Accident litigation is a form of civil tort that seeks compensation due to the actions of another. Accident in this context refers to a broad range of unfortunate occurrences including harm caused by motor vehicles, a breach of the standard of care expected of the other party, or failure to maintain safe conditions.
An accident attorney will be able to offer you an impartial evaluation of your case and determine if you should seek damages. You may be able to win damages to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional suffering.
Where to look for an attorney
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The state or local bar association may have a directory or lawyer referral service that will be able to direct you to a qualified accident attorney. Larger states may have professional organizations of accident and personal injury attorneys specific to that state.
Preparing for an appointment
You must bring relevant items such as police, medical and insurance documents related to the accident to the appointment. This is so the accident attorney will be able to determine the claims to be made. Be sure to ask questions if you do not understand something the lawyer has said especially on the procedural matters of the case. It is the duty of the lawyer to make the case as uncomplicated as possible, but it is the duty of the client to understand the process.
In an accident, even if you may be at fault, never admit liability. You will never know the full details of an accident at the time and you may actually not be at fault. Admitting liability will destroy your ability to pursue litigation and may open you up to litigation by the other party.
You must note any injuries and medical care you had to seek as well as any statements you have made to the police. This will help the accident lawyer to shape the case and prepare an acceptable claim to be filed in court.
What is tort reform?
“Tort reform” refers to a set of ideas such as capping damages from lawsuits, imposing stricter statutes of limitations, and forcing the loser of litigation to pay the attorney fees of the other party. Your accident attorney will be aware of these laws in your state and inform you how they may affect the case being brought against you.
Evaluating Experience & Education
Advertising and name recognition are not always hallmarking of good lawyers and should never be used when evaluating an attorney.
If possible, you should try to find an accident attorney that is a member of the state or local bar association. These attorneys must adhere to the standards of professional and ethical conduct of the organization and must meet certain eligibility requirements to remain part of the organization. Some states will mandate that all attorneys be members of the bar association, thus increasing the pool of reliable lawyers that you may choose from.
Personality & Values
You and your lawyer will need to determine a strategy when facing the other party. Some lawyers may prefer to take the case to trial with hopes of winning punitive damages for the client in addition to evoking sympathy from the jury and maximizing the settlement.
This might be a less attractive option in states that have been “tort reformed.” Some lawyers never intend to take the case to court, opting to take an inferior settlement offer and collect their fees. This lawyer should be avoided if you intend to get your rightful claim. If your accident attorney would prefer to settle the case out of court, be sure to have an understanding of what will constitute an acceptable settlement.
A clear line of communication is essential for a healthy and trust client-lawyer relationship. If an attorney makes it difficult to talk or meet with him, you may want to reconsider your decision as a lack of communication may jeopardize your settlement. Be aware of additional fees that you might be charged for email and phone communication.
Be aware of unreasonable fees, illegal activity, or coercion on the part of the accident attorney. You will usually be able to determine if your attorney has your best interests in mind. Bar associations maintain dispute resolution and grievance services for clients that have issues with their accident attorney. Failing to report negligent or unethical behavior may negatively affect both you and your future clients.
Rates, Fees & Retainers
Be sure to get all details of the fee arrangement in writing before accepting services from the accident attorney. A written record is critical in the event you will need to dispute the fees.
Additionally, you will need to determine how much you will ultimately be charged for the use of the accident attorney. There are fees for document preparation, paralegal service, and other miscellaneous items that might be accrued so it is important to finalize a fee agreement.
Contingency fees are a percentage of the jury award or settlement that the accident attorney may collect. This may be limited by law in some states and subject to court review in other states. These statutory guidelines will typically place percentage caps on the fee collected, depending on the total amount of the jury award.