Attorney Client Relationship: What it is and how does it work?
The attorney-client relationship is a very special thing. In that relationship the attorney becomes your advocate—your champion. Because of this, the attorney needs to be able to talk with you about everything, even about things you wouldn’t want anyone else to know. Because you may reveal very confidential information to your attorney, the law protects this information so that he cannot be compelled to reveal it to anyone else without your approval. This principle assures that you can be completely open with your attorney and be protected from anyone forcing your attorney to tell them what you said.
What we do for you
Handling serious injury cases requires detailed legal knowledge, years of trial experience, and the patience and perseverance to seek out and discover detailed facts and specific laws. We’ve described the process generally, but there is much, much more to it. In general, here’s what we do for you after you’ve hired us.
We will notify all insurance carriers that we represent you and that all future communications must be through us. This will keep the other side’s insurance adjuster from pressuring you to settle before you are ready, and it will give you some peace of mind in not having to worry about whether the adjuster may get you to say or do something wrong. You can focus on healing instead of worrying about all the paperwork and the stress of conflict.
We will investigate the facts and review the relevant laws to be sure that you have a valid claim. We will ask you to tell us of all your medical providers from the date of injury to the present time. If you have an earlier condition that was made worse, we will also ask you for the names of doctors who treated the earlier condition. Once you have finished treating, we will obtain copies of your medical records and billings so that we can study them. We will then talk to you about the value of your claim. We cannot fully evaluate your claim until we know the nature and extent of all your injuries and losses, as well as your doctor’s opinions as to what treatments you may require in the future. Because so many factors affect the value of any case, determining what a case is worth is time consuming and complex.
Factors that affect case value include:
- Your general and specific medical condition before and after your injury.
- The nature and extent of your injuries.
- The amount of your medical bills and lost wages.
- Whether your treatment has been reasonable and necessary.
- Whether your injuries can be objectively verified.
- The strength of the witnesses who knew you before and after you were injured and how convincingly they can describe the life changes you have experienced.
- Who your doctors are and how solidly they stand behind you.
- How hard you have tried to get better by keeping medical appointments and doing home exercises.
- How hard you have tried to get back to work and to get on with your life.
All these and much, much more are considered by insurance companies, mediators, arbitrators and juries to determine the value of any case. And, of course, relevant laws, regulations, and standards profoundly affect the value of any case, or whether you even have a case.
If a motor vehicle collision is involved in your injuries, we will help you get Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits through your own insurance. This will help pay accident-related medical bills and lost wages without you having to wait until you are ready to settle the rest of your claims.
When you have completed medical treatment or when your doctor says you are medically stationary, we will order any remaining medical records and then study your entire file. After we have studied these, we will have you to come in for a detailed discussion of your case to help us determine case value.
After we have discussed the case with you, we will prepare a “demand package” with a detailed description of how and why the other side is responsible for your harms, and describing in detail the nature and extent of your injuries. We will set forth a specific amount (with your approval) that the other side must pay to settle your case. We will also provide relevant medical records, billing summaries and other documents to support every element of your claim. All this will be sent to the at-fault insurance company. Once the insurance company has studied this package, negotiations begin. Negotiations may be relatively quick or may continue for several months. There are a lot of matters to be discussed, and it will usually take quite a number of “back and forth” offers and counter-offers to achieve a just settlement. We will consult you at each stage of negotiations so that you can tell us whether you want to accept an offer or make a counter-offer; and if so in what amount. Your case will never be settled without your permission. If you do not approve the last settlement offer, than your case will move to the next step – filing a lawsuit or requesting binding arbitration. This step will not be taken without your approval and consent.
Most (but not all) personal injury matters in Oregon must either be settled or a lawsuit be filed within two years of the injury (there are shorter deadlines in some cases). If your case is not settled by that deadline, a lawsuit has to be filed with the court or your claim will become time-barred and worthless. Negotiations will still continue, even after a lawsuit has been filed. Negotiations will even continue right up to trial or arbitration, so long as each side believes the other is trying in good faith to resolve the case.
If informal negotiations fail, your case may go to a more formal settlement approach that brings in other people to help decide the value of your case. In “mediation” a retired judge, or a very experienced attorney specializing in resolving disputes, will join the discussions and help each side more fully understand the position of the other side. In “arbitration” either a single arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators will hear the testimony of witnesses and will examine the documents submitted by both sides and will then decide the value of the case for the parties. In general (there are exceptions) the decision of a single arbitrator can be appealed, while the decision of a panel of arbitrators can not. If an arbitration decision is appealed, your case will then be scheduled for a jury trial before 12 people randomly chosen from the community. In most cases the jury’s decision is the final event in the life of a case. Although a jury verdict can be appealed, the panel of appellate judges hearing the matter will only decide whether the judge conducting the trial made any mistakes; the appellate judges do not decide the value of your case. If a jury verdict is overturned on appeal, your case will be set for a new trial before a new jury.
Throughout all stages, we will stand with you to protect your rights and to advocate your cause. We will seek every opportunity to resolve your case fully and fairly at the earliest opportunity – without filing a lawsuit if possible. But so long as your case merits greater damages than the insurance company is willing to pay, we will not back down from pursuing full compensation for the losses you have suffered.
You absolutely must be honest with your attorney, even if you think the truth you tell will hurt your case. Because of the attorney-client protection, you can confide in your attorney without fear. If your attorney knows the bad facts in the beginning, he can help you decide whether or not to accept a settlement offer and whether or not to take your case to trial. In some cases what you think is a bad fact may actually be a strength to your case. But if you withhold the information from your attorney and he learns it too late in the case (usually from the other side), he cannot protect you from the consequences of such concealment. It is then too late to control the damage. Therefore always be completely honest with your attorney. As the old saying goes, “honesty is the best policy.”
How often will I need to meet with my attorney?
After you have met with your attorney for the first interview, a number of things will be done immediately to investigate the facts properly. After that, your case will progress according to how fast you heal. Unless you came to us after your treatment was already completed, you will need time to finish healing and treating with your doctors. Once you have completed treatment we will obtain copies of all your relevant medical records and billings so that we can evaluate the medical details of your injury. Meanwhile, we will contact you periodically to see how you are doing and to learn of any new developments in your case. We will also send you copies of some of the correspondence we send out so that you will know what we are doing. Of course, you may call at any time, or make an appointment if you wish to discuss matters in person.
What about “bad facts”?
No case is perfect. Every valid case has both good and bad facts. We are experienced with injury claims and know the proof needed. Sometimes the thing you worry about being a “bad fact” may actually not be harmful at all—it may even be helpful. But if you exaggerate your pain or embellish the loss of your activities you will jeopardize your entire case because you will lose the trust of the jury. Therefore always, always, always be honest.
Exaggerating in a personal injury claim is a bad idea all around. If you exaggerate to anyone, including your attorney, your doctors, the insurance representative, or your friends and family, you will severely harm your case.
How to choose a lawyer
Choosing a lawyer is the most important step in any injury case. You must be able to trust your lawyer because you will talk about many very sensitive and personal things. In representing you your lawyer will be analyzing the depth of your injuries and how those injuries have affected your life. In doing so, he will be examining your medical records, employment history, family, relationships, hobbies, and other details of your life. You must be able to trust him. If you can’t, an already uncomfortable process will become much worse. At some point your lawyer may have to tell you things about your case that are difficult to accept. You must be able to completely trust that your attorney will always put your interest ahead of his own. Attorney trust is vital.
In addition, your lawyer needs to have the knowledge, experience and skill to handle your case. This means you need a lawyer who has been to court many times and is willing to go to court for you if necessary. You may have heard that many personal injury cases settle out of court, and it’s true. Why then do you need a trial lawyer? Because the other side knows that if your lawyer doesn’t take cases to trial, even when necessary, he probably won’t take your case to trial, and will accept less to avoid a trial. The ultimate measure of the value of a case is how much a jury or arbitration panel would award. If a lawyer develops a reputation of being afraid of going to trial, the other side will discount your case because of your attorney’s track record.
To handle a personal injury case with expertise requires that your attorney thoroughly know the field of personal injury law. Such knowledge comes by intense study and years of experience in handling injury cases. If your attorney mainly practices in a different area of law, he will not have the same knowledge base as an attorney who exclusively works on personal injury cases.
You also want an attorney who has time for you. You are the client. The attorney works for you. When you have questions, your attorney or staff should have the time to respond promptly.
How much does a lawyer cost?
Most attorneys who handle personal injury cases do so on a “contingency fee.” We do as well. This means that the attorney gets paid only if she recovers money for you. If there is no money recovered, there is no attorney fee. Using this type of arrangement, any individual, no matter how meager her means, may take the most powerful businesses to court and have a level playing field.
When do I need a lawyer? Why get a lawyer? Should I go it alone?
The insurance company of the at-fault person often tries to convince the injured victim not to get an attorney. While this may be good advice for minor injuries of a purely short term nature, serious injury cases almost always require the services of an experienced personal injury attorney. For example, in one case, an unrepresented victim was offered $1,200 before engaging the services of an attorney. A year later the same case settled for $50,000, even though the injured woman’s medical condition had not changed between the time of the original offer and the time of the settlement. After being shown documents to prove all losses, the insurance company paid the amount it felt a jury would likely require it to pay— $50,000.
While not all cases have this much movement between the initial offer and the final result, a knowledgeable attorney will usually make a significant difference in the outcome of the case, especially if the attorney is thoroughly experienced in the field of personal injury law and has acquired a reputation for careful preparation and a willingness to go to trial. In an injury case, you pay for a lawyer even if you don’t have one, since the insurance company will usually discount its payment by the a mount of the attorney fee you save. Without an attorney you have to go through all the hassle of dealing with the insurance company yourself, and you have to get all the documentation in order. Then you must know something about the applicable rules, and you must negotiate well. But even if you manage to do all these things well, the insurance companies will still discount your claim by what you would have paid an attorney. And because you probably have not handled a personal injury case before, you will have a hard time knowing how much a jury is likely to award. The insurance company will use your inexperience against you.
We offer a free consultation, and if you do not need us, we’ll tell you.