If an accident ever injured you, you may feel inundated with information about personal injury lawyers. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple search for Houston personal injury lawyers, and suddenly your newsfeed fills with ads for another attorney.
Most of us wonder why so many personal lawyers offer free consultations, and why some agree to work towards a settlement agreement without accepting any fees upfront. Some of this has to do with how an attorney decides whether to take on a personal injury case.
Level of Proof Required for Personal Injury Cases
When you suffer an injury and consider a lawsuit, you need proof that you have a case.
The specific elements of a personal injury lawsuit include:
- The other party owed you a duty of care – duty of care means the person had a responsibility to ensure your safety. For example, a store owner cannot ignore a leak in the roof where people could slip and fall.
- The party breached their duty of care – in the situation with water coming through the ceiling, a property owner, or store manager had a duty to advise you of the hazard until repairing it. Their failure to provide that warning is a breach of their duty of care.
- The breach caused you to suffer an injury – if you fell in the store because of water coming through the ceiling and broke your hip, your medical records would reflect a broken hip.
- Your injury resulted in a financial loss – additional medical bills, time lost from work, you may include damage to personal property and other financial losses in a personal injury lawsuit.
This reflects the burden of proof that an attorney must show to pursue a personal injury case. When a lawyer evaluates your case, they will walk through everything you tell them, plus they will use medical reports and other documentation to make themselves fully aware of all the facts. If they can’t sufficiently prove your case, a personal lawyer may refuse to take it.
Remember, lawyers, do not like to take cases they don’t think they can win. A lot of hours go into preparing a lawsuit involving more people than just the attorneys.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Time Frames
Preparing a personal injury lawsuit takes many hours. A personal injury case also involves seeking specific records, including medical records, police reports, and financial information for the victim.
Here are the steps a personal injury attorney will take before your case gets resolved:
- Consultation with the client – as a potential client, chances are you have spoken with an attorney during an initial free consultation. This consultation is normally about an hour long and allows you, the victim, the opportunity to explain your situation and learn more about your legal options and rights. In most cases, if you have provided the attorney with sufficient information, they may offer to represent you pursuing a settlement claim for your injuries.
- Case evaluation and investigation – the most significant time investment comes during this phase. Your attorney will spend time reviewing medical records, police reports, and determining the value of your case. The law firm will require you to provide them with access to certain information including your earnings and physical condition. This will be necessary to determine what type of settlement you should be seeking.
- Seeking an insurance settlement – at this phase, your attorney will advise you of their intent to either seek an insurance settlement or file a lawsuit. Remember, in most cases, personal injury claims settle out of court. Your lawyer sends a settlement demand to the insurance company, and in Texas, insurers have 15 days to acknowledge receipt of your claim. If they need any additional documentation, you would send it to them at this time. Insurers then have a maximum of 45 days in which to resolve your claim.
- When insurance will not settle – when an insurance company denies your claim or offers you far less than you and your attorney determine is acceptable, then you may need to prepare for a lawsuit.
- Preparation of lawsuit – a formal complaint will summon the offender and advise them of your intent to file a lawsuit for your personal injury claim. The complaint will detail your injuries, why there is a belief the party is responsible, and include the dollar amount of the lawsuit. The party who is accountable then has a certain amount of time to respond to your complaint.
- Discovery by both parties – after you formally file a lawsuit, both sides present evidence on behalf of the party they represent. This time may increase if you learn your injuries are more serious than originally thought. During this time, you may receive additional offers for a settlement that your attorney will present for your approval or rejection.
- Mediation or other negotiations – from the day you hire a lawyer, the goal will be to get a reasonable settlement. From the day you file your claim with the insurer, numerous attempts to settle your case may take place. If the two parties are not far apart, mediation or arbitration may be a way to resolve the case without going to court.
- When all else fails – if there are no avenues left to pursue a reasonable settlement, then your case will go to court. Either a judge or a jury will decide the case.
Keep in mind, each of these steps consumes time, not just for you but for your attorney and their staff. This is why, when you have an initial consultation, a lawyer may decide that your case does not warrant legal intervention.
Time Means Money and Expenses
Filing a lawsuit incurs immediate costs. The Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts website lists the expenses for filing a personal injury lawsuit. Your attorney generally pays these fees and takes on the expenses associated with filing a lawsuit.
Texas personal injury lawyers usually do this through a contingency fee agreement with their clients.
Cases involving serious injuries may require expert witnesses to establish damages. For example, if your injury will require you to change jobs, lose work permanently, or undergo extensive rehabilitation therapy, your attorney cannot estimate the losses without consulting someone with the required experience and expertise.
The more complicated your case, the more likely it will be that your attorney will require assistance from experts in their field to demonstrate why your settlement demand is higher than otherwise might be expected.
Attorneys Do Not Take Every Case Presented to Them
Some people think that an attorney takes on every case presented to them. This is a misunderstanding of how the legal field works. There are specific reasons why an attorney may refuse to take on any case, including personal injury cases.
Some of these reasons may include:
- Insufficient Financial Benefits – in cases where your injuries are relatively minor, and an attorney feels you are better off financially without an attorney, they may recommend you pursue the claim on your own. This works both ways—in some cases, your claim will not financially benefit the law firm even if you prevail.
- Your Case is Not Strong Enough – if solid evidence does not suggest that someone’s negligent act caused your injury, an attorney may refuse to take your case. Remember, most personal injury lawyers depend on results to build their reputation, and cases that are not clear winners can set them back months.
- Lack of Knowledge or Experience – a car accident may be easy to work on but there are other far more complex personal injury cases. For example, some attorneys will refuse to take on truck accident claims because the multiple parties involved can make them too complex. You do not want to hire an attorney who may be taking on more than they can reasonably handle. Also, remember, big law firms normally handle big cases and smaller firms handle smaller cases.
- Statutes of Limitations – victims should quickly seek legal assistance because of the statute of limitations. If an attorney does not have sufficient time to file a claim before this deadline, they won’t take the case.
- Self-Sabotaging Clients – if you have been posting on social media showing how well you are doing after suffering an injury, you may be jeopardizing a valid claim. Clients must avoid discussing their injury or their case online in the public domain. A lawyer may decline your case for other reasons, but this action would make your case harder to prove.
When you have an initial consultation with an attorney, do not automatically assume that just because you are injured that the attorney will take your case. Remember, personal injury claims require an attorney to prove someone else was responsible for the injury you suffered.
Refusing Your Case Does Not Mean You Have No Case
Just because an attorney refuses your case does not mean you have no case. If an attorney tells you they cannot take your case, find out why they are not taking it before taking any next steps.
In some cases, if an attorney can’t or won’t accept your personal injury case, they may refer you to someone who can. Do not hesitate to ask an attorney if they have other recommendations. For example, they may suggest that you could do better if you filed an insurance claim.
Working With a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer
When you know you would not have been injured if someone had acted reasonably, you are frustrated and likely have many questions for which you need answers before you know what steps to take next.
This is when you should seek the advice of a competent personal injury lawyer so you know your legal rights and options and can decide the best way to proceed. Remember, filing a lawsuit is not always necessary to get compensated for your losses.
Following any injury, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible so you can decide the best way to move forward. Having someone who knows and understands your state’s personal injury laws gives you your best chance to recover the compensation you deserve.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.