Key FAQs in Personal Injury Cases
Q: How much is my personal injury case worth?
A: The answer depends on a variety of factors: type of injury sustained, nature of medical treatment required and obtained, duration of medical treatment, existence or lack of previous injury to the same part(s) of body, nature and duration of physical limitations or disability due to the injury, need for future surgery or medical treatment, amount of medical expenses incurred, amount of lost wages or lost income, etc.
In North Carolina there is an initial issue of contributory negligence in some personal injury cases. Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine which holds that if a finder of fact determines the injured party seeking recovery was partly at fault for the occurrence of the incident, the injured party cannot recover anything. Zip….zilch….zero….nada……….so this is at least one reason why it is important to at least consult with an attorney shortly after sustaining a personal injury. Statements, admissions, and communications by you can be quite damaging to an otherwise good case. If the injured party is found to be partly at fault there is no need for any discussion of any medical bills, lost wages, or damages. So realize that if you consult with an attorney who believes there is a live issue of contributory negligence in your case that attorney may be unwilling to take the risk inherently involved in handling your case.
If you consult with an attorney and he or she gives you a monetary value for your case but you have yet to complete your injury-related medical treatment, beware. This attorney cannot possibly know the true value of your case as you do not know the total amount of your medical expenses or the nature and duration of any permanent injury—-two key factors in determining the value of a personal injury case. At best, the attorney can determine an approximate settlement range or, more appropriate, whether the case is one he or she will be willing to handle.
Q: How long will it take to close out my case?
A: Again, this depends on a variety of factors. In North Carolina, generally speaking the statute of limitations for pursuing personal injury cases is three years from the date of incident. (The North Carolina statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is two years). The statute of limitations represents the deadline by which you must file a lawsuit against any parties you believe responsible for causing the incident and your injuries. This, however, does not necessarily mean your case will take that long to be resolved. At a minimum, a good attorney waits until the client has completed all injury-related medical treatment before even beginning to evaluate the potential settlement value a case but if said treatment will go beyond the applicable statute of limitations it would be advisable to file a lawsuit and preserve the personal injury claim.
Many personal injury cases are settled within three years of the date of incident and the vast majority of cases are settled before any trial occurs—even in the cases where a lawsuit is filed. In North Carolina state courts, personal injury lawsuits are ordered to mediation. Mediation is a formal settlement conference between the parties, their attorneys, and the potentially responsible insurance companies. Mediation has a very high success rate in terms of resulting in case settlement. And after any personal injury case is settled in principle there is usually paperwork to be drafted, signed, and circulated. Moreover there may be the issue of outstanding liens or claims for reimbursement by medical providers or health plans/insurance companies. All necessary details must be handled before your case can be considered resolved.
Q: How much will it cost me to have a lawyer handle my personal injury case?
A: Typically, North Carolina attorneys have two categories of charges for handling personal injury cases: the attorney’s fee and the expenses. While the nature of the attorney’s fee structure is wholly subject to agreement between the attorney and client subject to a “reasonableness” standard (per the North Carolina State Bar), most attorneys handling personal injury cases charge a contingent fee for services rendered. The contingent fee is a percentage of the settlement, judgment, award, or other money received in the case. Under the standard contingent fee arrangement if there is no monetary recovery in the case, the client owes the attorney no fee. As you can easily imagine this is more equitable than an attorney charging an hourly or even a flat monetary fee for handling a personal injury case.
As to expenses, the North Carolina State Bar allows an attorney to pay the costs of handling a case (ex: medical records copy fees, postage, filing fees, deposition costs) “up front” and receive reimbursement from the client out of any money received in the case. But the attorney is not required to advance the costs. An attorney can—but most handling personal injury cases do not—require the client to provide the money needed to cover the costs of handling the case. In some cases, however, the facts and issues may make the case somewhat risky and the attorney may only be willing to handle the case if the client will provide some of the money needed for costs. Regardless of the expense arrangement between the attorney and client, the North Carolina State Bar requires the client be ultimately responsible for the payment of all reasonable and necessary costs incurred in handling the case—even if there is no settlement, judgment, award, or money obtained.
If you have a personal injury case and would like a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, contact Attorney John O’Neal of the O’Neal Law Office today.