For the most part, serious or fatal injuries sustained in car crashes, falls and similar circumstances are simply classified as “accidental,” meaning they were unexpected or happened by chance. The National Safety Council prefers the term, “preventable.” In either case, there’s no doubt that these incidents take a huge toll on American society.
By the National Safety Council’s estimates, there were nearly 170,000 preventable (accidental) deaths in the United States in 2017 alone. More than 47 million people sought medical attention for accidental injuries sustained that year, and the total cost associated with these incidents topped $1 billion. Based on these statistics, the National Safety Council says “preventable injuries are at an all-time high, ranking as the third leading cause of death behind heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease.”
When someone is hurt in motor vehicle accident, fall, or any other circumstances, the single most important thing to do is get prompt medical attention. Then, depending on the situation, they or their loved ones may be able to take legal action against the person or people at fault. That’s where personal injury lawyers come in.
What does a personal injury lawyer do?
In general, personal injury lawyers help accident victims by:
- Evaluating the circumstances that caused the injury.
- Providing legal advice.
- Determining whom, if anyone was to blame.
- Determining whether negligence (carelessness) caused or contributed to the accident.
- Establishing the type and extent of losses incurred.
- Providing legal representation.
- Securing financial compensation for the client by reaching a settlement or taking the case to trial.
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Relevant training and skills
Like all attorneys, personal injury lawyers must be authorized to practice law in the state where they work. This means they have to pass the tests necessary to get into law school, complete law school and pass the state bar exam. Some states may also require additional certifications and ongoing education.
Then there are the intangible skills – skills that can’t really be taught and can only be perfected with experience. These include the ability to make strong verbal arguments, excel in negotiations and manage client expectations. The best personal injury lawyers also work well in adversarial environments, and thrive under pressure.
Typical personal injury cases
Because personal injury law is such broad practice area, attorneys will sometimes limit the types of cases they take. For example, some lawyers may concentrate on motor vehicle accidents involving passengers, drivers, pedestrians and motorcyclists. Others may have the expertise needed to tackle personal injury cases involving tractor trailers, buses, aircraft and so on.
The following are also classified as personal injury cases:
- Slip and fall
- Animal bites/attacks
- Construction accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse/neglect
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Some personal injury lawyers will also take cases where people have been hurt while participating in recreational activities, or even while exercising at their local gym or health club.
How does a personal injury lawyer build a case?
The first meeting with a personal injury lawyer is usually – but not always – a free consultation. During this time, the attorney collects detailed information about the incident and the victim’s injuries to determine whether he or she has a viable case and the chances of success. This is because most personal injury lawyers work on contingency – meaning they don’t charge for services until they finalize a settlement or win at trial.
Once a personal injury lawyer agrees to take your case – and you retain his or her services – he or she will start building the case. How this is done depends on the type of accident, injuries and so forth. The attorney may:
- Gather additional evidence to support the case including but not limited to accident reports, medical records, witness statements and more.
- Engage in negotiations with the responsible party’s insurance company.
- Issue demand letters, which details the incidents and orders the insurance company to make specified reparations.
- Draft legal documents to be used in pre-trial hearings and/or at trial.
- Conduct certain interviews as part of the “discovery” process.
In most cases, the personal injury attorney’s efforts result in the settlement of the case without going to trial. However, he or she will also represent his or her client at trial if need be.
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Types of compensation awarded in personal injury cases
Winning plaintiffs in personal injury cases usually receive financial compensation for losses incurred such as:
- Past and future income due to the inability to work
- Medical expenses, including hospitalization and follow-up care
- Rehabilitation costs (when applicable)
- Home care costs (when applicable)
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life (caused by the inability to engage in past activities)
Depending on the circumstances, these awards can be quite substantial, sometimes topping six or even seven figures.
A personal injury lawyer’s job is demanding, but potentially lucrative
New personal injury lawyers should be prepared to put in long hours in a pressure-packed environment as they hone their skills. Those who survive the first few years will find that the work is rewarding, as well as challenging
In addition to helping accident victims get the compensation they deserve, personal injury lawyers are generally well compensated. Salaries for plaintiff’s lawyers can range $30,000 to $300,000, depending on practice size and location, with the median salary for all in 2017 totaling $119,250.
Clearly, most new personal injury lawyers joining established won’t make that much to begin with. However, they should get a percentage of the fees paid to the firm for the cases they’ve won.
Is the financial investment and stress worth it in the long run?
So is this investment – and the prospect of working in a stressful, adversarial environment for relatively little money to begin with – worthwhile? The answer is, Yes!
The United States is still a very litigious society – and for personal injury lawyers, that means there is plenty of work to support a life-long career. The investment in yourself can certainly bring a bright future and the first step is deciding if a legal career is right for you. There will never be a time when people aren’t injured in some form. Therefore, a career as a personal injury attorney is a great choice for anyone that is interested in this area of law.