For most people, lawsuits are uncharted territory, and they have no idea what to expect once their claim
is filed. MyersLafferty takes great care to ensure that our clients are familiar with the legal process and
how it will affect them. We explainin clear termswhat procedures will be followed, how much time the
process will take, what the client's role will be, what factors affect the chances of winning, and how much
a client is likely to obtain. All so you have a clear road map as you embark on your case.
Nothing can take the place of a face-to-face meeting between the lawyer and the client, of course. As a starting point, however, we offer the following answers to our most frequently asked questions.
ARE LAWYERS AND LAWSUITS NECESSARY?
Some people are hesitant to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit because they believe others will think they are "being greedy" or attempting to "get something for nothing." Others believe that if they are injured in an automobile accident, on the railroad, or as a result of a defective product, they will be able to work out a fair settlement informally with the other driver's insurance company, with the railroad claim department, or with the manufacturer of the product. More often than not, however, they quickly find themselves up against a wall: The insurance company or railroad claims department may only offer them pennies on the dollar. Or the manufacturer won't take their calls at all, perhaps only responding to their letters seeking compensation with a blanket denial.
The simple fact is that most insurance companies and large corporations will not pay compensation voluntarily unless they truly believe that avoiding the settlement of a claim will cost them more in the long run. That's why lawyersand lawsuitsare necessary. Insurance companies and corporate defendants usually take you seriously only after you hire an attorney. Only then will these defendants agree to settle your claim for a fair amount. Sometimes, they will settle quickly once your attorney advises them of your representation. Other times, even if the defendant doesn't settle immediately, the case will eventually settle without forcing you to go to trial, once your attorney shows them he is ready, willing, and able to take the case to court.
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IS IT IMPORTANT TO HIRE AN EXPERIENCED TRIAL ATTORNEY?
There are cases where a defendant will not settle voluntarily; where a seriously injured person will have to proceed through a full trial. It is therefore critical that you be represented by an attorney experienced in trying cases in a court of law. You can't be blamed for assuming that most attorneys have this experience, but unfortunately, the opposite is true. Most attorneys are not trial attorneys. There are countless thousands of "litigators" in this country who have never tried a single case in court. They have never given an opening statement or closing argument. They have never made an objection. They have never cross-examined a single witness, let alone learned how to prepare their own clients how to face cross-examination by the opposing counsel.
Trial attorneys are to the legal profession what surgeons are to medicine. And just as you would never want your family doctor to perform a heart operation, you do not want to find yourself sitting in court next to a so-called "litigator" who lacks significant trial experience.
Nor do you want your case to be worked up by someone other than a trial attorney. Building a case is like fitting together the pieces of a complex puzzle that will be held up and shown to a jury. Experienced trial attorneys know what the puzzle must look like in court and they therefore know best how to build the puzzle before trial begins.
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WHAT IS MY CASE WORTH?
Once a client decides to hire a lawyer and bring a case, the first question the client often asks is "what is my case worth?" Unfortunately, some attorneys, when faced with this question, will promise a specific dollar amount: "I'll get you $____." If you interview a prospective attorney and he or she promises to win you a certain amount of money at the very start, walk out the door.
The amount of compensation you are likely to obtain depends upon numerous factors, many of which neither you nor your lawyer can know at the beginning of your case. For example, one key component is whether you will lose time from work because of your injuries and, if so, how much in wages will be lost during your absence. If you've only recently been injured, you and your attorney cannot know this. Only a medical professional can make this determination.
You may also not know right away whether your injuries will require you to undergo surgery or long-term rehabilitationtwo additional components to damages. Will you be able to return to work in your former job? Will you be able to return to work in any job? Will you suffer scarring? Will your injuries negatively affect your marriage? These are all elements that bear upon how much will be necessary to fairly compensate you for your injuries, which is why MyersLafferty works with you and the proper medical professionals to determine what the proper compensation might be.
The fair compensation for your case also depends on many intangible factors, which can only be known as the case progresses. They include the level of experience and talent of opposing counsel. Will your attorney be able to walk all over him, or will the he be a tough opponent who must be fought for every inch of ground? Also important is how well or poorly the opposing party handles himself during questioning by your attorney, which can only be known once your attorney takes your opponent's deposition. Similarly, it is important for your attorney to see how the various "neutral" witnesses and "expert" witnesses in the case handle themselves when questioned. Do they answer honestly and openly, or do they try to fight the attorneys and hide information? Is their demeanor such that the jury will be able to see if they are not telling the truth? If they are experts, are they the type of "hired guns" who will say whatever they are paid to say, but do so with such charm and poise that everyone believes them?
All of this information takes time to gather and process. Ultimately, however, your attorney should be able to sit down with you, explain the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and give you an intelligent recommendation as to a fair settlement amount. At that point, if the defendant offers the amount your attorney recommends, it will be your decisionand yours aloneto accept the offer or to go to court and let the jury decide.
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WHAT IS A "CONTINGENCY FEE AGREEMENT"?
In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff's lawyer is paid a "contingency fee." This means that the client does not pay the lawyer an hourly fee, but agrees to pay the lawyer a percentage of whatever the case settles for or what the defendant pays on a jury award for the plaintiff. Why? This arrangement is necessary because without it many injured working people could not afford to hire a lawyer and seek compensation for their injuries. How many people do you know who could pay an attorney $200 an hour for months or even years of work while a case proceeds toward trial?
The contingency fee represents a key difference between how plaintiff's lawyers and defendant's lawyers are paid. Lawyers hired by defendants in almost every type of case, including automobile cases, railroad cases, medical malpractice cases, defective product cases, slip-and-fall cases, and occupational injury cases, are paid strictly by the hour. That's because the corporate defendants and the insurance companies that pay for the lawyers can afford it. As a result, a defense attorney trying the case gets paid whether he wins or loses. And since the defense attorney gets paid by the hour, the longer the case drags out, the more he gets paid.
MyersLafferty is committed to the contingency fee method of payment. First, because we recognize that most of our clients could never afford to exercise their right to be compensated for their injuries if they had to pay their lawyer's fee up front. Secondly, because we believe that lawyers work harder when they sink or swim with their clients. It's simple: If our clients do not get compensated, we do not get paid.
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WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL STEPS IN A LAWSUIT?
At MyersLafferty, we explain the procedure by breaking it down into its component parts: Pre-Complaint Investigation, Filing the Complaint, Depositions and "Discovery," Defense Medical Exam, Background Checks and Surveillance, Assembling the Expert Team, Settlement Negotiations, Pretrial Preparation, and Trial.
Before MyersLafferty files a complaint, we make sure we have every fact in your case nailed down. We start by gathering relevant information about the accident and about our client's medical treatment, general background, and employment and wage history. With respect to the accident, we will obtain any relevant police reports, accident reports, claim reports, and photographs. If the accident involves a defective product, we will obtain the product, store it, and have it examined by an engineer or other expert. In appropriate cases, our investigators will interview witnesses and take written or tape-recorded statements. To obtain the medical information, we write directly to our client's medical care providers. We may ask some providers only for medical records and others for a detailed medical report setting forth how exactly an accident injured the client and what the client's likely prognosis will be. With our client's permission, we may also meet with certain doctors or physical therapists. With regard to general background and income information, we will obtain our client's income tax returns, W-2 statements, and employment records. The end goal is to present our opponent with a written Complaint that makes clear to the defendant that our client was significantly injured as a result of the defendant's misconduct. In short, we'll make them know that this is a case to be taken seriously, and that we are fully prepared to take them to court.
Filing the Complaint
The Complaint is a legal document setting forth the basis of a client's claim. It details what the defendant did wrong to cause our client to be injured and it sets forth the injuries our client has suffered. In preparing the Complaint, MyersLafferty makes sure that the language is legally correct and that the proper parties have been named as defendants. A Complaint can be filed in state or federal court, depending on what type of claim it is and who the claim is brought against. Once the Complaint is filed, we make sure it is officially served upon each of the defendants. Each defendant then has time to have a lawyer file an Answer. An Answer is a legal document like a Complaint, in which a defendant usually denies the assertions made in the Complaint. In an Answer, a defendant will typically contend that the damages suffered by a client happened before the accident, or that the client himself was at fault for the accident. Complaints and Answers are both known by the court system as "Pleadings."
Depositons and "Discovery"
After the Complaint and Answer are filed, the parties' attorneys begin what is called the "discovery" phase of a case. It is in this phase that each side attempts to find out or "discover" the information known by the other side. "Depositions" are an important part of the discovery phase. Depositions usually take place in a conference room in the office of one of the lawyers involved in the case. Present at the deposition are the witenss to be questioned, each of the lawyers, and a court reporter who types out the questions and answers. There is no judge or jury at a deposition. Witnesses may take breaks to go to the bathroom or talk to their lawyer.
Because most plaintiffs will usually have their depositions taken, MyersLafferty makes sure to prepare our clients to be questioned. We sit down before the deposition and explain the whole process. We review the facts of the case with our client and make sure that he or she is not surprised by a question. Of course, if the opposing counsel asks an inapprorpriate or offensive question, or tries to bully or intimidate our client, we will object and put an end to it. Part of our job as attorneys is to protect our clients during depositions against improper conduct on the part of opposing counsel.
The Defense Medical Exam
In personal injury cases, defendants are usually entitled to have the injured plaintiff examined by a physician or physicians hired by the defendant. These physicians will then act as "expert witnesses" and testify for the defense at trial. Because some defense doctors have, in the past, misrepresented the extent of their examinations or what they were told by our clients, MyersLafferty does not allow our clients to go to these appointments alone. Instead, we send someone from our office to sit in on the exam and take notes on everything that transpires during the examinationall in an attempt to force the defense doctors to be completely honest should your case go to trial.
Background Checks and Surveillance
Large corporations and insurance companies usually leave no stone unturned once they decide to fight a claim. As part of their efforts, they will seek out and obtain copies of any previous claims you have filed and information on your past medical conditions and care. These defendants will also often conduct undercover investigationsthey will talk to your friends, neighbors and co-workers about you. They will hire detectives to follow you and take hidden videotapes and photographs of you. MyersLafferty, however, will fight every step of the way to ensure that your rights as a patient and an American citizen are protected at all times.
Assembling Our Expert Team
Large or complex cases often require assembling a team of experts. In medical malpractice cases, MyersLafferty won't even file a claim unless a qualified doctor first reviews the facts and convinces us that our client's medical care provider committed malpractice. In a case where our client is injured by a defective automobile, we may bring together a mechanical engineer (to explain how the automobile was defective), an accident reconstructionist (to explain what happened to the automobile during the accident), and a biomechanical expert (to explain what happened to our client inside the automobile as the accident unfolded). In a railroad case, we may hire a track design expert to explain to the jury how defects in the rail caused a train crash, or a railroad practices expert to explain how the railroad's method of operation was flawed and likely to lead to injuries.
Whatever the cause of the accident, MyersLaffety may call upon vocational and economic experts to describe how a client's injuries affect his ability to work and earn a living. The vocational expert will determine a client's employability by evaluating where a client might fit in the job market given the client's injuries and educational and employment background. The vocational expert will compare how much the client is likely to earn given the client's injuries with how much he could have earned each year had he or she never been hurt. An economist then takes the earnings discrepancy and projects it into the future, calculating how much the client will lose in wages over the course of his worklife expectancy.
At some point during the discovery process, once the case has matured to a point that both sides have gathered sufficient information, the process of settlement discussions usually begins. MyersLafferty and our client will sit down and discuss all aspects of the case and arrive at an amount we believe would constitute a fair settlement. MyersLafferty will then begin to negotiate directly with the defendant. Some defendants will be up front about how much they can offer to settle a case. Most defendants, however, will attempt to "lowball" the case, offering only a small amount. If this is the case, a more detailed back-and-forth negotiation must take place. At some point, the trial judge will usually hold one or more settlement conferences. Some judges are very good at helping to settle cases, although some are unhelpful, and others do not like to get invoved in the process at all.
With or without the involvement of the judge, there will come a point where it is clear that the defendant has offered as much as they is going to offer without a trial. Our client will then decide to accept the offer or go to trial. MyersLafferty will respect our client's decision, and either finalize the settlement, or agressively represent our client in a court of law.
Should the client decide to go to trial, MyersLafferty will begin an intense period of preparation. We will map out our trial strategy, deciding exactly what witnesses we will call, in what order, and what method we will use to question them. We will design and select our trial exhibits, which may be as simple as enlargments of photographs or as complicated as computer-generated-graphic presentations. This phase of the case will require substantial client involvement, as we will usually telephone and meet with the client many times to gather additional information and to prepare the client for trial.
The culmination of all the depositions, medical examinations, preparation, and planning is the Trial. Should your case not settle, it will be won or lost in the courtroom. A trial can be an intimidating experience for a client. A panel of fellow citizenspeople you have never metwill make a decision that may determine your economic stability and the quality of the rest of your life. You will have to take the stand, look those people in the eye, show them you are telling the truth, and make them understand how much your injuries have affected your life and the lives of your loved ones.
The attorneys at MyersLaffety have faced this situation countless times. We have proudly presented our clients as witnesses and have guided them through their testimony on the stand. We have faced off against opposing counsel and opposing witnesses and even the occassional hostile judge. We have argued, objected, cross-examined and cajoled in state courts and federal courts up and down the East Coast of the United Statesincluding in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
And at the end of the day, much more often than not, we and our clients prevail. Not because we are lucky or clever, but because we have worked harder and smarter, and with more passion, than the other side, and because we fight for clients who are in the right.
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HOW MUCH TIME IS ALL THIS GOING TO TAKE?
The time it takes for your case to come to trial depends, more than anything, on our court system itself. Among the factors to be considered are the number of cases ahead of yours and the rate at which the other cases are concluded. Another factor is the judge himself. In federal courts and some state courts, a case is assigned to a particular judge as soon as it is filed. And the simple fact is that some judges move their cases along faster than others.
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WHAT IS THE CLIENT'S ROLE IN THE CASE?
In the answers to the questions above, we spoke about a client's need to give a deposition, to submit to examinations by the defendant's doctors and, if necessary, to be questioned at trial. The client's involvement in the case, however, goes well beyond this. Listed below are some of the things a typical client will do to help his case:
Detailed Statement of Facts
Our clients are our most important source of information. The client is the key witness to the injury, to the treatment for the injury, and to how the injury has affected the client's life. MyersLafferty therefore asks our clients to prepare a detailed statement describing how the injury occurred and who was there to witness it. We ask you to give us the names of all of your medical care providers, and to tell us which of your friends and family members would be good witnesses to tell the jury about what you were like before and after your injury. We also ask that you provide us with the details of your pre-injury condition and medical history. In providing this information, it is important for a client to tell us everything and omit nothing, so that we are prepared to meet any issue that may come up in your case. A case can be lost or seriously damaged if a client omits or conceals information.
Of course, everything you tell us is protected by the attorney-client privilege and will be held in the strictest confidence in accordance with legal ethics.
Keep Track of Your Medical Treatment
MyersLafferty tells all of its clients to listen to their doctors and follow all of the orders and instructions given by those doctors. We also ask our clients keep track of all medical and physical therapy appointments, and of all time lost from work. We also ask our clients keep track of all the medications they are on, maintaining a log of the medicines and dosages, and, in some cases, saving the medicine bottles. Our clients also provide us with copies of their medical bills.
Don't Sign Anything
MyersLafferty requests that our clients show any papers to us that ask for their signature. Clients should sign nothing without first consulting our office, including applications for insurance, disability, or other benefits.
Keep Us Informed of Your Progress
MyersLafferty requests our clients to keep us apprised of their medical condition and to notify us at once about any changes in their condition or treatment. For example, we need to know when you are operated on, when your doctor clears you to return to work, or tells you that you will not be able to return to work.
Don't Discuss Your Case
As your case progresses, your friends, family members, and neighbors may ask you about your injuries or your case. They may also offer advice on what to say or do. When you are approached in this way, we recommend you tell people that your lawyers have instructed you not to talk to anyone about your case or your condition. This may be difficult to do, but remember that anything you say may be misinterpreted and used against you. And it's usually true that legal advice from non-lawyers is almost always wrong. Any time you have questions about your case, please call us. That's what we're here for.
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HOW CAN I CONTACT MYERSLAFFERTY?
Our contact information can be found here.
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