Overview Of Personal Injury Lawsuit Part Ii Investigation Of Merits Of Case
Once I am hired in a personal injury case I get to work on investigating the circumstances of the accident or intentional act that caused my client’s injury to determine if this is a case worth taking to trial. Or, whether it might be more beneficial to try to settle the case or even decline representation of the client. Toward this end, my first inquiry is whether the a-fault party has insurance or is self-insured. Without there being insurance to pay for my client’s damages, the only way a lawsuit makes sense is if the at-fault party is independently wealthy. This rarely is the case. Without insurance the lawyer’s job is usually an exercise in futility since any judgment against the at-fault party will not, or cannot, be paid. In fact, going to trial and getting a piece of paper (i.e., the jury verdict) stating your client has just been awarded $500,000.00 is disheartening when that award is not collectable.
As part of the investigation process I will go to the scene where the injury occurred and/or speak to witnesses whose names appear on police or accident reports to determine what they know about the event. On technical subjects such as the forces involved at impact in a car accident or the slip-resistance of a stairway in a trip and fall case, I might retain the services of an expert in these areas to assist me in making a determination of how strong case I really have.
Perhaps the most important part of the investigation of the client’s case is gathering my their medical records. The records I obtain are those concerning his or her care and treatment for the injury for which I’m representing them but also obtaining earlier records that might show the client suffered an injury to the same or other body part(s). A case where the client has a “pre-existing injury” is a defense lawyer’s dream. The defense lawyer will argue that the client was not injured in the instant case but rather is still having symptoms from an accident or injury that occurred years earlier. Of course, just because the client may have had a previous injury to the same body part does not mean that that injury is the cause of the client’s present symptoms and complaints.
More often than not the client is still undergoing medical treatment after they hire me. If this is the case, from a legal perspective there is nothing that I can do at this point other than to monitor the client’s medical progress and continue to obtain updated medical records. If the client was employed at the time of the personal injury and is now losing time from work, I’ll obtain their wage and salary information as well as past tax returns.
In the next part of this series I’ll discuss the pre-suit settlement process.