1. Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are seriously injured because of an accident, defective product or medical malpractice, you should carefully select an attorney to represent you. The significance of choosing a skilled lawyer cannot be overstated. The personal injury attorney you hire can make a huge impact on the outcome of your case. The level of skill and experience varies greatly from attorney to attorney. In addition, the type of cases an attorney regularly handles and amount personal attention given to each client matter.
When selecting an injury lawyer, ask questions to determine if he/she has the experience and resources needed to handle your case.
What experience does your attorney have? A general practitioner may handle a variety of legal matters such as real estate, contracts, bankruptcy, wills and estates. Other lawyers dedicate their practice solely to representing injury victims. Although there is no guarantee that an injury attorney will get a better result than a general practitioner, you should know what percentage of the attorney’s work is dedicated to injury cases. It is important that your lawyer be familiar with the value of injury settlements and awards in the venue where your case is litigated.
Is your lawyer a true trial attorney? Some “trial lawyers” very rarely see the inside of a court room. Instead, they will accept any low-ball settlement offer to avoid the time, expense and stress of trial. Make sure you hire an attorney that knows how to do more than settle.
Who will be working on your case? Many personal injury law firms operate like high volume “law factories” where cases are put on a standard track, paralegals work up the case and attorneys have little or no involvement with the client or file. In other instances, a firm may assign a junior associate to handle your case instead of the managing partner. Before signing a retainer agreement, ask who will handle your case and make sure you are comfortable with the arrangement. Be aware that in the event you are unhappy with your attorney’s services, you have the right to fire them and retain new counsel.
2. Preserve Evidence for Trial
The claimant (or plaintiff) has the burden of proof in a personal injury case. This means that the plaintiff must present sufficient evidence to prove his claim at trial. Therefore, you should begin preserving evidence as soon as possible after an accident happens. Otherwise, physical evidence may get lost or misplaced, witnesses can disappear and memories fade with time. Some tips for preserving evidence include:
- Take photographs of the accident scene, defective premises or product and visible injuries such as swelling, cuts and bruises.
- Record the accident location. If you are unfamiliar with the area make sure you write down the street, landmarks or other location information.
- Get witness contact information as well as the contact information for other persons who may know relevant information.
- Report the incident. If you are involved in an auto accident call the police. If you are injured on someones property report the incident to the landowner or occupier.
- Get Video Surveillance. Be vigilant for video surveillance cameras that may have recorded the incident and request a copy.
Be aware that defendants will begin building a defense to your claim immediately after an accident. For instance, commercial property owners often instruct employees and security guards to fill out an incident report. The report will solicit alternate causes of an accident, such as the claimant’s footwear or if the plaintiff was intoxicated, whether warning signs were in place, admissions made by the claimant as to liability, as well as whether the claimant reported an injury. For this reason, you should never admit fault which may be used as evidence against you in court. Also, make sure to report injuries or symptoms even if they are minor at the time.
In auto accident cases, insurance companies frequently request that you provide a recorded statement. Never give a recorded statement to an insurance company or defendant without first consulting with an attorney!
3. Stay off Social Media
Social media has destroyed many personal injury cases. When you post comments and photographs on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, they can be found and used by anyone – including the defense! In personal injury cases, defense attorneys will vigorously search the internet for any information that they can use against you in court. This writer has personally witnessed defense lawyers use seemingly innocuous and mundane photographs as evidence that Plaintiffs made a complete recovery or are exaggerating their symptoms. Simply put, if you have a personal injury claim or lawsuit STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA!!!
4. Get Needed Medical Treatment
One of the factors used to determine the value of a personal injury claim is the treatment received by the victim. If you are injured you should seek proper treatment for your injuries. This includes following your doctor’s orders for tests, treatment and therapy. The treatment you receive can be used as compelling evidence of your injuries. It can be introduced in court through a treating physician or expert’s trial testimony. However, if you are noncompliant with your doctor’s orders, or fail to treat, the defense will likely use this evidence against you in court.
In past cases, clients have told me that they prefer to “tough it out” or simply “don’t have time” for treatment despite enduring painful injuries. Unfortunately, foregoing necessary medical treatment will have a negative impact on the value of your personal injury claim or lawsuit. If you do not seek treatment for your injuries the value of your case will be reduced. The defense will argue, often convincingly, that your injuries were insignificant due to the fact you needed only minimal medical attention.
5. Be Forthright About Prior Accidents and Injuries
Sometimes, injury victims have been involved in prior accidents or suffered a previous injury. This is usually only a problem if you are not forthright about your prior injuries. In some cases, old injuries have healed and were not symptomatic at the time of the accident. Other times, a preexisting injury is aggravated or made worse by an accident or malpractice. In a negligence lawsuit, a plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for the damages caused by the careless acts or omissions of another. This includes compensation for aggravation or exacerbation of a prior injury or preexisting condition.
If you are not honest about your history of prior accidents or injuries it may negatively impact or destroy your claim. A personal injury victim’s credibility is of the utmost importance. If your credibility is compromised, the value of your claim will be diminished or lost.
6. Be Honest About the Extent of Your Injuries
The saying “Honesty is the best policy” holds true for negligence and malpractice claims. You should not embellish or exaggerate your injuries in hopes of being awarded more money. Not only is this fraudulent, its against the law.
Whether you are making an insurance claim or testifying in the court of law, it is important to be truthful at all times. In fact, exaggerating your claim is more likely to hurt your case than help it. In many instances, defense counsel will hire an investigator or search for evidence to verify the truthfulness of your claims. If the defense find evidence that you have fabricated or exaggerated your claims they will use it to impeach your credibility in court.
7. Make a Good Impression
An “X factor” that can have a significant impact on the outcome of your lawsuit is the type of impression you make while at legal proceedings and trial.
Frequently, the first chance the defense lawyer has to interact with the plaintiff is at his or her deposition. A deposition takes place in the part of the legal process known as discovery and is a legal proceeding where out-of-court oral testimony is taken for later use in court.
At your deposition, the defense will want to find out information about you and your case. However, they will also use this opportunity to evaluate whether you will make a likable and sympathetic witness. They will look for qualities such as: Are you polite and well spoken? Do you dress appropriately? Are you sincere? Are you knowledgeable about your case?
If you make a good impression at your deposition, there is a greater chance the defense will make a fair settlement offer and your case will be resolved out of court.
When parties cannot reach an agreement as to the value of a case, it will either go to alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration, or trial. During these legal proceedings you will be watched closely from the moment you step into the courtroom. Usually, you only get one opportunity to present your case. So be prepared and make a good impression!
Brent Wieand, is a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia, and the founder of the Wieand Law Firm. He regularly handles cases involving nursing home abuse, medical malpractice, car and truck accidents, wrongful death, slip/trip and fall accidents and defective products. The Wieand Law Firm proudly serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call for a free case consultation at 1 (215) 666-7777.
*Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. If you have a personal injury claim you should always consult with an attorney for legal advice as to your unique set of facts and circumstances.