When you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury after an accident, it can be hard to make sense of an increasingly complex legal system. It’s all too easy to be taken advantage of. Here’s what you need to know.
When do I need a lawyer?
As soon as possible, if not immediately.
The investigation into your injury needs to start early. The evidence surrounding your case needs to be preserved. Real life doesn’t resemble the popular law and order dramas on television. Essential evidence goes missing all the time.
Sometimes, evidence is simply misplaced, never to be seen again. Evidence is sometimes intentionally “misplaced.” A good law firm will collect and preserve the evidence you’ll need to prove your claims. Letters can go out early on to interested parties insisting that they preserve any evidence in their possession.
As the injured party, you are entitled to certain rights and protections, but these need to be established as soon as possible. The parties you may later face in court are trying to make a case, too, and will often attempt to speak with you. (These parties include insurance companies and their agents as well as employees of corporations that committed misdeeds.) Your future adversaries will try to take statements in the hopes of using them against you or your family at a later date.
Your law firm will work to protect your interests. They will advise you about what is and is not appropriate so you don’t get taken advantage of. Your attorney will make it clear to the opposing parties that you are represented by counsel. The firm will keep the parties from contacting you again. Failing that, they’ll make sure you know what to do when they try.
What can I do to help my case?
Start by documenting and photographing important evidence. This step can be harder than it sounds. The victim and the family are already dealing with the fallout of the injury, including treatment and recovery and navigating medical bills and expenses. Lost time at work and the stress of the event means you focus your energy where it’s most needed: on the victim. In the midst of concern for our loved ones, we’re not worrying about a future trial.
This is one reason you should call an attorney as soon as possible. My firm uses professionals that specialize in documenting evidence for use at trial. The professionals we work with can be at the scene or in the hospital within 24 hours to ensure that evidence (including photographs and recordings of injuries, damage to vehicles and accident sites) is properly preserved.
Don’t talk to the at-fault party’s insurance company or their adjustors. After an auto or trucking accident, especially, they will tell you they “must speak to you” in order to set up the claim. Under no circumstances should you discuss the incident or anything else with these individuals. Their job is to save the insurance company money. Essentially, their job is to discredit you.
Equally important to discussing your case with your own lawyers is your refusal to sign anything without first consulting your legal counsel. Insurance companies and others will attempt to get you to sign releases or waivers without fully explaining what the documents are. A good rule of thumb after an accident is to never sign anything without allowing your lawyer to look over it first.
Don’t sign hire any lawyers that contact you. Most reputable lawyers do not solicit clients. If you want a good lawyer, ask around and you someone will refer you to some attorneys. When interviewing your attorney, ask him or her if they litigate the cases themselves and how many cases they have tried to verdict. This will give you an indication about whether you are hiring counsel that can take your case through to trial if need be.
Finally, don’t try to negotiate yourself. Insurance companies have vast resources and legal counsel at their disposal. Almost without exception, insurance companies will not pay the full value of your case until an attorney is involved. You need experienced counsel in your corner who will thoroughly evaluate the extent of your past and future damages.
Negotiating on your own before you hire an attorney can hurt your case in several ways. If you don’t have an attorney, the insurance company will offer less than you deserve and tell you that’s the only offer they can make. If you negotiate yourself, the insurance company may be given access to information that it should not have been provided. The company will try to discover what you think your case is worth, not what a thorough, fair evaluation will determine after studying the nature of your injuries and the misconduct of the at-fault party.
The days after an injury are disorienting, but there are professionals trained to help in situations like these. When you or a loved one has been injured, hiring an experienced law firm can shift some of the burden from your shoulders.