What Do I Do as A Personal Injury Attorney?
As an injury lawyer in St. Louis my job is to represent people who have been injured as a result of someone’s negligence. I represent injured victims throughout Missouri. Often times these are people who are hurt in car crashes that were the result of someone not following the rules of the road. Other times people are injured from negligence on someone’s property, such as a dog bite attack, or an injury resulting from an unsafe condition at a business or store.
Representing an injured person is a complicated task. My representation encompasses many aspects of their injury. Specifically, my job is to manage and guide my clients through the injury process. Simplified, that process begins at the time the injury happened, the time that the injured person is recovering from the physical (and mental) aspects of the injury, the negotiations prior to filing of a lawsuit, and if a lawsuit is filed, the process from writing and filing the case with the court all the way through a jury trial if necessary. My job begins by identifying any and all possible sources of fault (“liability”) and insurance coverage to ensure there is recovery for my clients. Sometimes just one person is legally liable, other times multiple people, companies, or corporations can be legally at fault.
From there my job is to ensure that my client is able to recover the maximum amount possible. This requires me to explore and preserve all evidence for the case, as well as developing a full understanding of the scope of the injuries and damages that the incident caused my client(s) to experience. Recovery is a loaded word. Within the scope of my job as a personal injury lawyer, the recovery that I focus on is two main areas: Physical recovery – Are my clients receiving the absolute best medical care for their injury? This is extremely important because many injuries, if not treated properly can become chronic and life-altering. Sometimes injuries that come on from events that seem minor can be devastating and catastrophic to someone’s quality of life. The best way to ensure that physical recovery from an injury is maximized is to receive the best medical care available from the start to the finish.
When the case is resolved, either by settlement or jury verdict, the way that people are repaid for their injuries in our court system is with money. This is almost always paid to the injured person by an insurance company. My job is to make sure that the money that is ultimately recovered encompasses the most money possible for all of the damage that was caused by the injury. That includes medical bills, pain and suffering, and all the other losses that come from the injury. Once we have discovered enough evidence to fully understand the cause of the injury and the extent of the damages the injury caused, my job is to negotiate with the sources of liability in an attempt to resolve the case for my client. This usually takes place when my clients are released from medical care and I have been able to obtain all of the medical treatment records, medical bills, and any other evidence relevant to the injury. A “Demand” letter is sent to the at-fault party (usually their insurance company) which outlines the damages that were caused, the legal obligations for them to pay for the damages and a demand for an amount of money that my client is willing to accept to resolve the claim. Sometimes at this point we are able to resolve the case.
Resolution at this point is beneficial because the settlement comes quickly, and we can finalize the case without the need to go through a lawsuit or a trial. Many people also value the ability to have finality to the claim. At the point when they are feeling back to normal it is nice to be able to get all of their medical costs paid and get cash in hand to compensate them. In other situations, a settlement is not possible. This often happens when an insurance company is unwilling to offer a fair and reasonable amount to cover the costs of the damage that was caused.
File a Lawsuit
When a settlement is not possible prior to a lawsuit, the next step is to file a lawsuit and use the court system to enforce recovery for my client’s injuries. A lawsuit begins with drafting a document called a “petition” which is filed in the court. There are strict time limits in which a case can be filed in court, so as a lawyer, one of the most important aspects of my job is to make sure that any cases we take on are either resolved by settlement, or a lawsuit is filed by the time limit. Once the petition is filed with the court and the defendant is served with the suit, we begin the “litigation” process. In the litigation process, simplified there are 4 main parts. Written discovery – takes place over the first 1-3 months after the case is filed (sometimes takes less or more time) Deposition discovery – this is where we sit witnesses down and ask questions under oath. Typically witnesses to the case will be the injured person, whoever caused the injury, people who saw the incident that caused the injury, and doctors or other experts who can offer insight into specific aspects of the case.
Trial Preparation and Motions
Once discovery has completed, the next phase of litigation is to prepare the case for trial. This involves organizing the evidence that will be presented, and making any motions to the court regarding how the trial should go so that it is conducted in a manner that is consistent with the law. The actual Trial – This is the part that everyone has seen on TV, except, it is rarely as exciting as Matlock or A Few Good Men in real life. During the trial my job is to present the evidence to the judge or the jury of my client’s injury. This is an extremely important task as this trial is the one and only opportunity for my client to recover for all of their injuries. At the end of the trial the jury will decide what amount, if any, should be awarded to compensate my client for their injuries, which is called a “verdict”. The verdict completes the trial process. Sometimes the litigation process continues even after a verdict, into the Court of Appeals, or even to the Supreme Court.
When people ask me what I do as a personal injury lawyer, there is no quick answer that fully describes the amount of work and devotion I put into the cases that I take on. Often times, I tell people the same thing I tell my young children when they ask me, “daddy, what does a lawyer do?” – I help people when they have been hurt and need someone to take care of them.