By Christopher J. Smith, Managing Partner

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Knowing that accidents can happen does not detract from the pain and confusion that can result when an accident or injury happens to you or a loved one, as you try to deal with the aftermath.

Personal injury cases are legal disputes that arise when one person suffers harm from an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm.

Some examples of personal injury include:

  • Car and truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Dog bites
  • Boating accidents
  • Home accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Wrongful death

There are many reasons to consider hiring a personal injury attorney to represent your rights. Many personal injury accidents involve insurance companies, which often have a lot of legal resources. To level the playing field, it’s helpful to have your own team of experts when dealing with insurance companies, whether your own carrier or the carrier of the other party. Bottom line: insurance companies will protect their own interests first.

It’s also important to have the right medical team handling your injuries. A personal injury attorney will be knowledgeable about laws in the state and help get you the right medical experts who will be able to explain how your injuries could impact you in the future.

An attorney can also spend the time to request medical records, review police reports, communicate with the insurance adjuster and be objective while you may be hurt, frustrated and angry. Attorneys also have many tools to pursue a fair settlement, including arbitration, mediation or even trial.

How do I choose a personal injury attorney?

The success of personal injury attorneys is based on several factors, including education, legal skill and experience. The attorney you retain should have a proven record of winning cases similar to yours and should be willing to thoroughly explain his or her recommendations based on the specific details of your case.

In addition to experience, does the attorney you are considering have certifications and industry endorsements, such as the Florida Bar Association’s Board Certification? Peer reviews such as The Martindale-Hubbell Bar Registry (www.martindale.com), which has peer review ratings of more than 1 million lawyers across the country, The Best Lawyers in America (www.bestlawyers.com), which are selected by peers, and Super Lawyers (www.superlawyers.com), which have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement are a few to look for.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the attorney you hire and confident that your interests will be a top priority.

Who will do the work on my case?

Will your initial consultation be with an attorney, or with a non-attorney staff member? It’s important to meet the attorney who will be working on your case and ask them about how communication will be handled and what level of access you will have to them. Are client reviews available? They can help you see the experience through a client’s eyes.

What is your level of courtroom experience?

Despite what television and films might portray, most civil cases do not go to trial, so why is it important to seek an attorney with trial experience? The prospect of a potential trial will have significant impact on your case and its value. If the insurance company knows your lawyer doesn’t typically go to trial, they may offer less. It’s more effective if negotiations reflect the fact that an unsatisfactory settlement offer may result in taking the case to trial.

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What is my case worth?

There is no tried and proven formula to determine exactly how much a case is worth and it may depend on several factors including: how the evidence is received and evaluated by a jury; whether or not there are any inconsistencies in testimony; the availability of medical records; pre-existing conditions and other factors that would allow the insurance company’s lawyer to attack the credibility of the injured party.

Under the law, plaintiffs in personal injury cases are entitled to both economic and non-economic damages. These include:

  • Past medical bills
  • Future medical bills
  • Past lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Inconvenience
  • Loss of capacity to enjoy life
  • Mental anguish
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement

Because every case is different, even with all the information, it is very difficult for anyone to establish an exact figure as to the net worth of a case. But, typically, a range of value can be determined.

What are the attorney’s fees and costs for a personal injury case?

Fees in a personal injury case are contingent upon the financial recovery in your case. The fees are in accordance with guidelines set by the Florida Supreme Court. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. Therefore, lawyers share a common objective of obtaining a favorable result in your case.

Make sure your financial arrangement is clearly and fully explained at the initial interview as well as during pursuit of the case.

Why must I pay “costs” in my case?

In Florida, a lawyer or law firm is not permitted to obtain a financial interest in the client’s case. To ensure this does not happen, Florida Bar rules governing the conduct of lawyers allows a law firm to advance the costs of a case or litigation, but the client must remain responsible to the law firm to reimburse the costs of the matter.

Depending on the type of case involved, costs can be minimal or can run into thousands of dollars if complex litigation is involved. In cases that are settled before a lawsuit is filed, the costs are much less.

Costs can include:

  • Court filing fees
  • Expert witness fees
  • Administrative fees
  • Information-gathering expenses

In certain cases, these expended costs can be recovered from the insurance company directly.

What is the level of experience of the firm?

Experience is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing an attorney. With experience, a personal injury attorney will be able to anticipate problems before they occur, and effectively defend arguments against a victim’s compensation.

Any potential personal injury case requires a detailed understanding of the facts, the processes and the law. If an accident has impacted your life — and someone else is liable for that injury — then you may be entitled to compensation. Learn more by speaking with an injury law attorney near you.

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