What is a personal injury lawyer?
When to contact a personal injury lawyer?
How can they help you recover damages for accidents and personal injuries?
In this article, we will break down the notion of “personal injury lawyer” so you know all there is to know about it!
We will look at what is a personal injury lawyer, what do they do, what type of cases they handle and law they practice, how they handle an injury lawsuit matter, whether you should hire one or not, how they are paid (hourly vs contingency fee), how you become one and more!
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Table of Contents
What is a personal injury lawyer
A personal injury lawyer or personal injury attorney, as the name suggests, is a legal professional who provides legal advice and representation to individuals who have been physically or psychologically injured due to the acts, omission or negligence of another.
For instance, a personal injury lawyer can represent the victim of a car accident who was injured due to the negligence of another driver.
Any type of accident causing damages to another can be handled by a personal injury attorney.
Typically, personal injury lawyers have a high level of expertise and experience in tort cases and tort law.
Personal injury law, in general, falls under tort law.
Tort or tort law deals with civil injuries caused by wrongful acts, omissions, civil wrongs, negligence, gross negligence, willful misconduct, wanton, bad faith, breach of duty of care or similar type of behaviours.
Fundamentally, a personal injury solicitor is a civil litigator who provides legal advice to plaintiffs out-of-court and may represent the client before the civil court.
When a person is wronged by another, the personal injury law attorneys or personal accident lawyers are the proper legal professionals to consult and hire to seek compensation for damages.
What kind of cases do personal injury lawyers handle
Personal injury lawyers represent clients in personal injury lawsuits and cases where a person has suffered injuries caused by another person, company, government, business or other.
Unfortunately, personal accidents can happen at any time and to anyone.
Here are some examples of personal accidents or potential causes of personal injuries:
- Car accident and motor vehicle accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Burn and fire injuries
- Collision accidents
- Accidents caused by falling objects
- Defective product accidents
- Animal bite injuries
- Boating accidents
- Construction accidents
- Motorcycle or bike accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Wrongful deaths
- Premise liability
- Birth injuries
- Brain and spinal cord injuries
- Negligent security
These are just a few examples of what a personal injury law lawyer can handle.
The ultimate objective of your attorney for personal injury is to seek justice for you.
Typically, the courts will award monetary damages such as compensatory damages, general damages and even punitive damages to compensate the victim of an accident.
Compensatory damages can include monetary awards to reimburse you or compensate you for:
- Medical bills (past and future)
- Loss of wages
- Loss of income
- Transportation costs
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Stress and anxiety
- Emotional distress
- Pains and suffering
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of consortium
Personal accident lawyers know the rules on how to present the facts of your case to the court, administer the proper evidence (fact witnesses and expert witnesses), file pleadings and plead the matter before a judge or jury, estimate how much you can potentially obtain in compensatory damages and ultimately get a recoverable monetary award or judgment for you.
How does a personal injury lawyer handle a case
When you hire a domestic or international personal injury lawyer, there are many things that he or she will need to handle for you.
For instance, personal claims lawyers will:
- Assess the negligent circumstances of the accident
- Potentially investigate the scene of the accident
- Question witnesses and speak with them
- Work with experts like medical experts, damage experts or other
- Review documents, photos and videos of the accident
Let’s look at some of the main legal steps your personal injury lawyer may take.
Fact discovery with client
The first step in handling a personal injury case is for the lawyer to learn about your case and acquire a good understanding of the facts surrounding the accident.
In this process, the victim of the accident will have initial intake meetings with the personal injuries attorney to provide him or her all the details surrounding the accident, the context of how it happened, who was involved, and what happened after.
In this step, it’s important to point out to the attorney the available evidence such as documents, invoices, receipts, defective products, the material on the scene of the accident and so on.
Fact discovery with third parties
Once all the facts have been obtained from the victim of the accident, the next step is for the lawyer to contact third parties to gather additional facts.
Third parties include insurance companies, governments, police authorities and other professionals.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the devil is in the details.
It’s crucial that a personal injuries lawyer perfectly masters the factual background of the case to properly evaluate its legal strengths and weaknesses.
Expert analysis of the facts
In some cases, in addition to getting the factual evidence of the case, an expert evaluation or assessment may be required.
For example, you may need a forensic analysis for certain aspects of the case or perhaps a damage evaluation is needed from a damage expert.
Expert reports and expert testimonies can be powerful in presenting the full scope of the damage or cause of the accident to the judge so the evidence is presented compellingly.
Letter of representation
When it’s time to contact third parties and gather evidence relating to an accident, the personal injury lawyer will first need to send a formal letter of representation advising different parties that he or she is representing you.
The letter of representation informs the other parties that a lawyer has been retained by the victim of the accident and that he or she will be legally representing that person.
Also, the lawyer will request that all communication be sent to him or her so that they do not contact the victim of the accident directly anymore.
What’s relevant in personal injury lawsuits is to assess the possibility to file a claim with an insurance company or perhaps even pursue an insurance company to recover the money they may be failing to pay.
Personal injury solicitors may contact the insurance company to gather information, file a claim, discuss a claim or even consider filing a lawsuit against them.
Notice of demand
Once the preliminary steps are done, the facts are gathered, the proper expert reports have been issued, communications with third parties are done and evidence compiled, it’s time to send a notice of demand to the defendant or defendants.
In the notice of demand, the plaintiff will name the defendants and formally request compensation for damages suffered.
This is a step before the filing of a lawsuit.
Filing of lawsuit
If the defendants do not respond or the parties are unable to find an out-of-court settlement to the plaintiff’s demand, the final step is to file a personal injury lawsuit or claim.
This is when the defendants are served with a summons and complaint to appear in court and defend against the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff.
During the legal proceedings, the parties will most likely need to go through a discovery phase where deposition letters are sent, perhaps subpoenas are sent to witnesses (duces tecum or ad testificandum) and many witnesses brought on record.
The personal injury attorney will call the witnesses who were potentially present when the accident occurred, others who may have relevant documents or information in their possession and any other witness potentially crucial for the case.
Eventually, the case will go to trial where it will be heard by a judge or jury on its merits.
That’s when the case is presented to a judge or jury on its merits.
Eventually, the court will render a judgment deciding whether or not the plaintiff was successful in proving the legal theories relating to personal injury and the damages.
Is it worth getting a personal injury lawyer
Not all accidents necessarily require that you hire a personal injury lawyer.
Consider your damages
However, in the event of an accident causing bodily injuries, physical or emotional harm or psychological damages, you may want to consult with a lawyer for injury to see what are your rights and recourses.
There are certain cases, injuries or types of accidents that you may want to get a personal injury lawyer to assess your case:
- If you suffered a serious injury
- If you have a long-term disability
- If you have a permanent disability
- If there was an accident where it’s not clear who is at fault
- If many parties are involved in an accident
- When you submitted a claim for damages to an insurance company and your claim was denied
If you were severely injured in an accident and you are suffering as a result of it, you should at least consult with an attorney.
It’s important to clarify your legal rights and obligations.
However, if you have suffered bodily injuries affecting your day-to-day life, preventing you from working, causing you loss of enjoyment of life or leading you to suffer emotionally and psychologically, you should consider your legal options.
Consider insurance policies
If you have an insurance policy that should cover your losses and they are not fully compensating you, denying your claim, partially accepting your claim or delaying their responses to you, you should consult with an attorney.
Many insurance companies may avoid paying for a claim strategically to see to what extent the policyholder will pursue the matter.
For insurance companies, it’s all a numbers game.
How much would it cost me to pay someone now and get “rid of the problem” versus spending money in court and ending up with a favourable or unfavourable outcome?
Even though it’s a numbers game for the insurance companies, for the victims of an accident, it’s a painful and stressful experience.
Do I need a personal injury lawyer
Every accident and personal injury case is different.
The truth is that you may not necessarily need a personal injury lawyer in your case.
Many individuals cannot afford a lawyer and choose to represent themselves out of court and in court (pro se litigants of self-representing litigants).
What’s important though is to minimally consult a personal injury lawyer in the event of an accident where you feel wronged or you’ve suffered damages important enough to justify spending some money in consulting with a lawyer.
This is crucial as different jurisdictions have different rules relating to the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.
You want to make sure you consult with accident injury lawyers in a timely fashion so you know exactly if you have a viable recourse and you don’t let your statute of limitations expire.
A good personal injury lawyer will immediately give you an initial opinion on whether or not you may have a case and, in some cases, provide an estimate of possible amounts that may be recovered.
What’s also important is that you may not want to file a lawsuit or claim damages in the short term but may do so in the future.
In such cases, personal injuries attorneys can provide you with counselling, guidance and advice on what to do, what not to do, best practices and so on.
This way, you do not act or do something to unintentionally lose your recourse or adversely affect it.
How to find the best personal injury lawyers
Finding and selecting the best personal injury lawyer is very important to give yourself the best chances of success in court.
Not every personal injury case is the same and not all personal injury claims or personal injury lawsuits are the same.
Depending on the type of accident, you may need to consult with a personal injury lawyer with general experience or another with expertise in a specific type of accident.
For example, personal injuries due to car accidents are very common.
As a result, many lawyers for personal injury and law firms can provide you with competent legal services for auto accident injuries or other motor vehicle accidents.
On the other hand, if you have an offshore accident on an oil rig or you are a seaman on a vessel, you may not want to go to any personal injury lawyer.
Rather, you may want to find an offshore personal injury lawyer who has experience in Jones Act claims, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act and others.
Here are some tips in selecting the right personal injury solicitor:
- Consider the type of personal injury cases the lawyer has been handling
- Is the attorney in a law firm specialized in personal injury cases or not
- What is the track record of the lawyer
- Has the personal accident attorney handled cases similar to yours
- Are you dealing with an experienced or senior accidental injury lawyer or someone junior
- Are there any peer reviews that you can find on this lawyer in question
How do personal injury attorneys get paid
In the United States, many personal injury lawyers and law firms can work on:
- An hourly basis
- Contingency basis
Paying a lawyer on an hourly basis is something that we are all familiar with.
You initially agree on the accidental injury attorney’s hourly rate and then pay him or her for every hour spent on your case for the entire time your case is being worked on.
The challenge for many clients is that following an accident, a person may no longer have a good income or any income, have suffered a loss of wages, have lost money to pay for unexpected expenses and so on.
Paying for a lawyer on an hourly basis can be quite expensive and unpredictable.
For small cases, it may be a suitable option if you are on a budget.
The good news is that many accident injury lawyers in the United States can work with you on a contingency fee basis.
In other words, they will only get paid for their legal services in the event they successfully recover monetary damages for you.
A personal injury attorney can win money for you in the context of an out-of-court settlement or from what a judge or jury awards in court.
Personal accident lawyers working on a full contingency basis will not charge any legal fees upfront or costs.
The attorney’s contingency fee will depend on many factors that the lawyer will evaluate such as:
- The complexity of the case
- The potential amount of recoverable damages
- The solvency of the defendant or the defendant’s ability to pay following a settlement or judgment
- How long the lawsuit may last in court
You can expect contingency fees to range between 10% to as much as 40% or more depending on your case and rules applicable to personal injury cases.
In some jurisdictions, the state or local rules can prohibit a personal injury lawyer from charging contingency fees above certain thresholds.
For the client, contingency fees are interesting as it aligns the interest of the lawyer with the interest of the client.
The more the lawyer wins for you, the more he or she is compensated and the more you recover damages.
If you don’t win the case and do not get any damages awarded, you will not owe your lawyer any legal fees.
The downside is that you don’t get any damages for the injuries suffered either!
Personal injury settlement
A personal injury settlement is when the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement on how much money the defendant will pay to cover the plaintiff’s losses, expenses and damages suffered.
A personal injury settlement can happen at any time before the filing of a lawsuit (pre-litigation), during the legal proceedings or even on the final day of the trial.
In many cases, the costs of litigating the matter may not be worth it for the defendant.
For instance, if a plaintiff is seeking $100,000 in damages from the defendant, it may not be worth it to spend $200,000 to defend a $100,000 lawsuit.
Based on this variable, a defendant may believe that he or she did nothing wrong but will have the inclination to settle the case to avoid losing more money.
In a sense, the defendant chooses between the lesser of the two evils.
In most cases, personal injury settlements and awards are not taxable.
However, some types of damages can be taxable by the IRS.
It’s important that you consult with your lawyer to settle the case in such a way that you get the maximum compensation in your pocket.
How do you become a personal injury lawyer
To practice law as a personal accident lawyer, you must study law and concentrate in the area of tort law that can include personal injury, personal accidents and other injury cases affecting a person.
First, you must go to law school.
Many prestigious law schools require that you pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and get a minimum score to qualify as an eligible applicant.
Once you are admitted to the law school of your choice and you complete your undergraduate law degree, you’ll need to complete and pass your Bar exams in the jurisdiction of your choice.
Upon the successful passing of your bar exams, the next step is to find an internship in a personal injury law firm or personal injury firm so you can get real hands-on experience in handling personal injury claims and lawsuits under the supervision of an experienced lawyer.
As you start practicing law and handling personal injury cases, you may then choose to devote your entire career to this area of law which is complex, emotionally challenging and rewarding.
There are certification programs such as the National Board of Legal Speciality Certification (NBLSC) that you may consider if you would like to be certified in civil trial advocacy.
In some states, you may also be required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) dealing with the proper professional behaviour and conduct.
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