By John Schalter, Attorney
If you have been injured due the wrongful actions of someone else, you probably have one dominant question in your mind, "Do I have a case?" If you've tried to hire a lawyer but none want to touch your case, you probably want to understand why. Here are some things you must know in order to answer these questions.
Just like any other service provider, a lawyer needs to be able to make money to stay in business. In personal injury law particularly, this means being picky about the cases to accept, since the legal fees are almost always contingent on winning.
Almost all lawyers who handle Personal Injury cases charge their clients on a contingency fee basis. This means the attorney only gets paid when the client (or injured party) gets paid. This is similar to the way a real estate agent works. In most cases, a real estate agent only gets paid when a house is sold; usually a predetermined percentage of the sales price. In other words, the real estate agent and the injury lawyer must bring their client results that translate into money.
Consequently, an injury lawyer and a real estate agent must be careful when taking on clients. Both can require a tremendous investment time and expense. If a real estate agent lists a house that cannot be sold, he will lose money. Likewise, if an injury lawyer continues to take cases that cannot be won, he or she won’t be in business for very long. I also believe that taking on a bad case is not fair to the client. They will develop expectations that cannot be fulfilled. They have already been injured; they don’t need to add further disappointment to the mix.
To further address this issue, I would like to give you three reasons a good lawyer will usually not take an injury case.
The potential client is not seriously hurt. You injuries are your measure of damages. If your injuries are very minor your financial recovery may be little or nothing. The law only compensates for real and measurable damages.
The injury is past the statute of limitations or other notice provisions. The law is very specific about time limitations. Often times, he who hesitates is lost. Most negligence cases, (such as auto accident cases), must be filed in court within three years (click here for the time limits per state). Claims with your own auto insurance company can have time limitations as low as one year. If your case is beyond these limitations there is very little a lawyer can do. Make sure you get competent advice on this issue.
The defendant was not at fault, and therefore not liable to pay. These may be stating the obvious, but the issue does come up more than you think. Serious injury is not enough. The defendant must have done something wrong. If you went through the red light and there are several independent witnesses to verify that the defendant was without fault, you case has serious problems.
In closing, I would like to point out that there are almost always exceptions to any rule. A good injury lawyer may be able to find a very good case hidden in the facts and circumstances. One criterion I use is "serious injury." A case where someone has died, or the victim has experienced very serious, life-altering injuries warrants an extreme amount of research, investigation or expert review before making the "no case" determination.
Bottom line? Get good advice. Do not stop until you get answers to all of your questions by an experienced injury lawyer. Do not rely on your own opinion or the opinion of family or friends. Why? Because there is much at stake. You will get one and only one chance get fair compensation for your injuries. It could be the most important decision you have ever made. However, rest assured, good advice is usually a few phone calls away.