Why a Personal Injury Attorney
I don’t want to take anybody for anything. Why do I need a lawyer?
This is something that comes up frequently and I find it to be amusing. I rarely have clients come in and say that they are just wanting to “take them for all they are worth.” If I did, I would probably not take the case. However, after many years of doing personal injury cases, I can assure you that “taking” an insurance company is impossible. It simply doesn’t happen.
Insurance adjusters are well trained and their decisions are limited by committee and supervisor review. They demand thorough documentation and will pounce upon the slightest opening (and if there is no opening they will create one) to deny parts or all of your legitimate claim. They are in the business of settling each claim for as little money as possible, and they do a good job of it. If you are fortunate and have an experienced, dedicated attorney, you might get something close to what you are entitled to receive as fair compensation after a considerable amount of effort.
The adjuster seems nice, why can’t I trust them?
An old country saying is “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Many of the best adjusters realize this and try to get on your good side and build a level of trust and confidence with you before moving toward settlement. By doing so they hope to keep you from going to an attorney who will tell you what your rights are and get you a truly fair recovery. The fact of the matter is that they are not working for you and they are not there to help you. They are on the other side.
But I think I am pretty sharp. I should be able to able to handle this myself, shouldn’t I?
Let me answer this by giving you an analogy. If you were selling a car, wouldn’t you need to know what similar cars are being sold for and what the important selling points would be? Unlike car sales, however, there is no blue book that gives you the value of your case. In addition to knowing the value of a case (or to use another phrase, the “going rate”), there is just too much to know to adequately handle it on your own. In fact, an attorney who is not skilled and experienced in this area would probably not be able to handle it properly. There are at least three different insurances that need to be reviewed for each case. There may be liens that need to be addressed. There are pitfalls to be avoided and important legal documents to be reviewed. If you do not have an attorney, who will guide you through that? The adjuster? Your cousin who once had an accident? Your neighbor who knows everything there is to know about everything (and if you don’t believe it, just ask him and he’ll tell you it’s true)?
Can an auto wreck case really be that complicated?
Yes. Since attorneys usually offer free consultations in auto wreck cases, don’t you owe it to yourself to at least find out what you need to know?
Do you take every case?
No. Sometimes there is not a good claim, and I will tell the person that up front. Sometimes there is a good claim, but the value of the claim may not be high enough for me to invest the time that is needed to handle it properly. In those cases, I tell the person that up front, and try to give him the information necessary to handle the claim on his own. Sometimes, in those types of cases, if the adjuster tries to do a number on them, I still end up stepping in to even the playing field and get things where they need to be, as a matter of principle.
But I just want to get my bills paid and they have to do that anyway, don’t they?
A common, but wrong, belief. I have seen many cases where the insurance company offered far less than the medical bills to settle a case (and more than a few cases where juries awarded less than the medical bills). While the law provides for recovery of medical expenses, the key parts of the law that the insurance companies focus on to avoid paying medical expenses are “proximate cause” and “reasonable and necessary” expenses. “Proximate cause” is a legal terms which basically means the same thing as actual cause. In other words, the law says they only have to pay for what they actually caused, which sounds fair enough. The problem is, they don’t ever think their insured caused everything. Sometimes they don’t think they caused anything. They talk about the lack of damage to the vehicles and say that no one could possibly have been hurt in that accident. If that doesn’t work, they talk about “pre-existing conditions,” which means that you were already suffering from this condition and their defendant did not cause it, and “degenerative changes” which is another way of saying that your problems were caused by aging or bad genes or having played football when you were younger or forces of nature or basically anything other than this accident.
“Reasonable and necessary” refers to the amount of the treatment and the amount you were charged for the treatment. Basically the argument goes like this: a) you couldn’t possibly have been hurt, b) if you were hurt it wasn’t as bad as you say or part of it is from other causes, c) if you were hurt some from this accident you went to the doctors too much, and d) they charged you too much and their poor insured (since they can’t be sued directly, they hide behind the actual person who hit you because they think juries are less likely to give money if they think an individual is going to have to pay it) should not have to pay for all of this. They say (usually without actually coming out and saying it) that the doctor, for his own greedy purposes, made you come back for more treatment than you actually needed and charged you too much for it. Sometimes they throw in there that the lawyer probably sent you to the doctor and the two of them ran up some bills so they could have a bigger claim and get paid more. Either way the outcome is the same: they don’t pay what they should.
What about my lost wages? Can I get them to pay me for my time out of work?
Again, this is something the law provides for, but the insurance companies try to whittle it down by using the same “proximate cause” issues and by arguing that you were out of work more than you needed to be. They generally will not voluntarily recognize any time out of work not covered by a doctor’s excuse, and often argue that the doctors wrote you out of work for longer than was necessary because they want your business and don’t want to make you mad. In other words the doctors are just going along with what you want instead of making their own decisions. Perhaps they know different doctors than the ones I do, but I have not known any doctors who take their orders form the patients. So they try to avoid paying this as much as they can.
I got several letters from other attorneys who say they can help me. Some of them even gave me copies of the accident report. Why shouldn’t I hire one of them?
Because you need skilled, experienced local counsel who will take your case to court if need be and who will be able to bring the “home court advantage” to your case. People who know what cases are bringing in your county, what your juries are awarding, and, if a case comes to trial, what is on the minds of your jurors. Many of the attorneys sending letters have no connection to the community, lack actual trial experience of any kind (especially in your community), and are simply hoping that you will go with the first, or the best sounding letter. Many times their fees are actually higher than established, experienced local attorneys. You should base your choice on experience, ability, integrity and dedication. You do not want, nor do you need, a lawyer who treats your case like it was any other case on the assembly line (in fact, within the profession they are known as “personal injury mills”). Unfortunately, there are firms out there who do just that. They function on a volume basis, they will accept whatever is offered without spending the time to fight for you, and, if you do not want to accept what is offered or want them to fight for more (or, heaven forbid, actually come to your county and file a lawsuit, much less try the case), will drop you like a hot rock. For those firms, it is about the money, and not about the client. You may rest assured that the insurance companies know those firms by reputation as well.
In short, the legal profession is no different than any other profession. A good mechanic, doctor, lawyer, etc., is not always easy to find. Marketing has become widespread, so that it is difficult to separate image from substance. Does more advertising by one brand of athletic shoes make them better than another, or just more visible? At one time, people relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and neighbors to find attorneys. They could get feedback from those people based on actual experience. Now, accident victims are inundated by a flood of letters before they get a chance to check around. Ironically, the loosening of restrictions, which has allowed attorneys to send letters, was designed to provide consumers with more information when picking attorneys, but it has had the opposite effect. Many reputable attorneys will not send letters.
What does it cost to hire an attorney?
Most of the advertising attorneys or those who send letters that I am aware of charge at least 33% or more of the gross amount of the settlement (the figure which is on the check that the insurance company sends after a settlement is reached), plus costs. The way out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the attorney handling your case are figured varies from attorney to attorney. Some attorneys charge for each copy they make, each telephone call made, each stamp used, etc., while others only charge for medical records fees, court costs, and things they pay out and do not try to recover office expenses as part of costs. I charge 25% of any settlement arrived at without filing a lawsuit and 33% of any judgment recovered or any settlement arrived at after the lawsuit is filed, plus costs actually paid out of pocket. I do not charge for my office expenses such as copies, telephone calls or postage in personal injury cases.
I am afraid that it will end up costing me money
That is theoretically possible because the State Bar requires that the clients remain ultimately responsible for the costs of pursuing a case (meaning if a case is tried and lost the attorney receives no fee but the out-of-pocket costs may still have to be paid back to the attorney by the client). However, in my many years of practice I do not recall ever having seen it happen.
Why should I hire you?
The best question you could ask. I am experienced, having devoted a major part of my legal career to handling personal injury case. I know how to value cases, how to deal with adjusters, how to handle trial matters, and I dedicate myself to achieving the best possible outcome for each client. If a case has to be tried, I understand the mind set of local jurors, and have experience in dealing with the local court personnel so I know the local rules and practices. Other lawyers bring me in to consult with them on their cases or help them try them. Perhaps even more important than my experience and ability is my belief in the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. I encourage you to meet with me and decide if I am the one you can entrust with your case. Compare me with others and see if, after a personal meeting or telephone call, you can see what I am talking about.