Do I need an accident lawyer?
Or can I handle it by myself without an attorney?
There is nothing in the law that requires you to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you in your claim for damages arising from your car accident, products liability, wrongful death, premises liability claim, truck accident, moped accident, motorcycle accident, dog bite claim, pedestrian accident, construction accident or other liability claim in Hawaii.
In many cases, the biggest impediment to self-representation is the detailed knowledge you must have about the legal and medical issues.
For major motor vehicle accident cases you will usually, but not always, be better off with an accident lawyer in Hawaii. In minor accident cases involving limited damage to your car, for example, it will usually be easier for you to negotiate a repair settlement with the insurance adjuster directly without an attorney. You may want to check the internet or your local library or bookstore for written guides about how to represent yourself in claims for property damage to your car arising out of a car accident, if you choose to do so. You should be careful about what you sign and these guides can be useful tools for you to better understand the car damage settlement process.
Why, then, would you want to bring an accident lawyer in Hawaii into your case? Attorneys are advocates - which means that they have a professional obligation to represent you and your interests. Sometimes this means that the "friendly" relationship you have with an insurance adjuster will come to an end (because the insurer knows that it will no longer be able to take advantage of you). It may also mean that your case will not settle as quickly as it might if you handled matters on your own - since you are likely to be recovering a substantially increased amount.
In an ideal world, attorneys would not be needed. In motor vehicle accident cases for example, the other driver would act honestly and admit fault and his insurance company would offer a fair payment for your car damage and for your personal injuries and loss. In a case involving a defective product, the manufacturer would admit responsibility and create a fund to care for you and all others similarly injured. Basically, you would just need to submit information about your accident to the responsible insurance adjuster and a fair payment would be made to you that would cover your present and future medical expenses, lost time from work, and the pain, discomfort and limitations that you have as a result of your accident.
Unfortunately, in the real world, people do not always act honestly or honorably, especially when they have done something wrong. More importantly, insurance companies are in the business of making money and their employees are often directed to limit payouts and to deny liability whenever possible.
An experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii offers several important benefits:
An attorney is engaged in the “practice” of law because every experience which he has and every case that he works on is on-the-job training. A good lawyer sharpens his skills by constantly representing clients, mediating, arbitrating and trying cases, exchanging ideas with his colleagues and attending continuing legal education courses. An experienced and capable accident lawyer in Hawaii can offer you several important benefits to help you with your claim in Hawaii (besides freeing up a lot of your time):
Knowledge of the Hawaii system. You may have already figured out that the insurance claim system in Hawaii is a complicated game with its own lingo and rules. When notice of your claim was received in the office of an insurance company, the adjuster assigned to the claim established a projected payout figure for your case called a “reserve.” The reserve represents the potential loss to the insurance company’s bank account.
The creation of a reserve for every claim is required by law so that State insurance commissioners can evaluate the financial strength of a particular insurance company. Insurance companies are required to have enough money in cash to pay expected claims. As you might expect, if adjusters set high reserves on cases, the insurance company will have less money available to invest in profitable ventures such as shopping centers, office buildings and other real estate ventures.
An experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii knows that your case will be worth more money if they can convinced the adjuster to set a high reserve on your case. If a low reserve is set, the adjuster cannot offer you a settlement that exceeds that reserve without special permission. Experienced lawyers make every effort to convince the insurance adjuster that your injuries are serious and that a high reserve is appropriate for your case. Your attorney’s written and verbal communication with the insurance company is designed to send a message that your injuries are serious and that the insurance company should be prepared to pay significant damages.
Perspective about case values. Experienced injury lawyers work within the marketplace of insurance settlements. An experienced lawyer will know which parts of your case are strong and which are weak. He probably also subscribes to various jury verdict reporting services so that he knows what similar cases in your area have generated in settlements and verdicts and so that he is familiar with the recent trends in such settlements and verdicts. Attorneys who negotiate injury cases day in and day out will have a pretty good sense of what makes up a fair settlement in your city or town.
Insurance adjusters would much prefer to deal with you directly and not with a lawyer. While many insurance company employees are honest and fair people, these individuals are trained to serve as advocates for their employer. They frequently receive bonuses for keeping settlement payouts low. Insurance adjusters are given specific training in the psychology of gaining the trust of an unrepresented injury claimant and convincing that claimant to accept a low settlement.
There is nothing wrong or illegal with an insurance company’s efforts to use psychology to get you to settle for a low amount - applied psychology is used everyday in business. Your accident lawyer in Hawaii, as a professional negotiator and representative, has also received training in persuasion and psychology. His goal will be to use his training to increase the recovery of your losses.
Professional detachment. As your hired representative, your lawyer has a professional obligation to represent you zealously and to explore all sources of recovery for you. Your lawyer is also trained to maintain a level of independence from your case. Experienced lawyers know that anger and emotion make it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct serious negotiations. After all, if you are hurt and your life has changed because of your injury, it would be difficult for you to listen quietly while an insurance adjuster minimizes your injuries and offers a lowball settlement figure. A good lawyer can engage in negotiations without taking personally the offers and counter-offers that typically occur.
Ability to litigate. If you have ever been in a courtroom, you know that the court system is its own world - with its own vocabulary, procedures and customs. Because of overburdened dockets, judges expect court litigants to know how to proceed when they appear. Non-attorneys rarely fare well when they appear in court without representation. It is difficult to represent one's own interests well. You have probably heard that lawyers generally hire other lawyers to represent them when they must appear before a court as a party. This is done in order to avoid the old adage that says that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Every lawyer understands that taking a case to trial is a risk. The right case with the right judge or jury could result in a huge verdict. On the other hand, a bad judge or an unreasonable juror can sink even a strong case. Insurance companies offer to settle cases in order to manage their risk. If the insurance company knows at the beginning of a negotiation that a large jury verdict is not part of the equation, the settlement offers will be low.
Insurance companies realize that unrepresented claimants are not likely to be good at filing and pursuing a lawsuit asking for money damages. Moreover, even if an unrepresented person is able to get to trial, they will probably not fare well in court. As a result, insurance companies offer less money to an unrepresented claimant because they recognize that their risk of a large loss (a large payment to you) is very small.
When a claimant tries to represent himself/herself or when a claimant originally retains an out of state lawyer who does not have the license needed to file suit in Hawaii (and hence has no real power to compel an insurance company to pay), it often leads to a very poor result. Once an insurance company has set its reserves on a case low, it is often difficult to get the insurer to change those reserves and set them higher. They must justify their reserve setting decisions to insurance regulators and they have difficulty explaining how their evaluation of an injury claim should have anything to do with how a claimant is represented. Hence, those claimants who try to represent themselves (or who hire out of state attorneys to try to "negotiate" a settlement - when they pose no real threat), generally get "low ball" offers and end up with a pretty tough go of it. It is compounded by the fact that attorneys who actually practice personal injury law in Hawaii often refuse to try to salvage such botched claims after the failed "negotiations", because the risks of having to go to trial to resolve the claims are greatly multiplied due to the original failed efforts.
In sum, you may find that an experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii can benefit you in several ways - he understands the insurance claim system; he has experience and knowledge about what a local jury might award; he will get the reserves on the case set properly right from the outset; he is a trained negotiator and will not be influenced by an insurance adjuster’s rhetoric; and he will not be personally offended by statements made in negotiation. Finally, a qualified lawyer in the proper jurisdiction has the ability to go to court if negotiations break down, whereas non-attorneys and out of state attorneys do not have this option.
How do I open communications with an accident lawyer in Hawaii?
Do not be afraid to ask questions when you interview a lawyer prior to hiring him to represent you. How long has he been in practice? Does he regularly try cases? Does he belong to professional associations that provide on-going training and exposure to tactics and strategies?
You should make clear what you expect from your lawyer. Some people want to be kept “in the loop” with copies of all documents sent to them and regular telephone communications. Others are looking for results and do not want to be bothered with copies of letters.
Many very qualified lawyers utilize paralegals to deal with the paperwork part of the case, with the lawyer getting involved near the end when it is time to negotiate or try the case. Paralegals are usually in the office and available to speak with you frequently. Other lawyers do not use paralegals and handle all details themselves. Such lawyers generally handle fewer cases, but they have a more thorough knowledge of each case and frequently are more available for doing things like answering your phone calls.
Attorney client communication is often a major issue in attorney-client relationships. You would be wise to address this issue at the outset of your relationship with a lawyer so both you and your lawyer understand each other’s expectations.
Attorney web sites are a good resource to use to get a sense of a lawyer and his style of practice. A good web site will reflect a lawyer’s personality and you may get a sense of a lawyer’s style without the pressure of a face to face meeting. Large law firm websites usually reflect that you are likely to be put into a system that provides limited personal contact with your individual attorney. Look for web sites that offer useful and extensive content.
A web site will also give you a sense of how responsible and dedicated a particular lawyer is. Very high volume personal injury practices that attempt to grab headlines and that use recent case results to promote their law practices may not offer you the kind of service and publicity for your family that you want. Frequently, high volume personal injury law firms use flashy full page ads in the yellow pages and repetitive television commercials to juice up their business- without regard to the quality of the service that they are providing.
In general, you should use more than a yellow pages ad or a television commercial to choose a lawyer. In comparison to the detail offered by a web site, the yellow pages or television ads offer very little information. The more research you can conduct the better your decision will be.
How much will cost me to hire an accident lawyer in Hawaii?
The vast majority of personal injury cases are handled by lawyers on a “contingency” basis, meaning that there are no up front fees, and the attorney only collects a fee if he wins your case.
A “no fee unless you win” contract can range in terms of the percentage requested. Most contingency fee contracts fall within the 33 1/3 % to 40% range. The percentage charged will be dependent on the complexity of the case, the likelihood of litigation and the lawyer’s experience and reputation.
Do note that litigation costs - such as copying, exhibit preparation, expert witnesses, special couriers, deposition costs and court filing fees are not part of the contingency fee arrangement. You will usually have to pay these costs out of your pocket - either during the case or at the end, whether you win or not. Be sure to ask a prospective lawyer about how he handles litigation costs.
In general, since just about every lawyer who handles personal injury work will offer you a contingency fee contract, so paying reasonable legal fees should not be an issue for you.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
The time required to resolve your case will depend on the complexity of your case, the nature of the injuries involved, the time needed for the proper preparation of your case, the novelty of the issues presented and the stage of the proceedings at which the insurance company and defendant(s) become reasonable in recognizing their exposure to liability.
Complex cases with numerous parties, many issues and extensive evidence may take months or even years longer than the typical case to properly prepare for trial. Since the filing of a case in court starts the clock running towards a trial date, in cases that take a long time before they will be ready for trial, it is best to wait a bit longer than usual before filing suit. For the same reason, in cases involving certain types of injuries that have a long 'gestation' period, it is best to wait a while to see how the injuries progress before filing a lawsuit. Some lawyers will want to wait until you have stopped treating with your doctor before they start settlement negotiations.
Every claim has an applicable law called a “statute of limitation” which requires that a lawsuit be filed within a certain period of time after the claim arises. The filing of a claim with the insurance company does not stop the running of this statute. Here is an example: suppose you were involved in a car accident on March 4, 2011. If the statute of limitations on your particular claims is two years from the date of the accident, you must file a lawsuit in court to recover damages against the proper parties no later than March 4, 2013. If you waited until March 5, 2013, you would probably be out of luck and your case would be over. Please note also: do not depend on an insurance company to advise you regarding the statute of limitations laws.
Sometimes well-intentioned auto accident claimants decide to deal directly with the liability insurance company in order to save attorney’s fees, thinking that they can always hire an accident lawyer later if settlement negotiations break down. However, there are many lawyers who will not get involved in a case if it is presented to them close to the running of the statute of limitations. Similarly, there are some lawyers who will also avoid getting involved if they find out that a prospective client has been trying to represent themselves on their own. Unsuccessful negotiations by a party representing themselves often create a serious impediment to successful negotiations by a properly qualified lawyer later on.
How much money will I recover?
The amount of money you can expect to recover will be determined
by a number of factors, including
- how badly you were hurt
- the extent of your medical treatment and medical bills
- how much wage loss you incurred
- your earnings history
- whether your injuries are permanent
- the extent of the limitations caused by your injuries
- whether your long term earning capacity has been
diminished by your injuries
- your age and expected earnings career
- whether you were in any way at fault
- the amount of insurance coverage available to you
- your lawyer's skill in presenting your case
- your credibility
- the presence of any aggravating factors
on the part of the defendant, such as prior
knowledge of a dangerous condition
- and other factors.
Attorneys who regularly represent
injured claimants should be able to
offer you some insight as to a range of values for your case.
Be careful about believing stories of
outrageous recoveries by friends or neighbors. Talk is cheap.
Recognize as well that no insurance adjuster,
judge or jury is going to fully appreciate what
you have gone through. Money, no matter how
much you get, is not going to bring back your health or
give you back the months and years that you have
lost while trying to recover. Judges and juries recognize this.
Just as insurance companies engage in
“risk management,” so should you.
If you are able to obtain a settlement offer
from an insurer which provides fair and
reasonable compensation for your losses,
it may be wise to settle rather than
taking a chance in a court trial.
Taking your case to court is almost always
unpredictable. Even trial lawyers with many years of experience will
admit that there are no sure things when
you go to court and even the strongest
cases have been
lost for no logical reason. In some
cases going to court does make sense, however, so you should
generally rely on your lawyer as your advocate and your
representative to offer you guidance in that regard.
Where will the trial be held?
Your trial will be held in the court
and court system where “jurisdiction”
is proper. In most car
accident cases involving a plaintiff and defendant who
live in the same State, the case
will generally be heard in the county where the accident occurs.
In more complex cases involving
large corporations or out of State defendants, your case
may be heard in Hawaii or in another State entirely
or in the federal court system. Once your accident
lawyer has all the facts, he can probably advise
you as to where the trial of
your case will be held.
Should I accept a settlement offer from an insurance company?
Your decision about whether to accept a settlement offer should be based on a thoughtful
and informed evaluation of the merits, as well as the problems, with your case. Your accident lawyer,
with his background, training and experience, will be a useful resource for you.
Ask your accident lawyer about case summaries and Hawaii jury verdict reports
for similar cases in your area. If you wish, ask your lawyer to schedule a “round-table”
discussion with another personal injury lawyer to discuss the pros and cons of a particular
settlement, if he hasn't done so already.
Recognize that you will have emotional attachment to your case and that it will
be difficult for you to see your case the way judges or potential jurors might. Realize as well
that court trials are draining experiences and very unpredictable.
Ultimately, if you settle, it means that you are giving up the
possibility of a larger verdict for the certainty of a negotiated dollar figure. On its part,
the insurance company, by settling, is eliminating the possibility of a much larger verdict.
Expect both sides to be a little unhappy if you settle.
What is the first step to begin my personal injury case?
The first step is to choose a lawyer and sign a retainer agreement.
For help in selecting
the right accident lawyer in Hawaii for your case,
you may wish to click on the following link:
How do I find an accident lawyer in Hawaii?
It is recommended that you get a copy of any proposed retainer
agreement and read it carefully before signing.
Do not be afraid to interview several lawyers before
signing an Attorney -fee contract,
especially if you are uncomfortable with the first
lawyer(s) that you contact.
While you can change lawyers in the middle of your
case, doing so will create issues to get past.
Terminated lawyers may have the right to a portion
of the fee recovery and the
opposing insurance company will view your decision
to switch lawyers as a sign of weakness.
It is much better to make a good choice of lawyers
at the outset.
Litigants who go through three or more lawyers will be perceived poorly by the
opposing insurance companies and this characteristic will cause your settlement
value to go down.
Once you have hired a lawyer, let him do his job. Unless your
lawyer tells you
otherwise, you should discontinue efforts to
collect evidence or speak with witnesses.
When you choose your accident lawyer,
try also to reach a clear understanding
about how often you expect to hear from your
lawyer and what your lawyer’s policy is
regarding telephone calls and emails. If your
lawyer is in court frequently, he may not be
available to return daily phone calls and both
you and your lawyer will soon grow frustrated. If
your lawyer uses paralegals to collect evidence
but you had the expectation of more regular
lawyer involvement, you may become unhappy.
Recognize that good lawyer-client communications
and understanding are crucial to you being
satisfied with your representation.
Still not convinced? You might wish to try reading the following article -
Should You Hire An Accident Attorney?
by David G. Hallstrom,a private investigator.
Should You Hire An Accident Attorney? by David G. Hallstrom