Let’s say you’ve been injured in an accident, and you decide to talk with a personal injury lawyer to find out if you have a case. How does the lawyer decide whether to take your case or not? Most people have no idea what factors are used in evaluating injury cases. Hopefully this information will help shed light on the process. 

The first thing a lawyer wants to know is “what TYPE of case is it?”. There are many types of injury cases – auto accident, medical malpractice, on-the-job injuries, and many, many more. Some injury lawyers will not handle worker’s compensation claims or Social Security disability claims or claims that only involve property damage. Other injury lawyers might handle some or all of these types of claims. A lawyer will need to determine if it’s the type of matter that he or she can handle before accepting your case. 

The next factor is “WHERE did the accident or injury occur?”. The law that applies to your case will often depend on the geographic location of the accident. The laws and requirements for bringing a case can vary greatly from state to state and some types of cases may be governed by federal law instead of state law. The location and the type of law that applies to your case will govern where the case needs to be filed and whether your attorney can handle it. For instance, if you are in an auto accident in Idaho, it may be that an attorney in Alabama will not be able to handle the case or will need to associate attorneys in Idaho to help with it. 

Once the type of case and location are determined, it is important to know “WHEN did the accident occur?”. All cases have their own statute of limitations,   which is the time period within which a case must be filed. This limitation period will be different for different types of cases and for different states and jurisdictions. In Alabama, for example, most auto accident cases have a two (2) year statute of limitations, after which the case cannot be filed. If you wait too long and contact a lawyer after this period has expired, there will be nothing he or she can do for you. 

Next, a lawyer will want to examine the “liability” issue, that is, “who was AT FAULT?” in causing you to get hurt. Here again, different types of cases have different elements that must be proven in order to hold someone at fault. Often the lawyer can assess fault based on your description of what happened or upon reviewing the accident report, but at other times – such as medical malpractice or defective product cases – it might take longer and require the hiring of an expert witness to review everything and render an opinion.  

An additional factor affecting liability is whether you were also partially at fault in causing the accident. Under Alabama law, if you are even 1% at fault in contributing to the cause of the accident, you are completely barred from recovering anything. Under maritime law and the law of some other states, your recovery could be reduced by your percentage of fault. 

After liability is evaluated, a lawyer will need to review the “extent of your DAMAGES”, which would include such things as how badly you are hurt, the amount of your medical bills, the amount of time you lost from work, and whether will you have any permanent disability from the injury. Often these things are not completely known at the time you first talk to a lawyer, but your lawyer will try to get a good grasp of these various items so as to make an initial assessment of the potential value of your case. 

This is important because if your injuries or damages are relatively minor, a lawyer may recommend that you bring the claim yourself in Small Claims Court, without having to hire an attorney. At other times – even with significant injuries – it may not be cost-effective for a lawyer to handle the case if it’s the type of case expected to have very high case expenses for expert witnesses, depositions, investigation and so forth. It’s not unusual for a lawyer to decline a case with good liability and significant damages where it appears that it’s going to cost more to bring the case than you’d ever get out of it.  

Applying all of these factors in evaluating your case, a lawyer may be able to immediately agree to accept your case. At other times, he or she may need additional to obtain and review records, reports, witness statements, photographs and other evidence before making a final decision. 

Lawyers at the Lattof & Lattof law firm have been assisting injury victims for over 70 years. If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident or suffered due to some defective product or toxic substance, it would be our pleasure to provide you with a FREE CONSULTATION and EVALUATION of your case and to answer any questions that you might have. Contact us today!