When you’ve been injured, whether at work, in an auto accident or at the hands of a medical professional, your primary concern is your health and well-being. Sometimes, the path to recovery can depend in large part on a settlement you may receive that helps fund your treatment or compensate you for lost wages as you recover.
During a time that’s likely emotionally, physically and financially challenging for you, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your attorney is inadvertently sabotaging your case. These are some of the pitfalls of hiring the wrong attorney so you can choose one that best suits your needs and obtain the best possible outcome for your case.
The Wrong Attorney Doesn’t Understand Your Needs
When you choose a lawyer to handle your personal injury case, it’s important to find one who specializes in personal injury. That may sound obvious, but a common mistake that people make is simply hiring their family attorney, or thinking that any good attorney will do, whatever their specialty. In fact, not only is it important to hire someone who specializes in personal injury, but someone who specializes in your type of injury. Someone who specializes in car accidents, for example, may not be qualified or have the right experience to handle medical malpractice.
If you’ve got a cousin or uncle or friend who’s an attorney, it may be tempting to “keep it in the family” and work with someone you know you can trust. However, trustworthiness is only one factor that matters when it comes to managing your case. You need an attorney who specifically understands personal injury – not real estate or business law or any other of the myriad specialties.
An experienced personal injury attorney understands the timetables that affect your case, knows how to find, vet and hire expert witnesses, and will properly prepare for trial.
Reputation is also important. Professionals, including attorneys, judges, and insurance companies, tend to know each other and work together frequently. If you bring an attorney into the mix who doesn’t fit within the same sphere of specialty, it puts you at a disadvantage. Everyone from the defense attorney to the insurance adjuster will know that your attorney isn’t well-versed in the space, and that can present them with the opportunity to capitalize on those weaknesses.
The Wrong Attorney Doesn’t Know How To Navigate The System
This ties into the first point in two ways. First, an attorney’s reputation as a personal injury specialist means that he or she has experience working with the other attorneys, judges, witnesses, and insurance companies that will likely come to bear on your case.
Familiarity and experience with the players in your case means your attorney has an advantage in knowing how to build trust and manage negotiations. It means your attorney is more likely to understand the nuances that can affect the outcome of your case. It means that your attorney understands the quirks and details that can mean the difference between mounting an effective case and possibly having your case dismissed.
Secondly, the right attorney understands important details of personal injury cases, like how to obtain the best supporting photos, when and how to file appropriate documentation, how to find and prepare witnesses, and how to anticipate and field questions in depositions.
On the other hand, even a good attorney can be the wrong one if a lack of understanding of personal injury law results in missed deadlines, inadequate witnesses or improper planning, all of which may get your case dismissed or seriously compromise the outcome.
The Wrong Attorney Won’t Hire The Right Expert Witnesses
Hiring an expert witness is an art and science in itself. Even good experts can be bad witnesses for you if they are not chosen and prepared properly.
For example, an expert witness must be qualified to testify to your specific case. That means his or her background and professional qualifications must be directly supportive of the expected testimony. You wouldn’t go to a heart surgeon if you needed a knee replacement. Likewise, you wouldn’t hire one to testify on your behalf unless you want testimony about a heart condition.
Just as “attorney” is not a good enough designation when hiring one for a personal injury specialty, “surgeon” is not a sufficient qualification for an expert witness if their area of specialty doesn’t match your injury.
Unfortunately, it’s almost too easy to find an “expert for hire.” There are online databases designed for just such a search, but that doesn’t make someone the best fit for you.
Expert witnesses play a pivotal role in the outcome of many personal injury cases. Given how easy it is to find one, judges are, understandably, wary of an expert simply giving the testimony that he or she was paid to give. That makes it vitally important to choose the right expert, with the right qualifications, who won’t give a judge cause for dismissal.
When it comes to personal injury, it’s important that your expert witness makes a clear distinction between any preexisting conditions you may have had, and injuries caused by your accident. For instance, it’s not good enough to have an expert orthopedic surgeon testify to chronic back pain. It’s too easy for a defense attorney or insurance company to attribute that to a preexisting condition or even age.
Your expert must be able to demonstrate that your back pain is a result of your accident, and is above and beyond any normal pain that might be expected from an overactive weekend at the gym or general muscle degeneration as you get older.
The Wrong Attorney Won’t Get The Best Settlement
All of the things we’ve mentioned here can impact the settlement you receive. Inexperienced, ill-prepared attorneys, or simply those who may try their best but not be qualified to handle a personal injury case, can result in a much lower settlement.
Don’t make the mistake of hiring an attorney just because you’ve received a letter in the mail. That attorney has simply obtained your injury details through the Freedom of Information Act and is likely mass-mailing solicitations. Likewise, don’t call the attorney you feel like you “know” because you’ve seen him on a dozen times in TV ads. Advertisements are just that, and they don’t mean you will be working with the person you see on the screen, or even an attorney qualified to handle your case.
Finally, a key factor contributing to your settlement is whether or not your attorney can fund your case. Someone has to pay the expert witnesses. Someone has to pay the filing fees. Someone has to pay for medical reports. Given how high those costs can get, it’s unlikely to be you.
Attorneys will often float the costs and make them back out of your settlement. But if an attorney isn’t able to fund the higher costs of witnesses and trials, that attorney is far more likely to settle, and even to settle for less than you deserve, simply to quickly close the case and recover costs.
A qualified and reputable personal injury trial attorney will have funding sources available so he can bring your case to an optimal solution without compromising your outcome.
When you’ve been injured, you want an attorney you can trust, who specializes in your type of personal injury, who understands the system and has the reputation to match, and who is willing and able to fight for your rights without unnecessary compromise.
If you’ve been injured and would like to speak to someone about your options, contact us for a free consultation. We’ll answer your questions and demonstrate our commitment to ensuring the best possible outcome for you.