Step One: Evaluate You and Your Car Accident Case
You might be wondering what happens when a car accident attorney first talks to you about your case. When they first speak with you, for better or worse, they are actually evaluating you as much or more than you are evaluating them. And for good reason. You have a lot to do with whether you have a good case. Someone who is angry or defensive often does not impress jurors. So, step one, for the attorney anyway, is deciding whether you will be a good witness for yourself. This is actually a shame because whether you actually sustained damages worthy of relief does not have one real thing to do with how you come across as a person. But, still, reality is that jurors make decisions, at least when they are involved, which is not really all that often percentage-wise (because the great majority of cases settle). So why would lawyers care? Well, even if you never reach a jury, the defense attorney will still very possibly hear your “testimony,” in the form of something we call a deposition. Then they will decide what your attorney decided when they first met you–whether you would theoretically be a good or bad witness for yourself, which can influence their settlement offer. So attorneys have to assess you.
Most people are pretty good, so do not let step one worry you too much. Generally the biggest assessment involves the real meat and potatoes, or merits, of the case. Most car accident attorneys will be keenly aware of two critical issues regarding the merits of your case during their first interview with you: (1) were you “at fault” during the accident and (2) what is the extent of your damages? ”Clear liability” cases are preferred (this means you clearly were not in the wrong), although there are notable exceptions to that general “rule.” Damages are a biggie. Attorneys want to know whether your injuries are: (1) serious and (2) permanent. Sometimes the second part of that question (meaning whether the injuries are permanent) is an unknown factor at the outset of your case because you might still be going through medical treatment. So plaintiffs attorneys typically wait until treatment is either finished or has flat-lined (that is, according to the medical experts or your treating physician, not likely to continue to result in improvement) before they are prepared to settle the case.
Many potential clients find the above facts very surprising. Most have no idea that attorneys are not automatically willing to take every case, at least not those who hold their heads high. However, if you think about their position for a second, the reasons are obvious. Car accident attorneys take your case on a contingency, which means they do not get paid unless you recover. And–this might be a secret but I’ll let the cat out of the bag–lawsuits are NOT easy. They are the polar opposite of easy. They involve a significant amount of time, thought, planning, and often money (spent by the attorney). So attorneys have to make sure they take “good” cases–which means cases where they are likely to recover an amount that they deem worth the time and money spent. But this is actually good news for you because your interests are always aligned. They want to win more money for you because they make more money (not to mention the fact that some, like myself, actually care about their clients apart from the money). So car accident law is the classic win-win scenario for the attorney and client. (This is not to say that all attorneys handle cases with the same level of concern.)
Step Two: Fight Like Crazy, But Carefully
Once a car accident attorney has decided to represent your interests, the gloves come off. They then spend a considerable amount of time investigating your claim, both factually and legally. I could write a book (or really many books) about the law that potentially applies to car accident cases. The law is immense and complicated. Lawsuits are most definitely not DIY activities, even for attorneys themselves (meaning most do not ever represent themselves should the need arise). There is a tremendous amount of factual and legal research that must be done to prepare your case for settlement and/or trial.
This background research initially leads to the preparation of something called a demand letter or demand package, which the attorney sends to the insurance company, in an attempt to get them to settle your car accident case for a good amount of money without the need for filing a lawsuit in court. Even if your car accident case cannot be settled without a lawsuit, these demand letters or packages set the stage for the rest of the case in the eyes of the insurance company. The demand letters or packages differ widely in their quality levels. They are not form letters or cookie-cutter type documents. They are carefully crafted documents that tell the story of your case, both legally and factually, and lead to the conclusion that you are going to win (or not, if they are poorly written). The insurance companies do not easily settle cases, but these packages tell them whether you mean business or not. Like momentum in a football game, these letters often set the stage for the remainder of the case, once a lawsuit is filed.
In more serious car accident cases, the plaintiff’s attorney almost always has to file a lawsuit because insurance companies fight harder when more money is involved. The complexity of a lawsuit is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that lawsuits can involve months or (in really big cases) years of fighting back and forth, mostly in the form of documents called motions and discovery. These also are not cookie-cutter or cut-and-paste activities. They involve extensive research, careful consideration, and thoughtful and persuasive presentation, at least in car accident cases involving serious damages. (Cases with lower damages tend to settle more quickly and not involve as much time, money or preparation for either side.)
Personally, I take all of my cases to heart. I am very thorough and diligent and careful at all phases of preparing for settlement and/or trial. If you need a car accident attorney, I hope that you will give me a call so that I can tell you more about what is involved in a lawsuit and how I might be able to help you.