Q: If you take my case, who makes the decisions about strategy and settlement?
A: You retain the ultimate authority regarding how and when the case should settle. Attorneys almost always take the lead regarding the strategies to be employed during the course of a personal injury claim.
Q: I was just injured in an accident and a lawyer I’ve never met is calling me or has visited me. What should I do?
A: We all hope that incidents like this are rare, but sometimes we do hear about them occurring. Those kinds of contacts are blatant violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. You should report these prohibited solicitations to another attorney or directly to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.
Q: I’m confused by all of the Yellow Page ads and TV commercials I see for personal injury attorneys. What should I do?
A: Unfortunately, you really don’t get much information about a lawyer or law firm from a big Yellow Pages ad or a TV commercial. All you can really tell is that they have spent a lot of money to get your attention. You would be better served by acquiring good information about the process of a personal injury claim and then having a face to face meeting with a personal injury lawyer. My book, Outrunning the Ambulance Chasers, is a good place to start.
Q. Is an Internet Referral service a good place to find an attorney?
A: Not necessarily. These directory sites are basically an online version of the Yellow Pages. For many of them, personal injury lawyers have simply paid a fee for a listing in the directory. The more money they pay the more prominently and frequently they are listed. Sometimes out of state attorneys use these sites to gather leads for cases they are going to refer on to someone else. These sites don’t tell you anything that you need to know about the listed attorney. Why would you want an out-of-state personal injury lawyer to be involved in your Kosciusko County personal injury claim?
Q: If I consult with an attorney will he tell me exactly what my personal injury claim is worth?
A: He shouldn’t. After thoroughly investigating a claim an experienced personal injury attorney will have an idea what range your claim should settle within, but anyone who tells you at an initial consultation what your case is worth is only guessing.
The truth is that your claim is worth whatever the jury awards; however, that answer is complicated by the fact that a huge majority of claims are settled before they reach a jury. Therefore, the amount the claim is worth relates to what the parties think the jury would award if the claim went to trial. Determining that amount is more art than science, and that is one of the reasons you may need a skilled personal injury attorney to assist you.
Q: Do people who hire an attorney receive more money for their claims than people who don’t?
A: Yes! Even the insurance industry has documented that injured people who hire an attorney receive more money for their claims than injured people who don’t. The Insurance Research Council discovered that injured people who hired an attorney to assist them received an average of three and a half times more for their claims than people who decided to negotiate with the insurance company themselves. No wonder Allstate tries to keep injured people from hiring an attorney!
Q: What is an “ambulance chaser?”
A: Ambulance chaser is a derogatory term that describes personal injury attorneys who would do anything, without regard to whether it was legally or ethically acceptable or not, to track down the victims of personal injury accidents. Obviously the image of an attorney chasing an ambulance from the scene of a personal injury accident for the purpose of contacting the injured person being transported conjures up very negative thoughts about anyone who would resort to such tactics. That’s the idea. Hopefully, the practice is not actually occurring today, but there are a few practices that come close. We have heard of attorneys who blatantly violate the Rules of Professional Conduct by personally phoning or visiting the victims or personal injury accidents. You need to run from those guys, hence the title of my book Outrunning the Ambulance Chasers.
Q: If you take my case will you file a lawsuit right away?
A: That depends on the type of case and many other factors. Sometimes injury cases can be settled in a relatively short time before suit is filed. Many times the insurance company will not actually make their maximum offer until long after the case is filed and the threat of trial is looming. For this reason it is usually not wise to wait very long before filing suit.
Q. If my claim goes to trial, will the jury know that the person who hit me has insurance?
A: Attorneys who represent injured people hope that the jury members know that the defendant has insurance, and defense attorneys hired by those insurance companies hope that the jurors don’t know it. As a practical matter, it is thought that most folks sitting on a jury are aware that any award they make is likely to be paid by insurance and not by the defendant personally.
One thing we all know for sure is that evidence of the insurance coverage is not admissible at trial. Indiana Rules of Evidence 401 states in part:
“Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.”
Q: What is mediation?
A: Indiana’s rules for Alternative Dispute Resolution (Rule 2.1) describe mediation as follows:
Mediation under this section involves the confidential process by which a neutral, acting as a mediator, selected by the parties or appointed by the court, assists the litigants in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. The role of the mediator is to assist in identifying the issues, reducing misunderstanding, clarifying priorities, exploring areas of compromise, and finding points of agreement as well as legitimate points of disagreement. Any agreement reached by the parties is to be based on the autonomous decisions of the parties and not the decisions of the mediator. It is anticipated that an agreement may not resolve all of the disputed issues, but the process can reduce points of contention. Parties and their representatives are required to mediate in good faith, but are not compelled to reach an agreement
Q: What is a personal injury claim?
A: The law requires all of us to behave in a reasonable (careful) manner. Everyone has that duty as a member of society. Sometimes when people act carelessly they hurt someone else. This careless behavior is called negligence, and we can be held legally responsible for harm we cause to others when we engage in such behavior. Persons injured by the careless acts of others may have a personal injury claim.
Personal injury claims come in all shapes and sizes. They may result from injuries received by using an unreasonably dangerous product. Serious mistakes made in hospitals may cause injuries. A vicious dog may be left unrestrained and attack an unsuspecting child. The most common source of personal injuries caused by the careless acts of other is the motor vehicle accident.
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