If you have ever been injured on the job, due to another person, or by a government organization, you may have needed the expertise of a personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney is sometimes referred to as a trial lawyer, although many times the type of cases they take tend to result in both parties reaching a settlement rather than going to court. For example, if you fell down while at work, suffered an injury in an automobile accident, was hurt due to a medical mistake, or was injured by a defective product, a personal injury attorney should be hired to represent you.
All of these examples fall under what is called tort law, which according to WiseGeek.com are civil wrongs that causes someone to suffer physical, legal or economic harm and gives them the grounds to file a lawsuit. Tort law is broken down into three categories. A negligence tort might stem from medical malpractice. An intentional tort might be defamation or false imprisonment. And a strict liability tort is all about product liability – if a particular product causes you some type of harm or injury, the manufacturer may be liable.
Throughout the years, there’s been some history-making cases surrounding tort law and personal injury attorneys that have helped keep the civil liberties of Americans safe by allowing them to seek some sort of compensation when they are wronged or injured by a major corporation or government entity. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) offers some examples of these cases, such as the 1969 case that brought to light health issues from asbestos and showed that all along companies making products with asbestos knew of the health risks but did not warn their employees. And in early 2000, the civil justice system took on the Ford automotive company after at least 271 people were killed or injured due to defective Firestone tires placed on their Explorer trucks.
Over the years there have also been some myths surrounding personal injury lawyers. For instance, current public perception believes that Americans have become “lawsuit happy” and that personal injury cases are on the rise. According to the AAJ this not the case – their research has found tort cases have been declining over the past few years. Another myth the AAJ debunked was that litigation fears and rising health care costs are keeping doctors from practicing medicine. While we all know health care costs are rising, the AAJ found medical malpractice lawsuits were not the issue – in fact, medical malpractice accounted for less than two percent of health care spending.
Personal Injury Attorney Education & Specialization
Personal injury lawyers go through the same education and training as any type of lawyer – they have just decided to focus on a particular area of the law. Additionally, each state in the United States may have their own specifications based on that state’s Bar Association. For example, in order to practice law in California the State Bar says a candidate must have finished at least two years of undergraduate college work or pass specific equivalency tests, graduate from a law school that has been accredited by the State Bar or approved by the American Bar Association, and must pass a number a tests including the California Bar Exam and First-Year Law Students’ Exam.
Once a personal injury lawyer has passed all the needed exams and receives their license to practice law in the state of their choice, they can then decide to further specialize their practice. For example, maybe they want to focus on injuries in the workplace, so they would study and focus on what types of laws surround that. Or maybe they want to put their practice’s emphasis on medical malpractice, which could result in them focusing even on specific areas of medicine such as head and brain injuries or cases resulting from prescription drugs. And there’s even lawyers that focus on injuries from specific types of transportation, such as aviation, tractor-trailer or motorcycle.
How to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
Now knowing all this, what should you do when you need to hire a personal injury attorney- how can you ensure you are hiring the right highly-qualified person for the job without wasting your money?
The first thing you’ll need to do is find a personal injury lawyer and there’s lots of ways to do that – open up the Yellowpages, Google for personal injury attorneys in your area, or look for ads in your local newspaper. The State Bar of California also suggests asking for recommendations from friends, relatives and co-workers, or utilizing a certified lawyer referral service. The referral service helps to match clients to attorneys by conducting a short interview to find out what your needs are. Look for a certified referral service by contacting your state’s Bar Association. Additionally, most areas have free legal aid agencies that can help you find a lawyer. For example, in California www.LawHelpCalifornia.org can help you find a resource, and there should be similar agencies in other states – contact your local Bar Association to find out more.
Once you narrow down your list of potential personal injury attorneys, it is suggested you go and basically interview them – ask them questions to find out who they are and will they be able to help you. This can be done either over the phone or in person. The State Bar of California advises you also ask the personal injury attorney if they will offer you a free first consultation to find out if they are the right fit. However, expect this first visit to be pretty short – 15 to 30 minutes max – so make sure to have your questions ready to go and focused to make the most of this introductory meeting. Some good questions to ask may include have they handled cases like yours before and what was the outcome, and will the lawyer your talking to handle your case personally or will you be handed off to a colleague. And of course you’ll want to inquire about fees and what you can expect. And of course when in doubt, ask.