While there are many issues that are addressed daily by lawyers in Charleston, along with family law issues, real estate transactions and wills and estates matters, accidents involving injuries top the list of the most common reasons people seek legal advice. A Google search for lawyers who handle auto, boating or trucking accidents will produce pages and pages of results. The consumer is left to search many law firm websites, all telling what a great job their firm does for clients. How do you know the right one to choose? Here are a few things to consider when hiring an automobile, trucking or boating accident lawyer in Charleston:
Is the lawyer acting alone in an office, or will the attorney have the assistance of competent staff members to ensure all administrative matters are taken care of in an efficient matter?
Investigating the facts of a case, obtaining and assembling all pertinent records, photographs and video, hiring needed experts to clarify issues of liability and/or damages, presenting a thorough demand to appropriate insurance companies, then possibly filing suit and litigating a case through a jury trial, and sometimes an appeal from a trial, is no small undertaking. Law firms who have a team of experienced and well trained personnel to assist with case intake, fact investigation, records gathering, filing suit, litigation of the suit, and jury trial, seem get things done quickly and keep things in order. The solo practitioner without staff may be able to multi-task, and may have skill sets in a number of areas, but may have a difficult time managing fast moving, complex matters alone. If your matter is serious, you need to seriously consider what legal team you are hiring to help you and your family. Does the law firm have the resources to hire experts and prosecute your case from beginning to end? Do they have the experience and training in the subject matter of your suit?
Does the lawyer file lawsuits in various state and federal courts on behalf of his or her clients?
Some lawyers never file suit, avoiding the time and expense commitments of litigation and trial. Other law firms file suit in some instances and conduct civil litigation, but the attorney prefers not to go to trial. Other law firms regularly file suit, conduct civil litigation and go to trial in state and federal courts before judges and juries. Other law firms handle only appeals from trial courts. It is not unusual for law firms to team up as partners, blending experience and resources together to take on the complexities of your case.
When hiring an attorney for a particular case, ask him or her how your case might be handled, from beginning to end, and whether they anticipate the case will be handled completely in-house, a combination in-house/referral to another firm, or on a full referral basis to another law firm. South Carolina Rules of Professional Responsibility requires the client to approve in writing, all fee splits between law firms.
What kind of experience does the lawyer handling your accident and injury case have with trying cases before juries to verdict, or beyond trial, in appellate courts?
Insurance companies keep track of lawyers and his/her law firm’s history of litigation, settlements and verdicts, especially when there is a catastrophic injury or wrongful death case involving millions of dollars in damages. In matters involving serious injuries or death, it is advantageous to hire a lawyer and law firm with a track history of winning at trial. Insurance adjusters and defense attorneys know which lawyers are willing and able to take a case through litigation and jury trial to a verdict, and those who are not.
Settling cases for fair money at any point of a case is a great goal to have and can be done without having to file suit; but often, issues related to liability and damages arise, and the case needs to be tried before a judge and jury. Having a legal team with the skills and temperament to file suit, conduct litigation, try the case before a judge and jury, then navigate any appeals to higher courts if necessary is essential in some circumstances.
Understand who you are dealing with, beyond the hype of the attorney’s website. Ask some pointed questions, and do your research, to ensure you are dealing with an attorney who meets your quality and experience expectations.
Does the law firm’s experience match the size of the case you are bringing to the law firm?
Within the world of accident and injury law firms, some law firms are better suited than others to handle large catastrophic cases. Cases involving serious injury or wrongful death require substantial time and monetary resources. Certified Accident reconstruction experts are often dispatched to survey the scene, interview witnesses and reconstruct exactly what happened to clarify issues of liability. Because serious injuries involve permanent disability, vocational rehabilitation experts, life care planning experts and economists are often hired to determine a person’s future vocational abilities. The life care planning expert meets with physicians and develops a medical life care plan, to ensure all medical needs into the future are being considered. The economist reviews the life care plan and other economic data such as future wage loss, and determines how much money would be paid in a lump sum to compensate a person for future monetary losses. When a dangerous product injures someone, an expert must be hired to evaluate the product safety issues.
Complex cases require lots of law firm financial resources and talent, to know what to do, and when. It is important to choose a law firm that is accustomed to handling large, more complex cases when there is a catastrophic loss. Ask the attorney how many large cases he or she has handled in their career; and have them give examples of substantial cases they have personally managed from beginning to end. This should give you a good idea of who you are dealing with and the types of cases they are accustomed to handling.
Do you personally like the attorney and staff you have met? Do they seem to have a genuine interest in helping you?
Sometimes we have to make “from the gut” decisions. Just like certain doctors have a better bedside manner than others, some lawyers are better than others dealing with injured persons and their families during high pressure times of loss and crisis. It seems basic, but be sure you like the people you are dealing with. The relationship of lawyer/staff and client is an ongoing relationship. All parties should feel comfortable with one another, and be able to communicate effectively over time.
An attorney and staff who are compassionate, who genuinely value and respect you as a human being and intelligent person, are likely to be the kinds of people who will work hard to accomplish the goals of the case; and you will feel thankful that people are on your side during a most difficult and painful time of your life. Emotional intelligence and people skills are essential when representing people who have suffered catastrophic, life changing losses.
Accident and injury law firms differ in size, subject matter focus, expertise and attorney/staff personality and temperament. The prosecution of a serious accident and injury case or wrongful death matter is a process of fact investigation, records gathering, and negotiation. If negotiations fail, it may involve litigation, a courtroom jury trial; and in some instances, appeal beyond the trial court’s decision. There is no such thing as a“one call and that’s all,” case, as one famous television advertisement almost jokingly suggests. We recommend that you and your family choose a lawyer and staff that are competent, a law firm that has a strong reputation in the community for quality representation, and also, a legal team with whom you feel personally comfortable, representing you and your family during stressful and difficult times.
Jody McKnight is the owner of the McKnight Law Firm, Charleston, South Carolina. His firm focuses on serious injury and wrongful death cases, arising from all causes involving negligence, including product liability, auto accidents, boat accidents, dram shop (liquor liability) matters, and premise liability cases. Mr. McKnight is an active member of the South Carolina Association for Justice, the Southern Trial Lawyers Association. He founded the Charleston Art of Trial Advocacy Workshop in Charleston, SC. He has tried numerous cases before judges and juries in South Carolina state circuit courts, as well as the United States District Court.