Personal Injury Plaintiffs: More Best Practices
When your medical treatment is completed, let your lawyer know. Insist that he or she immediately finish the process of gathering your records and organizing them into a settlement package. A settlement package is a collection of your medical bills and reports, photographs, and expert witness reports. Expert witnesses can be economists retained to determine your economic losses or vocational specialists who help determine the jobs available for injured plaintiffs. Assuming the cooperation of your doctors and experts, the settlement package should be on its way to the insurance company within a month after you finish your treatment. If it is not, find out why. The first offer of settlement should be made within three weeks after the settlement package is sent. If it is not, find out why. If the case is not settled within six weeks after the package is sent, find out why.
If the case does not settle, insist that your lawyer immediately prepare the lawsuit papers. This should take no more than an hour to complete. These papers should be in your hands within a week. The suit should be filed by the time another week passes.
These things will happen only if your lawyer is on his or her toes. Most lawyers need prompting from their clients to stay there. Keeping tabs on the progress of your case does not make you a problem client, just actively concerned. Your lawyer should appreciate your interest.
Even after the suit is filed, you need to stay active. Be sure your lawyer is aggressively pursuing discovery. (See Chapter 10 for more on discovery.) When it comes time to respond to the other lawyer’s discovery requests, it is very important that you work closely with your lawyer. Be sure that the information he or she provides to the other lawyer is accurate.
It is very easy for an overworked or lazy lawyer to get it wrong. It is up to you to double-check the information provided to the other side. You may feel that your lawyer is being paid handsomely to do the job independently, and you may resent having to help. If so, feel free to trust that your lawyer will get it right. However, do not complain when mistakes are made. It is much better and easier to catch errors before they become problems.
Try to think of your case as a challenging game to succeed at, rather than a difficult job to avoid doing. You can think of yourself and your lawyer as partners, with you having special knowledge of the facts and your lawyer having special knowledge of the law. Your case is an opportunity to learn and grow, not just to make money.
Depositions and Trial Testimony
The most important phases of a personal injury case are depositions (See Chapter 10 of my book, Winning Your Personal Injury Claim) and the trial (Chapter ll)-preparation is key. Be sure your lawyer knows that you expect him or her to take all the time needed with you to ensure that no mistakes are made. If your case is an average personal injury matter, your deposition will probably last about an hour and a half. Your lawyer should spend at least an hour with you prior to the deposition getting you ready for it. Later, you will also need to prepare for your trial testimony. Again, you should spend at least an hour with your lawyer just before the trial in preparation.
If you are working through a firm, and the lawyer assigned to your case resists taking the time to prepare you, you may be in big trouble. Call the partner who attracted you to the firm in the first place and find out why you are not being given an adequate preparation session. Preparation for testimony is a very important part of your case. If you are being neglected, do not worry about ruffling the feathers of the associate handling the case. Call the partner and complain.