Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer: What to Expect

Our “Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer: What to Expect” article addressed the common emotions people experience when they contact us. We also discussed what you can expect from our attorneys and support staff. In this article, we’ll answer 10 of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the process and working with a personal injury lawyer. Here are the questions we’ll address:

  • When should I contact a personal injury lawyer?
  • How do I choose a personal injury lawyer in Maine, and what questions should I ask?
  • How much will a lawyer cost me?
  • What do I prepare for the first call or meeting with a personal injury lawyer?
  • How do you decide if I have a case?
  • What are the steps of a personal injury lawsuit in Maine?
  • How long will the process take?
  • What is the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Maine?
  • How much is my case worth?
  • The insurance company just offered me $50,000 to settle. Should I take it?

Q: When should I contact a personal injury lawyer?

A: If you have been injured in Maine in a car, truck, or SUV accident, or when you believe someone else was at fault for the crash, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, and absolutely before agreeing to any settlement offers from insurance companies. In fact, you should not even speak with the other driver’s insurer before speaking with a lawyer.

The priorities following a serious injury are 1) for you to focus on your recovery and medical treatment, and 2) to speak with an injury lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

Q: How do I choose a personal injury lawyer in Maine, and what questions should I ask?

A: There are several factors to consider when hiring a personal injury lawyer. First, make sure you choose a lawyer and firm with a proven record of success in cases like yours. Second, trust your instincts. You need to have a high level of comfort and trust with the person you choose to represent you, and his or her staff. Remember that the choice is up to you. You don’t have to hire the first (or even second or third) lawyer you interview.

Many lawyers claim to handle personal injury cases, but in fact have never even taken a personal injury case to trial. Some lawyers are willing to settle for a “lowball” offer from the other side, because they are more interested in volume than in results, or because they don’t have the skills and experience to maximize the value of your claim.

Here are a few questions you should ask:

  • Have you had success representing clients in cases similar to mine?
  • Does your firm have the financial resources to take on my case?
  • If necessary, are you prepared to take my case to trial?
  • What are some of the results you have obtained?

If you’re considering working with a lawyer at Berman & Simmons, we’re happy to speak with you with no commitment required. We’re available to meet with you at the hospital or your home if necessary.

Q: How much will a lawyer cost me?

A: The lawyers at Berman & Simmons work on a contingency basis. That means you pay nothing up front and nothing unless we settle or win your case. We will consult with you, evaluate your situation, and do initial research free of charge. This is true even if we decide you don’t have a valid claim. We will also cover all necessary case expenses and you will not be obligated to reimburse us until and unless we recover monies on your behalf.

Q: What do I prepare for the first call or meeting with a personal injury lawyer?

A: If you have notes about what happened to you, driver insurance information, names of any witnesses, photos of the accident damages or injuries, and perhaps even some medical records, that’s great. Bring this information if you have it, but it’s not necessary. Really all you need to do is be yourself, speak with us honestlyand be willing to tackle your problems with us. We’ll ask you to explain to us in your own words what happened and how your life has been affected.

Call us, fill out the simple form on our website, or stop by one of our offices in Portland, Lewiston, or Bangor to start the process. Initial conversations between potential clients and our staff members are often done over the phone. Everything we discuss is confidential and protected under law.

Q: How will you know if I have a case?

A: We will let you know if we believe you have a valid claim after the initial call or meeting with you. Our attorneys and staff will then take it from there and do everything else that needs to be done, including obtaining and reviewing records relevant to your case, such as accident reports and other law enforcement documents, employer records, medical records, and other information.

We will need to prove that you suffered a substantial personal injury and the injury was directly caused by the negligence of another party. We let you know if we are able to move forward with the legal process, or if we don’t think you have a case.

Q: What are the basic steps of a personal injury lawsuit in Maine?

A: Here are the basic steps of a personal injury lawsuit.

  • Client Meeting – During our initial client meeting, we will learn more about your accident, your injuries and medical treatment, and how it has affected your life. We will answer your questions and explain the entire process to you.
  • Case Workup – After our initial meeting, we will work-up the case by completing any investigations about the accidents, gathering necessary evidence, and engaging experts when needed. During this time, we will also monitor your medical progress.
  • Pre-suit Settlement – In many cases, we are able to negotiate a settlement even before filing a lawsuit. When the pre-suit settlement is favorable for you, litigation may not be necessary.
  • Filing of a Lawsuit – If we are not able to settle the case pre-suit, we will file a lawsuit in court, initiated by the filing of a formal Complaint which is served to the opposing party.
  • Discovery – Once the suit is filed, the parties involved engage in formal “discovery,” a period in which all sides learn more about their opponent’s case. Discovery often includes depositions of the key people involved in the case and can take several months.
  • Trial – When your case can’t be resolved pre-trial, we are prepared to take it to court where the dispute will be decided by a jury, or in some cases, a judge.

Q: How long will it take to resolve a case?

A: Every case is different, and there is no way to predict how long it will take for your case to be resolved. Some cases are resolved in a matter of months, while the most complex and challenging cases can span several years. The vast majority of cases, however, are resolved before a trial and usually within a year.

The overall goal, however, is to make sure you receive fair compensation for your injuries, whether that comes in the form of a pre-trial settlement, or with a jury verdict in your favor. Insurance companies and defense attorneys are more likely to offer fair settlements when they are up against lawyers who have a record of success at trials.

Q: What is the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Maine?

A: In general, you have six years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit in Maine. However, there are a number of special circumstances that can shorten or extend that timeframe. The only way to know for sure is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible

Q: How much is my case worth?

A: Again, every case is unique. It takes a team effort — including your attorney, staff researchers, and outside experts — to determine the extent of your damages and how much compensation you deserve.

There are two types of damages for which you could receive compensation: Economic and non-economic.

Economic damages include damages that can be calculated or fairly estimated, such as past and future medical expenses, lost wages and lost earnings potential. Expert witnesses can testify about how the injury impacted the person’s ability to earn a living in the future. These type of damages are sometimes referred to as “out of pocket” expenses.

Non-economic damages compensate victims for losses that are much harder to assign a specific dollar amount. Pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, the loss of companionship from a loved one, or permanent loss of function or permanent disfigurement are all types of non-economic damages.

Q: The insurance company just offered me $50,000 to settle. Should I take it?

A: Though they try hard to convince you otherwise, insurance companies are not on your side after an accident. They are focused on one goal: maximizing profits. How do they do it? By paying out as little as possible in claims.

Insurance companies often make unreasonably low offers of compensation to accident victims, while describing those offers as “fair” or even “generous.” They are counting on the fact that most consumers won’t know how much compensation they deserve.

In some cases, the offers are indeed fair. If that is true for your offer, we will advise you to accept it. But if we feel the offer is not fair and know we can do better, we are prepared to stand up for your rights, making sure you receive full compensation for your injuries.

Read more about insurance company tactics here.