What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Attorney

Businessmen holding signs with question marks over faces

When accidents, injuries, or even deaths happen, often it isn't the injured or deceased person's fault.  

When Bad Things Happen

In many cases, if the injured or deceased person is not at fault, an insurer may step in and offer to compensate the victim or the victim’s family for the harm.  In other cases, there may not be any, or insufficient, compensation offered to the victim.

If you’re being offered compensation, how do you know if it's the right amount?  How do you know if you’re getting everything you’re entitled to according to the law?  And if you aren’t being offered compensation, does that mean you’re not owed any?

The answers to these questions will depend on the circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as federal and state law.  That’s why people hire personal injury and wrongful death attorneys.  If you’re not sure if your situation justifies legal action, it’s better to talk to an attorney first to understand your rights.  Then you can decide what to do.

“We’re always very willing to discuss the situation whenever we get an inquiry,” says Ward and Smith attorney Jeremy Wilson, who leads the firm’s personal injury and wrongful death practice.  He notes there’s never a charge for those kinds of consultations.

Selecting Your Attorney

Choosing an attorney, however, can be challenging especially with all the attorney advertisements on TV,  in radio spots, on billboards, or by mail solicitation.  Smart consumers will proceed carefully and will talk to more than one attorney.  Here are some factors to consider when interviewing a personal injury or wrongful death attorney.

  • Does the attorney or the attorney's law firm have experience with the kind of case you’re dealing with? Your case is unique and so are attorneys. For example, a medical malpractice case is very different than an auto accident or truck accident case, and different experience is required to successfully handle each.
  • What kind of resources does the attorney have? Some cases can be resolved quickly, maybe in just a few weeks, while others can go on for months or, in extreme cases, years.  Does your attorney have the financial resources and specialized support necessary to pursue your case for the time it takes to make sure you get all the compensation to which you’re entitled?
  • Do insurance companies and other attorneys take your attorney seriously? Part of representing a client forcefully means making sure that the other side understands that your attorney can, and will, take a case all the way through a jury trial—not just settle for whatever amount is first offered.
  • How many attorneys will you be able to access? A larger law firm can ensure that there is always an attorney available to answer your questions or deal with matters that come up during your case.  In addition, a larger firm like Ward and Smith has attorneys who focus on other areas of law (such as health care, taxes, and trusts and estates), and those attorneys are available if other areas of expertise are required to help you retain the maximum amount of benefits to which you are entitled.
  • How much will it cost to hire the attorney? Most personal injury and wrongful death attorneys are paid on the basis of a contingency fee, which is usually a percentage of whatever compensation and damages they can recover for you.  This means that you don’t have to pay for expensive legal services up front.  Ask each attorney you speak with how much the fees will be and how and when you can expect those fees to be collected.
  • Can you trust your attorney? Before deciding who is going to argue your side in the courtroom, if it comes to that, make sure the attorney you are considering is someone you feel is honest, credible, and trustworthy. Consider reaching out to friends, family, and even other lawyers for a referral.  "In addition to personal referrals, other lawyers across North Carolina and from elsewhere routinely contact Ward and Smith to assist with litigating personal injury cases," Wilson stated.  

What You Can Expect in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case

Once you hire an attorney, the first step the attorney will take will be an initial investigation of the facts of your case.  This could include talking to witnesses, reviewing medical records, and reconstructing accidents, among other steps.  Your attorney will also want to collect more information about you and any other victims in order to understand exactly how people have been hurt and what amount of compensation might be appropriate.

Once your attorney has a good grip on the case, there will usually be some outreach to the company or individual at fault or their insurance company.  This is when your attorney can discover whether the party or parties at fault are willing to negotiate a fair settlement, or if your case needs to go further.

If the case doesn't settle at this point, your attorney will usually file a lawsuit in the appropriate county and a more formal investigation will take place.  This could include taking depositions—which, unlike oral statements made during the course of the initial investigation, involve sworn legal testimony made in a more formal setting including a court reporter— and other steps.

In North Carolina, before the lawsuit can go to court, it first has to go to mediation, where the two sides will see if they can work out a settlement without having to go to court.  If they can’t agree, then your case will proceed to trial and be argued in front of a judge and jury.  The jury will determine the facts and the judge will apply the law in your case.

Compensation and Damages

If the case works out in your favor, you can probably expect to receive some form of financial compensation and reimbursement for injuries that you and your loved ones have suffered.  The amount and kind will depend on the details of your case.

In order to forcefully argue what compensation you are entitled to, your attorney will investigate several factors, including your medical costs, lost wages, compensation for permanent scarring or disfigurement as well as the pain and suffering you have endured.  If someone’s life was lost, then the value of that person’s lost future income and the value of that person's companionship to you may be determined as a way to calculate your legal compensation in terms of money.

Of course, no financial payment can make up for harm or death.  “We can’t undo what happened,” Wilson says.  But compensation and damages can make up for some financial losses and factors such as pain and suffering, and it sends a message to all that people’s lives have value and deserve protection.

“There are people out there who are injured or even killed through no fault of their own—each is a terrible loss,” Wilson says.  “Unfortunately, wrongdoers are often not willing to admit their errors, or if they are, they may have inadequate resources with which to compensate their victims.  Also, insurance companies are in the business of making money by paying as little as they can get away with—not by automatically paying the victim the full amount of damages owed under the law.  By representing victims, we’re helping people and we’re helping their families.”

© 2022 Ward and Smith, P.A. For further information regarding the issues described above, please contact Lynwood P. Evans.

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

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