If you suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you deserve compensation, which you can demand by filing a personal injury claim. A personal injury lawyer can provide invaluable assistance during this complicated process, helping you understand your legal options and pursuing them on your behalf. But you might not know where to begin looking for a personal injury attorney or feel overwhelmed by the number of lawyers and law firms in your area.
How do you choose the right personal injury lawyer for you?
Selecting a personal injury attorney begins with identifying what kind of injury claim you have. Understanding what a personal injury attorney does and how they can help you during your case can also help you make the right choice. Take advantage of initial consultations with prospective attorneys to learn more about how they work and the cost of their services. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and follow-ups. And remember that if things end up not working out between you and your lawyer, you can change legal counsel and pick an attorney who works better with you.
Types of Personal Injury Lawyers
Personal injury lawyers assist victims injured by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts of others. When selecting a personal injury lawyer, you will want to look for someone with extensive experience handling accident claims like yours.
Common types of personal injury cases include:
- Car accidents
- Truck/18-wheeler accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bus accidents
- Train accidents
- Aviation accidents
- Boating/maritime accidents
- Escalator/elevator accidents
- Dog bites and animal attacks
- Premises liability accidents, including swimming pool accidents, school/playground accidents, slip/trip and fall accidents, escalator/elevator accidents, and negligent/inadequate security
- Product liability/defective product accidents
- Construction site accidents
- Workplace accidents/workers’ compensation
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse/neglect
- Toxic torts/environmental exposure
- Police brutality/excessive force
- Assault and homicide
- Wrongful death
While personal injury claims all fall under the broad umbrella of tort law, each has its own unique aspects. A lawyer who has handled similar cases before is better equipped to pursue your claim effectively than one who has not.
Where Do You Find Personal Injury Lawyers?
You can obtain referrals to personal injury lawyers from several different sources, including:
- Family and friends. Family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers can provide some of the best references to personal injury attorneys. Acquaintances who have had personal injury claims can give you an honest opinion about what it was like working with their attorneys.
- Your attorneys. If you have hired a lawyer in another field of law (such as a family or business lawyer), they can refer you to personal injury attorneys they know and whose work they respect.
- Bar association and online directories. State and local bar associations maintain directories of their member lawyers, usually categorized by areas of law. You can also search through online directories of attorneys.
- Internet searches. You can conduct web searches to find personal injury attorneys in your area. Search results can take you to the attorneys’ websites, where you can learn more about the firm and contact them for an initial consultation.
You should get several referrals, as you will want to speak to multiple lawyers about your case to find the right attorney.
The Initial Consultation Process
Most personal injury lawyers and law firms offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation. The initial consultation serves two purposes. First, you can provide the personal injury lawyer with a basic overview of your case. With this information, the lawyer can determine if they think you have a viable legal claim for compensation and can advise you about their options for pursuing recovery. The lawyer can also decide whether they can help you and want to take your case.
The initial consultation also allows you to learn more about the attorney and determine whether they will be a good fit. Once you have discussed the details of your case, the attorney should answer your questions. You should come prepared with a list of questions to help you decide whether to hire a lawyer for your personal injury claim.
Questions You Should Ask a Prospective Attorney at an Initial Consultation
Here are some questions that can determine if a personal injury lawyer is right for you:
- How long have you practiced law?
- How long have you practiced personal injury law?
- What percentage of your cases involve personal injury matters?
- What percentage of your caseload involves accident claims like mine?
- How often do you successfully recover compensation in personal injury claims?
- How frequently do your injury cases go to trial? How many of these cases do you win?
- Do you have any relevant certifications or association memberships?
- Will you or another attorney in your firm handle my case? Will you refer my case to another attorney or firm?
- Can I contact you directly?
- How frequently should I expect to hear from you about my case?
- How quickly do you respond to emails and voicemails?
- What work do you expect me to do for my case?
- What do you think about the strength of my case?
- Do you have any past clients who will give a referral?
Personal Injury Lawyers and Fee Agreements
Before hiring a personal injury lawyer or law firm, you should review the terms of the written fee agreement. Most personal injury lawyers represent injured victims on a contingency fee basis.
In a contingency fee arrangement, the client pays nothing upfront to hire the lawyer. The lawyer receives their fee only if they recover compensation for the client through a settlement or court judgment. The attorney takes a pre-arranged percentage of the total financial recovery in the case for their fee.
Many lawyers use a sliding percentage scale in their contingency fee arrangements, in which the percentage of the client’s financial recovery for the lawyer’s fee increases as the case progresses from initial settlement negotiations to the filing of a lawsuit and eventually to trial. Although most attorneys in your area will charge the same percentages as their contingency fee, you can always shop around to find the best arrangement.
You should also review the lawyer’s fee agreement to understand how the lawyer handles case expenses. Most law firms front the case costs, such as expert witness fees, processing fees to obtain accident or medical records, and court filing fees.
Some personal injury firms roll the case expenses into their legal fees, while others take reimbursement of case costs from the settlement or judgment in addition to the legal fees. And while most firms absorb costs if they can’t recover compensation for the client, some firms may require the client to reimburse some costs.
Finally, you should confirm your financial obligations under a proposed fee agreement if you change lawyers in the middle of your case. You may owe your previous lawyer a portion of any settlement or judgment you obtain in your case, or you may have an obligation to reimburse the lawyer for expenses they already incurred in preparing your claim.
Why Should You Act Quickly to Find a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Although your primary focus is your medical recovery, you should also hire a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
Here’s why doing so could be crucial to the outcome of your case:
- You need to preserve evidence. The cleanup of accident scenes, deletion of records, and fading of memories may deteriorate critical evidence for your case. Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible following your injury means your attorney can secure and preserve documents, physical evidence, and witness testimony while still available.
- The clock is ticking on your opportunities for compensation. The more time passes after your injury, the likelier you are to miss crucial deadlines for financial recovery. If you hire an attorney at the start, they can advise you about your legal rights and efficiently pursue your case.
- Insurance companies may contact you. Depending on the circumstances of your injuries, you may get a phone call or letter from a liable party’s insurer. Although the adjuster may seem like they want to help you, their employer will do everything possible to minimize or deny your claim. As such, the adjuster will likely ask leading questions to trip you up and get you to provide them with evidence they can use against you. If you have legal representation, you can direct the insurance company to contact your lawyer instead. Your attorney can deal with insurance adjusters while you focus on your treatment and rehabilitation.
- The statute of limitations. Every state places a deadline on filing personal injury suits. For example, Washington State’s statute of limitations gives you three years after suffering injuries to file a lawsuit against those at fault. A lawsuit filed after the expiration of the limitations period risks permanent dismissal. Your lawyer will need time to investigate and prepare your case. If you wait too long to talk to an attorney, you may leave them too little time to assemble your claim.
What Happens if You Dislike the Personal Injury Lawyer You Hired?
Personal injury clients sometimes experience a breakdown in their relationship with their lawyer. This breakdown may occur due to communication difficulties, the client’s belief that their lawyer hasn’t given sufficient attention or effort to the case, or disagreements over legal strategy. Whatever the reason, the client has the right to their preferred legal counsel. Clients may switch lawyers during their injury case, except in certain circumstances on the eve of trial.
If you decide to change lawyers, you should keep your current attorney until you have hired a new one. Otherwise, you may miss crucial deadlines without a lawyer handling your case. Once you have a new attorney, you can ask your prior lawyer to forward your case file to your new attorney or simply give you the case file.
You should also confirm your financial obligations to your prior attorney under the terms of your fee agreement. For example, your prior attorney may have the right to recover a portion of your case compensation for the work they already did, or you may have to reimburse them for case expenses.
Choosing the Right Personal Injury Lawyer Can Make a Difference in the Outcome of Your Case
Choosing a personal injury lawyer could constitute one of the most critical decisions you will make in your injury case. The right attorney can help you maximize your financial recovery. You should get multiple lawyer referrals from family, friends, and acquaintances.
Take advantage of free initial consultations to ask questions of prospective attorneys to help you decide which lawyer you should hire. And make sure you understand the terms of your fee agreement, including how the lawyer’s fees work and your obligations to your lawyer and your case.