WHITEBOARD WEDNESDAY (June 14, 2017): Most people that contact our personal injury law firm have never been involved with a personal injury claim before. In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday, Matt answers the 4 most common questions we get from new clients…
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Hi everybody, Matt Quinlan here. Welcome to this week’s edition of #WhiteboardWednesday , where we tackle real-life issues that are our clients face and answer questions that we get from people that call our office. This week we’re gonna be talking about some of the most common questions we get from potential new clients. Inevitably, when we meet with new clients, they ask lots of questions, but we find that there are four questions in particular that people seem to ask the most. So this week we’re gonna go ahead and address those here on Whiteboard Wednesday.
How Are You Paid?
The first thing that people oftentimes ask us is, “How are you paid?” Understandable. You know, people have this idea that lawyers bill by the hour, that they’re keeping track of every single minute that they spend on a particular legal project, and it makes people nervous. They can just see getting a big bill from a lawyer, or they can anticipate being asked for a big retainer to get started on a project, and that’s not at all how we work. We work on a contingency fee, which means that we only get paid if we win your case. If we do, in fact, win your case with a settlement or a verdict, then we’re paid with the percentage of the award or the settlement. That’s called a contingency fee, like I mentioned, and it is either one-third or 40% of the total recovery. It’s one-third if we’re able to settle your case without having to file a lawsuit, and it slides up to 40% if we do have to file a lawsuit and litigate your case. The reason being, you know, if we’re required to follow a lawsuit, get the courts involved, have an opposing attorney on the other side as opposed to an insurance adjuster, things get much more complicated. They become much more time-intensive, and they become more expensive. The reason why I mention expensive is because we will also advance costs to build our clients’ cases.
So we never ask our clients to either pay us anything for our efforts unless we win, and we also never ask our clients to provide us money to work up their case. For example, it’s about $500 to file a complaint in the superior court. A deposition would be $600 or $800, for example. Or hiring experts, a meeting with doctors, those things cost thousands of dollars. And so we never ask our clients to come up with that money, and instead what we do is we advance it. And if we’re successful with the case, then we’re entitled to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses in addition to our contingency fee. But in all situations, if nothing is recovered, they don’t owe us anything for our efforts, and they don’t have to pay us back for what we have put out to work up the case. So, as you can see, as a personal injury lawyer, the cases that we take on here at my office really are investments. We’re investing our time and our money into our clients’ causes, and it really aligns our interests well. And so it causes our clients to feel a sense of trust with us, because they understand that our financial interests align.
What Will I Need To Do?
The next question that we oftentimes get from our clients as well, “What’s gonna be required of me once I hire you?” And the fact of the matter is our goal is to take away all the burden and stress from our clients when they sign up with us. There’s a lot to do if you wanna try to represent yourself in a personal injury case, especially a serious personal injury case, and there ends up being less time than is ideal for recovery. And so our goal is to take away all the burden and stress from our clients so they can focus on getting better, and that leaves them with three primary responsibilities. The first is just to keep us informed, okay? Obviously, you know, they’re gonna be going to their medical treatment. They’re gonna be meeting with doctors. They’re going to be, you know, having physical therapy and these types of things, and so we want them to keep us in the loop about how that process is going, how their recovering, because we never wanna try to settle the case too early. We wanna make sure that our clients are well, that they’ve recovered, and that they don’t have any residuals, and if they do, we have a good understanding of what those things are. Because once you settle the case, you only have that one opportunity, and you can’t let it go back and say, “Well, I have misevaluated, you know, my injuries or my damages.” So they keep us informed throughout the process, and they’ll provide us with email or phone updates. And all the same, we’ll ask for them periodically so that we’re on the same page there.
The other thing they’re potentially required to do is help us with discovery. Discovery is the process that takes place after a complaint is filed. So there’s written discovery. There’s deposition, which is also part of the discovery process. They potentially would have to meet with a doctor that the defense has hired. And so there’s some things that they need to do, but we really take the initiative and take the lead on those projects. We will meet with them either on the phone, or they can come into our office. And then what we’ll do is, you know, we will develop the actual response responsive pleadings, and then we get the information from them that kind of verify that everything in there is correct. So our goal is not to shift the burden of work onto our clients. Instead, we do most of it, but obviously we need the information from the plaintiff, which is our client.
And then, lastly, making decisions. We provide advice. That’s what we do. We’re lawyers. We give advice. We use our experience and our intuition to give good advice, and for the most part, our clients typically will just trust us. They’ve never done this before, and we’ve been doing it for some time. So instead of trying to act as if they understand the value of their case, or they can appreciate the gravity of a certain decision, then say, “Well, Matt, what do you think I should do here?” And I give them the advice, but ultimately they’re the one that make the decisions. So, you know, that’s kind of always the last step. They made your decisions to settle, not to settle, to file, not to file. And so those are the things that, you know, they’re gonna be required to do as well.
What’s With These Letters?
So the next one is, “Why is my health insurance sending me these letters?” So a lot of people have health insurance, obviously, and they use it to get the medical care that they need once they’re injured. And it’s no problem. I mean, you paid for your premiums. You’re entitled to your health insurance to cover your medical bills to the extent that they’re required to, you know, a percentage of your contract with them, and that’s no problem, right? But then they seem to always send you these letters after you get the care asking questions about what was the cause of the visit to the doctor. Was there an underlying accident related to the care? And they start asking questions about, you know, kind of generally whether or not you’re gonna be bringing a claim or hiring a lawyer, those types of things. So people get quite nervous about that, and they don’t understand what’s going on.
What the health insurance company wants to do is try to determine if they have a subrogation claim. A subrogation claim is basically a reimbursement claim. It’s in everybody’s health insurance contract, and it makes health insurers entitled to reimbursement if their insured, the person that was injured, recovers money from a third party that gave rise to the treatment that the health insurance company paid for. And in situations like that, they are entitled to be reimbursed. And so they send out probing letters to almost everybody, and they hope that you respond. Now, I found that oftentimes they’re not very organized, and so they’ll send out boilerplate, cookie-cutter letters to every single person that files an insurance claim for medical care, and they hope that the insured writes them back and gives them answers. And we find that if, in fact, you just kind of lay back, don’t respond to those things, oftentimes they won’t follow through with you. And, as a result, they never really get their hooks into whether or not they’re entitled to anything, and then they just go away because of their disorganization.
So one thing that we always encourage our clients to do is just don’t respond to that first letter, okay? They’re counting on you to respond to… You haven’t recovered anything yet, right? You just potentially hired me or met with me or something like that. You haven’t actually recovered any money yet, so you don’t know if you’re gonna be recovering money in the future. So why write them, and tell them the whole story, and give them all of my information? Instead, you’re better off doing nothing and hoping that they kind of lose track of you and go away. And down the road, if you do recover some money, then you don’t have to pay them back. But oftentimes the health insurer does stick with it, and they do stay on top of it, and they find out about my representation. And they find out about a potential recovery, and they’re entitled to be reimbursed. So, at that point, what we do is we negotiate with our clients’ health insurance companies to accept less than what they actually paid. So there’s various tactics that we’ve, you know, developed to do that. We’re very successful when getting insurance companies to take less than what they’re after, certainly take a lot less than they would take from the insured if they weren’t represented. And the more money, obviously, your health insurance company takes from you, the more money goes in your pocket at the end of the day. So it’s an added value that we provide.
How Much Is My Case Worth?
Number four, “How much is my case worth?” I get that everyone wants to know this. You know, I get that it’s kind of a sexy topic. People come in, and at the end of the day, they just want the nitty-gritty, “You know, what can I expect here?” And the fact of the matter is I don’t know, right? Any lawyer that tells you after first meeting you what the value of your case is is probably not the kind of lawyer that you wanna use. They’re probably just telling you that just to try to impress you or to try to get you to sign with them or something like that. It’s not anything that I have ever answered in my entire career, because you don’t know. You don’t have an idea. I mean, maybe a really general ballpark would be possible, but, you know, at the beginning of a case, assuming that they had just been injured, you don’t even have a full appreciation yet of what the injuries are, or what the treatment is gonna be, you know, for the injured person, and what the recovery is gonna be like, you know. Are they gonna get better? Are they gonna have a lingering issue? You don’t know any of those things. And the answer to that question will greatly affect the value of the case, so you don’t know. You know, the other thing is you haven’t gathered the evidence yet. You haven’t talked to the witnesses. You haven’t seen all the reports, potentially, you know, done the discovery to the find the information necessary to figure out if there’s liability in place here. And, you know, not every case is a straightforward, slam dunk, clear liability case, far from it. And you gotta do the work to try to figure out, you know, how likely it is that you’re gonna be able to succeed with a claim.
The other thing is you don’t yet know what the economic damages are. So injured people are entitled to recovering the paid medical bills. So whatever your medical bills end up being once you’ve recovered, you look at the amount that was actually paid by either you or your health insurance company for what you’re entitled to be claiming in California. So you don’t yet know what the economic damages are. You probably don’t yet know how much wage loss is gonna be incurred in the beginning anyway. And so that will also greatly affect the value of the case.
And then kind of the interesting part to this is sometimes taking less earlier in the process nets the client more. So going to trial, for example, or going far down the road in litigation towards a trial is expensive. You know, tens of thousands of dollars are spent with doctors and experts, and these are all things that ultimately come off the settlement, you know, off the net of the client. So it might make sense, for example, to take $50,000 prelitigation than try to go get $75,000 or $80,000 at trial, because, one, you would save all the time for having to go get that money, two, you’d probably end up netting more, because the costs are gonna increase so much. So if you can have an amount starting early, sometimes it makes sense to take that as opposed to chase a bigger amount later. So, you know, the point here is it’s just really hard to say. It’s hard to say certainly in the beginning. And I don’t know, you know, what your case is gonna be worth. But I’ll tell you what, here’s what I always promise my clients, “Once I figure it out and once we’re in a position to negotiate for you, we’re gonna have a real serious conversation about the value of your case, and we’re gonna talk about all the ins and outs of it.” I don’t like hiding the ball from my clients, but I also don’t like setting their expectations in a place that aren’t gonna be met either high or low. So, anyway, these are kind of the, you know, the main issues that we see every single time with our clients when we meet with them. And so we wanted to talk about them here.