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Scenes of the Accident

Mar 18, 2008
For this article, we'll talk about some aspects of the area of law called accident litigation, and generally about 'accident' attorneys.

One of the most common reasons people need a lawyer is because they have been injured. When an accident happens, people's first thought is rarely about a lawyer. My own experience as an attorney tells me this is an unfortunate fact...people are typically not only physically injured at a point of collision, fall, or blow. In fact, the injuries to their rights often begin there at the scene of an accident too. I recall one instance where I came upon an accident, and was surprised to see my friend was one of the victims.

I stopped, as most friends would have. The injured friend, dazed and confused, was wandering around the scene. When the friend saw me, she immediately came over. As we talked, and she calmed down, she asked me what she should do. At that point, one of the city paid ambulance crew members (hearing I was a lawyer) asked me to leave. I refused to leave my friend, unless my friend asked me to. Within minutes, I was detained by a police officer and taken from the scene.

The inability to effectively plan during and even immediately after an accident is why it makes good sense to determine options (as much as possible) before something happens-to you or to a loved one or friend. This means thinking of what to do in obtaining professional legal advice when an accident occurs. Small wonder people are so confused at an accident scene, especially given the variety of names and hostility for lawyers who handle accidents and injuries. "Accident" lawyers may also be called wrongful injury attorneys, personal injury lawyers...and epithets as well: "ambulance chasers." But neither the confusion nor the derogatory names should stop a particular person from investigating their legal rights.

Personal injury lawyers generally work in an area of law called Torts...civil wrongs committed against a person, usually by another person. Because most lawyers tend to specialize, one of the first things to do is to know what kind of personal injury lawyer you need. Many people make the mistake of believing that the accident lawyer they know can do everything. In fact, most of the lawyers I know are not very good in court...lawyers, after all, do suffer from the same limits as the rest of us. Never assume that a lawyer who is good at drafting your will or handling a real estate closing is also going to know about accidents, soft tissue injuries or worker compensation claims. Assume just the opposite. If you already have a lawyer you like and trust, make it a point to find out if they handle many cases of a personal injury nature and accidents.

All is not lost if your present attorney doesn't have much experience in accidents. The odds are they will know someone who does. Additional referrals are available from your local bar association, listed in the phone book. You can even ask for referrals to a particular type of accident lawyer...for example based on where you live, or the amount of experience the attorney has in accidents or personal injury (I recommend at least five years).

Finally, be acutely aware of the costs of your case. A good accident lawyer will be willing to give you a free consultation before you agree to their representing you. If you don't feel comfortable with a lawyer, don't feel trapped into taking them. If they are evasive about your costs, say so. The relationship between an accident lawyer and their client must reflect an open comfort. One hard question I wish more people would ask is how many of the personal injury clients' cases have been settled out of court by the lawyer. This may indicate either a killer reputation that scares the opposition, or the attorney's willingness to sell out your case in the easiest manner possible. Picking the right lawyer is about healing, and not more hurt.
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