A fair question. Sometimes injured people come to me and are worried about medical bills piling up and missing work but they are afraid to do anything because they are scared to go to court or scared to “ruin someone’s life” by filing a lawsuit. Some people incorrectly think that if you hire a personal injury attorney to help you with your car accident claim or slip and fall claim, that you automatically will be suing someone. Not every personal injury leads to a valid “claim” and not every claim leads to a “lawsuit”. When a potential client comes to me and tells me his/her story, one of the first things I do is determine if I think the person has a valid injury claim. There are several questions to answer in making this determination.
Was the potential client injured?
Usually, the potential client is injured or he/she wouldn’t have come to me in the first place so typically, this is an easy one to answer.
What appears to have caused the injury?
If the potential client has been in a car accident or recently fell on ice or snow, this is typically another easy one to answer. But sometimes, it is a bit more complicated. Sometimes, the potential clients have taken a medication and are now experiencing symptoms that they have heard are linked to the medication. Sometimes, the potential clients have recently had a medical procedure and is experiencing severe complications. Other times, while the potential client was recently involved in an accident, it is difficult to tell if the current symptoms (sore back, sore neck) were really coming from the impact in the accident or a result of longstanding arthritis. These are all questions that have to be evaluated. I try to explain to clients that just because you are hurting, doesn’t mean there is a claim.
Did someone else do something wrong to cause the injury?
With car accident cases, a quick review of the police report can typically answer this question. Sometimes, it is required that I travel to the scene and/or interview witnesses. It is very rare that a car crash is not caused by someone’s carelessness. This is why I typically refer to these incidents as “car crashes” instead of “car accidents”. I typically find that the at-fault driver was somehow distracted at the time of the crash. It is a choice to put on makeup while driving, to text while driving, to reach down to grab something while driving. To call this an “accident”, in my opinion, is not fair to the injured party. With regard to medical malpractice claims, defective product claims, dangerous drugs claims, this question is closely tied to the above question. Perhaps the person is indeed injured and/or suffering but the pain stems from something completely unrelated to recent treatment or recent medication taken. Sometimes things are simply coincidences. Sometimes things go wrong during surgeries that even the best doctor, the most prudent doctor, cannot prevent. Therefore, it is very important to evaluate this question prior to moving forward.
If I do determine that there is a legitimate claim to make on behalf of the potential client, this does not mean that the legal claim will turn into a lawsuit (a case filed in a court of law). Sometimes the insurance adjuster for the negligent (at fault) person will pay the claim in a reasonable matter. Other times, the adjuster will delay payment, will argue that there is no liability, or will discount the claim and not pay the injured person what he/she deserves. Under such circumstances, I always recommend that the client not let the insurance company take bully him/her. A lawsuit should be filed under such circumstances. This doesn’t always mean that there will be a trial in front of a jury. Some lawsuits resolve before trial. And remember, while you will be suing the car driver, property owner, or doctor that hurt you, it is usually an insurance company that will pay. Granted, under some circumstances the at-fault (careless) person may have to pay, more often than not, this doesn’t happen. Although I should point out that the at-fault person’s insurance rates may go up. I try to explain to my client that the injuries are not his/her fault and he/she has an absolute right to be compensated for what he/she has lost.
If you have been injured and are thinking about filing a claim, remember that not every claim is a lawsuit and not every lawsuit goes to trial. Be sure to keep an open line of communication with your attorney and explain what your concerns are. Sometimes, an attorney can bring resolution to your claim quicker than you think.
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