By: Kevin P. Fine, Davis Miles Personal Injury Attorney
Stop! You May Need This Information
You are probably saying to yourself: “I have not been seriously injured in an accident, so I don’t need this article.” That may be true right at this moment, but there are some good reasons for reading it anyway, or at least keeping it handy. First, in my years of representing injured people, I have never met a person who knew they were going to be in an accident before it happened. It is always a sudden and unexpected event. I don’t want to cause undue concern, but today might be your day. Second, even if it doesn’t happen to you, it may happen to someone you know. You have an inside connection to legal information that is not available to most people, so you may want to take advantage of the opportunity and read this anyway.
Myths and Emotions
Insurance companies fulfill a valuable service, but a person that was seriously injured in an accident needs to keep this truth in mind: THE INSURANCE COMPANY DOES NOT CARE WHAT IS FAIR, ONLY HOW LITTLE THE COMPANY CAN PAY.
Because of this, the insurance company’s adjusters and attorneys often take advantage of some common myths and emotions. Here are some of the most common:
1. The other driver’s insurance company will treat me fairly because I am cooperative.
Not true. The opposing insurance company has little obligation to you and is your adversary in this matter. The company’s system is designed to pay as little as possible to resolve the claim.
2. The insurance company will treat me fairly because the accident was not my fault.
Not true. Even if the fault for the accident is clear, the real fight is over what the company should pay for your injuries and losses. Again, the company will try to pay as little as possible.
3. The insurance company will treat me fairly because I am seriously injured.
Not true. The company has been practicing ways to make catastrophic losses seem like no big deal for centuries. Proving the consequences of this accident on your life is harder than you think.
4. The insurance company has lots of experience with injury claims and I do not. The company’s representatives will know what is fair for my claim and will offer me that amount.
Do I really have to tell you this is not true? Again, they won’t offer you a fair amount unless they have to.
5. I am not a greedy person, so I don’t need an attorney.
Not true. You are not a greedy person but you do need an attorney. Receiving fair compensation is not greed. You need an attorney to get fair compensation. If you feel like the insurance company is offering you too much, just let us know. We’ll call a press conference.
6. My claim will resolve faster if I don’t get an attorney.
Partially true. You can settle immediately for less than you deserve. Getting a fair amount takes more time, but not because you hired an attorney—only because you refused to get ripped off.
7. The insurance company will stop being nice to me if I get an attorney.
Not true. The company representatives will stop being nice to you when you start asking for fair compensation, whether you have an attorney or not. You just won’t be able to do much about it without an attorney. If you are outsized by the bully on the playground, having a big stick and knowing how to swing it is a great equalizer.
8. I am not a litigious person. I just don’t sue people. The company will appreciate that and will pay me fairly for my injuries and losses.
The first two sentences are true. The last one is not. The insurance company wants people to feel guilty if they pursue lawsuits, so it can pay you less than you deserve. By the way, insurance companies are litigious—and rich. Who are you protecting by not pushing for fair compensation? Also, your best chance of not going to court usually comes by being properly prepared to go to court. We know you don’t want your case to go to a jury trial if it can be avoided, and we work with that in mind.
9. I need to get this claim settled quickly so I can move on emotionally.
Probably not true. If you are seriously injured, there is usually no reason to settle before you have done all you can to heal. If you settle, but still continue with medical issues, the settlement doesn’t much help you to move on—you still have your injuries. Settling for less than what is fair in order to “wrap it up” will probably irritate you for years, not help you move on emotionally. The better course is to fully address your injuries before deciding what to request as fair compensation.
10. I need to settle quickly so no legal deadlines expire.
Not true. Yes, there are deadlines, and you need to make sure you know what they are by consulting with an attorney. Even the shortest of these in Arizona gives you several months to two years after the accident before you would be in trouble. Don’t let the insurance company make you feel like you have to reach a fast settlement or they are going to not pay you, or pay you less later. Early settlements generally mean less money to you, not more.
11. I will end up with less money if I hire an attorney.
Usually not true, at least in our firm. Having the right attorney can make a remarkable difference in proving the full extent of the harms and losses you have experienced. That increase will far exceed the percentage you pay your attorney, so you will be money ahead. More importantly, you will have greater peace of mind knowing that someone knowledgeable is on your side.
Help That Will Really Matter
So, if you have been injured in a way that has really altered your life, and you want to get some help, how do you know who to hire? There are probably more than a thousand personal injury lawyers in Arizona, and they are not equally capable of helping you. Obviously, we think we should be high on you list for consideration, and we have sound reasons for believing this. The next section will help you know what you are looking for among those many attorneys out there.
10 QUALITIES THAT REALLY MATTER IN FINDING THE RIGHT LAWYER
If your injuries are causing long-term losses and life-altering changes, you are simply not going to get fair treatment without the right kind of help. You also should not make a rushed decision about who can provide that help. Do your homework. Shop around. This section of the article can help you know what you are looking for in a lawyer.
Your Case May Not Settle—What Then?
It is better for everyone if you claim can reach a settlement without a jury trial. But too many cases settle because the attorney for the injured person is unwilling or unable to go to trial. In such instances, it is likely that the client is settling for less than fair compensation.
Here are two recent stories from our own clients that help illustrate why hiring the right lawyer is so important if you have been injured in a way that has lasting consequences. The names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Death from Carelessness
John and Cathy had been married for almost 4 decades. Cathy underwent what was supposed to be a simple surgical procedure. Three days later, she was dead. John had good reason to believe that the doctor performing the surgery had blown it, and that Cathy had died because the doctor was really careless.
Of course, the doctor and his insurance company didn’t want to accept that they had just cost Cathy her life and John his long-time companion. They offered nothing to try to recognize the harm they had caused John, and, in fact, took the position that John was a liar.
Eventually, John contacted an attorney, and that attorney contacted Robert Tolman at the firm of Davis Miles. We united our knowledge and resources behind the task of proving that the doctor’s careless actions cost this life. No offer was ever made and the case was tried in front of a jury. Over 20 witnesses, including 9 doctors testified. Over 120 exhibits were shown to the jury. Ultimately, the jury was able to see that the doctor was responsible for what had happened, that the loss was great, and awarded John accordingly.
Spine and Head Trauma From Thoughtless Actions
Mary was sitting in a hotel atrium when a heavy object fell from a cleaning cart eight stories above and struck her on the head. This impact damaged her neck and hearing, leading to neck surgery and a constant ringing in Mary’s ears.
The hotel did not want to take responsibility for what its cleaning crew had done to Mary. Mary found an attorney, and that attorney brought the matter to Robert Tolman at the firm of Davis Miles. We put our collective knowledge and resources behind Mary’s case. Eventually, the matter was tried to a jury, who concluded that the hotel was responsible, that the consequences to Mary were serious, and awarded fair compensation.
Most Attorneys Not Right for Serious Injury Cases
Many other examples can be given, but these are illustrative of a very important point—if you want to get fair compensation for a serious injury, you need to have an attorney who is ready, willing, and able to take the case to trial. The insurance company has lawyers that know how to go to trial and win against injured people. Consequently, if the company knows (and they do know) that your attorney is not ready, willing, and able to take the case to trial, there is little incentive to treat you fairly. Although you probably don’t actually want to have your case presented to a jury, for you to settle reasonably well, your attorney must be ready, willing, and able to take your case to trial. So what does it take for an attorney to be ready, willing and able to take your case to trial? The next section will explain.
Ready, Willing, and Able
So, what kind of attorney meets the criteria of Ready, Willing, and Able? An attorney who:
1. Has years of experience proving cases like yours (or the attorney will not know how to prove the harm and losses you’ve suffered)
2. Enjoys a solid reputation among other lawyers (or the attorneys on the other side will know they can play games)
3. Has significant jury trial experience representing plaintiffs (or the attorney will be too nervous to concentrate on getting your case right)
4. Regularly goes to trial on personal injury matters (or the attorney will not be “sharp”)
5. Trains him or herself in the latest knowledge about jury trials (or the attorney will overlook what we now know about how to best present information to the jury)
6. Has obtained large verdicts from a jury (or you don’t know if the attorney is any good)
7. Has access to the significant funds it takes to run a serious injury case (or the insurance company attorneys know they can just stall, and “starve” your attorney out)
8. Is surrounded by a team of competent attorneys and staff to support the effort (an attorney is only as good as his support staff)
9. Has the experience, reputation, and connections to bring in the right experts and consultants on your matter (like with other professions, part of the battle is “who you know”)
10. Limits his or her number of clients in a way that allows him or her to personally work your matter (do you really think the volume practice advertisers are diligently preparing their cases?)
This list will significantly narrow your options—from thousands to tens. I do not know all of the attorneys that fit this description, but there are not very many. The most limiting factor is the jury trial experience. It is becoming difficult to find attorneys who have tried enough jury cases to really be effective. That is why, as in the cases shared above, many attorneys bring their matters to those few attorneys for help. I am a past-president of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, and I am considered a good lawyer, but I do not yet fit the criteria set out above. I left my own practice to work with an attorney that does, and to learn from him, with the goal of meeting the criteria myself one day. That attorney is Robert Tolman. Mr. Tolman is a Certified Specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death. He and I represent seriously injured clients here at the law firm of Davis Miles, PLLC.
The second hardest quality to meet is finding a firm that can afford the cost and time to properly represent a seriously injured person. Mr. Tolman and I practice with a big law firm for a very good reason—resources. Our team at Davis Miles offers what you need to make sure you are treated fairly after a serious injury: Attorneys with meaningful experience and the backing of a law firm big enough to withstand the “siege” approach often applied by big insurance companies against the “little guy.”
READY, WILLING, AND ABLE AT DAVIS MILES
We are not the only firm that meets the standards you should seek in an attorney for a serious injury claim, but our team at Davis Miles is one of the few. If you have had to change the way you live because someone else caused you a severe injury, please contact us so we can provide you some information without charge and without obligation. This information will help you in making this very important decision.
You can order information about injury claims and about Davis Miles by clicking here, or contacting our team at 480-733-6800.