Can I afford a lawyer?
Yes. Our office handles cases on a contingency fee basis which means that we only get paid out of a recovery. The benefit of the contingency system is that there are no up-front costs to the client. We will advance the expenses related to the claim, including ordering records, filing fees, deposition costs, expert fees, etc. These file costs can be significant, especially if we need to retain multiple expert witnesses. Since our fee is based on the amount of the recovery, you can be assured that we will fight to maximize the recovery given the facts and law of the case. The contingency system has the added societal benefit of discouraging frivolous cases since it is highly unlikely an attorney will file a lawsuit on a case with a questionable chance of recovery.
How long will the process take?
It depends. Some claims can be settled when you are finished treating for your injuries. This is usually true when liability is not at issue and your injuries are clear. If the insurance company doesn’t make a reasonable offer and a lawsuit has to be filed, each jurisdiction has its own procedure for moving a case through the system. The good news is that most venues have adopted a case management system where deadlines are established early in the process. The deadlines are established based on the complexity of the case and the number of defendants involved. The Court will then issue a Case Management Order so that everyone involved knows when certain events will take place. Keep in mind that a case can be settled at any time so just because a Case Management Order is issued, doesn’t mean it won’t settle before the trial date.
Who will pay my medical bills?
This question come up in almost every personal injury case and the answer might not be obvious. If the case involves premises liability, like a slip and fall or an injury caused by a defect, some insurance policies include a med pay provision that will cover some of the medical bills regardless of fault. If the case involves a work-related injury, then the worker’s compensation carrier pays the bills. If the case involves a motor vehicle accident, the medical providers must bill the auto insurance and the No-Fault system dictates the priority of coverage. If you use your private health insurance, they might have a right to recover those bills, which is called subrogation, depending on the type of claim and the type of insurance. Our office has years of experience navigating the complex medical payment systems and we will work with your medical providers to get you the treatment you need.
How much is my case worth?
There are many factors that go in to determining the value of a case. The first is the question of liability. Simply stated, this means who was responsible for the accident that caused you to be injured. Sometime liability is obvious, like when a car crashes into the back of a stopped vehicle because the driver wasn’t paying attention. Other times, liability is not as cut and dried. Assuming liability is established, the next question is what are the damages? Economic damages include things like medical bills, lost wages and liens. Often times a significant portion of the economic damages will occur in the future such as the cost of future medical treatment or lost future income because a client can no longer do the type of job they did prior to the accident. In those cases, we will retain an expert to quantify the loss so that any settlement or verdict takes those future losses into consideration. Non-economic damages include things like pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures and disfigurement. There is no hard and fast calculation for those types of damages but we do monitor the jury verdicts that come in for similar injuries to come up with a range for settlement. There are a number of other factors such as venue, insurance coverage and the potential for punitive damages that can affect the value of a case. If we receive a settlement offer, we will make a recommendation based on the factors listed above, but ultimately the client decides if the offer is enough to settle the case.
Will a lawsuit need to be filed?
Maybe not. When we initially open a file, a claim is presented to the insurance company and that claim can be resolved without having to file suit up until the statute of limitations runs. If liability is not in dispute, the insurance company will usually be open to resolving the claim before a lawsuit is filed since it will have to spend money defending its insured. Unfortunately, what qualifies as “reasonable compensation” to the insurance company rarely lines up with our assessment of the value of the claim. Even if there is an agreement about liability and damages, a lawsuit is sometimes necessary to flush out additional insurance coverage or culpable parties. Cases can be settled at any time, so just because a lawsuit is filed doesn’t mean it can’t be settled. In fact, most of the time that is how suits are resolved.
Will I have to go to trial?
Probably not. The vast majority of cases are settled before they go to trial. If the case is worth less than $50,000.00, it will be filed as an arbitration, which is a less formal process that does not involve a Judge and jury. If the case is filed as a major jury matter, the case management systems referenced above are designed to give the parties multiple opportunities to resolve a case before trial. There are settlement conferences and pre-trial conferences where the Court will try to get both sides to agree on a reasonable settlement. Another alternative to a traditional trial is a mediation where the parties agree to a neutral mediator (usually a retired judge) who attempts to get both sides to agree to a settlement number. There are also binding ADRs where everyone agrees that findings of the arbitrator will be final and binding. Since we don’t know which cases will settle and which will not, we treat each case as if it will eventually go to court. This way we will be prepared to go to trial if we can’t reach a settlement.