After someone else’s actions or decisions leave you physically injured, you may wonder what legal rights you have to recover damages. The person who can help you explore your legal options is known as a personal injury lawyer. Here are the services a personal injury lawyer typically performs for a client like you.
Assesses Legal Liability
Generally speaking, one of the principal tasks of a personal injury lawyer is to figure out who caused an injured client harm. That might seem like a straightforward question to answer, but it isn’t always as simple as, say, pointing to the other driver in a two-car accident and saying “He ran the red light!”
People get hurt in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Personal injury lawyers investigate the facts surrounding an injury to tease out evidence pointing to the person(s) or company/companies whose decisions or actions directly led to their client getting injured.
For example, take that simple two-car auto accident in which one of the two drivers ran a red light and slammed his car into a car crossing an intersection on a green light. It is probably the case that the other driver’s actions and decisions caused the accident. But is he the only person or company who might have contributed to the collision? Not necessarily.
- The driver’s employer might have contributed to it by failing to train the driver or to check his background to find out if he had a checkered driving history; or
- The municipal government might have contributed to it by failing to fix a faulty traffic light would hop from green to red without showing yellow in between; or
- The manufacturer of the other driver’s car might have contributed to it by selling him a car with faulty brakes that made it impossible for him to stop at the right light.
You get the idea. In every case, a personal injury lawyer generally asks: Who owed a duty of care to my client not to act in a way that would put my client at risk of harm?; and Who breached that duty of care to my client in a way that directly led to my client getting injured? (These two questions largely encapsulate what it means for someone to be negligent.)
To answer these questions, the lawyer investigates the circumstances surrounding the client’s injuries. In the case of a car accident, for example, that may involve gathering police reports, speaking with eyewitnesses, and hiring an expert to evaluate the scene of the accident or to examine both of the (wrecked) cars involved.
More generally, personal injury lawyers use their life experience and knowledge of the law to delve as deeply into the facts of their client’s injury as the circumstances will allow. Their aim in this investigation is to make sure they identify every single person or company who may have legal liability to their client. The more of those legally liable parties that exist, the better the chances of the injured client recovering maximum compensation.
Another critical function for a personal injury attorney is to take stock of all of the ways the client has been harmed, and to translate those harms into dollars-and-cents. In our civil legal system, we use money as a way to make wrongs right when one person’s actions harm another. Money is not a perfect solution. It does not bring back a loved one whose life has been cut short, and it does not take away the pain of a complex fracture. But it is better than nothing.
A lawyer performs an analysis to add up the dollar value of all of the harm that has come to his client. The total amount of money reflecting those harms is what the lawyer will ask the legally liable party or parties to pay as damages.
Parts of the lawyer’s damages analysis involve nothing more than simple addition and subtraction of the types of injuries. Injuries lead to medical care. Medical care costs money. The injured client might have some insurance coverage to cover some of that care, but oftentimes that coverage isn’t enough. Bills pile up. The client has been damaged by the total amount of medical bills resulting from the injury. The same goes for other direct costs associated with an injury, such as the expense of service providers hired to help out with housework or transportation while the client recovers from an injury.
Personal injury lawyers also add the client’s lost income to the tally of damages. Clients frequently need to miss work while they heal. The wages the client loses during that time away from work constitute damages. Some injuries leave clients unable to return to work in their former capacity, or at all. The lost future income from work the client can no longer do also figures into the calculation of damages.
Then there are the harms that are more difficult to quantify. Injuries cause physical and emotional pain for the victim and the victim’s loved ones. Injuries interfere with intimate relationships. They prevent people from engaging in favorite hobbies and enjoying life. They take a psychological toll that affects a person’s outlook on life. All of these are harms that personal injury lawyers try to translate into a reasonable dollar amount. It is not an easy task, but experienced lawyers develop a sense of what is fair and will give their clients a sense of justice.
Pursue Legally Liable Parties for Damages
Once a personal injury lawyer knows who has legal liability, and how much the injured client has been damaged in dollars-and-cents terms, the lawyer can turn to the legal process to seek compensation from those parties.
The vast majority of cases a personal injury lawyer handles end up in negotiations with an insurance company. That is because most people and companies carry some type of liability insurance to protect them if they accidentally cause harm to someone else. Standard auto insurance policies include liability coverage, for example. So do standard homeowners and renters’ insurance policies.
To get negotiations rolling, a personal injury lawyer will put the party with legal liability on notice of the client’s injury and the amount of damages demanded. Depending on the circumstances, putting the other side on notice might involve filing a lawsuit and serving court papers, or it might involve sending a letter formally demanding compensation. Lawyers and clients often work together, taking the client’s immediate needs and interests into account, to craft the best strategy for coming forward with a claim for damages.
In negotiating with an insurance company (or, when insurance isn’t available, directly with the other party), the personal injury lawyer will explain why the client should recover the damages demanded. The better job the attorney has done at investigating the case and evaluating damages, the higher the chances that the parties with legal liability will recognize their legal obligations and offer to pay a settlement. In a settlement, the client agrees to give up the legal claims the lawyer has asserted in exchange for payment of an amount of money.
If the personal injury attorney and the parties with legal liability cannot reach an agreement on payment of money as a settlement, however, the attorney may press forward with a legal action, culminating in a trial. At a trial, the personal injury lawyer presents evidence to a jury and asks them to award damages to the client. If the jury agrees with the lawyer, it awards damages in a verdict.
To Learn More
Want to learn more about what a personal injury lawyer can do for you after an injury? Contact an experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer today.