It’s one of those things that most people don’t think about until they’ve been injured: How do you choose an accident attorney?
If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, here are some helpful tips.
Know What You’re Looking For
Before you begin searching, a good place to start is to learn what you’re looking for. Attorneys tend to specialize in one, or a few, specialties within the law. Car accidents usually fall in the category of law known as personal injury. So you will want to look for a personal injury attorney. Some other considerations include:
- Is the attorney you’re researching licensed to practice law in your state? Is his or her office close enough to you for you to conveniently meet with him or her when needed?
- Does this attorney have trial experience? Even though the majority of personal injury cases settle before trial, your attorney should be comfortable representing you in court if the need arises.
- How much experience does your attorney have with negotiation? How many settlements has this attorney been responsible for negotiating? What is the monetary amount of his or her most recent settlements in cases like yours?
- Does this attorney have extensive experience with injury cases, a working knowledge of the medical field and the process of personal injury claims?
- Does this attorney have an in-depth knowledge of tort law, specifically in regard to negligence?
Know What the Attorney Brings to the Table
Much of your initial research when finding a personal injury attorney can be conducted online. Here is some of the information you should look for:
- A search for personal injury attorneys in your area typically will yield not only attorney websites, but reviews from others who have used that attorney’s services as well.
- When visiting the attorney’s website, you can generally see additional reviews as well as examples of settlements and awards that they have helped their clients receive. Bear in mind, however, that each case is unique. Each award or settlement reflects the compensation for the damages that were caused in that particular case, not a standard amount that each client receives.
- You can also check the state bar or court system’s database for disciplinary actions taken against the attorney. Information about disciplinary actions against attorneys licensed to practice in New York is located here.
Attend a Free Consultation
Most personal injury attorneys will provide a free initial consultation for prospective clients. This is a time for you to ask questions about the attorney and for the attorney to learn more about your case. Because time is limited during the free consultation, be sure to have the documents pertaining to your case and your list of questions ready. Some of the documents you should bring with you in order to give the attorney a better idea of the details of your case and the damages you’ve suffered include:
- Medical documents such as bills, diagnostic reports, and lab results
- A formal accident report either filled out by you or by the police officer who investigated your accident
- Any written professional opinions that have been made regarding your accident or injuries. Examples of this would include an opinion from an accident expert, or an opinion from a medical professional regarding your prognosis. Include contact information for the professional, in case the attorney needs more information from them.
- Bills for any property damage you sustained in the accident, such as car repair bills
- Pictures taken by you or someone else of the scene of the accident
- Written statements and contact information from anyone who witnessed your accident
- Information you obtained from the other driver after the accident occurred, including insurance information
Some examples of questions that you should ask the attorney during the consultation include:
- How much time do I have to file a lawsuit? Most states require you to file your personal injury lawsuit within a certain amount of time, known as the statute of limitations, in order to be eligible for compensation. In New York, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the accident.
- What areas of personal injury law do you specialize in? It is important to find an attorney who specializes in representing clients who have had a similar type of accident as you have experienced.
- How many cases involving accidents like mine have you represented?
- How many cases do you handle at a time? Attorneys with a full caseload may be unable to provide you with the personal attention you deserve, and you may deal with delays in the process and less communication due to an attorney who is juggling many clients at once.
- Will you be the only attorney working on my case? Who else will be working with you?
- How often will you communicate with me about my case? How will that communication take place (by phone call, email, or text, for example), and who is my point of contact?
- What is your fee structure and what are my payment options?
- How much trial experience do you have? Do you expect my case to go to trial?
- How long do cases like mine generally take to resolve?
- Does your firm work with medical experts, accident reconstruction experts, or other professionals who can help prove my case?
- What is my case worth? How confident are you in the ability to win my case?
- What are the weaknesses in my case?
- Can you provide me with references? Just as a business owner asks prospective employees for references, you should also feel comfortable asking for references from your prospective attorney
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
Insurance adjusters will often attempt to get you to settle for as low an offer as possible to save money, or they may try to find reasons to deny your claim altogether. Choosing the right attorney to represent you may make the difference between a fair settlement, a low settlement, or no settlement at all.