Whether in a traffic crash, by a dangerous feature on someone’s property, or due to a defective product, people are injured in Seattle by someone else’s negligence every day. If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by negligence, you may be eligible to receive compensation for the damages you suffered. Your best chance of receiving a settlement or damage award that fairly compensates you is with the guidance and assistance of a personal injury lawyer.
Most people don’t think about hiring a personal injury lawyer until they need one. So, now that you are looking, what should you look for and what questions should you ask? Read on for tips about how to find the personal injury lawyer who is best equipped to handle your case.
What Is Negligence? What Type of Accidents and Expenses Does Personal Injury Law Cover?
Negligence is the foundation of most personal injury claims and is defined as a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. A successful outcome to your case depends on your ability to prove that another party was negligent.
As noted by Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, this is done by satisfying these four elements:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care. For example, the duty of care in a car accident case is that all drivers have a duty to operate their motor vehicle safely and to obey all traffic laws.
- There was a breach of that duty of care. Using the above example of a car accident, the breach may be speeding, driving drunk, tailgating, or any other driving behavior that falls outside of the law.
- Proof that the plaintiff suffered an injury.
- Proof that the breach of the defendant’s duty of care resulted in the plaintiff’s injury.
It is not unusual for a person’s injuries to be the result of more than one person’s negligence, and even for the injured person to be partially to blame themselves for the accident that caused the injury. Washington follows the pure comparative negligence rule, which allows an injured person to seek compensation for their injuries from an at-fault party even if their own actions were partially to blame.
Some situations a personal injury attorney can help injured victims with include:
- Traffic accidents, including those involving cars, trucks, buses, watercraft, aircraft, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians;
- Medical malpractice, including birth injuries, misdiagnosis, surgical error, and medication errors;
- Construction accidents;
- Dog bites;
- Premises liability;
- Defective products;
- Workplace injuries; and
- Nursing home abuse.
Some damages an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you recover include:
- Medical expenses relating to your injury, including estimated expenses for long-term and chronic issues;
- Assistive medical devices and accessibility features for your home;
- Physical and psychological therapy that is necessary due to your injuries;
- Property damage;
- Lost wages;
- Lost income or employment opportunity due to your injuries;
- Pain and suffering;
- Damage to personal relationships; and
- Damage to your quality of life.
Do Your Research
Once you have determined that your accident was at least partially caused by another person’s negligence and that there are damages you may be eligible to recover through an insurance claim or legal process, it’s time to look for a personal injury lawyer to help you with your case. If you know someone who has used a personal injury attorney before, ask if they would recommend that attorney. You can also search online for personal injury attorneys who are licensed to practice law in your state and who work in your area. Additionally, many review sites such as Yelp or Angie’s List can provide leads.
Once you’ve gathered a list of personal injury attorneys who are licensed in your state and who work in your area, you should visit their websites to find out what kinds of cases they take. You can also usually find reviews of that attorney’s services on their website, as well as on third party sites like Yelp. Another part of your research should involve checking with the legal directory made available by the Washington State Bar Association, or, if you live in another state, your state’s bar association, to ensure that the attorney you’re considering has an active state bar license and that their license is in good standing.
Preparing for Your Consultation
Many personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation and case review for prospective clients. This is a time for you to meet the attorney and share details about your case so that the attorney can determine whether your case falls within their practice area and that they can provide you with the services you’re seeking. It is also a time for you to ask the attorney questions of your own to determine whether they are the person you want to hire to represent you in your case and provide you with legal guidance.
Once you’ve pared down your list of potential attorneys to two or three with whom you’d like to have a consultation, you should call the attorney’s office or contact them online to schedule a time to meet. Be sure to confirm that the consultation is, in fact, free or that you’re aware of the cost of the meeting. When preparing for your consultation, be sure to gather and take with you all the documentation you have that’s relevant to your case, including:
- Any medical bills you have incurred due to your injuries, as well as any documentation regarding your diagnosis or referrals for further treatment.
- Any bills or estimates for property damage you may have incurred due to your accident, such as car repair bills if your injuries were the result of a car accident.
- The name and contact information of the individual or entity at fault for your accident, as well as any insurance information, including your own policy number and carrier as well as that of the other party.
- The names and contact information for anyone who witnessed your accident as well as anyone who spoke to you about the accident in an official capacity, such as an insurance company representative.
- Proof of wages lost due to being too injured to work or for time you missed from work to attend doctor’s appointments or therapy related to your injury.
- Any official reports that you filed, as well as copies of any accident reports that were filed on your behalf, such as police reports or reports submitted to the entity responsible for keeping the property safe (in the event of a premises liability claim), and any insurance claims you have made.
- Details about how your accident occurred, including the time and date of the accident, who was involved, what took place, and any photographs of the scene or of your injuries.
Because the time for your consultation is limited, you should also prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask the attorney, as described below.
Questions You Should Ask
There are many questions that the attorney you’re meeting with will likely anticipate and provide answers for without even being asked. However, it is still good to be prepared by having all of your questions written down ahead of the meeting. These questions will give you a lot of insight as to the experience your attorney has in working on cases like yours, how comfortable they are with pursuing settlements or litigation, their track record on this type of case, the services they can provide for you, and how they expect to be paid.
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they will not charge you a fee for their services unless they achieve a successful outcome to your case. However, it is important to never assume that your attorney works this way or that the contingency fees cover all costs associated with the representation the attorney is providing. For example, many attorneys who work on a contingent fee basis expect clients to cover the costs of copying, filing fees, or deposing witnesses no matter what the outcome of the case is. It is always best to ask for a complete run-down of expenses you will be expected to cover.
The questions you should ask a personal injury attorney you are considering hiring include:
- How long have you been practicing personal injury law? How many cases have you worked on?
- How many cases do you work on at a time? Beware of an attorney with a large caseload, as you may experience delays with your case or with communication about your case.
- Do you have references? Don’t be shy about asking your attorney for references. Just as you would be expected to provide references when applying for a job that demonstrates your experience and skills, a personal injury attorney should have past clients who would be happy to speak to you about their experience with the attorney.
- How many cases like mine have you worked on? How many settlements and awards have you received for clients with cases like mine?
- Will you be the only attorney working on my case? Who else will be involved? At many law firms, the senior attorneys only work on the case if it goes to litigation, leaving the rest of the work to junior attorneys and other staff members. You should know upfront if this is the situation with the attorney you’re considering hiring.
- How would you like me to communicate with you? How will information be provided to me, by whom, and how often?
- How long do you anticipate it will take to resolve my case? Note that while attorneys cannot precisely predict how long any case will take, their experience should allow them to make an educated guess based on the facts of your case. Beware of an attorney who says they will push for a fast settlement, as this may mean less compensation for you.
- What is the value of the recent settlements you have obtained for clients with cases similar to mine?
- Are you comfortable with litigation? What is your success rate with cases like mine that have gone to court? While the majority of personal injury cases are settled by insurance companies before they ever see the inside of the courtroom, your attorney should be comfortable with the notion of representing you in court.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case? It is better to know before you even get started if there are weaknesses in your case and how confident the attorney feels in their ability to work past those weaknesses to obtain the compensation you need for your recovery.
- How much is my case worth? While your attorney likely won’t be able to answer this question right away, they should be able to give you an estimate based on the facts of your case and the expenses you’ve incurred. Ethically, an attorney cannot make false promises as to how much money you will get, so do not expect this number to be set in stone.
- What is your fee structure? How and when will payments be made? What additional costs might I face, if I win or lose the case?
- If the case goes to trial and the defendant appeals, will you continue to represent me?
After You’ve Selected Your Personal Injury Lawyer
Once you have selected the attorney you would like to hire and they have agreed to take your case, they will likely let you know if there is additional information or documentation you need to gather. If they do not let you know, ask whether they have everything they need to begin working on your case. You will be given some paperwork to read and sign. It is vitally important that you understand everything contained in the paperwork and that you get answers to any questions you have before you sign.