If you’ve been injured and are seeking legal assistance, you need to find an attorney you can trust. You’re already vulnerable, and you need to know that your attorney has your best interests at heart. Before you hire an attorney to handle your case, be sure you are familiar with their practice and understand the process.
We’ve assembled a list of questions you should ask your potential personal injury attorney before moving forward with the case.
Q: Have you handled personal injury cases like mine before? If so, how many?
Competition for personal injury lawsuits is fierce, and you need to be sure the attorney you hire has actually handled a case similar to yours. Don’t just believe their advertising—get details about their past cases, the similarities and differences compared to your specific situation, and the results of those cases. The number of cases they’ve handled like yours is important, too. If they’ve only handled one or two cases such as yours, their experience is very different from the lawyer down the street who’s handled twenty. If possible, try to speak to former clients to get their account of how this attorney handled their personal injury case.
Q: How long does it typically take to resolve a personal injury case like mine?
If you choose to hire a personal injury attorney, rather than taking a quick settlement from the insurance company, it may take longer to settle your case for a variety of reasons. In other words, there is almost no way of determining the specific number of days it will take to resolve your case. Be wary of any attorney who believes they can give you a set timeframe for your case.
The length of your case depends on three main factors:
- Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) — When you reach the state of MMI, it means you are as healed as you can possibly be, following your injury. You will not reach full MMI until you are no longer receiving treatment. Most lawyers won’t want to settle anything before that point, because they will want to be able to calculate the full value of your damages.
- Collecting Official Records — In order to maximize your settlement, your personal injury attorney will need your complete set of medical records and bills. It can take time to gather all of these documents, and the process is dependent upon the speed in which the various providers and billing agencies respond to the law firm’s requests.
- Response to the Demand Package — The final step in resolving your claim is the demand package prepared by your attorney. This package includes all of your medical records, bills, and a demand letter that clearly outlines every detail of your case. This is delivered to the insurance company, and can take several weeks to be reviewed, depending on the complexity of the claim. Some can include thousands of pages, and may require additional correspondence between the insurance company and your attorney.
Q: Do you actually have time to handle my case? How many other cases are you currently handling?
Some attorneys will take on more than they can handle, simply to have more cases in the books (and more money in their pockets). While they accept additional clients, they may set your case on the backburner for months, even bumping up against the statute of limitations, which harms you and your case. Ask the attorney how many other cases they have pending, and how much time they plan to devote directly to your personal injury case.
Q: What is your contingency fee?
If there is merit to your personal injury case, you will be able to find an attorney who will take your case based on a contingency fee agreement. This agreement states there is no legal fee unless there is a monetary recovery. Most contingency fees are negotiable, and typically range between 25% and 40%.You will have more negotiating power based on the strength of your case and the severity of the damages.
Q: Will my case go to trial? If so, when?
It’s important to find a personal injury attorney who is prepared to take every case to trial. Settlements may not get you the proper compensation, so a lawyer who is only willing to settle from the beginning may not have your best interests at the forefront. Once you confirm the attorney’s intention to go to trial, ask for a timeframe. Again, an exact answer here is suspicious, but the attorney should be able to give you an estimate or rough idea of how long it will take to go to trial. It’s common for a personal injury case to be resolved within two to three years, though it can also be quicker.
Q: Will you be the actual attorney handling my case?
Know who you are hiring. You might speak with an attorney for a consultation, then never hear from that person again. Find out before hiring an attorney who, specifically, will be handling your case, and who your point of contact will be throughout. If you aren’t comfortable with the thought of an associate handling your personal injury case, express this to the attorney and receive confirmation they will actually be involved in your entire case.
Q: What is my role in the case?
Just as you need to know who will actually be handling your case from the law firm, it’s fair to also understand what your participation will be during the lawsuit. Understand what will be expected of you, or not expected, before you hire an attorney. If you are passionate about your case, and wish to be very involved throughout the process, it’s important to find out from the beginning if the attorney will keep you updated and allow you to be involved.
Q: Will you get me more money than other attorneys, and why? When can I expect to receive my money?
You want to be certain you are hiring the best attorney for the job. You only have one chance to obtain the maximum recovery for your damages, so this question is important to ask before deciding on an attorney to handle your case.
It’s also reasonable to want to know when you will receive your money. After an agreement has been reached, it typically takes between two and six weeks to complete the settlement process. There can be exceptions to this timeframe, but you can usually expect to wait at least a month before collecting on your case.
Q: Will I have to pay anything up front?
If you hired your attorney based on a contingency fee agreement, you will not need to pay anything up front. Your lawyer’s fees will be a set percentage you agreed upon in the initial contingency fee agreement, and will only be collected if they reach a favorable solution for your case.
In addition to the contingency fee, also be aware of any costs advanced your attorney may charge. These can be substantial, and will almost always be deducted from your share. Before hiring your personal injury attorney, ask for a guarantee that you will not be responsible for any costs advanced or other out-of-pocket expenses.
Q: When will my lawsuit be filed?
In most cases, it will be more beneficial for you if your lawsuit is filed sooner rather than later. Ask your potential attorney when they plan to file the lawsuit. Their response could possibly answer some of your other questions, like how many cases they currently have pending, and whether or not they will be the person actually handling your case. In Florida, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is four years from the date of the accident. You’ll want to be sure the attorney you hire isn’t planning to sit on your case for four years, since they technically have that long until they need to file the lawsuit.
Specific to Florida
If you are a resident of Florida, it will help to understand some of the state’s laws specific to personal injury cases. You may also want to clarify the details with your attorney and their experience with these laws if your case involves any of the following situations.
Q: What is the no-fault car insurance law?
Florida follows a no-fault system for car accident cases only. This means, if you are injured in a car accident, your own insurance company will provide coverage for medical expenses and lost income, regardless of who was actually at fault in the accident.
The only time a driver may be held liable in a car accident personal injury case, is if the “serious injury” threshold is met. This is typically met when a person suffers from one or several of the following:
- Permanent injury
- Significant and permanent scarring
These terms can also be negotiated as part of your claim.
Q: What is the “strict” liability for dog bite/attack cases?
In Florida, two separate statutes make dog owners “strictly liable” in dog bite and attack cases. This means that regardless of the dog’s past behavior, the owner will be held responsible in a personal injury case caused by his or her dog.
This differs from the law present in most states, often referred to as the “one-bite rule.” This rule protects dog owners from injury liability to a degree, if the incident is the first time their dog has injured another person, or they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous.
Q: What are the damage caps in Florida injury cases?
In Florida, damage cap statutes limit the amount of money you can collect in a personal injury case. For most injury cases, the state limits punitive damages to three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are only available in a small percentage of injury cases as well, and are “meant to punish the wrongdoer for particularly dangerous or reprehensible behavior.”
Q: What is Florida’s Comparative Negligence Law?
In a personal injury case, the person you are seeking to hold liable may claim you are partially at fault in the incident. If you do share some of the blame for the accident causing your injuries, this law will affect your entitled compensation. If it is found that you are partially at fault, your potential award at trial is reduced by an amount that is equal to your portion of fault.
Are you looking for a personal injury attorney in the Cape Coral or Fort Myers region? Contact Lusk, Drasities, and Tolisano to see how you can get the best possible outcome for your case!