Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much is my case is worth?
The value of a case depends on many different factors. In a typical personal injury case, a plaintiff's economic, or out-of-pocket, expenses are used as a benchmark to determine the total damages. Economic damages can include medical expenses, wage loss, and property loss. In addition to these "out-of pocket", or special damages, an injured person may also recover non-economic damages, also known as "pain and suffering". A person's "pain and suffering" is affected by factors such as the severity of the injury, the age of the plaintiff, and whether the person had any prior injuries to the same area of the body. The amount of pain and suffering damages received is usually based, in part, on the amount of economic damages sustained.
2. Do I have to pay my attorney by the hour?
In a typical personal injury case, the attorney is not paid until the case settles or a judgment is received from the court. This is called a "contingent fee", where the attorney receives a fee based on a percentage of the settlement or judgment amount. Of course, the attorney will not be paid for his or her time if he or she is unable to obtain a settlement or judgment. In other types of cases, attorney compensation will depend on the fee contract entered into between the attorney and the client.
3. Who pays for the litigation costs in my case?
Unless other arrangements are made, the attorney pays the litigation costs as they are incurred. Litigation costs include filing fees, travel costs, copying costs, expert witness fees and deposition costs. They do NOT include medical bills. Once the case settles, the attorney is reimbursed for the litigation costs from the settlement proceeds.
4. Do I have to re-pay my insurance company for the cost of my medical treatment?
If you receive a settlement or judgment from a third party for your injuries, your medical insurance carrier, in most instances, is permitted to recover its cost of your medical treatment from the settlement proceeds. This is a common provision in most insurance policies. Typically, the insurance carrier is willing to negotiate the amount they will accept in payment based on the fact that you had to hire an attorney to recover the settlement.
5. How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
The rules governing time to file lawsuits are varied and complex. Generally, there are different time limits, or statutes of limitation, on when a particular claim or action may be filed. Each limit depends on the lawsuit's underlying cause of action. A personal injury claim, for example, must be filed no later than 2 years from the date of injury. There are, however, several potential exceptions to the 2 year rule; if a public entity or employee of a public entity is responsible for your injuries, you only have 6 months to file a claim. Medical malpractice claims can be limited to one year, and is an especially complex time limit to evaluate.
6. How long will it take to resolve my case?
If your case is resolved at the claim stage, i.e., before a lawsuit is filed, it is usually resolved within 2 years after the incident occurred. Once a lawsuit is filed, it usually takes 12 to 18 months either to settle the case or go to trial. This length of time, while long, is not unusual as the courts will almost never set a trial date less than a year from the date a case is filed to allow the parties to the lawsuit to develop their cases.
7. How much involvement will I have in the case?
If your case is settled at the claim stage, your involvement will likely consist of providing information to your attorney and involvement in the settlement negotiation process. If a lawsuit is filed, it is likely that you will be involved in the following tasks: responding to written discovery requests, giving deposition testimony, attending a defense medical evaluation and participating in a mediation and/or arbitration. We will prepare you for each step. If the case does not settle at either of these proceedings, you will need to be available to testify at trial.
8. Will my case go to trial?
Most filed lawsuits are resolved prior to trial. Most courts now require that the parties participate in some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") such as mediation or arbitration in an attempt to informally resolve the case prior to trial. This process helps parties to resolve disputes prior to expending significant time and money on a trial. However, some cases will not be resolved through the ADR process and must be decided by a jury or a judge.
9. What are the components of a viable plaintiff's case?
A plaintiff must first prove liability, or fault, against a defendant. That defendant must breach a duty owed to the plaintiff and this breach must be a cause of the accident or issue in question. Next, a plaintiff must show damages from the liability of defendant such as personal injuries where medical bills are incurred for medical treatment and wage loss. Lastly, the defendant must have money to fund a settlement or judgment, such as insurance or collectible assets.
10. What written information should I bring on my first meeting with the attorney?
It is best to provide the attorney with whom you have the initial consultation with as much information and as many relevant documents as possible. In the case of a personal injury matter, this information would include: the police report, accident report, photos, medical records and billings, witness statements, witness contact information, medical insurance information, correspondence with any insurance carrier, wage loss information, notes/chronology of all events from time of accident until the date of the meeting, and any other documents in your possession that may relate to the accident, your injuries and your damages. Tell the attorney what information you have and ask what you should bring to prepare for the meeting.