Posted in Law, Medical Malpractice, Motor Vehicle Incidents, Personal Injury, Products Liability, Workers' Comp, Wrongful Death

Seek Counsel or Wing It? When to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney

When a person becomes hurt or injured, whether by a defective product, a motor vehicle crash, etcetera, the decision to seek qualified counsel is rarely a simple one to make. Despite the negative perspective commonly shared between defense attorneys, insurance companies and legal system spectators; oftentimes, most people have no interest in becoming a party to a potential lawsuit. Some injured plaintiffs suffer from guilt and uncertainty which can create potentially damaging time delays relative to their claim. 

As creatures of habit, it is human nature for us to grimace at anything that could potentially inconvenience or inhibit our life routines in anyway. The mere thought of continuous medical appointments, insurance company negotiations, recorded statements and legal proceedings is enough to persuade most potential plaintiffs that their injury “isn’t serious enough” to substantiate the necessity of seeking qualified counsel. These types of thoughts have and continue to promote an unfair advantage that benefits guilty parties and insurers nationwide. 

Guilt, Uncertainty and Negative Stigma 

Feelings of guilt and uncertainty are common obstacles faced by the injured and non-represented. Questions and statements such as, “do I even have a case?”; “did I somehow contribute to my injury?” or “I wasn’t injured that bad… it will get better” are examples of plaintiff’s guilt. The injured individual may shame themselves into thinking the injury was in some way or entirely their own fault. Even if that was not the case. 

On the contrary, the negative stigma surrounding plaintiff personal injury attorneys has created a clear contradiction as to the importance of professional specialization. Questions and statements such as, “Is hiring an attorney even worth the time and money?”; or, “I can resolve this claim on my own for free” are examples of a common uncertainty/skepticism relative to the necessity of hiring representation. Attorneys are hired because they possess a thorough understanding of the laws, rules and elements associated with an injured person’s claim. 

Say for example, a child contracts a mysterious illness overnight. Would it be wise for a parent to spend time educating themselves on the illness for free? Or would it be wiser to save time by taking the child to a medical professional who specializes in pediatric infectious disease?  

In the Legal World, Time Truly Waits for No One 

The bottom line is that you simply may not have the time to answer those questions on your own. Dependent upon the type of injury/claim, each state has a statute of limitations which sets maximum limits on the amount of time following an event within which legal proceedings may be pursued. A prime example would be Texas medical malpractice claims which are governed by strict noticing requirements and deadlines. 

Though most of us over-achieving common folk typically consider ourselves skilled at any and all things – including legal procedure and statutes of limitations – it may be best that we trust an attorney who already specializes in personal injury law. 

What Do You Have to Lose?  

Most attorneys provide free consultations and will often work on a contingency fee basis. These attorneys will investigate your claim at no upfront cost to you. The risk factor for the plaintiff is very minimal considering there is no charge if the attorney doesn’t make any money.  

Personal Injury Attorneys and Motor Vehicle Crashes 

Take motor vehicle crashes for example. Though not mandatory, it is critical that the injured party hire an attorney who specializes in personal injury/motor vehicle crashes immediately following the incident. You simply cannot afford to be without counsel at any stage of the claim process.  

Personal injury attorneys who specialize in motor vehicle incidents specialize in handling all (but not limited to) the following: 

  1. Insurance company communications; 
  1. Medical treatment and future medical needs; and 
  1. Record retention and review. 

Insurance Company Communications 

The U.S. insurance industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually as per the S&P Global Market Intelligence, Insurance Information Institute. The primary business model shared across this industry revolves around minimal pay-outs to their policy holders to boost company profitability.  

These companies have entire legal departments staffed with slippery defense attorneys who have far more experience handling insurance claim cases than the average consumer. This makes the retention of specialized counsel even more imperative to obtaining fair resolution on behalf of the injured. There is a reason that both yours and the tortfeasor’s insurers have specialized attorneys in their corners, and you can bet that reason is not benefiting you.  

Medical Treatment 

Depending on the type of injury suffered, continued medical treatment is critical in order to detail, address and hopefully correct the injury sustained during the subject incident. Your attorney’s support staff can assist you with determining which providers to see for immediate treatment and for the evaluation of any and all future medical needs and expected costs. 

Records Retention and Review 

Medical records are the primary source of evidence in a personal injury claim. Your attorney’s support staff will request and review your medical records in order to summarize your injuries as they relate to the subject incident. 

There are many other tasks involved in resolving personal injury cases. The medical treatment and records are used to build strong demand letters that will lead to settled claims pre-trial. The strategies used to execute these tasks will vary greatly depending on the attorney and their specialized area of practice.  

Conclusion 

The decision to hire a personal injury attorney is difficult due to obstacles such as plaintiff guilt, uncertainty and negative stigmas surrounding the legal profession. Plaintiffs receive many helpful benefits upon retaining qualified counsel. With free consultations and a low up-front risk factor, injured plaintiffs have nothing to lose! 

So, seek counsel or wing it? When should a potential plaintiff hire a personal injury attorney? Seek qualified counsel as soon as possible! There is no specific timeframe for hiring an attorney. However, it is imperative you understand that in the legal world, time is literally of the essence!  

If you or your loved one have been injured, do not attempt to determine whether you have a compensable case.  Contact Patrick Daniel Law for a free case evaluation and let us help you! Schedule a consultation in person, over the phone or online immediately. 

Posted in Law, Maritime, Medical Malpractice, Motor Vehicle Incidents, Personal Injury, Premises Liability, Products Liability, Workers' Comp, Wrongful Death

Personal Injury Lawsuits

Personal injury claims – or tort lawsuits – arise whenever a plaintiff has suffered injury to their body or mind as opposed to damages relative to their property. Tort law allows a plaintiff to seek legal remedies in civil court for all damages caused because of a particular incident.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice claims arise when a health care provider, such as a nurse or doctor, fails to provide the appropriate level of care to a patient. In the legal context, this is often referred to as violating the standard of care—what the doctor or nurse is expected to do under the same or similar circumstances. Laws relative to medical malpractice claims vary from state to state.

Wrongful Death

When a person is killed because of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, wrongful death lawsuits are filed. These claims allow plaintiffs to seek remedies and recover damages that are different from those sought for non-fatal injuries. Most wrongful death suits stem from incidents such as medical malpractice, motor vehicle crashes, construction/commercial incidents or the use of a defective product.

Motor Vehicle Incidents

Car crashes are a major public health concern in the United States. On average, about six million car accidents occur every single year in the USA as per the CDC. Half of those individuals involved in car accidents become injured as a result. The insurance companies have teams of attorneys and adjusters on their sides with the sole mission of paying injured plaintiff’s as little as possible. Therefore, it is common for injured plaintiffs to hire a well-informed personal injury attorney to be in their corner.

Workers’ Compensation

Injuries that occur while under the scope of employment are filed as workers’ compensation claims as opposed to bringing a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. The laws relative to workers’ comp claims vary from state to state.

Premises Liability

Premises liability cases arise when dangerous conditions on someone’s property results in an injury to someone else. A common example would be a customer slipping in a store that failed to display a “wet floor” sign. Any injury caused by an owner’s carelessness or failure to maintain their property could result in a premises liability lawsuit.

Products Liability

Any individual, business or government entity who sold, designed, marketed or distributed a dangerous or defective product that causes injury could be held liable in a court of law. The four elements a plaintiff must prove are defect, causation, injury and duty. The three theories for which a plaintiff is entitled to sue are negligence – whether the manufacturer has a duty to provide a safe product; strict liability – plaintiff can sue regardless of whether the seller was negligent or not; and breach of warranty – when products have warranties that fail or cause injury.

Maritime

There are two types of maritime workers: those who meet the legal definition of “seamen” and those who work on or near the water. Unlike their non-maritime peers, seamen are not afforded workers’ compensation benefits under state or federal law. Instead, a seamen is able to pursue other remedies, including suing their employer under the Jones Act for the injuries sustained while at work. Additionally, a seaman is allowed to pursue damages against the owner of the vessel on which he was injured, as well as receive maintenance and cure.

The Jones Act, the federal law that allows a seaman to sue his employer, requires maritime employers to provide a seaman with a reasonably safe place to work and use ordinary care to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition. Unlike most negligence cases, the legal burden an injured seaman must prove to recover under the Jones Act is much lower. That is, an injured seaman, under the Jones Act, must only demonstrate that the employer’s negligence played a part, no matter how small, in the seaman’s injuries.

If you or a loved one suspects you may have a personal injury claim, it is vital that you hire a personal injury attorney who has a history of representing clients in this area. The attorneys at Patrick Daniel Law provide the expertise you need to evaluate your potential case. Our attorneys are ready to get justice for you, so visit http://www.patrickdaniellaw.com.

Posted in Career Advice, Job Duties, Law, Paralegal, Personal Injury, Top Paralegals

Personal Injury Law: Job Duties of Top Paralegals

By: Sheena Foley, PHP

There are many different avenues of specialty available for paralegals to build solid job experience and strong resumes. This article will focus on the job duties of a personal injury paralegal. Depending on the size of the firm and the actual job duties assigned to a paralegal by the handling attorney, the following responsibilities must be mastered by any top paralegal.

Intake and Client Contact

Paralegals must possess the ability to properly screen and interview potential new clients (PNCs). This means knowing what questions to ask during the initial intake and with which tone to ask them in. A useful paralegal will already have a questionnaire on hand to ensure that no information is omitted. It is the paralegal’s job to be as patient and thorough as possible in order to gain all information required for the attorney to review the claim effectively.

Medical Records

Personal injury paralegals understand the importance of medical and billing records being organized, on file and admissible in court. As a paralegal, you may be required to order, summarize, supplement and produce medical records to opposing counsel, insurance adjusters, experts, etc. throughout the case. A useful paralegal understands what to look for within the medical records and how to determine whether they are insufficient.

Ordering and receiving is only a small portion of the overall goal in reviewing a client’s medical records. Familiarity of medical terminology is critical to a paralegal’s ability to identify various injury types and any long-term effects those injuries may cause. This data is critical in the process of effectively moving personal injury cases along. A paralegal must understand medical jargon and have the ability to follow treatment recommendations and orders from treating physicians. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding medical terminology in order to determine whether surgery or future medical care and expenses are required.

Non-Medical Records

In addition to mastering the art of ordering medical records, a paralegal must also understand what non-medical records may be required to move a case along. Depending on the initial intake, some of these record types may include employment records, academic records, financial records or a declaration page from an insurance adjuster. Useful paralegals also understand FOIA requests and the importance of performing legal, scientific, technical and medical research relative to the claim.

Legal Drafting

The primary purpose of a paralegal is to make their attorney’s job easier and to assist in the process of effectively moving a case along to resolution. Therefore, it is a paralegal’s job to prepare legal motions/pleadings, demands, settlement proposals and discovery for attorney review. Top paralegals can equally draft discovery and discovery responses, inclusive of all relative objections, for their attorney’s final review and modification. Most importantly, top performing paralegals will have these items already drafted, prepared and saved to the file for the attorney’s review based primarily on staying current with the pleadings thereby staying ahead of the game. Always overachieve.

Docket Control and Calendaring

Regardless of the area of specialty, it is understood that a litigation paralegal is responsible for monitoring all deadlines and calendaring all items of importance. This item was included based only on its general importance to any paralegal’s job duties.

Expert Retention and Medical Scheduling

Upon review of a client’s medical records from treating providers, a paralegal may be required to retain and thoroughly vet a medical expert as assigned by the attorney. This will also involve obtaining dates, scheduling treatment and arranging transportation if required. This will be required for any defendant medical examinations (DMEs) as well.

Trial Preparation and Trial

Paralegals organize exhibits, trial documents and evidence into trial binders to prepare for trial. Many paralegals are responsible for setting up any peripherals and exhibits in the courtroom and they assist attorneys in preparing witnesses, submitting bench books, issuing subpoenas and assisting with voir doir. Top paralegals may also be required to assist the attorney during trial by controlling the flow of exhibits, usually with a trial software like Trial Pad. Trial paralegals are the primary intermediaries between the clients, witnesses, attorneys and court staff throughout trial.

Regardless of your current job duties or responsibilities at this stage in your career, there should never come a time when you stop learning and striving to be a better paralegal. Always utilize your peers and share information that will lead to the growth of your team. I have worked with some amazing paralegals during my career and from them all; I have gained something substantial, inspiring, thought provoking or informative at the very least. Being trainable, approachable, flexible and self-starting are all traits which will lead to a successful paralegal career.

Posted in Career Advice, Law, Legal Advice, Paralegal, Unauthorized Practice

Paralegals And Unauthorized Practice Of Law

LawCrossing.com

Paralegals are prohibited from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and, if they do so, can be fined or even imprisoned. The purpose of this prohibition is presumably to protect consumers from being advised by unqualified individuals. The courts are also concerned about lay people engaging in legal practices when they are not governed by the same ethical restraints that apply to attorneys. Some, however, believe that the true purpose of this prohibition is to protect attorneys from competition by lay people who can provide comparable services for less money.

The state statutes prohibiting non-lawyers from practicing law do not clearly define “practice of law.” The Model Code (see below) defines it as any activity that calls for the exercise of professional judgment, which is defined as “the educated ability to relate the general body and philosophy of law to a specific legal problem of a client.” (EC 3-5) The courts have struggled with the ambiguity of these definitions and have concluded that certain tasks are prohibited. Paralegals cannot, for example, appear in court to present cases or argue motions. They can, however, represent clients at certain administrative hearings, such as those at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Patent Office.

Lawcrossing.com

They also cannot give legal advice, although what constitutes legal advice is not always clear. Generally speaking, any advice about how to achieve a particular legal result or how to resolve a specific legal problem is giving legal advice. In other words, paralegals can provide information of a factual nature but cannot offer information involving subjective judgments. They can respond to questions such as “What happens now that we have filed a complaint?” by talking about the timelines that must be adhered to, the court papers the defendant must file, the options available to the defendant, and so on. They are not permitted to respond to a question such as “What do you think our chances of prevailing in this lawsuit are?” other than suggesting that the individual contact the attorney assigned to the case. In small offices, in particular, paralegals are often tempted to walk the edge of law practice by clients who want them to give information, make projections, and discuss strategies. Clients turn to paralegals because they cannot get what they want from attorneys who are either unavailable or unwilling to speculate. But paralegals must resist the temptation to inappropriately advice clients, even when they are desperate for information.

Paralegals can draft legal documents, but these documents must be reviewed by an attorney before they can be seen by anyone outside of the office. Lay persons can also prepare standardized forms that are incidental to their business, especially when they are simply filling in the blanks on forms prepared by attorneys. Real estate agents, for example, are allowed in some states to draft sales contracts. Paralegals cannot, however, give clients guidance about what to put in the form; they can only use the information the client provides.

Paralegals are not allowed to set fees or accept cases. The two are inextricably interrelated. Because only a lawyer can establish a lawyer-client relationship, only a lawyer can enter into a fee agreement with a client.

Paralegals can perform legal tasks, to some extent at least, if they are under the adequate supervision of an attorney. Such legal practice is not unauthorized as long as the “lawyer maintains a direct relationship with his client, supervises the delegated work, and has complete professional responsibility for the work product,” according to the Model Code. The problem is determining what constitutes “adequate supervision.” To what degree must an attorney review a paralegal’s work? Is the attorney required only to give general instructions? With no firm guidelines in place dictating what an attorney is required to do, individual attorneys must assess the amount of supervision necessary and usually base their degree of supervision on the paralegals experience level and the complexity of the task assigned.

Other tasks paralegals can perform include contacting clients and individuals outside the office (as long as they identify their status as paralegals), relaying instructions, informing clients about the status of their case, and interacting with third parties on behalf of clients. They cannot, however, offer their opinions. In some states, paralegals can supervise the signing of wills, appear in court to answer calendar calls, and make routine motions in court.

Paralegals must always take great care in disclosing their non-attorney status so as to never mislead anyone to believe they are authorized to practice law. They must never misrepresent their status to other attorneys, government officials, the courts, or the general public. Paralegals must clearly reveal their non-attorney status on business cards and on correspondence.

Source: LawCrossing.com