If you were harmed or injured because of another party’s intentional or negligent actions, you face many decisions in the wake of your injury. Hiring a personal injury lawyer to represent you is one of the most critical decisions you need to make if you choose to file a personal injury claim. A competent and qualified attorney will provide the best odds of obtaining a favorable outcome for your situation.
Although a simple internet search will produce a comprehensive list of personal injury lawyers, you need to do a little leg work to ensure that you find the right fit. This guide offers some practical advice about finding a personal injury lawyer and tips you can use to ensure that you select the right attorney to advocate for you to help seek justice from those who caused you harm.
Personal Injury Practice Areas
Any licensed attorney can legally represent you in a personal injury claim. Yet, types of injuries vary, as do the laws that apply to each particular case. It’s in your best interest to find a personal injury attorney who specializes in the practice area that applies to your injury. This maximizes your chances of a positive outcome to your claim. Your attorney should be committed to client service and professional excellence in their practice area, although it’s not uncommon for personal injury lawyers to focus on more than one area of law.
Attorneys who specialize have gained specific knowledge and experience with the laws and procedures that apply to your claim. Those who have been practicing for some time have also built a reputation with judges, defense attorneys, and insurance company representatives, all of which can benefit your case. Although dozens of personal injury practice areas exist, here are some of the most common broad categories:
- Motor vehicle accidents. If you suffered injuries in a car, truck, SUV, or motorcycle accident, you need a lawyer who understands the nuances of Florida’s no-fault insurance laws and how your mandatory personal injury protection coverage applies to your accident claim. Bicyclists and pedestrians who have been injured by a motorist also should seek counsel from a lawyer who has experience representing motor vehicle accident injury victims.
- Boating accidents. Personal injury lawyers who represent boating accident victims aren’t a hot commodity in all parts of the United States, but for many Florida residents, boating is a big part of their lives. Florida’s extensive canals, waterways, and easy access to bays, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic make boating, fishing, and watersports a popular pastime. If you have sustained injuries in a boating accident, you need an attorney who is familiar with the specific laws that apply to boats and their operation.
- Premises liability. Florida property owners have a legal obligation to maintain a safe environment for visitors who come onto their land or enter their homes or places of business. When a property owner fails to uphold this duty, dangerous accidents can happen. If you’ve been injured as a result of property owner negligence, you need a premises liability lawyer who has experience dealing with commercial and homeowners’ insurance policies. Premises liability attorneys handle a wide range of accident cases including swimming pool accidents, theme park accidents, and slip and fall accidents.
- Nursing home abuse and neglect. With one of the nation’s largest elderly populations, many Florida residents call one of the state’s nursing facilities home. Unfortunately, some nursing homes don’t offer the care our loved ones deserve and might even intentionally harm them. When you suspect or know an elder you love has been abused or neglected, you need a personal injury attorney who knows how to fight for your loved one and stop abusers from inflicting further harm on other residents.
- Product liability. When someone is injured by a defective product, they need a product liability lawyer. Although product-related injuries might be similar to those inflicted by other types of accidents, a product liability attorney has specialized knowledge of the laws and procedures related to product defects. If you’ve been injured by a defective product, your lawyer will help you hold the right parties accountable for their actions so that other consumers don’t have to suffer the same injuries.
- Wrongful death. When negligence or intentional harm results in a loved one’s death, eligible family members can seek compensation for damages under Florida law. A skilled Florida wrongful death attorney understands your loss and can help you and your family find the best way forward after the sudden and tragic loss of your loved one.
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Get a Referral for a Personal Injury Lawyer
After you have an idea of which personal injury specialization suits your case, you can find a personal injury lawyer by seeking out referrals. Start with trusted family, friends, and colleagues who might have hired a personal injury attorney in the past and can refer you to the firm that represented them in their case. If you have professional contacts who practice a different type of law, or you use the services of an estate planning lawyer, a tax lawyer, or any other type of attorney, you can also ask these contacts for a professional recommendation. If a lawyer you trust gives you the name of a personal injury attorney, you should pay attention. Lawyers will typically only recommend a peer if they respect them.
Another way to gather a referral for a personal injury attorney involves investigating the reputation of a particular lawyer or firm has among their peers. You can search the internet for Florida personal injury attorneys, but information from organizations and associations that give out awards or gather peer reviews are much more useful. Within the legal industry, three organizations provide peer reviews and awards. They are:
- Martindale-Hubbell has an online registry of more than one million attorneys who practice across the United States. Each listing includes a biography as well as peer review information. Look for an AV rating that demarcates an attorney as Preeminent, which means they have been rated by peers at the highest level of professional excellence.
- The Best Lawyers in America is an annual publication that includes a list of lawyers who have been voted for by their peers in 57 practice areas, including personal injury law.
- Super Lawyers is an annual list of exceptional lawyers from more than 70 practice areas. Only five percent of lawyers in each state have the honor of being designated as a Super Lawyer, a lawyer who demonstrates professional excellence and high achievement in their practice areas.
Schedule an Initial Consultation
Most personal injury law firms offer free consultations for potential clients. This allows you to discuss the details of your injury and share any other related information you think your attorney needs to know. Come to this meeting prepared by bringing any documentation you have with you. This can include an accident report, medical records, communication from an insurance company, and photographs. You can also use the initial consultation as a way to learn about how this lawyer would manage your case and guide you through the lawsuit, and to ask about the lawyer’s professional record.
In some cases, personal injury lawyers don’t update their clients frequently, aren’t readily available, and pass clients off to junior members of their firm. If personal attention from your attorney matters to you, make sure to address this during your consultation. Find out how frequently you can expect updates about your case and which other team members at the firm will be sharing responsibility for your case.
Ultimately, exceptional client service will help reduce your stress while you are coping with your injury and recovery. Other questions that can help you figure out if this lawyer is a good fit for you include:
- What proportion of your cases do you settle and what proportion goes to trial?
- How many cases have you litigated in the last year? In the last five years? In the last ten years?
- What is your current caseload and what is the firm’s current caseload?
- How much do you estimate my case is worth?
- Which strategies do you think will work best to prevail in my case?
- What potential issues or difficulties do you see occurring with my case?
The answers to these questions will help you learn about the attorney’s accomplishments and working style. Most importantly, you will be able to tell if they are currently active with cases, or if they are relying on past accomplishments to reel in clients. You also want to get an idea of how your attorney will advocate for you and the steps they will take to resolve your case.
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Many personal injury cases settle before going in front of a judge; however, in some cases the defense won’t offer full and fair compensation, several parties are part of the claim, or the defense denies their involvement or liability. These instances require a personal injury attorney who is comfortable in the courtroom, who knows how to fight, and who will aggressively litigate your case.
Unfortunately, litigation is not every lawyer’s strong suit and some incompetent attorneys might even urge you to settle so they don’t have to go to court. You need to find out how comfortable your potential attorney is in the courtroom. It’s in your best interest to make sure you find a personal injury lawyer to provide you competent representation in all of the potential ways your case might play out.
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Cost of Representation
The majority of personal injury law firms and attorneys offer free consultations and take cases on a contingency basis. This means that clients do not pay out-of-pocket, nor do they pay attorney’s fees upfront in the form of a retainer. Instead, the firm will deduct attorney’s fees and any other case-related costs from any compensation they secure for you in the form of a settlement or verdict in your favor.
Ask about the firm’s fee structure during your free consultation and ask for an estimate of costs and attorney’s fees. The lawyer you speak with can’t provide you an exact amount, but should give you an estimate of costs and attorney’s fees.
Many firms don’t charge you fees if you lose your case; you should also inquire about this during your consultation. Avoid any attorney who isn’t forthcoming about legal costs and attorney fees.
The Firm’s Resources
A small boutique law firm can represent you in a personal injury case, but often these firms don’t have the human capital or financial capital to build the strongest case for you against those who caused you harm. Highly complex personal injury cases can require thorough investigations. This not only includes gathering relevant documents and interviewing witnesses, but can also involve forensic testing and accident reconstruction to prove negligence and determine liability.
A personal injury lawyer must have access to their firm’s in-house investigators and other specialists or ample financial resources to enlist the help of one or more third parties. More established firms have networks of specialists and expert witnesses in place.
Examples of other experts or specialists your attorney might call upon as witnesses include forensic specialists who can give statements about accident patterns or evidence, or health care experts who can place a monetary value on catastrophic injuries requiring lifelong care. Medical experts can provide statements about the nature and cause of your injuries, which can also help support your case.
Firms with minimal resources might hire an investigator and expect you to foot the bill. During your initial consultation, ask about how the firm’s resources can help build your case, so that you can find a personal injury attorney who can help you get the compensation you deserve.
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