Overview Of A Personal Injury Lawsuit Part I
One who suffers personal injury to one’s body, or the family members of one who is killed as a result of another’s intentional or negligent conduct, is entitled under the American system of justice to recover money damages against the wrongdoer(s). These civil wrongs are known as a “torts.” There are other kinds of torts that occur that don’t result in personal injury such as those that involve fraud, civil theft, breach of fiduciary duty and tortious interference with a business relationship. Generally speaking, however, when one has suffered “personal injury” that person has been injured in a car accident, a slip and fall accident, or, has been intentionally injured as a result of an assault and battery or a false arrest. The most common types of damages for which money is awarded in a personal injury suit are for past and future medical bills, lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, scarring, disability, disfigurement, pain and suffering, mental anguish (if pled) and loss of the enjoyment of life.
As a board-certified civil trial lawyer the first step I take in representing a personal injury client is to meet with the client in my office or at their home to determine at the outset whether the client is truly injured and whether the client will make a good witness at trial. Making a “good witness” means that my client is truthful and that the jury will believe my client if the case ever goes to trial. A client who lies or exaggerates an injury exposes himself or herself to having their case dismissed for fraud. And any lawyer who represents such a client is subject to monetary sanctions and disciplinary problems with the Florida Bar. That said, I am unabashed in telling you that clients have lied to me about their injuries. When that happens I have an ethical obligation to withdraw from the case. Thankfully, I have never been in the middle of a trial when I learned about the lie.
If the client is credible and has serious personal injuries and the client wants me to represent them, we sign a contingency fee agreement which is standard in personal injury cases. This fee agreement, approved by the Florida Supreme Court, basically states that if the case settles before the at-fault party (known as the “defendant”) files an Answer to the lawsuit (more about the Answer in a later post) then I’m entitled to a fee of 33 1/3% of the settlement amount. If, after the defendant answers the lawsuit and the case settles, or the jury returns a verdict which is reduced to a judgment, the contingency fee gets increased to 40% of the recovery. In addtion to signing the contingency fee agreement I have my clients sign a medical authorization and a Statement of Client Rights outlining what his rights are under the contingency fee contract (i.e., the right to cancel the contract within three days without incurring any costs or fees; the right to ask questions about my experience etc.) and a medical authorization.
In later posts I will write about the behind-the-scenes investigation process of a personal injury case, the pre-suit settlement process and the filing of the lawsuit when the pre-suit settlement process fails.