1. How will my lawyer handle my case?
After initial meetings with you, your lawyer will investigate your claim. This usually requires a review of some or all of the following:
a. Witness statements.
b. Police reports.
c. A possible visit to the scene of the incident.
d. A review of appropriate statutory law (laws enacted by your legislature).
e. A review of appropriate case law (laws made by judges who interpret statutory law).
f. A review of all medical reports.
g. A review of all medical bills.
h. The possible hiring of an investigator to investigate the details of the incident.
Your lawyer will also contact the insurance company for the person, persons, or company who caused your injuries. After the initial investigation and contact with the insurance company, your lawyer will maintain contact with you to make sure of the following:
a. That you are following the advice of your physicians and other medical practitioners.
b. That you are doing your best to improve from your injury.
c. That you are providing your lawyer with copies of all medical bills and other expenses related to the incident.
d. That you are providing records of loss of income from your job.
e. That you are keeping track of potential witnesses in your case.
Medical records will be obtained through the use of authorization forms as discussed below. Your lawyer will review those medical reports as they come in from your doctor and will keep abreast of the applicable law relating to your case.
2. How can I help my lawyer with my case?
The most important thing for you to do is to provide documentation of your medical bills, expenses and loss of income from your employment. The following is a list of things that will also help your lawyer with your claim.
a. Return all phone calls promptly to your lawyer.
b. Read all correspondence from your lawyer.
c. Keep all appointments with medical facilities.
d. Maintain a file and record of medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses associated with the injury.
e. Keep a list of witnesses who may testify about your injuries or about the incident.
f. Take photographs as instructed by your attorney and maintain copies and negatives of such pictures.
g. Notify your attorney immediately of any change of address, telephone numbers, marital status, change of employment or drastic change in your physical condition.
h. Answer all questions posed by your attorney truthfully and candidly.
i. Sign all forms requested by your attorney.
3. Why do I have to sign so many forms?
Doctors, hospitals, employers, and other establishments will not release personal information about you without signed written authorizations. It is against the law, in most instances, to release information about a person, to anyone, including your lawyer, without formal documentation. Therefore, your lawyer will ask you to sign such authorization forms which will allow him or her to retrieve important information about you.
4. How will my lawyer be paid and what is a contingent fee agreement?
In almost all personal injury cases, your attorney will be paid by keeping a percentage or portion of the final settlement or court award resulting from your injury. The percentage will be discussed with you and will be the subject of what is called a contingent fee agreement. The law requires, for your protection and that of your lawyer, a written contract which specifies the fee he or she will charge so there will be no misunderstanding about how much your case will cost. Most contingent fee agreements provide that you do not have to pay your lawyer for his or her services unless, and until, the case is settled or is resolved by a court verdict in your favor. The agreement will provide that your lawyer will work diligently on your case in exchange for the percentage or portion outlined in the agreement. As discussed below, however, you will be responsible for actual out-of-pocket costs, in addition to the attorneys’ fees, even if the case is not settled or won.
5. What other costs will there be in addition to the attorneys’ fees?
The fee for your attorney is based upon his or her work, time, effort and expertise. The lawyer’s fee also encompasses certain office overhead such as secretarial time, rent, files, and other built-in costs. However, there are also additional out-of-pocket expenses which are incurred specifically as a result of your case. Some of these expenses include the following:
a. Fees that doctors and hospitals charge for medical reports. Such reports may cost anywhere from a few dollars for simple copies to $100 or more for reports that have to be written or prepared specifically by your doctor.
b. Photocopy charges. Insurance companies require significant numbers of copies of medical bills, medical reports, police reports, witness statements, and lost income information. Your law firm has to pay for these photocopies and you will usually be charged a certain amount for each page of copy.
c. Long distance telephone calls. If long distance telephone calls are required, you will probably have to reimburse your attorney for the actual cost of each call.
d. Costs of photographs. Photographs are extremely important in personal injury cases and if your attorney incurs expense in having photos obtained or enlarged, you will be responsible for such costs.
e. Reports of experts. Reports from experts other than physicians may be required in your case and, if so, you will have to pay the costs that such experts charge for their reports.
f. Litigation costs. If your case has to proceed to suit or litigation, there will be costs incurred as a result of the filing of such a lawsuit.
6. Are the attorneys’ disbursements and costs also contingent and if not, do they have to be paid in advance?
The costs and disbursements outlined above in question 5 are your responsibility even if there is no recovery in your case. In other words, although your attorney’s fee is contingent upon a settlement or successful court award, the actual out-of-pocket costs are not contingent upon successful recovery. Your attorney may require you to assist in such costs as they are incurred. Therefore, you may be requested to pay some of the out-of-pocket costs in advance of settlement as the case progresses. The reason for this is that it is not economically feasible for law firms to “finance” personal injury cases. For this reason, the law provides that out-of-pocket expenses are the responsibility of the client even if the case does not settle.