How does a personal injury lawsuit work? What do I have to do, and what does my lawyer have to do, for my personal injury lawsuit to succeed?
Anyone who has suffered a car accident or other damages as the result of someone else’s negligence has asked these questions. Personal injury attorney and founding Cohn & Swartzon partner Saar Swartzon shared answers in a recent speech based on more than three decades of legal experience – and even dispelled some myths along the way. View Speech Below:
Personal Injury Law 101
For personal injury claims to proceed, attorneys need to be able to prove that one or more individuals breached their duty of care in a way that directly led to harm or damages. This breach of duty, or negligence, is typically the basis of a personal injury claim.
One common example of negligence is when a driver fails to follow the rules of the road. When a driver violates the law and causes an accident, the driver has breached their duty of care to follow the rules of the road responsibly.
What is My Personal Injury Lawsuit Worth?
This is one of the most common questions that Attorney Swartzon receives, and his answer is always the same.
“There’s no way to identify a dollar amount at the beginning of the case,” Swartzon says, “because the attorney has to collect information and data to determine the value.”
Common components considered in a personal injury claim include:
- Injuries: Physical injuries claimed from a claim can range from cuts and scrapes to back and neck problems or more serious trauma.
- Medical Treatment: Victims will have to have received documented treatment for an attorney to make a credible case because a reasonable person would assume that the victim will get treatment if the pain and injuries are real.
- Potential Future Medical Bills: This can include the need for surgeries like knee or hip replacements, as well as ongoing treatment or physical therapy.
- Pain and Suffering: These non-economic damages include anxiety, depression, humiliation, and personal inconvenience. Dealing with the aftermath of an accident is basically a part-time job, and those costs should be factored into any personal injury settlement.
Keys to a Successful Personal Injury Claim
In Attorney Swartzon’s experience, there are two keys to a successful outcome in personal injury cases: investigation and education.
A thorough investigation is fundamental for a successful personal injury claim, and it needs to happen as early in the process as possible. This includes everything from photos of injuries and damages to recorded witness statements – because memories, like bruises, fade over time.
In car accident cases, for example, an investigation can also include black box information, airbag information, and any other relevant data that the attorneys and their team can uncover. All of it can be helpful, especially in “he-said-she-said” cases with differing perspectives on what happened.
Further, an experienced personal injury attorney will also look into the medical care history of the client. Some clients won’t tell their attorneys that they were in an accident previously, for example, or that they had treatment for preexisting conditions. By collecting that information as soon as possible, there should be no surprises as the claim proceeds.
It’s helpful to be educated on what you are entitled to, what your insurance covers, and what you need to know to make informed decisions as the case progresses.
“One of the most important things that I tell all of my clients is that this is your only opportunity to get medical care. Once you sign a release, the case is over, even if there are new problems down the road,” Attorney Swartzon said. “This is your one chance to get better.”
Potential Outcomes of a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Southern California
When a client has finished treatment, the next step is to figure out what amount of compensation to pursue.
This is where the information gathered during the investigation phase is so important, because an effective attorney will incorporate past, present, and future costs. Further, the ability to show exactly how the person has been doing in recovery lends more credibility to the case.
Economic costs like property damage and lost wages or earnings are another essential component. One area that is often overlooked, however, is the value of stories in assessing non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Sharing the client’s internal struggles to cope with the aftermath of an accident or injury can bolster the pain and suffering component of the claim.
Finally, Cohn & Swartzon takes every case on contingency, which means that the firm only collects payment if the client is awarded compensation from the claim or lawsuit. The firm’s decades of experience with personal injury cases mean that the attorneys can choose cases with a high likelihood of success, and cases where the client will receive more value than the legal fees and expenses that the case will require.