What is a catastrophic loss? Is my loss the right case for your office?
A catastrophic loss is an injury where the person is unable to return to that individual’s given occupation at the same level as before. That occupation can be anything—mechanic, truck driver, electrician, ironworker, elevator repairman, judge, doctor, lawyer, homemaker, retiree, or student. Catastrophic losses also include serious injury or death to a child and the death of a loved one. An injury deemed catastrophic for one person might not be catastrophic for another. For example, a torn Achilles tendon probably would not force one of our lawyers to switch careers, while that same injury might cause a professional athlete to permanently switch careers. If you have any doubts or questions about whether your case is right for our office, contact us so that we can talk about your case.
I was injured while I was at work. Some of my friends have told me that I cannot sue because of that. What are my rights?
Generally, when you are injured at work, you are covered by workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system through which your medical care and a portion of your wages are covered when you are injured. In general, you cannot sue your employer for an injury at work. There are extensive exceptions to this rule. For example, if your employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance, you can sue your employer. You may be able to bring a lawsuit against other parties who may be responsible. Some examples: a large construction project where your injury may be the result of the actions of another subcontractor or general contractor on the site; a car accident where you are “on the clock” or driving a company vehicle and you are involved in an accident with another car; or you are at work and your accident is the result of a defective product or machine.
Workers’ compensation can help you get by initially. Generally, it does not compensate you for the full extent of your losses. Given the large number of exceptions, we recommend you speak to a lawyer to see if your situation is among them.
Our office handles a large number of cases that are governed by both a workers’ compensation claim and a civil lawsuit. We have a specific team of lawyers that can assist you in these cases. We can also help you find a workers’ compensation lawyer. There are many nuances involved and it is best to have lawyers who are experienced in dealing with both types of cases in order to maximize your benefits.
How long do I have after my accident or injury to file a lawsuit or make a claim?
Cases generally need to be filed within a time frame known as a “statute of limitations.” Failure to file your case within this period of time can forever bar you from recovering money damages in your case. The amount of time one has within which to act varies, based on the type of case. Some limitation periods for administrative remedies are as short as 30 days from the date of the incident. It is in your best interest to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible to make sure that your rights are preserved and that you do not miss any critical deadlines.
I am afraid I may have missed my statute of limitations – what can I do?
You should contact a lawyer immediately to talk about your case. Let the lawyer know that you have a concern about the statute of limitations. You may be mistaken about whether you have missed your statute of limitation window. Even if you have missed the deadline, there may be certain exceptions that might allow you to still obtain compensation for your losses. It is best to get an answer to this question as quickly as possible.
What can I expect during the initial consultation?
Generally, we will initially speak with you over the telephone to learn a little about your case and to see if we are the right lawyers for your case. If it looks like we might be able to help you, we will usually schedule an in-office visit. In some situations, we will come visit you.
During the meeting, we will look at any documents you have that relate to your case. These include accident reports, medical records, pictures, and anything else you may have collected. We will talk with you about the litigation process and how we may be able to help. If it becomes clear that your case is one where we can help and you decide that you would like us to be your attorneys, we will enter into a retainer agreement that governs our services and your role in the case.
After the initial meeting, we will schedule a further meeting to take down detailed information that we need to assist you in your case. This information includes names of doctors and witnesses, work history, educational background, and general information that helps us understand what makes you and your situation unique.
I like my current lawyer but am wondering if he or she has all the resources needed to win my case.
Sometimes as a case proceeds, it becomes clear that more lawyers, staff, finances, or expertise is needed than your attorney had originally foreseen. Our office frequently works with other law firms in these instances and we come in as trial counsel or provide added “muscle” for a case. Contact us so we can speak about your situation and determine whether or not we can be of assistance in helping your current attorney.
Will I be charged for my initial conversation with you or any of your legal assistants?
No. We are happy to speak with you about your case and help you determine whether we can assist you–without an initial charge. Once we take a case, our fees and our costs generally come from the recovery when your case settles. Because there is no downside to speaking to us about your case, you should consider taking advantage of this opportunity to get the information you need and help preserve your rights.
Where can I learn about other cases that you have handled?
A large number of representative cases are available on our website.
What do you charge for representing me?
Any discussion with our office about your potential case is free of charge. If you decide that you would like us as your attorneys and we decide that we would like you as our client, we will then enter into a fee agreement for the case. The attorney fees we charge range between 12-50% for different types of cases. In a typical personal injury lawsuit, our office charges 33% of the recovery prior to filing a complaint and 40% of the recovery after. Clients will also be responsible for costs that are incurred in the case. These costs include the costs of filing, taking depositions, investigators, research, experts, and other case costs. Depending on the complexity of the case, these costs can be thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These costs are usually advanced by our office during the course of the case and if we recover money for your case.
Why do you charge what you charge?
Most people cannot afford to go out and hire a lawyer for hundreds of dollars an hour to represent them, nor can they afford to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs needed to win a complex case. In taking your case, we take a significant risk. We face the possibility of not getting paid for all the time that our lawyers and staff put into your case. We also face the possibility of losing thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs that we advance towards your case. The percentages charged in these types of cases, known as contingency fee cases, take into account the risk of losing in each case. Contingency fee arrangements give an individual access to top-notch lawyers who can help you with your case and help you prevail against companies who can afford to pay armies of lawyers to try to defeat your claim.
What happens if I lose? Will I be responsible for any of the fees or costs?
Generally, you are not responsible for reimbursing us for our attorney fees or for any of the thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs advanced in your case if you do not prevail. The precise terms for your case will be governed by the fee agreement in your case. Under certain circumstances, you may be asked to repay the defendant for the costs it may have put into a case.
Can I change lawyers once I have hired your firm?
A client has a right to change lawyers in any situation. If you decide that our firm is not right for your case, we will withdraw from representation. We may be entitled to attorneys’ fees for the time we have spent on your case and we are entitled to be reimbursed for any costs we have expended on your case. We also ask that you let us know what caused you to reach that decision so that we can evaluate and improve our service to future clients.
What are my responsibilities as a client?
Our job is to help you recover money damages for your loss. Your job is to help us do that. A client is asked to cooperate by providing information and materials that we request in a timely manner, by showing up for appointments and depositions, and by attending trial. The full extent of your responsibilities and our responsibilities in your case are set forth in our retainer agreement.
How often will I be provided with updates about my case?
We immediately contact clients when a major event has occurred or when we need to convey a settlement offer. We also contact clients when we require information or need to make or confirm dates regarding depositions, mediations, or trial. While we generally do not provide regular progress reports during the course of a case, our team structure ensures that there is always someone available to answer your questions.
What is my case worth?
This simple question is exceedingly difficult to answer. To provide a better understanding about case value, it helps to learn about how the civil justice system approaches compensation for loss and learn some terms that will apply to your case.
The civil justice system has attempted to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem—trying to put a dollar value on a loss that is unique in every case. Determining the dollar value for the injury or death of an individual is akin to coming up with a value for a Van Gogh—it can be done but requires more detailed analysis than coming up with a value for a gallon of milk. The designers of the legal system determined that while difficult, assigning a dollar value for loss was better for society than compensating an injured person by allowing that person to inflict a similar injury on the defendant.
Most people have not had to go through the civil justice system before and have no understanding of how an injury is valued. The general public has frequently heard about certain well-publicized large verdicts. These statistical outliers might cause one to believe that every case is worth millions of dollars—a mistaken assumption. In order to get past those assumptions we need to go through some terms.
Exposure is the highest potential value of a case—what the defendant may be exposed to having to pay. It is a number that could be potentially returned by a jury with the evidence viewed in your favor and with your story being communicated to an understanding jury. Exposure is comprised of economic damages and non-economic damages. In certain circumstances exposure may also include punitive damages.
Economic damages are damages to the pocketbook. These are damages that are quantifiable in some fashion. They include past wage loss, future wage loss, past medical expenses, future medical expenses, past loss of household services, and future loss of household services. Economic damages are sometimes referred to as “special damages.” These numbers are quantifiable because doctors, economists, and other experts can help provide analyses as to the total cost of past losses, and the likely cost of future losses. Calculating these numbers requires a detailed analysis of your medical condition, your occupation, what permanent limitations you may have, and how those limitations will affect your ability to perform your work. Most of the time it will be several months into a case before these numbers can be fully quantified.
Non-economic are damages to the person. These are damages for the changes in a person’s life, loss of self-worth, and for living a life marred by pain and disfigurement. Non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as “general damages.” Juries sometimes use the economic damages as a measure of non-economic damages. For example, in relatively small cases where a client’s injuries may have fully resolved, a jury may value non-economic damages to be to two or three times the economic damages. In cases where someone has suffered catastrophic injuries, juries can return non-economic damages that are many times the economic damages, sometimes upwards of six to ten times the amount. We feel it is important to get to know our client so that we tell the individual’s story to a jury. Juries who understand the full extent of harm are more likely to award just compensation for these non-economic losses.
Punitive damages are available in particular situations. These damages are typically available where a defendant has acted with a conscious disregard for human life or safety, or acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. These damages are evaluated by looking at the extent of harm a person has suffered and balancing that against the defendant’s culpability for that harm.
In evaluating a case, we make assessments of the compensation a jury might find for economic damages and non-economic damages. This figure is the exposure. Exposure can then be decreased by the potential fault of other people—other defendants, an employer, or the client’s own fault. It may also be reduced by the difficulty of prevailing at trial. Other intangible factors can affect the exposure number, such as the believability or likeability of particular witnesses in a case.
At the end of the day, the question of what your case is worth is exceedingly complex and it is why cases go to trial–because the parties cannot agree on the value of your case.
How do I decide whether to settle my case?
Our firm has a great deal of experience in trying cases. It also pays for access to proprietary databases where large numbers of verdicts and settlements have been collected. While each case is different, this information can provide insight into what juries might do with a particular injury or in a particular county. During the course of litigation, we can provide you with feedback as to whether we believe we have a chance of prevailing over a settlement offer.
Usually, settlement offers fall within three ranges. The first is a settlement offer that is too low and where one should proceed to trial. The second is a settlement offer that is in the ballpark for your case. We may get more or we may get less at trial but it is a number that you should seriously consider. The third is a settlement offer that is so high that it would be silly for you not to accept the offer. We provide counsel to a client about offers. This is why a client hires us–for expertise. Our firm has the privilege of helping many clients in many different cases. You will typically suffer just one catastrophic event in your life. As a result, the final decision to accept or reject a settlement offer is yours to make.
How long will the process take?
For a more complete answer to this question, review Understanding the Litigation Process. Generally, cases take two to four years from the date of filing the complaint until they resolve. Cases will take longer if an appeal is involved.