After facing a tragic death or personal injury, there are many decisions you need to make. One decision is the possibility of filing a lawsuit against those who are responsible for causing the injury or even death. It is important to make this decision with the right facts and the right guidance “When you, or someone you know, has sustained an…injury (or death of a loved one), at first the world seems to have turned upside down. There are so many things to do, decisions to make…all the while you are grappling with overwhelming emotions such as anger, fear, depression and loss,” Spinal Cord Injury (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) and it is at this point that you may need to make “extremely important decision(s) about something you know nothing about.” One factor is how are you going to handle the costs that may go with now being disabled, unable to work, or losing a loved one who was the breadwinner. If it is a loss of a spouse, you may have daycare and a whole new set of expenses that your spouse had always provided.
“Most people” who have suffered a catastrophic injury “are not in a financial position to pay for essential needs such as …” wheelchairs, or hospital beds, or physical therapy, or medicines or loss of income from the loved one or spouse (SCI Life, Aug. 2006). The quality of care can also be dictated by your financial resources. For example, only a few specialized hospitals and programs can provide the intensive rehabilitation necessary for a survivor of a severe traumatic brain injury. The therapy required for recovery from severe burns may only be available in certain specialized institutions.
“Among your challenges is the possibility of filing a lawsuit against those who may have contributed to causing your….injury. This prospect may seem daunting” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006). In considering what to do, this checklist is intended to offer some practical suggestions to help you in your decision. It is important to know that all of the opinions set forth herein are intended for your general guidance only and should not be relied upon, or interpreted, as a substitute for specific legal advice in your unique circumstance.
Should I Sue?
Litigation is not easy, quick, or absent of emotion. The court system can take months, if not years, to complete. “A successful lawsuit, however, may provide you with a sense of justice as well as needed financial resources to meet the expenses created by… your injury or loss,” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) It may also change things for others. It may cause new laws to be instituted or help others to realize the dangers out there. It may cause others to not take shortcuts or expose their fellow human beings to injury or death.
It is important that you not feel rushed or pressured when making this decision. In the push to get you committed to one representative, some may say or do anything to get that commitment. Be careful. You should have the opportunity to consider all of the factors. Likewise, however, “you should be aware of certain advantages in retaining an attorney as soon as practically possible. Promptness will enable the attorney to gather information more easily. Otherwise, as time passes after your injury, witnesses may become harder to find, physical evidence may be lost or damaged, and memories may start to fade. In addition, each state has its own statute of limitations establishing a certain deadline after which the civil claim can no longer be filed”(SCI Life, Aug. 2006).
Looking for that Potential Attorney
You will ultimately want to hire an attorney who specializes in and has extensive experience in a claim similar to yours. You generally should avoid hiring an attorney who is a personal or family friend. “Although they might have a greater personal interest in you at the start, will you feel comfortable later on expressing disagreement with their recommendations…?” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006).
“The leading national directory of attorneys is Martindale-Hubbell. It was first published in 1868 and is updated annually. This directory lists thousands of attorneys. It is available in book form in most local libraries as well as on-line at www.martindale.com,” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) s also has an independent rating system where attorneys are rated by their peers, competitors, and judges. The rating goes from the low of unrated, to CV, to BV, to AV. AV is the highest rating. JA Harp Law Firm, LLP, has a rating of AV.
Another credential is whether the attorney is Board Certified by a national process. Board certification requires experience in a number of trials, evaluation of brief writing, evaluation by one’s peers, and successfully passing a national exam. J. Anderson Harp is Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.
It can be risky picking an attorney solely by the Yellow Pages or a telephone book. “You cannot make many assumptions about an attorney just because he or she pays for a large advertisement.” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) “Some attorneys and law firms advertise having an interest in particular fields of law simply because those fields are attractive and potentially lucrative, not because they have special experience in them” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006).
Specialized Practice Areas
“You should probably avoid an attorney who lists a plethora of specializations, since no individual can remain truly current in all kinds of law. The web sites of individual law firms can also offer some useful background information. Be aware, however, that the content of such sites is largely unsupervised and unregulated.”(SCI Life, Aug. 2006)
Litigation carries risks. Be aware that success in other cases does not predict success in the facts of your case. Each claim is based on its own facts.
Interviewing a Potential Representative
After you have gathered some facts, you need to set up an appointment with the attorney. When making the appointment ask if there is a charge for that first visit. JA Harp Law Firm does not charge in injury based litigation for the first visit.
Bring with you any and all documents that concern your possible claim. It may helpful for you to list all of the medical providers, hospitals, and related care providers. Bring any documents regarding the event, such as:
- police reports
- employer injury reports
- photographs, bring them as well.
Important Questions for the Interview
Your goal is to determine whether your claim has merit and whether the attorney is qualified to handle it. (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) A checklist of questions may be of help and may include the following:
- Do I have a case worth pursuing? The attorney may not initially have an answer to this question or what the strengths and weaknesses of the case are. Investigation may be required to determine the answer.
- What is your legal experience in this field? This question may involve experience either in the liability or fault aspect of the case or experience in the nature of the injury. JA Harp Law Firm, LLP, has represented more than 2,000 clients in more than ten states for catastrophic injury and death, including: burns, brain injury, and spinal cord injury. We have represented clients injured in a wide variety of settings to include auto, railroad, truck, motorcycle, and airplane accidents. We have represented many clients who suffered injury by medical negligence.
- How many cases like mine have you handled? What were the results? This is an important question that singles out the lack of experience of many. JA Harp Law Firm, LLP, will gladly provide you with a list of recoveries, verdicts and settlements and you can learn about many of our cases on our website.
- Have you ever been cited by an ethics committee or sued for malpractice? An important question. JA Harp Law Firm, LLP, has not. At the same time, you want to make sure you hire an attorney who has not been.
- Will you personally be working on my case or will you delegate responsibility to others? Also, an important question. JA Harp, LLP, always has a lead attorney responsible for your case. We will work closely to you to help you get what you deserve.
- How long do you expect this matter to take? Many times the length of the case depends upon the court and the judge to whom the case is assigned. Some judges move quickly. The court and judge you are assigned will depend on where the incident took place.
- Are there any important deadlines? Yes. Every case has a statute of limitations. A lawsuit must be filed within that date or is forever barred. You can help the lawyer by asking, as the case progresses, whether the action has been filed.
- Are there alternatives to litigation? Yes. We have had success with both mediation and arbitration, which are shortcuts to resolution. Mediation and arbitration require the cooperation of both sides to be successful.
- Can I help with my case? Certainly. Although it is not your job to do so, you can always help in locating witnesses, etc. Your input is critical.
- What are your rates? Do you require any retainer fee up front? “Contingent fee arrangements are the norm for plaintiffs in…. this type of litigation.” (SCI Life, Aug. 2006) “This fee arrangement is attractive because it does not require you to pay any money up front. The attorney shares in the risks of recovery and agrees to be paid only if the client’s case is ultimately successful. Under this arrangement, the attorney receives a percentage of the final amount recovered..”(SCI Life, Aug. 2006) The fee can be greatly influenced by the facts of fault, risks, and requirements of proof.
Once you have selected an attorney, the relationship should be finalized by a written agreement. You should be provided a copy.
You also have continuing responsibilities as the case progresses. Always let your attorney know of any change of condition or if you learn of a new fact or witness. And always be open and candid with your attorney. Statements made to your attorney are confidential.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call JA Harp, LLP, at 706 322 8004.