HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT PERSONAL INJURY OR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWYER?
Finding a lawyer is not much different than choosing the right professional to assist you with other needs that you might have. Your goal should be to find the lawyer with the best qualifications, experience and knowledge to meet your legal needs. Many lawyers are general practitioners who can handle a wide variety of cases. Your objective should be to find a lawyer with the most experience with the type of problem that you have.
In the personal injury field, there are many lawyers who handle relatively non-complex cases, but relatively few who handle complex personal injury cases such as medical malpractice. You may have to search a little harder to find these attorneys. If you have a complex case, look for a lawyer who has experience with the issues in case. Ask the lawyer for their "track record" with cases like yours. Look at their web sites to see if they have successfully handled such matters. You certainly do not want a generalist cutting his or her teeth on your case.
HOW MUCH IS MY PERSONAL INJURY CASE WORTH?
This is the question on every new client's mind when they first meet their attorney. Most experienced personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers have a general idea of the range of value of a case when the client first contacts the attorney. However, the final determination of the value of an injury depends on many factors which are probably unknown when the client first contacts the lawyer. The value of a case depends not only the nature and extent of injuries, but also on the factual circumstances of the accident or incident which gave rise to those injuries. A very significant injury may have less value because the liability issues are unclear. In many cases, the value of a claim is reduced by the comparative negligence of the person bringing the claim. Many of these factors are not known until the lawyer investigates the claim or even begins the litigation. The attorney's job is to advise the client as to whether an offer of settlement is fair and then let the client decide.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR MY CASE TO RESOLVE?
An experienced lawyer will be able to give you a general guidelines as to how long the case may take to resolve. Generally speaking, the more complex the case, the longer it takes. Sometimes a relatively simple case can take a long time to resolve because of disputed liability or medical causation issues. Most lawyers will not attempt to resolve a case until the client has reached a medical end result. That is the point at which the person is either healed or has reached a plateau where a physician has reported that the patient will not improve any further. The reason the case is not settled until the medical end result is reached, is that the lawyer needs to know the future consequences, if any, of the injury. Your lawyer should be able to tell you at the beginning of the case approximately long it may take to resolve. Since every claim is unique, there is no generally guideline.
A straight forward case could take 6 months to resolve. A complex case could take 5 - 7 years.
WILL MY PERSONAL INJURY OR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASE GO TO TRIAL?
Most personal injury and medical malpractice cases are resolved by settlement. However, until the lawyer knows the details of the accident or occurrence which gave rise to the injury and the nature and extent of the injuries, the lawyer cannot state with any degree of certainty how long the case will take or whether the case may go to trial. The most important factor is how long it takes for the person to reach a medical end result. The value of a case cannot be known until the client is done treating for her injuries.
A lawyer who takes every case with the belief that it will have to go to trial consistently gets the best result by way of settlement. It is the lawyer who tries cases regularly and gets verdicts whom insurance companies and defense lawyers know is someone that has to be dealt with. If a lawyer has a reputation for only settling cases, then he or she develops a reputation as a offer short money just to get rid of the case. Look for a lawyer who has tried cases.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST ME TO HAVE MY CASE HANDLED?
Most lawyers take personal injury and medical malpractice cases on a contingency fee basis. The usual practice in personal injury cases is for the lawyer to take a fee of one-third out of the recovery. In medical malpractice cases there is a graduated fee which is set by statute. Most lawyers will pay for the out of pocket expenses associated with pursuing the claim. Some lawyers may ask the client to front the lawyer the money for expenses. In that instance if the case is lost, then the client loses those funds. Most lawyers can tell a client in advance if the client has to pay expenses up front. Otherwise, the case should not cost the client any money out of pocket.
Beware the medical malpractice lawyer who charges a flat fee to review your case for merit. Some lawyers will ask the client for $5,000 to $10,000 to review a case. In all probability, that lawyer is making a living reviewing cases, instead of handling and recovering on selective cases with merit.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS ONCE I HIRE A PERSONAL INJURY OR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWYER?
At the beginning of the case, the lawyer will interview you concerning the incident, your background and any relevant factors to the case. You will sign authorizations so the attorney may obtain your medical records. Under Massachusetts law, a hospital or doctor is prohibited from releasing your medical records or any information regarding medical care without a written authorization signed by you. The lawyer will also review and have you sign a contingent fee agreement which explains the terms of the representation.
The next phase of the case is the initial investigation to determine both the facts of the incident that and the nature of the injuries suffered. Following the investigation, the lawyer will send a claim letter to the responsible party and establish contact with their insurance company. If a law suit is filed, the client will answer written questions, give a deposition and testify at trial.