Think about it this way: if you were injured in an accident would you consider treating yourself or would you seek outside medical attention? If your car was damaged, would you fix the car yourself? Do you have an economics degree to precisely argue with an insurance company about missed wages and other pecuniary losses? Are you an expert in reconstructing an accident scene? Are you a claims adjuster that can determine if an an insurance company is truthful when they, “that’s the best we can offer to you”?
Why you hire a personal injury lawyer
Unless you can answer yes to all those questions, you may need to consider retaining a personal injury attorney to ensure that all necessary steps occur for you to receive a fair and equitable settlement or recovery. A lawyer serves as not just your legal representative, but also as a coordinator for all the experts and specialists that are necessary to make you whole as well as a processor of all the information, paperwork, communications, evaluations, reports, and bills in your claim.
A lawyer will determine all the legal doctrines and statutes that may affect your recovery and the strength of your case. If the cases cannot be settled, the attorney will litigate on your behalf in the court of proper jurisdiction and secure the witnesses and evidence to present your case to the fullest.
How will your personal injuries get paid?
A personal injury lawyer generally handles your case on a contingency basis, meaning he/she will only collect a fee from the recovery. Therefore, the attorney has a natural incentive to seek the greatest recovery and explore every legal avenue to maximize and protect your claim. Your lawyer can only earn more if you in turn receive more of a recovery as well.
If a case is not on a contingency, then it would be on an hourly basis, which would mean that you will be paying for legal services at a rate of hundreds of dollars an hour. You would also need to pay money upfront called a retainer, providing your attorney with funds that he can have his bill paid from.
Representation Agreement for Your Personal Injury Lawyer
When you hire an attorney to handle your personal injury case, the lawyer should provide you with an agreement that will describe what the percentage of the settlement claim will go to fees. Typically, the attorney will receive one third of the settlement with the percentage increasing if the case goes to court. The fees paid to the attorney do not include the bills and costs. They are usually paid separately out of the recovery and are included in the amount determined as the settlement.
When you sign an agreement for an attorney to represent you, you are entering contract. Make sure you understand the terms before giving your signature. Your lawyer wants and needs you to trust their judgement, so they should be willing to answer any questions you may have.
Medical and Information Releases in Your Personal Injury Claim
Your personal injury will also likely have you sign releases that will allow the collection of information from third parties such as doctors. They will also send out letters to let people and firms know they are handling your case. If you have or will incur future medical bills they can communicate the status to the medical providers to explain the status of your case, and when to expect payment.
Value of Your Personal Injury Claim
To determine the value of your claim depends on many factors, but it first means looking at all the different damages that you could entitled to. The two biggest categories are compensatory and non-compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages mean you are seeking to be repaid for the things you lost because of what the other party did to you. The first type are called “ special” because everyone will have different amounts depending on the circumstances. These include:
- loss of earnings
- loss of future earnings
- medical bills
- cost of future medical care
- household expenses, and
- costs associated with cancelled trips or altered plans
- property damages or loss
“General” compensatory damages compensate an injured individual for losses incurred in an injury case that don’t come with a price tag. They are called general damages because all individuals in an accident usually will be able to claim them. The most common types of general damages are:
- pain and suffering
- mental anguish, and
- loss of consortium or companionship (this means the loss of intimate relations while someone is recovering from an injury).
There are also punitive damages in some situation. These are non-compensatory because they are not associated with a an attempt compensate for any loss suffered. Most personal injury are based on the negligence. That means someone caused the accident or injury by not using proper care, not because they intended to harm someone. If intent to harm can be shown, damages could be awarded not related to your calculated losses, but to send a message to the at fault party how wrong they were to discourage them or anyone else from doing what they did. To recover punitive damages like these, your case would almost certainly have to go to trial, not included from an agreed settlement.
Wrongful Death or Fatal Accident Claims
There may be times when you may want to retain a personal injury for claims that do not belong directly to you. If you are a parent or the guardian for a child or other individuals who are not able to legally make their own decisions. In these situations, a lawsuit will be entitled to “for the benefit of” or “in the name of”. You will need to consult with the attorney to specifically determine how such claims will be handled and the restrictions that may be placed on settlements or verdicts.
There are also wrongful death claims, where families seek to recover from the loss of life of a family member caused by an accident or intentional act. In this situation, because there are possibly multiple people with the claim, consult with your attorney to determine the amount of damages and who would be entitled to participate in a recovery.
Contributory Negligence and How it Can Affect Your Claims
What happens if it can be shown that you contributed to the accident? In Maryland, this means that if it can be shown that you were even only 1% responsible for the accident, you may not be entitled to recover any damages. Some other states have this doctrine, but most states do not. For this reason alone, it may be important to involve an attorney to determine the value of your case and any defenses that can be raised to try and defeat it.
While we use doctors to physically recover from being hurt, your lawyer will also likely need your medical professionals to prepare a medical report to demonstrate in writing the extent of your injuries and whether they are permanent. Other expert’s reports may be needed for your case, such as psychologists, accident reconstruction professionals, and sometime economic experts to determine loss of value.
Settling Your Personal Injury Claim in Maryland
How quickly will your case settle may depend on the amount of loss sustained by you and how quickly you recover from physical injuries. Until all information is gathered and you have reached maximum recovery, it may be premature to settle. Very often, an insurance company may push to settle quickly with you because they don’t want to pay out a larger claim in the future. If your case is “cut and dry” it may make sense to settle right away, but it is not often that everything seems to be the way it appears at first in a personal injury case.
In most cases, the damages won’t be paid personally by an individual. Instead, it is the insurance company of the at fault party that will likely cover the cost of the damages up to the limit of the policy. An insurance company makes more money by limiting the amount of money it pays out, so their goals are different from the victim of an accident.
Negotiating with the Insurance Companies
Your attorney will likely be negotiating with the insurance company directly until the case goes to trial. The attorney will present the evidence gathered and make a demand based on what you and the lawyer determine to be the value of your case. At that point the insurance company will hire an attorney to represent their insured in court. Because there is always risk as to what will happen at a trial, each side maybe willing to compromise to reach what is considered a fair settlement for everything rather than face all or nothing.
As you can see, the work of a personal injury attorney involves many elements: fact gathering, analysis, follow up, reviewing, legal research, maintaining contacts with multiple parties with multiple interests. At all times though, the mission remains the same, serving and representing the interests of the client so their rights and interests are protected and doing their best to insure recovery on their client’s behalf is maximized.
If you have any further questions or concerns, contact the Rice, Murtha & Psoras for a free consultation.