We’ve all turned on the TV and heard the ads; “If your loved one was fatally injured due to…” But what happens when you actually find yourself in this situation? Whatever the reason may be, if your family member has been fatally injured due to an accident or negligence, you may be considering the option of pursing legal advice. But there are so many wrongful death attorneys out there, how do you find the right one? It all starts with asking the right questions. During this tough time, you may find yourself not thinking clearly, so that’s why we have created this list of important questions to ask prospective lawyers.
First of all, what IS wrongful death?
This may sound like a silly question to ask, but the fact is, regardless of how clear cut your case may seem, there may be certain laws in place that make it more complex than you may realize. Depending on what state you live in, the laws surrounding wrongful death vary. It is important that the attorney you choose be knowledgeable in the law and can educate you on your rights.
Asking the attorney to clarify how the law defines wrongful death will give you a good indication of just how much he or she knows, and will tell you how well they are equipped to represent you. In general, the attorney should be able to explain requirements such as; eligibility, different types of wrongful death and what types of damages you can claim.
Do I really need an attorney?
Again, seemingly clear cut cases usually aren’t as straight forward as they seem. In some cases, you may have enough evidence to represent yourself. Having an attorney sit down with you, and fully explain your options is a good way to determine their honesty. Contrary to popular belief, there are honest lawyers out there, and it’s a good idea to ensure you picked the right one. After your consultation, if you feel confident that your attorney has proven to you, in an honest and valid manner, that you should seek legal assistance, you can probably rest assured that they are competent to handle your claim.
How much experience do you have, and how much of your practice is devoted to personal injury or wrongful death?
It is important to find out how much experience your lawyer really has. Even if they have been in practice for over 20 years, if a large percentage of their practice is not devoted to personal injury and wrongful death, they may not be the best fit. These types of cases can get very complex, very quickly. In a perfect situation, you want the attorney to admit that at least 90 percent of their practice is devoted to personal injury or wrongful death. It is okay if they don’t focus strictly on these cases; in fact, having knowledge outside this realm may be beneficial as it gives them expertise in all aspects of the law, which can work in your favor.
You also should ask how many times they have actually tried a case in court. As the majority of cases never sit before a judge and jury. Ask them what their results have been, and if they can provide you with the names of previous clients who are willing to discuss their experience with the firm.
Who will I be dealing with?
You may or may not know this already, but a lot of firms will hand off work to secretaries, paralegals, and new attorneys looking for experience. While some people may be okay with this, you probably don’t want your case to be a learning experience. Make sure you clearly understand who will be representing you. Upon your first consultation, you should be allowed to discuss your case directly with the attorney, not a secretary or paralegal. If you are advised that they are busy or unable to meet with you, take that as a sign that they will not have time to review your case.
If we can’t reach a settlement, are you willing to go to trial?
A huge majority of cases are settled long before they ever get presented before a judge. However, since there is always the chance that the settlement offered by the defendant may not be satisfactory, you need to know that your attorney has the experience and knowledge to proceed into trial.
The truth is no one really wants to see a case progress all the way to the court room. The defendant wants to settle for as little money as possible, the courts don’t want to be over loaded, your attorney has other cases to try, and you just want everything to be over and done with. There’s nothing wrong with accepting a reasonable settlement offer, but you have to know that your attorney is willing to continue representing you, should a settlement be unattainable.
What’s this going to cost me?
Attorneys bill their clients in different ways. The best option for you is a flat rate fee. A flat rate fee is where the attorney sets a percentage rate and sticks to that percentage throughout the entire process; regardless of how far your case goes. One huge advantage to this method is that if your case does not settle, and you do not win, you do not owe any fees to the attorney for their services. Some attorneys, however, use a method called increasing rate. This way of billing allows the attorney to increase their rate depending on how much detail goes into your case, they will give you a rate, and if the case goes to court, they may increase the rate. Furthermore, if the case goes in to appeal, the rate may increase again. Make sure you understand exactly how much you are expected to pay at the end of your trial, and ensure that you understand whether the rate will change or not.
Are you certified?
In law, certification means so much more than just a piece of paper. In order for an attorney to become certified, he or she has to prove themselves to judges and their peers. By earning the respect of others in the profession, they have proven that they are capable of handling even the most complex cases. Another advantage to this certification is the respect they gain from the insurance companies. Insurance companies keep records of which attorneys have the highest success rates, and are willing to offer higher settlements in an attempt to keep the case from progressing into court.
Dealing with a wrongful death case is never easy, there are many emotions involved, and even if you do win, monetary values will never replace the sorrow you feel. You may not think it’s very moralistic to pursue your case, knowing that success will still leave you feeling empty, but you have rights, and you owe it to yourself and loved one to seek out justice by discussing your case with a wrongful death attorney.