Personal Injury Law: the area of practice focusing on civil wrongs, or torts, which cause harm or injury. Lawyers practicing personal injury law seek compensation for their clients for injuries and damages caused by the wrongful act of another arising in negligence.
| by J. Kent McAfee |
For the public, the area of tort law most commonly experienced is in an auto accident with a negligent driver and injured victim(s). Typically, when auto liability insurance is in effect for the negligent driver, the victim is under the belief that he or she can “talk and work” with the carrier without an attorney. However, perception is not reality. Most accident victims never realize until it is too late that insurance companies are knowledgeable and skilled in negotiations and usually market the idea that the company is “working only for you” at all times. Regrettably, most people find out too late that many insurance companies apply the rules and laws of coverage in a manner which appears inconsistent with their best interests. The carrier’s advantage in handling a claim with an unrepresented victim often allows it to pay a much lower range of compensation for the injured party, yet still remain within the rules and regulations. In these instances, the insurance company protects itself and its insured first, at the expense of the victim. However, with an experienced personal injury attorney, the accident victim or injured party has a level playing field and can reasonably expect a much better outcome, despite attorney fees.
When hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer, the client should expect expertise and experience in the area of negotiation, trial skills, insurance coverage and regulations, health insurance subrogation (reimbursement of health payments), property damages, lost income, the impact of Medicare or Medicaid on recovery, disability and long term care (if applicable). A clear interpretation and understanding of medical damages and negotiation skills is essential for the lawyer to competently and professionally present the victim’s claim for damages. Alternatively, if the victim seeks to represent himself or herself, he or she proceeds only with an instinct or expectation and without any knowledge of the intricacies involved in these matters. It should be cautioned that the same applies whether the individual is seeking compensation from the adverse liability carrier or his or her own insurance.
How does one evaluate the value of a personal injury claim? Is it what they heard from a friend or read in the paper or reviewed online? Most people believe that they can add their out-of-pocket expense and arrive at a figure that is fair and just for their recovery. This approach disregards many areas of damages and recovery of which the victim or insured might be entitled. An experienced personal injury lawyer has to be familiar with and stay abreast of the verdicts in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred and to know when the case needs to be tried in front of a jury. Verdicts form a baseline range or historical evaluation for determining valuations involving similar facts and injuries and are generally relied on by all parties when arriving at settlement discussions. Settlement or recovery ranges are not guesswork, but serve as one factor among many in determining case valuation.
If you, a friend or a loved one is ever injured, and decide to hire a personal injury attorney, do so as soon as possible after the event. This provides your attorney with the best means to control the direction of your claim and provide valuable advice from the beginning. The ability to have an attorney working for you early in the process will guide and protect you from the self-serving acts of your adversary and his or her insurance carrier.
Attorney J. Kent McAfee is a personal injury attorney with more than 30 years experience in this area of law. He founded the Fort Worth-based Law Offices of J. Kent McAfee, P.C. in 1984.