THE INITIAL INTERVIEW WITH AN ATTORNEY
Hiring your attorney is probably the most important decision you will make before initiating a personal injury lawsuit. You need to make sure that your attorney is experienced in handling your type of personal injury lawsuit.
Just like there are many different types of doctors who treat different medical conditions, there are many lawyers that specialize in handling personal injury cases like yours that will be better suited to represent you because of their knowledge and experience.
An experienced attorney will know the defense strategies insurance companies will likely employ to defend your case and can better prepare you for what to expect in your case and to obtain a better outcome.
Make sure that the attorney you hire will actually be working on your case. Many lawyers will frequently hand your case off to an inexperienced associate who will learn while working on your case. Worse yet, attorneys will frequently refer your case to another law firm to handle your case and you will have never even met or talked to the attorney who will be representing you on your case. You need assurances that the attorney you hire will be actively involved in your case.
Make sure your lawyer is willing to actually try your case if the settlement offer is not adequate. Ask your lawyer how many jury trials he or she has had involving injury cases. If the insurance company knows your lawyer never tries cases, they will make you a low settlement offer.
Lastly, watch out for lawyers who make promises about the value of your case. In order to accurately evaluate the settlement value of a case, a lawyer needs to know what type of recovery you will make from your initial injuries which can be very difficult to determine at the early stage of the recovery process. Further, does the defendant have adequate insurance to fully compensate you for your injuries. If the at fault person is uncollectible, even the best case may have limited settlement value.
PRE-LAWSUIT INVESTIGATION OF YOUR CASE
The law firm you hire will in most cases research your case at this stage to understand how you were injured and the extent of your injuries, damages, and liability. With the recent amendment of the Michigan court rules, it is important for your attorney to investigate your case to be in a position to comply with initial disclosures required under the Michigan court rules. (See MCR 2.302(a), effective January 1, 2020).
The law firm may interview witnesses and get copies of your medical records. He or she will contact the insurance company directly or the attorney representing the at-fault party who injured you. Your attorney should keep you aware of any negotiations and significant developments throughout the lawsuit process. You should be getting the medical attention you need to recover from your injuries. Be careful about what you post on social media and do not give statements to anyone about your case without the consent of your attorney.
SETTLING YOUR CASE BEFORE FILING A LAWSUIT
Many personal injury claims are resolved before a lawsuit is filed. Your attorney may negotiate with the insurance company representing the party who injured you, and a monetary offer may be presented to your attorney to settle the case. If a settlement offer is made, your attorney will inform you about the offer and give his or her opinion on whether you should accept it. You ultimately decide if the settlement is acceptable. In most cases, it will be necessary to file a lawsuit to obtain a fair settlement.
FILING A LAWSUIT IN COURT
If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit, known as a Complaint, in court. A judge will be assigned to your case and dates will be set for each phase of the lawsuit process. The entire legal process can take months to several years, depending on the complexity of the issues involved in your case. Usually, your attorney will have a good idea of how long it will take to resolve your case.
The trial court will set dates for when the parties can engage in discovery. During the discovery phase of your lawsuit, each party gathers evidence, documents, and information from each other and from witnesses regarding the case. Written discovery includes questions, also known as Interrogatories, and requests for documents. Discovery, known as depositions, also take place during this time period. During a deposition, witnesses, experts, and each party are questioned by a lawyer. Recent changes regarding discovery will limit the amount of discovery each party can conduct depending on the case.
A party can file motions before or after the discovery is complete to get the Court to take action on their behalf. The motion can ask the Court to dismiss one or more of your claims or even the entire case. Your attorney typically has 28 days to file a written response in opposition to the motion. Sometimes, these dates will be extended by the Court. Frequently, a hearing is held so that the Court can consider both sides of the arguments and asks that both lawyers answer questions about the legal issues.
Facilitation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is frequently requested or ordered by the judge, at any time during the court case. It involves both parties, their attorneys, and a neutral mediator who attempts to negotiate a voluntary settlement. During a Facilitation, both sides present a summary of the case and engage in settlement negotiations as conducted by the mediator.
Facilitation is non-binding meaning that the parties can accept or reject the offer. The results of facilitation are normally confidential and cannot be used against you in court. Facilitation result in settlement in more than 50% of cases. Facilitation usually occurs at the end of a case because parties will have a better understanding of the facts and legal issues.
If a case goes to trial, your attorney presents your side to the judge or jury, then the party who injured you (defendant) puts on their defense. After each side presents their arguments the judge or jury determines if the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries and harm and, if so, the amount of damages the defendant must pay you. Each party may appeal a jury decision if there are sufficient grounds for a legal appeal.
DETERMINING THE SETTLEMENT VALUE OF A PERSONAL INJURY CASE
There are many factors that go into evaluating the settlement value of a case. Each case needs to be evaluated individually. In general, lawyers look at the following factors:
1. How bad was the defendant’s conduct? Being injured by a drunk driver will likely result in higher compensation than an accident where the defendant’s conduct is seen as purely accidental like losing control of your car while going over black ice.
2. Who is the defendant? Are you suing a large corporation or an elderly person who reminds you of your grandparents? Was the defendant remorseful after the accident or were they more concerned about getting their car fixed than whether you were injured as a result of their negligence? What kind of witness will the defendant make in front of a jury?
3. In the same manner, is the person bringing the lawsuit a compelling witness? Are they sympathetic, likeable and sincere?
4. How severe was the harm caused by the defendant? How objective are the injuries? Injuries that a jury can normally observe result in larger compensation for the injured party. How interfering was the harm on the injured person’s life? Are there significant economic damages such as wage loss or medical expenses? What settlements have similar cases resulted in? What county is the case being tried in? Some localities have a reputation for being conservative or liberal when deciding damages. Who is the trial judge? Some judges can affect the outcome depending on a ruling during the course of a trial.
5. Lastly, what is the collectability of the defendant? Do they have adequate bodily insurance to compensate the injured party?
An experienced personal injury attorney can assist in making an educated decision on how much your case should be settled for and whether you should accept a settlement offer.
For over forty-five years lawyers at our personal injury law firm, Logeman, Iafrate & Logeman, P.C., have helped accident victims recover the compensation they need to rebuild their lives and take care of their families. Helping clients with their injury claims in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and throughout Michigan, our attorneys are highly experienced and supported by well-trained staff. Their successful advocacy is highlighted by the fact that they have recovered damages in cases turned down by other firms as hopeless. If you would like to speak to an experienced attorney, contact us today for a Free Consultation.