Q:

How do I decide if I need to hire an attorney?

A:

There are situations where an attorney is unnecessary, such as very small cases. Small claims court in Ohio will handle claims up to $3000. If your injury is a minor one that will not result in any incapacity, or substantial medical care, then you may want to settle it yourself in small claims court.

An attorney should be consulted if you have been seriously injured or are unsure as to the outcome of your injury. These cases can get quite complicated. In such cases, an attorney will have the legal expertise, time and resources to effectively handle your claim. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to accurately analyze the value of your case and will be able to meet all of the rules, requirements and deadlines that have to be met. You will most likely have to deal with a professional insurance adjuster from an insurance company. The sole job of the adjuster is to try to settle the claim for as little as possible. Without knowledge of the complex insurance laws and policy provisions, a person could easily give away valuable rights and lose reasonable compensation. Also of note is the fact that statistics show insurance companies pay more than twice as much compensation when an attorney is involved in your claim.

Q:

How much will an attorney cost?

A:

Most attorneys who believe a case has merit will take the case without payment up front. They will take the case on a contingency basis, which means they will receive a percentage of your award if and when you recover for your injuries. Contingency fees average between 25 and 40 percent. Most attorneys charge a smaller percentage if the case is settled before the attorney does all the work necessary to go to trial. If you and your attorney agree to a contingency fee, the attorney must put the agreement in writing and provide you with a signed copy. Some attorneys may charge an hourly fee or a flat fee for their services.

Out of pocket expenses include such things as filing fees, deposition fees, expert witness fees, and other similar expenses. The attorney’s out of pocket costs are in many cases not included in the attorney’s fees. You should be sure to pay attention to how an attorney will bill you for costs because they can amount to quite a significant sum.

Q:

How long do I have to hire an attorney?

A:

The law requires that you file a lawsuit within a specified period of time depending on the nature of the claim and the entity that caused your injury. This is referred to as the statute of limitations. Failure to file suit within this time frame prevents you from filing suit at all. In some instances, there are various exceptions to the statutes of limitation that may extend or limit the limitation periods. There may be special claims presentation requirements for claims against state and local government. For these reasons, it is important to consult an attorney as early as possible to be sure you don’t miss a crucial deadline.

In Ohio, most actions for bodily injury or wrongful death must be brought within two years from the date when the cause of action accrues. In most cases the cause of action accrues on the date of the incident, but there may be exceptions when the injury could not have reasonably been discovered until a later date. Medical malpractice actions must be brought within one year of accrual of the cause of action, but not more than six years after the alleged wrongful act, or if the injury is discovered in the last year of the six year period, within one year after discovery. Intentional acts such as assault and battery must be commenced within one year. When a claimant is a minor, of unsound mind, or imprisoned the limitation period is tolled until the disability is removed.

Q:

How will my claim be processed?

A:

Although most of us would prefer to avoid filing a lawsuit or going to court, it is sometimes necessary to pursue litigation to get full value for your claim. Lawsuits usually become necessary when there are disagreements with the other party’s insurance company over who caused an accident or how serious the injuries are. You should be sure not to sign any documents without prior review by an attorney. You need to attend all scheduled doctor appointments in order to document your injuries. Accurate records should be kept of time you missed from work, medical bills, and property damage repairs. You can document your damages with photographs of your injuries or photos of property damage.

After a lawsuit has been filed, both parties will conduct discovery. Pretrial discovery usually takes about a full year during which time both parties investigate all aspects of the claim. This may include taking oral depositions, obtaining pertinent records, propounding interrogatories, and hiring expert witnesses to obtain more evidence about the claim. During this period of discovery and as the trial date approaches, the parties will exchange settlement offers/demands. A large majority of personal injury claims settle before trial. If you agree to accept a settlement, you will be required to sign an agreement stating you absolve the other party of all further liability in this case.

Q:

What damages can I recover?

A:

You are entitled to recover for any actual damages that were proximately caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendant. Actual damages refers to the amount of money it would take to fully compensate you and place you in the same position you would have been in had the injury never taken place. You can recover for losses such as costs of reasonable and necessary medical care, property damage, car rental expenses, costs of domestic services, and loss of earnings. The law allows compensation for future medical and care expenses that the claimant can prove will be reasonably necessary to treat the injury. The claim may include income the claimant can prove will probably be lost in the future because of the injuries. Loss of earning capacity is also allowed when the patient proves he or she is less able to earn a living as a result of the injuries.

You are also entitled to non-economic damages for physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, physical impairment, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium (disruption of your personal relationship with your spouse), etc. There is no definite standard of calculating reasonable compensation for these types of damages other than being just and reasonable in light of the evidence. Non-economic damages are limited to the greater of $250,000 or three times economic damages up to a maximum of $500,000. For permanent and substantial injuries, the limits increase to the greater of 1,000,000 or $35,000 times the claimant’s remaining life expectancy.

In certain instances, damages may be awarded to families of injured claimants for loss of care, companionship, love and affection. Family members can be compensated for the wrongful death of a loved one. These damages may include medical and burial expenses, loss of income that would have supported the family members, emotional suffering, and loss of the pleasures of the family relationship.

Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and deter others from similar conduct. Punitive damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves that the defendant acted with malice or intent, not just negligence. Punitive damages may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $100,000. Punitive damage awards against corporate defendant are limited to three times compensatory damages or $250,000. Political subdivisions are immune form liability for punitive damages.

Q:

How can I determine how much my claim is worth?

A:

Attorneys are prohibited from promising that they will obtain a certain amount of money for you. For purposes of settlement, a claim is valued upon an estimate of what a jury would likely believe the case to be worth, taking into account the severity of the injury, the effects of the injury on your life and the negligence of the other party. Any settlement will be reduced if there appears to be a good chance that the claim will not be successful. If you were partially at fault for the accident, the amount of damages will be reduced proportionately. Benefits received from some collateral sources may be used to reduce your recoverable economic damages. Other factors that may reduce the damages include past medical history, pre-existing injuries, and prior claims history.

Considerable compensation may be commanded if your injuries are severe requiring extensive medical treatment, absences from work and permanent injuries. This is especially true if you were a healthy, productive, young worker prior to the accident. That is because an important factor in the value of your claim is the difference between your quality of life before the accident as compared to after the accident.