How to Find a Personal Injury Lawyer
Posted on November 13th, 2019 by Zane Cagle
Choosing a personal injury attorney is a big decision. Depending on the type of accident you were involved in and the injuries you sustained, it can be one of the most important decisions you ever make.
Accidents happen every day. Using the term “accident” is somewhat confusing, as pure “accidents” are very rare and occur without any cause, rather a freak of nature. As most of us know, there are very few “accidents” without a cause. Thus, car collisions are called car “incidents” because they do have a cause and may have multiple causes.
Too often we overlook the far-reaching effects these incidents may have on our lives for years to come. An injury can interfere with your ability to walk, talk, move, and make a living. Severe injuries can affect your personal relationships, your self-esteem, and your mental health.
Choosing a lawyer involves more than just Googling “personal injury lawyer” and choosing the first name you find. Likewise, maybe the lawyer you see advertising services on a highway billboard is the right fit for you, but then again, maybe not. But how do you know for sure? How do you find the best lawyer to represent you in your personal injury matter?
Understanding the Role of a Personal Injury Attorney
Before you choose a personal injury lawyer, it is important to understand exactly what a personal injury attorney does. After all, this choice means selecting the person to represent some of your most important interests. An attorney will be your advisor, your confidant, and the person you go to when you’re not sure what comes next. Understanding their role can help you make sure you choose someone who is not only qualified to take on the job of serving your legal interests, but also responsive to your needs as a client. Here are just a few things a personal injury attorney to does for clients:
- Collect and organize records and physical evidence: Obtaining evidence constitutes one of the most important aspects of any personal injury case. A personal injury attorney combs through documents and physical evidence relating to the causes and effects of your injuries to identify the most important facts to illustrate why you deserve compensation.
- Interview and depose witnesses: Witnesses constitute another critical component of proving your case. A skilled personal injury may use an investigation service to track down witnesses who know important facts about your case, and how to interview them (either informally or at a “deposition” under oath) to determine how they might help (or hurt) your cause.
- Negotiate a fair settlement with an insurance company: Most personal injury matters involve interactions with insurance companies for the party who has potential legal liability to you. Having an attorney handle negotiations with insurance companies is a must. Insurance companies notoriously offer far lower settlements to plaintiffs who do not have an attorney, if they offer anything at all. A personal injury attorney draws upon the evidence gathered, research, and experience to determine how much money you should demand for your injuries, and uses finely-honed negotiation skills to convince the insurance company to pay you what you deserve.
- Prepare and file legal documents: When a personal injury matter goes to court, it is essential to let an attorney handle the preparation and filing of the necessary paperwork. Local and state courts have specialized rules that parties must follow. Attorneys spend years learning and operating under those rules, and know far better than any non-lawyer how to make the most of legal filings while avoiding pitfalls. If you are injured, you should not represent yourself “per se”.
- Schedule and attend mediation: Mediation is, essentially, a supervised settlement negotiation. A mediator skilled at achieving compromise tries to bring the parties to a resolution of the matter before they have to spend time and money on a trial. A lawyer represents your interests in mediation, making sure that any compromise the mediator proposes that you reach with the other side is fair and reasonable, and advising you about whether to take an offer or “walk away.”
- Represent you at trial: Most personal injury matters settle out of court. But a personal injury lawyer should always be ready to take a case to trial, if need be. Trials require a special set of skills. The best personal injury lawyers have a talent for sharing their client’s real story—the story of their experience. Having a reputation as a sterling trial lawyer also gives an attorney leverage in settlement negotiations.
What Injuries Can Personal Injury Attorneys Help With?
Personal injury attorneys often have a wide range of topic-area expertise that runs the gamut of the many different ways people can suffer injuries through no fault of their own. The common feature of all personal injury cases is that they involve situations in which someone suffers harm because of the wrongful actions of another person or entity. Common cases that personal injury attorneys often handle include:
- Motor vehicle accidents: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of accidental injury and death in the United States. In one year, 153,422 accidents resulted in 923 fatalities and an additional 57,270 injuries in Missouri alone. These accidents led to enormous personal suffering and economic loss in our state. Common injuries car accidents cause include traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, back and neck injuries, and spinal cord injuries.
- Premises liability accidents (also known as slip and fall): Property owners have a responsibility to keep their home or business safe and free of hazards that could hurt visitors. But every year, thousands of people suffer injuries when they slip, trip, fall, or otherwise get injured on someone else’s commercial or residential property. In business settings, injuries caused by falling because of spilled liquids or poorly maintained walkways are some of the most common. In residential settings, injuries often involve recreational aspects of a property, such as swimming pools and backyard trampolines.
- Dog bites: For many, dogs are man’s best friend. But sometimes, animals don’t behave the way they should. According to a local news report, there were 2,700 dog bites in Missouri in 2016. These injuries are no small matter for their victims, particularly when dogs bite small children. A dog’s strong jaw and sharp teeth enable it to tear flesh and break through bone. When a dog bites a human it can have very serious consequences. Common injuries include infections, lacerations, broken bones, lacerations, and permanent scarring.
- Truck accidents: Any given day, there are thousands of trucks on the road. As consumers, we rely on these trucks to transport food, gas, and other products across the country. But these trucks can be very dangerous. A fully loaded truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. In 2017 there were 13,685 crashes involving commercial vehicles in Missouri. These accidents often cause catastrophic injuries and fatalities, particularly when they involve collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles.
- Medical malpractice: We rely on doctors to take care of us when we get sick or injured. But doctors make mistakes. According to a recent report, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. That’s shocking. When a doctor makes a mistake that results in injury or death, a personal injury attorney can help you recover damages.
- Wrongful death: When an accident results in the death of a loved one, personal injury attorneys represent the families and next-of-kin of the deceased person. A “wrongful death” action makes claims similar to those that would be made had the victim survived, and seeks to recover medical bills, funeral costs, loss of companionship, and lost wages. Wrongful death cases are approached differently depending on whether the death occurs in Missouri or Illinois.
Choosing an Attorney That’s Right for You
There are a few qualities the lawyer you choose should always have. These “non-negotiables” will help ensure that you have a successful working relationship with your attorney. At the end of the day, you want someone who will represent your interests vigorously and expertly. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Location, Location, Location
When it comes to choosing a personal injury lawyer, it’s important to choose an attorney that is not only licensed in your state but also familiar with the area where your accident occurred, and with the courts where your case would most likely be filed.
If, for example, you are injured in St. Louis, Kansas City, the Metro East area of Illinois, or Paducah, you want someone familiar with that respective court system and community.
Whenever possible, choose an attorney licensed in the state where the accident took place. Here’s why:
- It helps to have a lawyer familiar with local healthcare providers: Medical care is an unavoidable component of almost any personal injury case. Health care systems, as any patient knows, are complicated. So are healthcare billing practices. A personal injury attorney needs to help you make sense of what you owe now, and what you may owe in the future. Oftentimes, that requires your attorney interacting with medical billing professionals and insurance companies. The more familiar your attorney is with the healthcare system and insurance coverage through which you receive your care, the better your attorney can help you manage and receive compensation for your medical expenses.
- It helps to have a lawyer with an established reputation in the legal community: Personal injury law involves a significant amount of negotiation. Find a lawyer who has a strong reputation in the legal community as a skilled negotiator and trial advocate; that reputation will give you leverage in negotiations and, if the case goes to trial, will give you credibility with the court. A lawyer who has no local reputation may struggle to achieve the best outcomes for you.
There are many factors to consider when it comes to experience. Just like hiring a professional in any industry, you want to hire a lawyer who has relevant experience with your type of case. If you were preparing for heart surgery, you wouldn’t consult with a brain surgeon. In the same regard, you should take your personal injury claim to a lawyer who advertises a specialty in personal injury law, and better yet, the type of accident and injury you suffered.
Personal injury is a broad term that covers all sorts of injuries. It includes car accidents, malpractice, slip and fall accidents, and even dog bites. When you go to interview potential lawyers, ask them what type of cases they handle and how many years of experience they have in the field.
Trust Is Key
When it comes down to it, trust is one of the most important factors when choosing a personal injury attorney. The person that you choose has to be someone that you feel comfortable with and can have open communication with. Choose an attorney that you feel has your best interest in mind. A lot of this will come down to following your gut based upon the open communication you are able to establish right away. Before you hire a personal injury attorney, you should always have an initial consultation. The good news is, many attorneys offer this for free. If you don’t feel comfortable or just don’t click with the attorney, don’t be afraid to move on. Likewise, a good attorney will be upfront if he or she believes there is a compatibility problem. We build a relationship over time when working with an injured individual and it has to be based on honesty, both ways.
This is a great time to ask for advice from people you know. Personal recommendations are a great way to begin your search. No matter where you get your recommendation, it’s always a good idea to do a little background on anyone you consider to be your attorney. Check with lawyer review sites and search the Missouri Bar or Illinois Bar to make sure your attorney doesn’t have a disciplinary record.
Get the Help That You Deserve
There’s no easy way to choose a personal injury attorney. At the end of the day, it comes down to finding someone you trust to handle one of the most delicate and complicated events in your life. If you have been injured, you want an attorney who will be there to support you and will aggressively fight to ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve. To learn more about your legal rights after an accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.