Personal injury attorneys have quite the reputation – in and out of the legal community. While this particular area of law can offer great material for jokes, the stigmas surrounding personal injury attorneys can have devastating effects on you and your case if it prevents you from getting the help you need.
Personal injury law is a subset of civil law and covers a wide range of incidents. Any situation in which someone is physically injured due to the negligent actions of another person falls under personal injury law. In civil cases, the remedy for the underlying incident is monetary damages – money – as opposed to jail time or fines which is often the case for criminal cases.
Most personal injury attorneys require three things to take on a case.
- You must have sustained a physical injury that required medical treatment;
- The incident must have been caused by someone else’s negligent actions; and
- There must be active insurance coverage for the incident – whether held by the other person or yourself.
It is important to keep in mind that the medical treatment required to support an injury claim can from a single doctor’s visit to days, weeks, or months in the hospital. There is no case too small or too large. Every case is evaluated on a one-on-one basis. Also, every law firm has a different criterion of cases they will take at any given time. If one firm tells you that your case is too small for them to take, keep up the search! You might strike gold with another firm. Additionally, sometimes it’s not clear who is responsible for your injuries at first glance. As long as the other party is at least 50.1% responsible for your injuries, then you have a case!
Lastly, almost all injury attorneys require active insurance coverage to take a case. The law prohibits plaintiffs from taking someone’s home, certain personal property, tools of the trade, and other things to fulfill a verdict. This means that even if you go to trial and a jury determines that the other party owes you money if they don’t have assets that are not protected by law, then the verdict is essentially a meaningless piece of paper. The reality is that most people are judgment proof and active insurance coverage is the only practical way for a plaintiff to recover from their injuries. Insurance might be involved in a case, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first. For example, if the other driver was uninsured, your insurance might provide coverage. Or if you were attacked by a dog, the homeowner’s insurance might step in. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney if you think that you have a case.
Despite everything that an accident attorney can do to help those injured as a result of someone else’s negligent actions, many people hesitate to call an attorney because they hold some very harmful and incorrect assumptions about accident attorneys.
1. All Personal Injury Attorneys are Ambulance Chasers
You’ve likely seen the stereotypical injury attorney a million times over. The image of a used-car-salesman-type lurking around hospital corridors in an ill-fitted suit with a beat-up briefcase trolling for injured clients is all too common these days. Where corporate attorneys and criminal defense attorneys are seen in tailored suits and skyrise offices, the personal injury attorney is often portrayed in a less than flattering light. This portrayal often discourages people from calling an accident attorney even if they need one!
If you need to hire an attorney for a business dispute, divorce, or another matter, then you will likely have to pay a retainer or flat fee upfront. The attorney will hold the funds in a trust account, charge an hourly rate for the work they person and deduct it directly from the retainer. When the retainer runs out or gets low, they will ask you to replenish the account before continuing the work on your case.
Injury attorneys are entirely different! We take cases on a contingency basis. This means that you don’t have to pay for anything upfront. Injury attorneys take a lot of risks when signing up for a case. They work the case and if – for whatever reason – they are not successful on your behalf, then they don’t get paid for any of the work they’ve done or the expenses they’ve already paid out! With a contingency-fee contract, attorneys get a percentage of the total recovery at the end of the case if they’re successful.
So, given that the attorneys carry all the risk, why is there a stigma that personal injury attorneys are ambulance chasers? Like any field, personal injury attorneys need clients for their businesses to thrive. All businesses need clients, but the specific clients that personal injury attorneys need happen to be those injured after an accident. Additionally, car accident attorneys are readily accessible because they don’t charge a fee upfront. An injury attorney can sign a client up immediately – even if they’re still at the hospital – because a retainer or deposit isn’t required from the client and contracts can be signed relatively easily in person or online.
Did you know that Texas has specific ethic rules to protect people from unscrupulous practices of injury attorneys? Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct state that attorneys are not allowed to solicit clients. This means that it’s specifically prohibited for a personal injury attorney to “ambulance chase.” If an attorney found out that you were injured in an accident and solicits your business, know that you have rights and they may be violating Texas ethics rules! Do your research and find an attorney that you trust and fits your needs.
2. Personal Injury Attorneys Just Want to Get As Many Clients As Possible
It’s no secret that car accidents are common. But out of the hundreds (if not thousands) of accidents that occur on a given day in your city, only a small portion of them result in injuries that require medical treatment. Not every car accident automatically results in a personal injury case!
Just as all people are different. Law firms are vastly different as well. Some injury law firms take every case that comes to the door to grow and hire more attorneys to build a volume-based firm. On the other hand, some smaller firms focus on one type of injury or accident – brain injury or oil field accidents. There are pros and cons to both models. A large law firm may have seen a wider array of cases, but you will likely sacrifice the personal touch that you get with a smaller, boutique firm. A smaller firm will know your story in and out but may take a little longer to resolve your case because fewer employees are working on your case.
The bottom line is that if you feel like your firm – large or small – isn’t affording you the type of representation that you want, need, or deserve, then you should voice your concerns. More often than not, the firm will be able to adjust its style to fit your needs. If not, you can ultimately decide to move firms and have an attorney that you trust and fits you better.
3. Accident Attorneys Only Care About Money, Not About Me
The harsh reality of an injury case is that it – more often than not – boils down to money. As we said earlier, an injury attorney cannot force the other party to apologize or go to jail for their actions. The way to “make it right” is to pay you for the damages they caused – i.e. offer money. An injury attorney is familiar with what verdicts are in your area and will be able to evaluate any offer presented by the insurance company. If juries are offering significantly more than what the insurance company is offering to pay, then the attorney will likely recommend filing a lawsuit to keep fighting. If the offer presented is in line with what juries are ruling, then they may recommend accepting the offer because there isn’t much upside to filing a lawsuit. To make an offer stretch as far as possible, an injury attorney can also negotiate with your medical providers to reduce your medical bills as much as possible to increase the amount of money you walk away with.
Since personal injury attorneys are paid from a percentage of the total settlement, they have a vested interest in getting you the largest settlement or verdict possible. To that end, it may appear that they only care about the money and not about your treatment or the lasting effects that the accident had on your life. If you feel like this has happened to you, you need to voice your concerns! Often, it is just a miscommunication and things can be addressed easily and quickly!
Some people often wonder if hiring an attorney is just going to take money from their pocket. They falsely believe that they’d be able to get the same offer from the insurance company as an attorney. Insurance adjusters will often tell you exactly that to stop you from hiring an attorney. They’ll claim that an attorney is “just going to take your money” but remember – insurance adjusters are not your friends! Statistically, insurance companies offer much higher settlements when an attorney is involved. This means that in addition to your medical bills and the attorney fees getting paid, the amount of money you walk away with is likely going to be higher than the initial settlement you were offered.
4. Accident Attorneys File Frivolous Lawsuits
When you’re injured in an accident caused by someone else, the insurance company must compensate you for your damages. This includes your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Just because the law says they owe it to you, doesn’t mean they’re going to make it easy. The insurance company’s job is to make money and keep as much of it as possible! Just a few of the arguments that we see from the insurance companies daily include:
- You’re partially to blame for the accident,
- You received too much medical treatment for your injuries,
- You were not seriously injured because didn’t treat enough for your injuries,
- You waited too long to receive medical treatment,
- Your injuries were not caused by the crash, or
- You chose to miss work.
When an insurance company won’t offer you a fair amount for your damages, the recourse you have, as a plaintiff, is to file a lawsuit. They have a lot of money in their war chest so to speak. It is easier for them to spend money on a defense attorney and litigation costs than to increase your offer! Specifically, for smaller cases, they bank on the fact that litigation is expensive and hope that you’ll be satisfied with a low-ball offer just to avoid the time and expense of a trial. If this is happening in your case, then your attorney is doing you a disservice if they don’t suggest filing a lawsuit after an unfair top offer from an insurance company.
So, while personal injury attorneys have a reputation for being litigious, know that it’s not because they’re trying to be difficult. It’s because you deserve a fair and reasonable offer and the insurance companies don’t play fair.
At McKinney Vos, we offer free consultations where you can discuss your biggest worries and concerns. If you’re hesitant about whether or not you should hire a personal injury attorney, just talk to one and find out if they would fit your needs!