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Part III: Before You Speak to a Lawyer

Part III: Before You Speak to a Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer and starting any kind of legal action can often be a complicated process. A personal injury claim is no different and the most important decision you will make is hiring the right lawyer to represent you and your family. It is up to you to arm your lawyer with any and all information that you have to help them effectively represent you.

There are a few things your personal injury lawyer will ask you at your initial consultation. Knowing the answers ahead of time will help out in the long run.

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

1. Who was involved?

When your accident happened, who else was there besides you? If it was a car accident, were you carrying passengers? What were their names? If there was another party involved in the accident, what was their name? Were there any other people with the at-fault party? If your accident happened on someone else’s property, whose property was it? What is their relationship to you? Were these your friends? Neighbors? Employers? Children? Relatives?

Knowing the names and relationships of everyone involved right off the bat will speed up the entire intake process. These are the first questions your lawyer will ask you, and they set the tone of the rest of their investigation of the incident. The last thing you want is to be really deep into the case when your lawyer suddenly gets a phone call from another injured party they didn’t even know was involved or a witness who saw the entire incident.

2. Who are the witnesses?

Again, this is a time where you need to be able to say not just who those involved are, but who are they in relation to you. Is the witness related to you? A friend? A random passer-by on the street? Were they a co-worker or a supervisor?

Knowing who they are, but also who they are to you, goes a long way for your lawyer in trying to establish the credibility of your witnesses. A family member who was in your car at the time of an accident may not be as credible as a totally independent witness with no interest on either side.

Witnesses very much need to be independent. Having a neutral, third-party account of any kind of accident can be vital to proving your case. If you can tell your lawyer up front, “This person saw the whole thing, this is who they are, this is what they know, and this is their relationship to me,” the investigation into your case can be sped up substantially.

It’s also important to have full names and contact information for these witnesses, since your lawyer will need to speak with them. If you don’t have this information and it will be your lawyer’s responsibility to track down witnesses and take these statements. There are many ways an effective attorney can track down witnesses.

3. Who were the First Responders?

When your accident happened, did the police respond? Were there paramedics or firefighters? Was there a doctor who just so happened to be there and administered first aid? If the accident was in a public place, did the facility have security personnel that responded?

You also need to have the documentation of this response or tell your attorney so that they can obtain any report. First responder reports such as a police report, paramedic report, or incident report on a premises liability case can be critical in any case. You can never really have too much documentation when it comes to an accident, and these reports are some of the most important things to have at the out-set or early on in any case.

In the case of a good Samaritan who happened to be in the right place at the right time and assisted you—you’ll need their information also. When it comes to a good Samaritan, there’s a number of implications that your lawyer will need to investigate. If they administered any kind of first aid or medical attention, your lawyer needs to speak to them about it. If they attempted to repair something, or spoke to police on your behalf, this is important. Make sure you have this person’s name and correct contact information before your consultation.

4. What exactly happened?

Having this prepared might be the most important thing of all. You need to be able to tell your lawyer a detailed account of everything that happened, as you remember it, to the best of your abilities. This is your account of the accident and might very well be the foundation upon which the entire case is built. It’s important to have this prepared and prepared correctly.

Your lawyer will ask you about many of the details, so you’ll want to make special note of everything that happened and everything that was around you at the time of the accident. Again, this is “to the best of your ability.” A lawyer will ask for some details you think are unimportant, but might dictate the entire direction of your case. Know these details.

The timeline of your accident is important as well. In what order did everything happen, and when did it happen? Things like time of day, chronology of events, change of location, incidents leading up to and following the accident, and other key elements are all vital to your case. If this is at all foggy to you, it might help to go back over some of the documentation to jog your memory.

Many people have a tendency to bend a story a bit, to make themselves look better and the other party at fault. Lawyers hear this all the time, and it is the tall grass they must wade through to find the truth. There is no need to inject opinion or judgement into your account of the accident at this point. Stick to just the important facts of what happened, where it happened, when it happened, and in what order it happened. Leave your opinions of the other party or your assessment of fault out of it.

Remember, accident cases are built on many things, but details are one of the biggest. You want to give every detail you can, and let your lawyer focus on what’s important. What you think is trivial might end up to be the most important thing of all.

5. What were you doing?

This is kind of an aside from your fact-based account of the accident, but it’s important enough that it gets its own question.

You’ll want to be able to say what you were doing in the time leading up and following to the accident. If you were in a car, where were you going? If you were in a public place, what were you doing there? If you were at work, what was the task in front of you? Where were you coming from when you got to the scene of the accident? Where did you go afterwards? What was going on around you right before the accident happened?

Make sure these details are clear not only for you, but for your witnesses and, if possible, the other party or parties.

Sometimes people’s memories of an accident can be hazy or even incomplete. This is okay. There’s no reason to reject large chunks of an accident account just because your memory is touch-and-go. The rule-of-thumb is that it’s okay if you don’t remember everything exactly, but always tell your lawyer what you remember and always tell the truth.

6. When did it happen?

Separate from the timeline of the accident, the “when” of your accident is immensely important to the case. This means knowing time of day, date, and when applicable, the year.

Knowing the exact time of an accident can go a long way in proving a wide variety of things. Was the sun in someone’s eyes? Was there a normal or high amount of traffic at the time? Had a sporting event just let out? Was it a weekend or a weekday? What was the weather that day? How much time has passed between your injury and now? Has there been a normal amount of healing time?

If you don’t remember an exact time or date, refer to the police or incident report.

7. Where did it happen?

This is another area where specificity is important. What street where you on? What part of the public area were you in? What floor were you on? What lane were you in? Were you entering or exiting an intersection? Were you on your way up the stairs or down? You will need to know exactly where everything happened, with as much detail as possible.

If this was on a street, know the street name and the number of the block. Also, record as many cross-streets as possible, and the “block north of/block south of” information. Landmarks that were near you at the time are also of the utmost importance.

In addition to the location of the accident, you’ll also want to know where you were going and where you were coming from. What route were you taking? Did you cut through a cafeteria to get to the elevator? Were you taking a side entrance or exit? Were you driving a shortcut to your destination? What was your final destination? Where did you start from? What was your route?

Exact location of the incident is very important. This helps your lawyer build a “model” of the accident. It places you in a specific place and time for the narrative they are creating for your case. It allows your lawyer to build the events with enough detail that it accounts for any variables or deviation.

Again, if your memory is not exactly perfect, this is okay. Try your best to fill in the gaps by reading the first responder’s reports or if you can, going back to the scene of the accident. If you return to the scene, you are recording these details of location in a better frame of mind and with the intention of recording things accurately. This is not a time for you to do accident investigation, however. Simply record the names of streets and landmarks for your account of the story. Do not try to piece together the events or look for new information.

8. How did the accident happen?

This is a little bit different from the “what happened” description. Your lawyer is going to want a more technical account of the accident. This is the time for nuts-and-bolts descriptions of the accident.

You’ll need to know very specific things like the speed a car was driving. How fast a crowd was walking. If a door opened inwards or outwards. Which way a steering wheel was pointed. Other details like sounds, sights, and even smells will be of the utmost importance.

A lawsuit like this is an exercise in details. When your lawyer is proving your case, they are going to delve into the nitty-gritty of everything that happened. When you can give a second, more in-depth account of your story, this gives your lawyer plenty to work with.

9. Why do you think the accident happened?

Finally, after everything else, the last part is when you get to use your opinion. Every other question is a “just the facts” situation, but this is when you get to express your opinion.

Was the other party not paying attention? Was there defective equipment involved? Did someone appear to be intoxicated? Was someone in charge not paying attention? Was the other party acting recklessly? Was something just not right with the situation?

You were there, and your lawyer was not. Once you’ve given all the facts, all the figures, all the details, your opinion will help immensely. This is an eyewitness interpretation that only you can give. This is only useful if you have already supplied your lawyer with the strict details. If you start with your opinion, that’s just going to complicate things.

Another reason your lawyer will want to hear your opinion and interpretation is to see if there are details missing. If your answer to many of these questions ends up being “I don’t know,” there might be something else going on, like a brain injury. Should there be large gaps in your account and interpretation of the accident, you and your lawyer might want to look at some further medical investigations.

WHAT IS IT YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?

When you seek legal counsel after an accident, you do so with a goal in mind. Whether that goal is financial in nature or based in principle, you have a goal. Knowing what your ultimate goal is will help your lawyer plan your case correctly. If you are looking to achieve ABC, you need to tell your lawyer that so they don’t put together a plan to get you WXYZ. More than likely, in your initial consultation, your lawyer will ask you in no uncertain terms, “What is it you’d like to accomplish?”

Know this ahead of time, but more importantly, be honest. If you are looking for money to see a doctor, tell your lawyer. If you are trying to take care of some of the mounting medical bills, tell your lawyer. This could dictate the entire direction of your case and could even be a make it or break it kind of question.

Too often, clients will come into an initial consultation and tell the lawyer, “I want justice,” and nothing else. While this is a perfectly reasonable answer, it doesn’t tell your lawyer a whole lot. What “justice” looks like to you might be different from what it looks like to someone else. Of course you want justice, but you’ll want to know what justice is before you ask for it.

In wrongful death cases, many clients are looking to hold the responsible party accountable. This is also perfectly reasonable. If this is your answer to the question, say it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hold someone accountable when you’ve lost a loved one. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just something your lawyer needs to know.

Knowing your ultimate goal is possibly one of the most important things to your case other than the accounts of the accident.

WHAT ARE YOUR DAMAGES?

If you’re seeking legal counsel for an injury, you’re dealing with damages of some kind. Your life has been negatively impacted by the aftermath of this accident and you’re having to clean up the mess made by someone else’s negligence. Before you can recover any of these damages, your lawyer needs to know what they are.

1. Financial Damages

Have you had to pay for something because of this accident? Are there medical bills you’ve had to pay? Did you lose property? All of these things amount to financial damages and you’ll need record of them.

If you have some records of bills or expenses you’ve had to pay, or that you currently owe because of the accident, make sure to send your lawyer copies.

As a victim of an accident, the burden of proof is on you, the Plaintiff, to prove your harms and damages. That’s why it’s so important to have proof of all the expenses that you’ve paid or you owe to prove your economic damages.

Economic damages can include loss of earnings, so make sure you accurately record how much time you missed from work and how much income that translates into. This can be easily done by looking at paycheck stubs and bank account statements.

2. Quality Of Life

An accident can not only disrupt your life temporarily, but there are times that an accident can have catastrophic impact permanently—not only on your life, but on your entire family.

You might not be able to work, enjoy hobbies, spend time with family like you used to, or even function properly. These are damages as well, and the law says that you are entitled to be compensated for them.

When you speak or meet with your lawyer, you’ll want to know the answer to some of these question: How has the accident affected your life? What are you not able to do that you did before? What are you struggling with? How have you changed and how has the accident left you?

Think about your everyday life. Has this accident made it difficult for you to do everyday things like brushing your teeth, cooking meals, or driving a car? Have you had injuries that affected your sleep cycle? Are you having trouble hearing or speaking? Are you having trouble concentrating or problems with your memory?

You also want to be clear about the psychological damages you’ve incurred. Have you had nightmares? Are you afraid to go back to certain places or to drive again? Are you having anxiety? Know these things before you go in and do not be afraid to discuss them.

We call these damages “the intangibles.” They are things you cannot quantify or put an exact dollar amount on. This is where you and your lawyer must work together very closely so that they truly understand every aspect of your life that has been affected.

While you cannot show a dollar amount for the damage to your overall quality of life, you’ll want to tell your lawyer about it in detail, without holding back any information. Make sure that your lawyer truly understands how your life has been affected.