Hiring a personal injury lawyer
If your injuries are serious, you may wonder if you have the right to sue for damages. If you’re involved in a car accident, you’ll be notified by the other driver’s insurance company that lawsuits for pain and suffering must meet a threshold. In other words, the injury must be serious and permanent, impairing important physical, mental, or psychological functions for you.
Your first obligation after an auto accident is to talk to your own insurance company. This starts an accident benefits claim. The company will assign a bodily injury adjustor to review your case. You’ll be asked to fill out some forms. These forms are simple and straightforward, but you should have them reviewed by a lawyer before you submit them.
Anything you say in these forms can affect your eventual settlement. You should also be advised that even though this is your insurance company, they’re under no obligation to offer you their best settlement. Anything you say in your accident benefits claim could negatively affect the outcome of both your accident benefits claim and your lawsuit against the responsible party.
Dealing with third-party insurance companies
When you deal with other insurance companies, the first thing they try to figure out is how much money they should hold in reserve for your claim. This is where many injured parties make the mistake of being optimistic about their recovery. You’ve been injured, and it’s a natural coping mechanism to tell yourself the pain is temporary. This can be overcome. But if you say that to third-party insurance adjusters, they might get the wrong impression.
If you haven’t obtained a lawyer yet, it’s imperative you don’t downplay how the accident has changed you.
In your further dealings with the company, they’ll be listening to anything you say regarding improvements in your condition. They do this to find a reason to deny your claim even if you haven’t come forward with one yet.
If you think you have a case, contact a reputable personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Otherwise, the third-party insurer may assume no legal action is forthcoming and close your file.
What if they offer a settlement?
If the other insurance company offers you a settlement without hearing from your lawyer, don’t sign, or say anything. Even if the settlement seems fair. Even if they double, or even triple the initial offer. Their offer can be an indication that they think you could cost them a lot of money. A quick and easy settlement at this time is in their best interest, not yours.
Don’t sign the agreement thinking you can call a lawyer later if it seems unfair. It can be extremely difficult having a settlement put aside after the fact.
What to consider prior to meeting with a lawyer
You should ask three questions when looking for a potential personal injury lawyer:
- What’s their specialty – car accidents, slip & falls, insurance disputes?
- How’s their reputation? Look online to check for complaints filed against them.
- Are they conveniently located? You could be meeting with them often.
The law has many facets. There’s business law, real estate law, criminal law. And that’s just the beginning. Lawyers sometimes work in several areas to meet their client needs, but most specialize in one field. They become trusted experts in that area and build their practice around it.
Avoid lawyers that work in multiple practice areas – if you have a serious, permanent injury, you need a lawyer who’s built a career specializing in personal injury law. And you need one who’s built up a good track record doing so.
The reputation a lawyer earns representing their clients speaks volumes about what you can expect from them. A lawyer who takes care of their clients will have a history of good decisions with satisfied clients. They’ll be respected within the legal community and won’t have professional discipline issues on record.
Also, your lawyer should be accessible. Open communication is vital, and you need to find a lawyer you can visit without too much trouble. To put forward the best case possible, your lawyer needs to get to know you and see what you’re going through. Whenever possible, you’ll be better off using a local lawyer with a good reputation who has the experience you can trust.
Researching your possible choices
Looking into a lawyer’s reputation and experience is easier than you might think.
For starters, network among the medical professionals you’re already working with. Doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, social workers, and occupational therapists know lots of people who’ve been in your situation. They may know which lawyers were most helpful to their previous patients.
Talk to friends and family. Or anyone else you know who’s been injured and sought out a lawyer. Were they happy with the outcome of their case? Would they recommend their lawyer to you?
The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) is an association that promotes justice and advocates for the rights of the injured. Lawyers who are OTLA members agree—in addition to their obligation to the Law Society—to adhere to the association’s integrity principles, which include:
- putting the client’s interests first
- mutual respect, cooperation, and civility with the client
- the highest standards of advocacy
The Law Society of Ontario is Ontario’s regulatory body that oversees lawyers. You can go to them with your shortlist of prospective lawyers to see if any of them have a history of disciplinary actions against them.
Once you’ve narrowed down your possibilities, it’s time to schedule a face-to-face meeting. In a personal injury case, it’s important you find a lawyer you feel comfortable with. A lawyer you work well with. Ultimately, the decision on who you decide to retain will most likely come down to how they treat you when you meet them and what your gut is telling you.
What to ask during your first meeting
Your first meeting with a lawyer is a great opportunity to discuss your case, your options, and other pressing questions you’ll have, including costs and fee structure. You’re likely to have a lot of questions. Focus on questions that let the lawyer show you what they know about your situation. Let them prove they have the expertise to represent your best interests.
Don’t be afraid to ask what your legal rights are. Find out if they think your case can be won. Inquire if they have experience in similar cases. Ask about what you can expect. And figure out the best way to contact them when you need them.
When looking at the retainer agreement, ask about charges. Are there any up-front fees? Will you be charged if the case isn’t successful? Who pays for your legal fees if the case is successful? Can you find another lawyer if your relationship with this one breaks down?
Make sure you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with before signing the retainer agreement. You want to sign with the person who answers your questions and makes you feel like you understand the process—as well as the potential risks and benefits—clearly.
Can you switch lawyers?
You’re always free to hire a new lawyer. However, if you have any concerns about the way things are being handled, always address them with your current lawyer first. Then, if things aren’t dealt with to your satisfaction, you can seek counsel elsewhere.
Keep in mind that lawyers like to build a case from the ground up, so they know it inside-out. Asking a new lawyer to step in as the trial date approaches could prove difficult in that regard.
There may also be financial penalties involved in switching lawyers. Many personal injury lawyers only take money from you if they win your case. But they still incur expenses along the way. If you don’t give them their day in court to try to recoup those costs, your new lawyer will be on the hook to pick up that tab. Something that might discourage them from taking your case.
That’s why it’s important to hire the best lawyer the first time. Changing lawyers is always possible, but for your case to be resolved efficiently, it’s best to stick with one from the beginning.
If you think you might have a case that requires a personal injury lawyer, it’s always advisable to obtain counsel as soon as possible. Don’t rush the research process, but don’t take too long either. Move while your case is as recent as possible.
Contact us today and let us show you what the team at Mackesy Smye can do for you and your case. We’re here to work for you and produce real results.