Do I Need a Lawyer
Over the past fifteen years or so I have had the privilege of representing people that have been injured in various types of accidents. It is quite common, during my first meeting with accident victims, that I am asked if they need to hire a lawyer right away or whether they should wait to see if they recover from their personal injuries. The accident victim is frequently unable to work as a result of his injuries. As a result he has little or no income and is rightly concerned about finances. Accident victims do not want to add to their financial woes by adding lawyers fees unnecessarily. This article is a summary of the thought process I suggest an accident victim go through in order to answer that question for themselves.
How serious are your injuries?
The nature and severity of the injuries will have a significant impact on the decision to hire or not hire a lawyer. Where the injury is severe, such as paralysis or head injury, it is almost always appropriate to hire a lawyer immediately.
Where the injury is extremely minor and has no impact on the person’s life it may well be unnecessary to hire a lawyer.
Situations in which the extent of the injury is initially not known create tougher decisions. This is frequently the situation when a person suffers an acceleration/deceleration injury, commonly referred to as a “whiplash” injury.
Medical experience and research suggests that “whiplash” injuries commonly resolve (or largely resolve) over the course of a number of months. Often the accident victim seeks an initial meeting with a lawyer to find out their immediate rights. They are frequently surprised that it is also often appropriate to hire a lawyer immediately in these circumstances.
What is the impact of the injury and disability on your life?
If your injuries prevent you from working it is almost always appropriate to hire a lawyer immediately. Your ability to earn a livelihood is fundamentally important to both yourself and your family. When that ability is taken away, even temporarily, it will have a serious impact on your entire life. It will likely impact on your family’s ability to pay the bills. It may be a serious blow to your self esteem. Financial strain can also have a significant impact on your relationships with your spouse and your children.
Often injuries will prevent a stay at home parent from carrying out their family responsibilities of child care and household chores. This may have as significant an impact your life and on your family as losing an income does. In some cases the impact may be more significant because the financial strain cannot be relieved through long term disability insurance or other employee benefits. In these circumstances it is also appropriate to hire a lawyer immediately.
What is the long term outlook for your injuries?
As suggested earlier, many injuries are expected to get better over time. Often the accident victim will want to take a “wait and see” approach regarding legal counsel. This can be a mistake. In the current Ontario legal forum, most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee arrangement. This means that there is little or no cost to the injured victim if a legal proceeding does not succeed. This means that in a contingency fee arrangement the injured victim need not be concerned with legal costs. Instead, the accident victim can focus on their physical recovery.
In the meantime, during the initial few months, the personal injury lawyer will be collecting documents, medical records, accident reports and hospital records. The sooner this process begins following an accident the easier it is for the lawyer to gather the evidence that will later be required should the matter proceed to trial.
If the injured person recovers from his or her injuries then no legal action need be pursued to completion. If, however, the injuries do not resolve fully, the legal action is not delayed. The lawyer has already been put in a position to move the action forward. If the lawyer is not retained until it is known that the injuries are not going to resolve fully, there will then be a delay in moving the litigation forward as the lawyer will only then be in a position to gather all the necessary documents.
Are there other advantages to hiring a lawyer soon after the accident?
From the lawyer’s perspective it is always better to be retained earlier rather than later. As we all know, memories can fade over time. Often documents are lost or destroyed. Being retained early in the game allows the lawyer to gather witness statements while that information is fresh in the witness’ minds. It allows the lawyer to start collecting documents and putting the pieces together that will later be required should the matter go to a trial.
It will also allow him or her to get to know the accident victim as a person, to understand better what the client had to go through in the recovery process and the impact that has had on the client’s personal life, work life and family life. As a result the lawyer will be in a better position to properly negotiate a settlement with an insurer if that opportunity arises. The lawyer will be more familiar with all of the intricacies of the injuries, the hurdles and obstacles that have arisen during the recovery process and the long term impact those injuries have had on the accident victim’s life.
In cases where a person has suffered serious personal injuries and cases where the extent of the injuries cannot yet be determined it is typically best to hire a lawyer immediately. As I say to all of my clients – it is your job as the injured person to do what you must to experience the best recovery possible. It is my job to protect you from those situations where you do not recover fully from your injuries.
When you hire a lawyer you no longer need to worry about the legal issues, your lawyer can worry for you. This allows you to put your full emphasis on recovery.