Updated October 2021
A personal injury lawyer represents clients who have suffered harm receive fair payment for damages that occurred during a particular incident. The best personal injury attorney will be an expert in the law.
Through the course of their relationship with their client, they will research case law and incidents facts, then negotiate with defendants and the court to achieve a desirable result for their client.
Education and experience are what to look for in a personal injury attorney. An established firm is often the best personal injury law firm because years of legal expertise can provide a unique perspective on negotiation and resolution.
A personal injury attorney will advocate for their client by reviewing case law, engaging in an investigation, filing requests for discovery, scheduling depositions, and managing legal documents.
A Personal Injury Attorney is an Advocate for Clients Suffering
An attorney is an advocate. Personal injury attorneys will advocate for clients who have suffered from a personal injury. Black’s Law Dictionary, a fundamental text every lawyer studies during law school, defines an advocate as one who assists, defends, or pleads for another person. Furthermore, an advocate renders legal advice and aid and pleads the cause of another before a court.
A personal injury attorney embodies those three components of an advocate. They will assist with a legal claim, defend their client’s assertion of events, and plead a compelling case before a court to ensure compensation is provided to those injured. In addition to years of experience and proper education, finding a zealous advocate to plead your case is essential when selecting a personal injury lawyer.
A zealous advocate will undertake every action within the rules of ethics and confines of the law to prepare a case for their client. Working tirelessly on behalf of an injured client motivates personal injury lawyers to succeed; helping others navigate the legal process is a driving force in the legal profession.
What are the Various Types of Personal Injury Cases?
Personal injury encompasses many distinct types of cases. Anytime a person is harmed by another person’s negligence, the possibility for damages resulting from that action or inaction could be available to the injured party. In a civil legal setting, “damages” is a term used for whatever remedy that might make an injured person whole again and usually includes some amount of monetary payments.
However, there are three types of damages, including compensatory, nominal, and punitive. Personal injury attorneys will collect information relating to these types of damages during the attorney-client relationship and duration of the case. Below are a few of the most common personal injury cases that attorneys engage in advocacy on behalf of injured parties.
A car accident personal injury attorney understands the laws surrounding responsibility after an automobile collision. For someone injured in a car accident, numerous questions arise from who is at fault to how to pay for medical bills. Discussing these questions with an attorney can help you receive not only compensation but also peace of mind.
In a car accident case, a personal injury attorney will negotiate with involved insurance companies and perhaps file a lawsuit against the other parties in the accident depending on the allocation of fault.
Medical malpractice lawyers represent patients that medical practitioners have injured; usually, the cause of action is professional misconduct. A medical malpractice personal injury attorney will gather and analyze medical records.
The attorney will often book independent medical examinations (IMEs) for their clients to gain an unbiased evaluation of their injured client’s condition. These examinations are persuasive in a trial setting and can yield a significant settlement if performed early in the process.
In the unfortunate event that a person dies due to another person’s negligence, a wrongful death attorney can help the family of the deceased file for damages. Laws relating to wrongful death vary from state to state, but commonly, attorneys will require lots of information from the grieved family, including but not limited to medical records and probate information.
Probate information relates to how a person’s will and estate move through execution, including the deceased’s personal representative.
When an individual is harmed at work, the employer could be liable for the employee’s injury. Personal injury lawyers who work on workplace accidents might also work within worker’s compensation laws.
Usually, attorneys work with claims agents from various insurance companies to ensure their client receives care while simultaneously investigating facts to determine if an employer’s actions or inactions were egregious enough to result in a personal injury lawsuit.
A personal injury is classified as a premises liability case if an individual is harmed on another’s property. A premises liability personal injury lawsuit includes these main elements.
First, the attorney must prove that the person who caused the injury was in control of the property. Second, the person controlling the property was indeed acting negligently, and finally, the personal injury attorney’s client sustained an injury directly tied to the negligent use of the property.
For instance, the claim of an attractive nuisance falls within premises liability. Specifically, if a swimming pool is not fenced and not covered, if a person falls into the pool and injures themselves, the potential for a premises liability claim is present.
Another example is if a grocery store allows a banana peel to lay in an aisle and a customer slips, falls, and injures themselves, a premises liability claim might occur depending on a determination of the level of negligence.
Products liability claims are similar to premises liability. However, in this case, the creator of a particular product might be liable if the injured party can prove the product was negligently made or improperly used.
One claim within this category is that the product itself was defective, but, if an attorney argues this particular idea, the injured party must prove that they were using it in the intended way. For instance, if a person decides to use a waffle maker to crimp their hair and burn their scalp, the waffle maker was not defective but rather being misused.
A products liability attorney can review the nuances of each of these types of cases and help you prepare for investigation, negotiation, and ultimately settlement.
Defamation is an injury that harms a person’s reputation. Defamation claims involve a person making false statements that can damage your reputation. Usually, defamatory comments are published and publicized. Defamation is actionable when the reputational injury involves emotional humiliation, lost actual earnings, or lost earning capacity.
A successful civil suit for defamation considers the defendant’s first amendment rights to free speech, so discussing the precise details in your situation with a personal injury attorney is crucial in understanding your rights. Furthermore, each state has unique defamation laws, so an actionable claim in Nevada might not be in Connecticut.
Describing the Civil Legal Process
A personal injury lawyer is primarily responsible for describing the civil legal process to injured clients asking for help. The civil legal process hinges on cases classified as torts. A tort occurs when one person harms another physically or financially.
Torts can be separated into categories. Two of the most common are intentional torts and negligent torts. For instance, if one person hits another and intentional tort might have occurred; however, if a person is aiming to hit a wall, misses, and strikes a person, a negligent tort may have happened.
Lawyers study torts during law school and are tested on their knowledge of this area of the law during the bar exam. While the characteristics of torts are very uniform, some variances exist within the different states.
What is the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Trial?
It is much more common to hear about the criminal legal system – just turn on the television, and some criminal justice program is likely to be playing. However, there are critical differences between the criminal and civil legal systems.
In a criminal trial, the process begins with an arrest and an allegation of a criminal law violation. A prosecuting attorney representing the state’s interest will issue charges against a person for the crime, and a criminal trial will follow where the accused person must defend themselves.
A prosecutor is tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. If convicted, a judge must follow particular laws to sentence the defendant to a term of incarceration or community supervision and may assess a fine.
On the other hand, in a civil trial, two parties – a plaintiff and a defendant – will argue that a tort occurred and that one party was responsible while the other is entitled to damages. A personal injury civil law attorney rarely enters a criminal courtroom because the processes are entirely different.
In both criminal and civil settings, there is a hierarchy of courts that allows for appeals. An appeal is a refiling of a case to a high court if one party disagrees with the outcome and believes they have the standing to request a review by a higher authority.
Usually, states will have both a criminal appellate court and a civil appellate court, with the supreme court hearing cases from both if an appeal to the highest court is requested and granted. Your personal injury attorney can represent you at every stage of the process, including any appeals that might arise in your case.
Why does a client need to know the difference?
A personal injury attorney must explain the difference between the two systems to a client. Because the criminal legal system impacts so many people, those new to the civil system might not fully understand the difference, so expectations, timelines, and results might be unclear. Lawyers who provide transparency and understanding from the outset are terrific advocates.
With so much information in the media and popular television culture, it can be confusing to understand the nuances between the two systems. No case can fit within predetermined boxes, nor can cases easily start, process, and wrap within a concise timeline.
Understanding the attorney-client relationship can help clients know what to expect after the lawsuit is filed.
Locate Expert Witnesses
In most civil and criminal cases, courts rely on expert witness testimony to explain scientific topics and present their opinions to the court. A personal injury lawyer will interview and select the best expert witness to bolster your claims.
For example, if your foot was injured, your lawyer might seek the expertise of a podiatrist or surgeon. This expert will then explain to the court the severity of your injury.
For a person to be considered an expert, both sides can stipulate that the expert is qualified in the field in which they are testifying or during the deposition or trial. The personal injury lawyer can ask a reasonably specific set of questions to qualify an individual as an expert.
The factors that determine whether or not a person is an expert include education, experience, additional training, and topic relevance to the issue at hand.
Interestingly, experts are usually for hire and can be compensated for their time. Hiring experts is a widespread practice, but often opposing attorneys will exaggerate this phenomenon to create mistrust. It is ideal if an expert will articulate your point of view that both parties can agree to use, although this rarely occurs.
The more specific your injury is, or the more nuanced your accident was, the more critical an expert witness will be. From opposing attorneys to judges to the jury, those involved in the lawsuit often need significant, specific information from expert witnesses.
Represent Clients in Civil Trials
Personal injury lawyers represent clients in civil trials. After an injury has occurred from a car accident to a medical malpractice claim, a civil lawyer can file a lawsuit on behalf of their client. The basic steps of civil litigation begin with the plaintiff filing a complaint; in a personal injury case, the injured party is considered the plaintiff.
The complaint will specifically list the grievances and injuries that the plaintiff suffered and make the initial case against the defendant.
Once the defendant receives the complaint, they will have the opportunity to respond by filing an answer within a certain amount of time. The answer will respond to all of the allegations within the complaint and offer the defendant’s set of facts for the alleged instance. Both the complaint and answer are filed with the court, and a judge is appointed to the case.
Subsequently, the process of discovery begins. This period is for both parties to ask questions of one another to gather facts and clarity and prepare for a trial. After discovery concludes, the judge will begin to set hearing dates, including many pretrial steps, and ultimately leads to the trial, where the judge will decide about fault and damages.
At any point, after the complaint is filed, the plaintiff and the defendant can engage in settlement negotiations or mediation. If the defendant agrees that some of the complaint items are true, they can offer a settlement agreement.
Similarly, if both parties believe that they can agree without going to trial, mediation might occur. Mediation happens when a third party steps in and discusses between the two parties the facts of the case and what damages might be proper for the specific facts.
A personal injury firm can help an injured person navigate the complex process and advocate for the best potential outcome for their client. Representing clients throughout the process ensures consistency and ultimately the best result.
Conduct Investigations of Incidents Causing Injuries
An injury law firm will investigate your case to discover additional information to strengthen your legal position.
A personal injury investigation can create leverage during the discovery or trial phases. Research helps discover the truth of the incident and can support the client’s claims. During the investigation, a personal injury attorney accesses evidence like documents and accident scene recreations.
Additionally, an investigation can reveal witnesses that support the plaintiff’s complaint; from first responders to neighbors, an investigation often strengthens the case and ultimately results in more significant damages.
Legal investigations require particular knowledge, expertise, and skill to prepare a research strategy. Providing information on the accident location, talking with all parties involved, and identifying unknown information are critical components to a successful investigation.
Accident recreation technology and hiring additional investigators are tactics that a personal injury lawyer will employ to ensure a complete complaint and drive a beneficial settlement. For example, an investigation might include obtaining an accident report, photographing the accident scene, reviewing media coverage, gathering witness statements, and conducting personal interviews.
Analyze Possible Legal Issues
After a public injury lawyer completes the investigation and understands the facts of your case, the legal analysis begins. The attorney will review case law, state statutes, and other relevant legal precedents.
Understanding how the law impacts your legal claim will shape the causes of action listed within your lawsuit. Mainly if your injury involves unique circumstances or might include complex legal theories, an in-depth review of the law and legal decisions might impact the outcome of your case.
Many different legal search engines exist, like LexisNexis and Westlaw. An attorney can purchase a user membership for these databases and search through case law from various jurisdictions and across multiple issues.
Cases can be separated across counties, regions, and judicial districts. Lawyers will first look for binding precedent, which means a case with substantially similar facts decided in the same jurisdiction. If a case exists within those parameters, your case will absolutely be impacted by its results.
Another type of case law that personal injury lawyers look for is non-binding precedent. Imagine that your case is occurring in Alabama, but a case with very similar facts happened in Michigan, and the outcome of that case is what you would like to happen in yours. Then, a personal injury attorney will cite the Michigan case to the Alabama judge and hope that the judge agrees.
However, it is essential to be aware that the judge is not obligated to follow the Michigan decision.
Analyzing legal issues is an essential piece of advocacy to ensure the legal understands the complete picture surrounding the law question cited in your complaint.
Question Witnesses in a Deposition
Depositions occur within the discovery process. Personal injury attorneys request depositions to gather out-of-court testimony from particular witnesses in a civil lawsuit. During the deposition, lawyers for both the plaintiff and the defendant will ask questions of the witness. These out-of-court questioning can last for hours.
A deposition can be videoed and transcribed, and any answers that a witness gives can be used as evidence in a trial. A witness can voluntarily participate in a deposition or be compelled to answer questions via a subpoena. A subpoena legitimately forces a witness to present testimony at a particular time and place.
What are Some Reasons to Hold a Deposition?
Many reasons for holding a deposition include information gathering; when a personal injury attorney questions a witness, the client might learn new information. Additionally, a deposition helps prepare for trial because the personal injury lawyer will hold a witness to the answers they proffer during the testimony if asked again at trial.
Sometimes plaintiffs might be asked to undergo a deposition. If you have been asked to answer questions, be sure to dress professionally since the testimony will likely be video recorded. Since depositions can be pretty lengthy, you should feel comfortable asking for and taking breaks throughout the day.
Most importantly, take your time, think carefully, and answer truthfully since depositions are admissible in a trial setting. On the other hand, if you are being asked triggering questions about an event or an injury you suffered, be careful not to be argumentative; it is easy for depositions to become heated. Also, if you do not know the answer to a question, it is best to say that you do not know and never guess what the solution might be.
What is the Difference between Deposition and a Trial?
While both deposition and a trial focus on asking questions to obtain information, there are key differences. For instance, while both are under oath, a judge is not present in a deposition. A deposition is an event that occurs pretrial and helps attorneys gather essential information to shape the advocacy of your injury case.
Working with Confidential Documents
From medical records to legal case files, the documents a personal injury attorney reviews are confidential. Client confidentiality is a mandatory function of an attorney and a firm. Searching for a personal injury attorney near me is difficult, but reviewing how firms handle private documents can help you decide on an attorney.
Many different confidential documents are private but must be shared, like attorney-client conversations, work products, and trial preparation papers. For instance, client medical records are HIPAA protected but might be pertinent in a personal injury case.
Some organizations offer services to help personal injury attorneys maintain documents. For instance, Sizle is an online secure document sharing tool that allows law firms and lawyers to share documents with clients while maintaining confidentiality.
Is a Personal Injury Attorney Responsible For Client Files?
Your personal injury lawyer must maintain a case file, and each client is entitled to see that file. Remember, an attorney works in your best interest and protects your privacy through document and record retention.
Negotiate Legal Settlements
Negotiation skills are critically important for a personal injury attorney to hone because they will work with insurance company attorneys and the defendant’s lawyers to advocate for the most robust damages available to their client.
After a complaint is filed, negotiation towards a settlement can commence. It does not matter whether the plaintiff or the defendant reaches out first with an offer – your personal injury lawyer may have a strategy that includes discussing settlements with the opposing side.
For instance, the plaintiff’s attorney might not want to initiate a settlement discussion because they do not want to begin a settlement negotiation with an amount less than what could have been achieved if the defendant proposed an amount first.
In a negotiation, your attorney will leverage some facts to see what the defendant will offer for monetary damages while simultaneously maintaining some privately held information that would strengthen the case later in the trial process.
A client’s input is crucial for legal strategy, but more critical is establishing trust with your attorney, translating to a more cohesive legal strategy.
Select a Jury for Trial
If negotiations are not successful, discovery will end, and a trial date will be set. The first action that occurs once the trial begins is the selection of a jury. Personal injury lawyers are trained in voir dire and select the best jury to hear your case.
Voir dire is the legal process by which attorneys can question a pool of potential jurors to ensure their fitness for jury service. It is vital to exclude people whose personal experiences might unduly influence their judgment.
For example, suppose the case is a car accident wrongful death lawsuit and a juror’s father died in a car accident due to a distracted driver. In that case, that person might not be able to set aside their own experiences and fairly judge the happenings in your case.
Jury selection is a skill that is built over time. Personal injury lawyers have the opportunity to ask some questions and do some additional research on potential jurors. Still, it ultimately comes down to an educated guess about who will be the best person to hear your case.
When selecting your personal injury lawyer, be sure to ask how many cases have moved to trial and how many voir dire jury selections the attorney has completed.
Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Now that you understand what a personal injury attorney does, here are some benefits to hiring an attorney to represent your claim. A personal injury attorney is uniquely positioned to give insight into the worth of your claim and can help you move through the logistical, legal process.
Knows Worth of Claim
An experienced personal injury lawyer has a clear understanding of the worth of your claim because of the volume of cases the attorney reviews and knowledge of the law the attorney possesses.
Tools like a personal injury calculator are available to the public, but an attorney can add color and provide additional nuanced information about the potential compensatory damages a person might receive.
If you face the daunting task of communicating with an insurance company after a car accident or workplace injury, you might feel like the insurance representative is not helpful; an attorney can help you navigate that process. Valuing your injuries is a personal query, but finding an attorney who you trust with copious experience in the field is a benefit.
Navigates the Legal Process
While you may know that you would like to be reimbursed for lost wages or medical bills, you might be less familiar with moving through the legal process. If you miss a deadline within the trial timeline, you could forfeit significant legal opportunities. Other logistical issues could hinder your process if you are moving throughout the process alone.
For instance, most courts have a specific filing system that can be online, in person, or a combination of both. Additionally, some filings require multiple copies, and you must send all filings to every named party within the lawsuit.
Another common issue that a personal injury attorney can help prevent is running afoul of the statute of limitations to file your case. Even an initial consultation with an attorney can give you more information about the timeline for seeking damages. Contact a local personal injury lawyer today to understand your rights and your potential civil lawsuit viability.