Most St. Petersburg personal injury lawyers will offer you a free initial consultation if you have a potential claim to discuss with them. Take advantage of this opportunity because you might gain valuable information about the size and credibility of your claim that way.
Come prepared to thoroughly vet the lawyer so you will know what to say if they offer to represent you. Following is a list of suggested questions.
What Kinds of Cases Do You Usually Handle?
Of course, you need a lawyer who focuses on personal injury law. But that alone is not enough, because personal injury is a very broad area of practice. What type of claim would you bring to the lawyer if you hired them? A car accident claim? A slip and fall claim? A product liability claim? A medical malpractice claim? A nursing home abuse claim?
These types of claims make very different demands on a personal injury lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer, for example, probably has a better understanding of medicine than the average lawyer. They are also likely to have cultivated strong professional relationships with various expert medical witnesses who can help you win your claim. On the other hand, a car accident lawyer might be known and feared by the local auto insurance adjusters.
What is Your Fee Structure?
Almost any personal injury lawyer will offer you a contingency fee structure. If they try to charge you by the hour, you might consider searching for another option.
How the Contingency Fee Structure Works
Under a contingency fee structure, the lawyer will charge you a pre-agreed percentage of your eventual compensation (either a judgment or a settlement).
Thirty-three percent is a common figure. Under a 33% arrangement, if you win $100,000 the lawyer will get $33,000. If you win nothing, the lawyer will get nothing.The advantage of a contingency fee arrangement is that it gives your lawyer a financial incentive to maximize your compensation.
One potential wild card in contingency fee arrangements is case expenses. Your lawyer will probably rack up various expenses—investigation expenses, travel expenses, expert witness fees, and even court fees (even if there is never an actual trial). These fees can sometimes be quite substantial. How will your lawyer handle them? Hopefully, they will pay them in advance and deduct them from your compensation only if you win.
What are My Chances of Victory?
No lawyer can guarantee you victory any more than a stockbroker can tell you what the market will do tomorrow. All they can do is offer you odds.
After interviewing you and examining evidence, a lawyer can make an educated guess about your chances of success. Due to the typical fee structure used by most personal injury attorneys (if they lose they work for free), most will not take your case if they believe they cannot win it.
What is Your Record at Trial?
One of the great ironies of personal injury law is that if you want to avoid trial, you should select a lawyer who has been there a lot. Your leverage in settlement negotiations is based almost completely on your ability to take your claim to trial and win there. After all, if you can’t force the defendant to pay, why should they negotiate with you?
A lawyer with a long string of trial victories has proven they can force the defendant to pay. Trials are expensive for insurance companies. Most of them will gladly settle, even for more than they would rather pay, than face a “tiger lawyer” at trial. Additionally, trials are public and they do not offer good publicity.
What Damages Can I Recover?
This question elicits an educated guess about the type and amount of damages you might qualify for. Your chances of winning various forms of damages depend on the specific facts of your case.
Economic damages compensate you for tangible losses—medical expenses, lost earnings, and various out-of-pocket expenses arising from your accident (child care while you are in the hospital, for example). Economic damages are typically easy to calculate, but they can get tricky if you are demanding damages for future medical expenses or lost earnings.
Non-economic damages compensate you for psychological and emotional harm. They might include, for example, compensation for physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.
Most Florida courts are reluctant to award punitive damages even to otherwise victorious claimants. Punitive damages go to the victim even though their purpose is to punish the at-fault party. To win punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant’s behavior was outrageous in some way. The burden of proof is higher for punitive damages than it is for economic and non-economic damages.
Modified comparative fault can cause a potential deduction from your damages — or it can prevent a financial recovery. If the Florida accident was 50% or less your fault, a court will deduct money from your damages. A court does this by assigning each party a percentage of fault for the accident and then deducting the victim’s percentage of fault from their awarded compensation.
However, if the accident was over 50% your fault, you will not be able to recover from the other party.
How Long Will It Take to Resolve My Case?
No lawyer can tell you for certain how long your case will take to resolve. Nevertheless, after listening to your story, your lawyer might be able to give you a ballpark estimate. Most cases resolve at the settlement table, and most parties reach settlements within a few weeks to a few months.
Contact a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation
There are two mistakes you can make when seeking a lawyer to represent your personal injury claim. The first mistake is to wait too long to take action. You should act quickly to enforce your personal injury claim, because claims can get “cold” over time as evidence deteriorates and witness memories fade. The second mistake is to rush into hiring a lawyer without properly screening them. Find a happy medium in between these two extremes.