firm; you'll want to compare the notes later on. You should take notes on how the attorney interacts with you and with his or her staff, as well as notes on your own personal observations of how the attorney works and presents his or her knowledge. If the attorney gives you any pieces of advice, jot that down too. You'll be able to compare strategies with the other attorneys you meet and pick the attorney that you think has the best legal strategy.
While doing this, don't choose the easiest way out. If an attorney talks about going to court instead of settling, keep in mind that while this takes longer and may be more stressful, you may get more compensation by going to court. An attorney should not shy away from going to court. He or she should love the thought of arguing your case in court—that is the guy that is looking out for your best interests and doesn't let others intimidate him. If an attorney wants to settle for the best that he or she can get, that may not be the best for you, and you should avoid retaining that attorney.
6. Check for Similar Personal Injury Cases
While the circumstances for every personal injury case are different, cases are often similar. For example, if you tripped on a piece of broken sidewalk, the attorney should have experience handling other cases like that, whether the defendant was an individual or government entity. If you tripped on a sidewalk that was supposed to be maintained by the city, your attorney should have experience litigating against city attorneys and insurance companies. Another example is a dog bite case. Was the dog running loose? Was the dog in his yard when you got bit? The law varies depending on small differences, and you want an attorney who has tried or settled cases with similar circumstances as yours.
7. Review Your Research
Carefully review the research you've done on each firm or attorney before you choose someone. Eliminate attorneys until you find the best choice that works for you. Once you decide on an attorney, contact that attorney to set up a meeting to further discuss your case and get the ball rolling on settlement negotiations.
If the attorney can't come to a fair settlement on your behalf, get ready to help the attorney prepare for trial. You'll need to provide medical records and other documents that you have in your possession to prove that you need or are entitled to the amount of compensation that you are requesting. If you're lacking some important documents or information, the attorney will request them via the discovery process.
Act Fast Following Your Accident and Contact Dolman Law
Keep in mind that Florida law requires plaintiffs in personal injury cases to file before the statute of limitations runs out. It is always best to start your settlement negotiations or lawsuit while the incident is still fresh in your mind, so the sooner you contact an attorney, the better. Once the statute of limitations runs, you won't be able to enter settlement negotiations or file a lawsuit against the defendant.
If you sustained an injury in a Florida accident, contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the details of your case. Either call our office at (727) 451-6900 or contact us online for a free consultation on your claim.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765