If you’ve been injured in an accident, you probably have many questions going through your head as you try to manage the accident’s impact on your life. You’re dealing with medical expenses, insurance issues, physical rehabilitation, and effects on your work and home life.
There’s also the legal side of things. If you believe you have a personal injury claim against the individual who injured you, it’s time to talk to a personal injury attorney.
At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we offer a free consultation and we’d be glad to answer any questions you have. In the meantime, we’ve created a list of vital questions to ask a personal injury attorney as you explore your options for handling your case.
#1. How Does Your Fee Work?
This is the first question to ask a personal injury attorney. Request an explanation of their fees and an estimate of how much your case is worth. While no exact amount can be given, a lawyer can estimate how much you can reasonably expect to get out of a settlement or court case.
Virtually all good personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. That means if you don’t recover any money, neither does your lawyer. Nor would you be expected to pay your lawyer out of pocket for any of the work done on your case, if you receive no compensation.
Your lawyer’s fee should be based upon a set percentage of the total settlement or judgment in your case. It should be spelled out in the written attorney-client fee agreement you sign. Since this is a standard among personal injury lawyers, it would be somewhat suspicious if you found an attorney who did not offer a contingency fee arrangement.
Most injury attorneys in California advertise something like “no fee, no recovery.” Be careful! That doesn’t mean their services are free. They will be paid out of your personal injury settlement or judgment after you win your case.
So make sure you clarify the details with them. You should not be expected to pay for either fees or case costs if your attorney fails to win the case by way of a settlement or judgment.
Keep in mind that contingency fees are a good thing and keep your lawyer motivated to help you win high-value compensation. Plus, the premise behind contingency fee arrangements is that they play a critical role in providing everyone access to the courts.
A seriously injured person often suffers a significant loss of earnings because they are physically unable to perform their job. Further, they are likely facing large medical expenses, with bill collectors ready to pounce. A contingency arrangement prevents them from owing money up front. It also affords injured people the opportunity to hold insurance companies, corporations, and negligent individuals accountable for illegal actions that might otherwise go unpunished.
Also, here’s a very important distinction that could impact what you owe. In addition to fees you may see listed in your contract, you may also owe case costs. These expenses are typically separate from attorneys’ fees and include out-of-pocket costs like photocopying documents and hiring expert witnesses.
An attorney usually covers these costs until the conclusion of your case, then you’ll owe them if you win. As you can imagine, case costs can be quite high so it’s important to clarify what type of case costs may arise during your case.
Watch out for tricky fee models and beware of any attorney who won’t explain their fees clearly. Some personal injury attorneys will advertise that there is no fee unless you win, but they’ll still expect you to pay for expert witnesses and whatever other expenses come up, even if you lose.
Don’t fall for that. At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, you don’t pay a dime unless you collect on your claim.
#2. Will I End Up Owing You Money When My Case is Over?
Here’s another great question to ask a personal injury lawyer about the potential financial outcome of your case. “Will I end up owing you money in the end?”
A common and very reasonable concern among injured people is that if they hire an attorney, they’ll just end up in a worse financial position. Hiring a personal injury attorney is a daunting task and you don’t want to pile on more problems during a difficult time.
Cheesy billboards, wild promises, and “1-800-we’ll-get-you-a-million-dollars” accident attorneys have harmed the average person’s understanding of hiring a personal injury lawyer. You might be worried that the legal fees and costs will be more than a settlement or judgment.
You’re right to be concerned! Many lawyers will confuse you with their terms of payment, so ask exactly what will happen if you DON’T win your case. Be sure to ask potential attorneys what they will do if there was not enough settlement money to cover all of your damages and the legal fees and costs.
Find out if an attorney is willing to work with you if you owe a large amount after the case concludes. And ask about any up-front fees or costs that will be billed regardless of the outcome. Now’s the time for an honest discussion of the worst-case scenarios that could occur.
At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we don’t play games and we won’t try to trick you into signing anything you don’t understand. In fact, it’s our mission to fully inform you of your options and our fee structure, right up front. If you have questions, just ask!
#3. Have You Taken a Case Like Mine Before?
Some lawyers are the legal equivalent of general practitioners. They work with all kinds of cases, from divorces to traffic tickets. That might be good business for them, but it’s not always great for their clients.
You need a lawyer who specializes in exactly the type of case you have. They need extensive experience dealing with the details of cases similar to yours, so they can stay one step ahead of the other side, including the powerful insurance companies.
Much of the process of personal injury law is the art of negotiation. If your lawyer isn’t experienced negotiating cases like yours, you’re unlikely to get a positive result.
There are three aspects to the case that a lawyer needs to have some expertise in to handle your personal injury case:
- Fault. Being able to successfully argue that the defendant is at fault requires experience in the kind of personal injury case they are litigating. If an attorney specializes in product liability cases, you would not want them arguing a traffic liability case, and vice versa.
- Injuries. You need an attorney who completely understands the types of injuries you have and has managed cases with other people who have sustained these kinds of injuries before.
- Negotiation. There’s nothing worse for a personal injury case than an inexperienced attorney who’s out of their league. They must have the talent to go up against trained insurance adjusters and defense attorneys who handle dozens of these negotiations daily. Experience matters!
The location also matters in personal injury cases. When seeking legal representation, your lawyer should practice in the area where you were injured. Don’t hire a Seattle lawyer to represent you for an injury that happened in Los Angeles or San Francisco.
#4. Will I Have Access to You as My Lawyer Throughout My Case?
This is one of the top questions to ask any personal injury lawyer you are interviewing. The number one complaint lawyers get from their clients is they are not accessible. They don’t return phone calls or emails or, they simply “disappear” for months on end and leave the client wondering what’s going on with their case.
Make sure to face this issue head-on before you hire a personal injury lawyer and find out what their communication style is, so you aren’t left in the dark. Ask them how accessible they will be. This is crucial!
Read their customer reviews and testimonials to see if former clients talk about how well they communicate about the process. Do clients say they felt informed and educated? Does it sound like they had direct access to their assigned lawyer?
When you interview lawyers, ask them these questions too. How do they respond to client questions and concerns? Will you work with the same lawyer the whole time? Can you email your lawyer if you have important legal questions about your case? Attorney-client communication should be a top priority for your injury lawyer.
#5. Do You Litigate Cases and/or Take Them to Trial?
The majority of accident cases do not go to trial. And frankly, many of them don’t even require a lawsuit, as they can be resolved by working within the personal injury insurance claims process.
But some injury cases o require litigation and/or trial. These usually involve some of the more tragic instances when an individual has either suffered a catastrophic injury or they were killed in the accident.
In those cases, it’s essential to have an attorney that has litigation and trial experience. To get more than the average personal injury settlement, your attorney may need to take your case to the next level, so you want to be sure they have the skill and experience to do that.
So ask what sort of litigation, trial, and negotiation experience they have. Make sure you choose someone who has experience with both settlements and judgments involving your particular case and injury type. Choose a firm that’s a good fit for your style of conflict resolution and risk tolerance.
#6. Can You Provide References from Past Clients?
This is not an unreasonable request for a client to make. However, due to attorney-client confidentiality, personal injury lawyers cannot simply give out their past clients’ contact information.
Instead, take it upon yourself to research online reviews to see what past clients are saying about this lawyer or firm. If there are few, no, or poor reviews online from former clients, there is likely a problem. Read reviews closely to make sure the reviewers are touching on the top qualities you are looking for in a personal injury lawyer.
For example, take a look at the client review below. If you see reviews like this – ones where former clients straight-up invite you to contact them to find out more about their experience in working with the law firm – this is a very good sign!
“If you’re someone who is considering an attorney for a personal accident, I highly recommend Sally Morin and her professional staff of attorneys. If you would like to know more details, feel free to contact me via Yelp and I would be happy to share more details. While I use Yelp quite often, I rarely post reviews… unless I’m truly blown away by great service (or angry with horrible service). If there were a sixth star, I would certainly give it to Rebecca and Sally!”
There are thousands of personal injury attorneys in California and not all of them operate at the same standard of excellence. Some law firms operate on high volume and high turnover, meaning they take as many cases as possible, settle them with as little effort as they can, and move on to the next one.
However, at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we definitely don’t work on a high-volume basis and we treat each client with care and respect. We won’t push you to accept a low insurance company offer that doesn’t even cover your medical bills. We’ll negotiate to get you the best deal possible.
#7. What Can I Do to Ensure the Success of My Case?
This is a very important question for your personal injury attorney. There are several things you can do to strengthen your case – or damage it! – throughout the process. This could add or subtract thousands of dollars from your case.
For instance, more cases are now destroyed by social media than ever before. Even well-meaning folks who just want to vent a little on Facebook run the risk of negatively impacting their settlement.
If you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, you may want to put your family and friends at ease by posting to social media that you’re “doing ok.” Nonetheless, that tiny bit of information can be used against you by the insurance company or an opposing lawyer. They will take it as evidence that you are not as seriously injured as you claim to be.
That’s why it’s extremely important to avoid posting on social media or talking about the case during the insurance claim and litigation processes. Ask your personal injury attorney what you can do to help and avoid hurting the value of your claim.
#8. How Long Will My Case Take to Resolve?
While no attorney will be able to predict with 100% accuracy when all the legal proceedings will be completed, it’s not unreasonable to ask approximately how long your case will take. Much of this depends on what the insurance company does or how opposing counsel defends their client.
Most cases can be resolved relatively quickly if things go smoothly. However, in many instances, negotiations can get difficult and neither side wants to budge. The insurance company may dig in their heels and decide, for some reason, they’d rather make you go to court to purse compensation for your injuries.
In either a settlement or court case, there may be delays from having medical exams, gathering paperwork, and taking expert testimony. The timeline is going to depend on many factors in your case. That’s why you’ll want to add this to your list of the top questions to ask the personal injury attorneys you are interviewing.
Of course, patience pays off in personal injury cases! If you can tolerate some uncertainty and a few delays in the process, you may be rewarded for your patience with the high level of compensation you deserve.
We Handle Your Pedestrian Accident Claim So You Can Focus on Your Life
After a personal injury, contact the attorneys at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers. We handle many areas of the law, including personal injuries. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering while we handle the legal details.
We truly care about the people of California. Contact us today for a free online case evaluation.