Q. How do I know if I have a claim that I should take to a lawyer?
If you have been injured to the extent that it is necessary for you to visit a doctor, lose time from work, or if your injury has an other-wise significant impact on your life, it may well be worthwhile to consult with a lawyer if you feel another party may be at fault for your injury. If cost is a concern, make sure you inquire of your lawyer in advance as to what fee, if any, is charged for the initial consultation. This consultation should unable you to determine whether you really have a claim that is worth pursuing.
Q. What am I entitled to claim for in a personal injury suit?
Claims in personal injury suits usually come under the following headings:
- Pain and suffering and loss of amenities of life;
- Loss of Income;
- Lost of care (in the event that you are significantly disabled;
Q. How long does it take to process my claim?
The length of time varies in each individual case. In most instances, we recommend that the client wait for a period of approximately one year from the date of injury before even considering opening negotiations for settlement. This time frame is necessary to allow the injuries to fully manifest themselves. Quite often it happens that symptoms emerge only after months have passed from the date of the original accident. This is particularly true in whiplash cases.
Q. What is the value of my claim?
This is a question that can only be answered through the passage of time and the patient accumulation of medical and legal reports on your condition. It would be unwise for a lawyer to suggest to a client on the first interview that the client's claim has a value of any specific sum of money. It is necessary for the client's injuries to be fully manifested over a period of time and for these injuries to be documented by medical and legal reports from qualified physicians. Only after this is done is the lawyer in a position to make a rational assessment, based on the law, of the value of the client's case.
Q. What is the role of the client in the processing of a personal injury claim?
It is up to you to provide reasonable assistance to your lawyer in processing your claim. This usually means keeping a diary to record the effect that the injury is having on your life as well as keeping records of all expenses associated with the accident. Aside from this, it will be necessary for you to attend for scheduled appointments with physicians and with your lawyer.
Q. Will my case have to go to Court?
This is a difficult question to answer in the general sense. Statistically, most personal injury claims are settled without recourse to Court proceedings. In certain cases, especially in the case of serious claims, you may find yourself in a situation where your lawyer recommends that the matter proceed to Court because no negotiated settlement appears to be possible. Even when the case proceeds into litigation and a lawsuit is actually initiated, there is still room for settlement. In fact, most lawsuits are settled before the actual trial commences because of the cost and uncertainty involved in actually proceeding to trial. However, there still remains a small percentage of personal injury claims which, in the end, result in trial. It is important to understand that even though your case may not actually go to Trial or even to litigation, your lawyer still has to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the case is prepared for litigation. This involves the interviewing of not only yourself as the Claimant, but other potential witnesses and possibly engaging various experts such as actuaries and accident reconstruction specialists. In litigation, preparation is often the key to a successful settlement.
Q. How much does it cost to hire a lawyer?
Two options for payment are relatively common in personal injury cases. The obvious option is known as "pay as you go", which calls for the client to provide to the law firm a retainer which will then be billed against as work is done on the file. The retainer is intended to cover both legal fees and necessary disbursements as the file progresses. It is not intended to cover all fees and disbursements as the amount of such is not capable of prediction at the outset of the file. The size of the retainer and the cost of "a pay as you go" type of claim will vary depending on the circumstances, including the seriousness of injury. Again, it is best to come in for a consultation to obtain specific information.
The alternative method of payment is known as a "Contingency Fee Agreement". This involves paying to the lawyer a percentage of the award as opposed to legal fees on a "pay as you go" basis. The percentage to be paid will vary depending upon whether the matter has been settled before the Pre-Trial Brief is signed and sent to the Court. It is important to understand that whether the route chosen is "pay as you go" or the "Contingency Fee" route, you will still be required to provide to your lawyer monthly payments for expenses (disbursements) actually incurred on the file. These disbursements include such matters as courier charges, court filing fees (if necessary) and the cost of any medical legal reports which are not covered by the insurer. Again, your lawyer can advise you as to the amount involved, but the monthly charge is usually set up so that it is well within the budget of most people.
As a final note on the subject of legal fees and disbursements it is highly recommended that at the outset of the file the client enter into a signed retainer agreement with the lawyer covering the financial as well as other terms under which the lawyer is being hired by the client. Such an agreement will go a long way towards preventing disagreements arising "down the road" when both the lawyer and the client may have a less than perfect recollection of the original arrangement.