People often think of personal injury law as synonymous with billboard advertisements and television commercials. But can we, please, remove the opaque commercial lens and get to the heart of the matter: “What does a personal injury attorney do?”
First, we start with a short conclusion, second, we will examine the problem personal injury lawyers solve, and third, we will go into some detail about what a personal injury attorney does.
This post is solely my opinion and is not to be considered as legal advice. Nor does this post create an attorney-client relationship. Every case is unique. And there could be tasks or measures mentioned below which would not be taken in a particular case. Or there may be tasks necessary to a particular case which are not mentioned below.
A personal injury attorney can help you with the long list of tasks you have to deal with after, for example, breaking your arm in a car accident. This universe of tasks after being unexpectedly and seriously injured has a lot to do with insurance coverage. Specifically, who will pay what for the impact the broken arm has on your life.
We begin answering our question “What does a personal injury attorney do?” by seeking to understand the problem. Because published research clearly demonstrates –– if you have been seriously injured, you are at risk of financial peril.
A Harvard study found 62.1% of bankruptcies in the United States have a medical cause.
Himmelstein DU, Thorne D, Warren E, Woolhandler S. Medical bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: results of a national study. The American Journal of Medicine. 2009 Aug;122(8):741-746. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.04.012.
And the same Harvard study found ¾ of the medical debtors had health insurance. Id.
“Our findings are frightening. Unless you’re Warren Buffet, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.” Dr. David Himmelstein, co-author, Medical bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: results of a national study.
A recent study published by the American Journal of Public Health confirms medical bankruptcies are even more common today.
David U. Himmelstein, Robert M. Lawless, Deborah Thorne, Pamela Foohey, and Steffie Woolhandler, 2019: Medical Bankruptcy: Still Common Despite the Affordable Care Act American Journal of Public Health 109, 431_433, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304901.
If you are unexpectedly and seriously injured, it will cost money. For example, if you break your arm in a car wreck, medical expenses begin accumulating. Medical expenses can include emergency medical services, surgery, physical therapy, check-ups, pain management, etc.
Aside from medical bills, other expenses accrue after an injury as well. Expenses such as missing work, repairing damaged property, paying for childcare during medical procedures, etc. And after a serious and unexpected injury, you also may encounter pain and suffering.
The term “pain and suffering” refers to the physical and mental impact an injury can have on you. For example, pain in your shoulder when sitting at your desk or mental anxiety or depression in the wake of the injury. If you have had a serious injury or even just a routine surgery, then you know how pain can make everyday life more difficult –– from dressing yourself to bathing to having to forego sports, hobbies, and the other the things you love to do.
But why do you need a lawyer after you are injured? You pay a premium for health insurance and car insurance each month. And when you are seriously injured in a car accident, your car insurance and your health insurance should fairly “cover” your losses and medical treatment. Well, we live in a fallen world. And as the Harvard study above shows, insurance companies do not always render adequate compensation.
I’m not going to waste your time lambasting insurance companies. But the basic economics is this: your insurance company is very careful about how much the company pays you for coverage after an injury. The thought is, if insurance companies pay out too much money, they would go broke. And in the insurance industry's quest to be careful and conservative, they often get the compensation piece wrong. And when insurance companies get it wrong, good, honest people are often left out in the cold.
Once you are injured in an accident, who pays what? If you have health insurance, what portion of the medical bills do they pay? Does your car insurance pay anything? Does the other vehicle’s insurance policy pay anything? What is personal injury protection? How do you avoid the financial peril that the Harvard study proved you are at risk for?
Ensuring insurance companies fairly compensate you after an injury can be difficult in Florida. When it comes to who must pay what, many Florida Statutes, common law legal concepts, standards, and strategies become relevant. Personal Injury Protection, demand letters, the duty of care, the “reasonableness standard,” strict liability, premises liability, bad faith, depositions, trials, appeals, uninsured motorist policies, just to name a few.
I’m sure you could learn the underlying legal concepts and strategies of personal injury law if you wanted to. But it’s difficult to begin a legal education for the purpose of representing yourself right after you have been seriously injured.
It can be especially difficult to learn the relevant law while you attempt to continue the other important work or activities you were doing prior to the injury. And even before an injury, it’s just not scalable for everyone to know everything. And so, the need for personal injury attorneys.
III. What Personal Injury Attorneys Do
Every case is different, but the big picture is this: a competent personal injury attorney will be familiar with the different tasks which need to be completed after your injury. And your personal injury attorney is supposed to draw on their experience and knowledge to advocate for you to receive fair compensation for your injuries. Because if you are not fairly compensated, research shows you could be at risk for financial peril.
On a practical level, if you consider hiring Beacon Legal PLLC, we will have a first meeting, or a consultation, with you to assess your case. During this stage, I will listen intently. And I will draw off my knowledge of the law and experience practicing personal injury law to determine what tasks need to be done for your case. If I determine your matter is something I can help with, and there is not a conflict of interest, we will then go through the necessary paperwork to take you on as a client.
It’s important to note that you pay nothing out of pocket for the consultation, or anything for that matter unless you receive compensation. This is called a “contingency fee” contract.
The contingency fee contract is just one mechanism that allows personal injury law to help solve the medical expense problem listed in Section II. By operating under a contingency fee contract, you do not have the barrier to entry of paying an attorney while you are already in a precarious financial position due to your injury.
Once you are my client, I am available to you at any time to answer your questions, or just to listen. I will help you navigate the precarious personal injury protection process under Fla. Stat. 627.736 and begin to gather evidence from the venue of your injury, such as a crash report or surveillance footage. I will also take the necessary steps of contacting the appropriate parties, such as insurance companies, to make them aware you are represented by counsel.
I will help you evaluate any initial offers of compensation from any party, and help you track your medical bills as you continue your medical treatment. I will also draft any appropriate legal memorandum if necessary, regarding how legal doctrine or rules may apply to your specific case facts.
With your permission, I will help gather your medical bills and records to prepare as evidence for your case. I will assemble these records and bills into a “demand package,” or a letter to the appropriate party or insurance company to advocate for your fair compensation. If you do not agree with the insurance company or opposing party’s offer for compensation, then I will help you file a lawsuit.
The lawsuit starts with a complaint, or a summary of the pertinent facts of your case with a demand for compensation for your injuries from the other party, or the defendant. Once litigation ensues, you will then have subpoena power and the mechanisms of “discovery” at your disposal. This means you can use legal procedures to gather evidence necessary to prove your case.
Throughout the life of your lawsuit, there will likely be ongoing negotiations. For example, the other side will offer you an amount, and you will have the option to accept or deny the amount. There will also likely be deposition(s), a mediation, motions filed, hearings on those motions, and other intricacies of litigation in Florida leading up to the trial. After the trial, there could also be an appeal or multiple appeals.
The tasks mentioned above are not inclusive of everything personal injury attorneys are responsible for, and a personal injury attorney may not handle everything listed above, such as the appeals or other aspects not anticipated on your employment contract. But needless to say, there is a lot to personal injury law, both before filing a lawsuit and afterward. And what personal injury attorneys do is help clients navigate through the myriad of tasks that need to be completed to receive fair compensation for the client’s injuries.
If you need legal assistance with a personal injury matter, call Beacon Legal PLLC at (352) 340-2418. I cannot promise results in any particular case. I cannot promise that I will be able to represent everyone in every matter. But what I can promise you is that I will listen to you with the utmost empathy and respect. And I will you give you my time so you can feel heard, and potentially hire me as your attorney.