Law & Procedure How to Interview and Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer

  1. This article will answer common questions about personal injury lawsuits and lawyers. It will help you understand what of work personal injury lawyers perform, the legal fees they charge and how to manage your expectations regarding your accident or injury lawsuit.

    What are the different types of lawsuits that are handled by personal injury lawyers?

    There are many different kinds of injuries that are handled by personal injury lawyers and some lawyers specialize in certain types of cases. The most common kinds of personal injury claims include the following:
    • traffic accidents involving cars and trucks (which can also include motorcycle accidents and bus collisions)
    • work related accidents (including those that involve workers' compensation or workman's compensation claims)
    • slip and fall accidents
    • injuries suffered as a result of an assault
    • accidents occurring in someone's home
    • product liability (defective product manufacture or design defects)
    • medical malpractice claims (negligence by doctors, medical staff, dental accidents which can also include injuries to the brain, head, spine, children during child birth)
    • toxic torts or industrial disease claims (such as injuries resulting from asbestos, mesothelioma, lead poisoning, chest related diseases (which includes emphysema, pneumoconiosis, silicosis, chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic obstructive airways disease)
    • job related stress disorders (such as deafness, occupational stress, contact dermatitis, and repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome)

    How much does it cost to hire a personal injury lawyer to recover money damages for a personal injury lawsuit?

    For most personal injury cases, a client is not charged and the legal services provided are free from a cash fee. Personal injury law firms will typically enter into a "contingency agreement" with the client, where the lawyers will only be paid if they obtain money for the client as a result of either winning or settling the case. The percentage of the proceeds they receive is usually up to one third the amount recovered after expenses are reimbursed, with the client receiving two thirds. For example, if the firm wins the case or negotiates a settlement for $290,000 and has $20,000 of expenses, the client will receive $180,000. ($290,000 - 20,000 = $270,000 * 2/3 = $180,000.) Since there is no guarantee that money damages will be recovered, the law firm takes a risk that all of its expenses will not be reimbursed and the contingency fee is the "reward" to the firm for doing a good job and also taking that risk.

    Does the law firm or lawyers always pay the up-front expenses of the case?

    Yes, most of the time as you've just read. There are a few exceptions when a law firm might not pay up-front expenses of a personal injury lawsuit. The first instance is when the case is not very strong but the client still wishes to go ahead with the lawsuit. An attorney may not wish to undertake all the high financial risk of a tenuous case by paying all the up-front expenses and relying only on a contingency fee. Another instance occurs where a reasonable settlement offer is made to the client but the client refuses to accept the offer against the advice of the law firm. If the client wishes to continue to pursue the case in the hope of receiving more money, the client will need to pay for future expenses and may be required to reimburse the law firm for prior expenses.

    What is the process of the typical personal injury lawsuit?

    After the client signs a retainer agreement with a law firm for legal representation, the law firm will spend several weeks obtaining documentation about your case such as medical records, police reports, identification of and statements made by any witnesses, etc. The law firm will also make contact with an insurance company if one is involved (for example, car accident cases, slip and falls in a business location or home with homeowner's insurance, doctor's medical malpractice insurance carrier, etc.) and see whether a settlement offer can be negotiated. If an acceptable settlement is not reached, the law firm will then file a lawsuit on your behalf.

    For several months, paperwork is exchanged and both the law firm and the insurance company try to assess what potential damages might be as well as the costs of trying a case and the chances of winning or losing. Next is the process of taking "depositions" - where the law firm has the chance to ask questions of the defendant and the other attorney will have the chance of questioning the plaintiff. This process also includes the questioning of any witnesses. All the testimony given at a deposition is "under oath" and can be admitted in a courtroom trial, should one be necessary. The insurance company or defendant may request that the plaintiff be examined by their own doctor (also known as an independent medical examiner or "IME".) If a settlement cannot be reached, a trial begins in front of a judge and jury. The law firm and defendant's law firm are frequently in contact with each other and many cases settle long before the end of a trial.

    What are the typical expenses involved in a personal injury law suit?

    In many states and in New York, the filing fees for a personal injury lawsuit are under $500. The costs of a deposition vary given the number of people, and usually under $1,000. The most significant costs and expenses are for trial, where the testimony of paid experts such as doctors can range from $250 to thousands of dollars. The total cost of litigation rises quickly - the need to hire process servers, messengers, investigators, other experts such as people who create presentations and reconstruction of accidents, payments for medical records and other documentation, costs of photocopies and more. The law firm handles the salaries of its lawyers and staff who are involving in prosecuting a personal injury lawsuit as well as the overhead to run a law office. Those expenses are usually paid out of the proceeds of winning or settling a case.

    What is my personal injury lawsuit worth? How much money can I expect to receive?

    No two cases are exactly alike and there are various factors to be considered in evaluating what a personal injury lawsuit might be worth in terms of money damages. Personal injury lawsuits have been prosecuted for a long time and an experienced personal injury or medical malpractice lawyer will be able to give you a good idea as to the range of money damages which you might be able to expect to recover.

    In some instances there might be difficulty in proving who was at fault ("liability") and whether evidence exists that suggests the plaintiff might be primarily at fault. In other instances, the injuries suffered by a plaintiff might not be severe and of a type difficult to prove. In those cases, law firms might not be willing to take on the risk of not being able to recover their expenses for trying such a case.

    To give you an understanding of insurance claim coverage issues, in New York, the minimum amount of insurance coverage a driver must carry is $25,000. If your damages exceeded this amount, a claim may need to be filed against your own insurance company if you have "under-insured motorist" coverage for the excess. The amount of damages you may be able to recover may be limited by the amount of insurance coverage that is available.

    What if I am not a New York City or State resident?

    If your accident or injury occurred in New York, you can hire a law firm in New York to handle your case. If your accident occurred outside of New York City or New York State, many law firms will have branches in other states that handle personal injury cases. We can help you with finding the right lawyer for you in your state by filling out a free case review and you will be contacting by an expert lawyer in your area.
    Accident & Injury Law:
    Personal Injury Lawyer

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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