Personal Injury FAQ
How do I choose the personal injury or wrongful death lawyer who is right for me?
First and foremost, look for a law firm that focuses primarily on personal injury and wrongful death. Insurance companies hire some very bright attorneys and adjusters. Working together, they have done a spectacular job of confusing and complicating the law. Attorneys who do not deal with personal injury on a daily basis cannot even begin to keep up with changes in the law or the latest news. In a personal injury claim, an inexperienced or unknowledgeable attorney will cost you time and money. Below is a short list I have compiled of the Do’s and Don’ts of hiring a Wrongful Death or Injury Lawyer:
- DON’T hire a law firm until you have met face to face with an actual lawyer! Some firms use runners to sign up a client, which means your case will be entirely handled by someone who is not even a licensed attorney. If you’re going to do that, why not just handle the case yourself?
- DO: Hire the law firm where one or more of the attorneys actually sits down to speak to you about your case at the initial meeting.
- DON’T hire the lawyer that did your divorce, bankruptcy, grandma’s will, traffic ticket, etc. Attorneys who are in District Court everyday are usually pretty good at trying cases in front of judges. A personal injury case or wrongful death case, however, will be in front of a jury.
- DO look for a law firm that focuses primarily on personal injury and wrongful death. Attorneys who are doing matters other than personal injury tend to be too busy to proactively handle the occasional personal injury case.
- DON’T assume the injury lawyers on T.V. are right for you or your case. Some of the injury lawyers that advertise on T.V. are not even located in Arkansas. They merely sign up clients, take a share of the fee, and refer the case out to Arkansas Injury Law Firms. Also, while there are some good firms from Arkansas that advertise on television, they generally handle a large volume of cases, so your case might not receive the attention it needs.
- DO talk and/or meet with one or more small to mid-size firms that focuses exclusively on personal injury and wrongful death. Generally, these firms get a lot of business by word of mouth, which means they will give your case the time and attention it needs.
You also want a personal injury lawyer who is willing to take your case to trial. I believe that only when the opposing parties know that a case can and will be taken to court can a desired result can be obtained.
E-mail or call me at (501) 653-2111 to find out if I can help you. If your case is one that I am not willing or able to accept professional responsibility for, I will put you in contact with an attorney that is right for your situation.
How do I pay for legal assistance?
In Arkansas, attorneys who handle personal injury claims are usually paid on a contingency basis. This means that you do not have to pay me anything until I win your case. If there is no recovery, I don’t get paid.
How much is my personal injury or wrongful death claim worth?
This is a difficult question to answer without knowing every detail about your case simply because the quantification of personal injury is not an exact science. In even the simplest of claims there are a multitude of variables to consider. Some of the most common are: the nature of the injury, type of treatment (emergency room, chiropractor care, physical therapy, etc.), facts of loss, aggravating factors, witness potential of the parties, age, sex, health, and the existence of any preexisting conditions-with the nature of the injury typically being the largest driver of value.
The attorney that you hire is also a huge driver of a claim’s value. Usually the value of a claim is a matter of opinion and the skill of the lawyer in persuading the insurance company and/or ultimately the jury that their assessment is right. An experienced personal injury attorney can effectively negotiate your case while also countering most of the arguments that an insurance company makes. For instance, if an injured plaintiff had an already existing back injury when they were involved in an accident, the insurance company will argue that that person was previously injured and that the accident caused them no further harm. However, Arkansas follows the “Eggshell Skull Rule.” The “Eggshell Skull Rule” provides that a defendant takes his victim as he finds him and must pay damages accordingly. The Eggshell Skull Rule usually applies to plaintiffs who are unusually susceptible to certain injuries, and the rule would probably apply in the preexisting condition scenario discussed above.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are a multitude of others that I am intentionally leaving unmentioned. Volumes have been written on the subject, and I could go on for days. For simplicity purposes, suffice it to say that an accurate estimated value can only be arrived at after reviewing all medical reports, medical bills, police reports, and meeting with all potential parties. If someone tries to advise you as to how much your claim is worth before looking at any documentation, their estimate is probably not going to be very accurate. Accurately evaluating a personal injury claim takes the time and skill that only experienced personal injury attorneys possess.
How long will it take to get a fair settlement offer?
To even begin negotiations with an insurance company, your attorney will have to provide all documentation of medical bills, medical records, lost income, mileage, prescription receipts, and so on. For obvious reasons, this can usually only be done upon completing treatment. In the case of a wrongful death, it can sometimes move a little faster depending on the circumstances.
In any event, gathering all of this documentation does take time. In a simple case, I can usually have a demand package ready within 30 – 45 days of the completion of treatment. However, if a settlement cannot be reached and a lawsuit needs to be filed, it can take considerably longer. In Arkansas, personal injury lawsuits can vary in length from weeks to years in some instances. I need to thoroughly investigate your claim to make sure you get all the money you are entitled to.
Will I have to go to court for my personal injury case?
Only about 2-3% of personal injury cases actually go to court. If the insurance company agrees to pay what I believe your case is worth, and you wish to settle for that amount, then you don’t have to go to court. If your case is handled properly a full-blown trial is unlikely. Of course, if the insurance company refuses to pay the acceptable amount, then we get to proceed in court. As an ex-insurance adjuster, I know how much you are entitled to, and I will make sure you are fairly compensated for your injuries and losses.
What are compensatory damages?
Compensatory damages “compensate” the injured person for various kinds of losses or damages. These may also be referred to as “actual damages.” Damages for personal injury are generally awarded to place the claimant in the position he/she would have been in had the negligent act or omission not taken place. The quantification of personal injury is not an exact science (see above discussion for more details). This is particularly true when trying to determine the dollar amount of someone’s “pain and suffering” or calculate a family’s “loss-of-life” claim in a wrongful death action. You really need an experienced attorney to evaluate and negotiate these types of claims.
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages may be recoverable in certain circumstances. Punitive damages exist to punish or make example of the wrongdoer for conduct that is intentional or when the wrongdoer acts in a reckless manner in disregard for the rights of others. Punitive damages are not awarded in order to compensate the plaintiff but rather to punish the defendant and to deter others from pursuing the same or similar course of action such as that which damaged the plaintiff. Punitive damages are awarded only in special cases where conduct was egregiously invidious and are over and above the amount of compensatory damages. The actual payment of punitive damages is sometimes difficult to obtain because they are specifically excluded under most insurance policies. However, the threat of punitive damages can often induce the defense to make an increased settlement offer.
- Arkansas Insurance Department: http://www.insurance.arkansas.gov/
- Arkansas Model Jury Instructions: http://government.westlaw.com/linkedslice/default.asp?SP=armji-1000
- Arkansas Court Forms: https://courts.arkansas.gov/forms-and-publications