Most people who suffer serious injuries in an accident have never had occasion to speak with a lawyer before. Dealing with the pain and upheaval caused by a severe injury is hardly the ideal circumstance for stressful new experiences, and many people feel anxious about approaching a personal injury attorney for the first time. In my practice, I make every effort possible to put prospective clients at ease, but I know that with so much at stake for an accident victim, some worry is unavoidable. Still, knowing what to expect when you first approach a lawyer about your injury case can make the process feel more manageable.
Your initial call to a law firm may be answered by a lawyer, a paralegal, or an intake specialist or case manager. He or she will take your contact details and ask you to provide some information about your accident and injuries. Then you will be able to schedule an initial consultation. Depending on your circumstances and needs in the aftermath of your accident, your consultation may take place at the law office, in your home, at the hospital, or even over the phone.
The initial consultation with an attorney is a sort of evaluation, for both parties. The lawyer will ask for as much detail as you can provide about your accident and the injuries you sustained, in order to give you good advice and to get a sense of the strength of your case as well as the best strategies for pursuing your claim. Meanwhile, you are looking for a sense of this attorney’s thoroughness and experience with cases similar to yours, as well as your level of comfort with him. At this point you have not yet hired the attorney, and the decision is yours if you feel confident in her level of experience and the kind of insight she gives you into the process and the lawyer/client relationship. It used to be that injury victims sometimes interviewed several attorneys before choosing one for representation. Now, with the proliferation of information on the internet, you can check the experience level and what previous clients have to say about the experience of being represented and their level of satisfaction with the results achieved.
The attorney will ask a lot of questions during your first meeting, to obtain as much detail as she can about the circumstances of your accident and how you were injured. This isn’t meant to be an interrogation – the lawyer needs this information in order to help you – but it can sometimes feel like one despite the lawyer’s best efforts, so it’s a good idea to bring any documents or materials related to your case with you to the consultation. This may include your insurance policy, hospital bills, police reports, the names and contact information of any witnesses to your accident, and any relevant photos you have. Photographic records of your injuries are helpful as they preserve the damage inflicted by the accident for later reference, even after you have begun to heal. If you were in a car crash, photos of your damaged vehicle can further emphasize the severity of your injury. Photos of the accident site may also hold valuable information.
The questions an attorney will ask you depend largely on the details of your case, but these likely questions can give you a general idea of the information any good injury lawyer will look for.
- What was the police involvement in your accident? Was anyone issued a ticket, or was a police report filed? Did you obtain a copy of the report?
- Were you able to take any photos of your injuries, the site of the accident, or (for motor vehicle collisions) the vehicles involved?
- Who did you speak to about the accident – the police, an insurance adjuster, or anyone else – and what did you say?
- Do you know if there were witnesses to the accident? Do you have their contact information?
- What medical care have you received so far in connection with your injuries? What further treatment or diagnostic tests do your doctors think you will need? What are the names and addresses of your medical care providers, and previous medical care providers?
- How are your medical bills and other expenses being paid? What insurance policies do you hold that come into play (medical, auto, etc.)?
- What other insurance companies are involved in this claim (for instance, policies held by the party at fault
for your injuries)? Has another party’s insurance company contacted you?
- How do you feel, physically and emotionally? How have your injuries affected the various aspects of your everyday life? Have you missed any special events because of your injuries? Have you bee unable to work as a result of your injuries?
Another source of worry for many accident victims is how they will pay a lawyer. Fortunately, most personal injury attorneys work for a contingent fee. This means that you don’t pay a fee up front, but instead agree to pay the lawyer a percentage of any eventual settlement or damages award you receive for your injuries. (The percentage is regulated by rules issues by the New Jersey Supreme Court.) You won’t pay a fee until (and unless!) you receive compensation for your injuries. This enables people with serious injuries and strong claims, but without extensive savings, to seek and obtain fair compensation for the harm they suffer due to the negligence of others. Using a contingency fee agreement, justice doesn’t belong only to those who can pay for it.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please call the experts at the Mullen Law Firm at 201-420-1911 for a free consultation.