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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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