Frequently Asked Questions on Massachusetts Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law can be confusing - hopefully these FAQs help answer some of your questions

If you have been injured, it makes sense to call a personal injury lawyer to find out what rights you may have. If you believe that your injury has been caused by another person or a company, you may have a right to recover compensation for the injury. Although car accidents account for many personal injury claims, other types of preventable accidents produce injuries that deserve compensation.

Examples are: falls caused by snow, ice or a defect in a walkway or stair, work-place injuries caused by defective equipment or unsafe work practices, household injuries caused by defective consumer products, fires and electrical injuries, medical errors and defective medical products such as hip replacements and mesh implants, and sexual assaults. If you have any question about your potential rights following an injury, a call to a personal injury lawyer is essential.

The law has become complicated enough so that no lawyer is able to do it all. The knowledge, resources and skills necessary to represent an injured person or the family of someone deceased take years to develop.

A lawyer who handles an occasional personal injury matter simply cannot provide the same expertise as a lawyer who concentrates on handling personal injury cases. The law, at present, does not require the certification of specialists. But, just as you would not ask a general practice physician to perform surgery, you should not ask your local general practice lawyer to handle your personal injury case.

How to choose a personal injury lawyer? The traditional way to find a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer is word of mouth. Often, a local general practice lawyer can provide a referral to a personal injury law firm. However, if you don’t know a local lawyer, there are other ways to find the right lawyer.

The internet is an essential resource. Looking at the websites of personal injury law firms will allow you to evaluate the various firms. There are some items that one would be wise to look at when reviewing a personal injury law firm’s website:

  • How long has the firm been in existence?
  • Have they handled the type of case you have in the past?
  • How are the firm’s lawyers rated in Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, Martindale Hubbell?
  • Are the firm’s lawyers members of specialty trial law organizations such as the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL), American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), American Association for Justice (AAJ)?

After online research, a phone call or in-person meeting with a law firm is a good way to see if the firm is the right fit for you.

In short, probably not. The lawyer advertising you see on TV can inform you of some of the rights you have when injured but anyone can pay for a TV ad, so there’s no correlation between a lawyer appearing in a TV ad and that lawyer being good at representing a client.

Many of the lawyers who advertise on TV do not actually represent clients – they are “mills” who refer anyone who contacts them to a different firm that will actually do the work. If a lawyer advertises as being an expert on a a particular area of the law and the lawyer immediately refers you to another attorney, that should be a red flag.

For these reasons, we do not recommend choosing a personal injury lawyer based on TV ads alone. It’s better to choose a law firm through thorough research. Look at the firm’s website, see whether they’ve shown up in rankings of top firms by well-recognized industry publications, find out if any of the firms attorneys have earned any awards and contact the firm to discuss your case.

How to Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer

Personal injury law firms, such as ours, do not charge for an initial consultation whether by phone or in-person or both. After the initial consultation, the next step is often investigation of the claim and similarly, most firms do not charge to investigate a possible claim.

After a personal injury law firm has decided to bring your claim, the firm will most often work on a contingency basis. This means that there is only a fee due to the law firm if the claim is successful in obtaining compensation. If there is no recovery of compensation, there is no fee. The fee is typically a percentage of the amount of the compensation obtained. The percentage can vary by the type of claim.

In addition to fees, successful prosecution of personal injury claims requires a law firm to spend money for investigation, court fees, transcripts, and obtaining records. Most often the law firm advances these funds to be repaid by the client when the claim is settled. Massachusetts requires that the fee and repayment of out-of-pocket expenses to be agreed upon are outlined in a written fee agreement signed both by the client and law firm.

At the initial meeting, you should bring copies of any reports or records you have regarding your injuries and accident, whether filled out by you, the police or others. Also, you should bring your health insurance information and any papers you received at the hospital or from other health care providers related to your treatment.

It’s helpful to have photos you might have showing your injuries, the place where you were injured or your car or other vehicles involved in the accident. If you have a claim involving a defective product, it would be helpful to bring the product assuming it is small and convenient enough to carry. If there are any items that you cannot physically bring to the attorney, you should take steps to preserve and store them until your lawyer can investigate the claim. This includes any electronically stored information and data.

Finally, if you have a car accident case, you should bring the Coverage Selection Page from your own car’s insurance policy because some of the coverages may apply.

You should expect the lawyer to fully explain the law relating to your case, the steps necessary to bring your case to conclusion, the agreement relating to fees and expenses, the extent to which you will be involved in the case and the length of time the various steps in your case will take. However, before a personal injury lawyer can give this explanation, the lawyer needs to have detailed information about your accident and injuries. So, you should also expect to be asked to fully explain how you were injured and the circumstances surrounding the accident, the extent of your injuries, the treatment that you’ve had and will likely have in the future, your health and employment history and your loss of wages or earnings from your injuries.

There is no magic to the process of hiring a lawyer that requires interviewing multiple law firms before hiring one. If you’ve got good recommendations, the law firm and its lawyers have the qualifications as described above and most importantly it seems like the right fit when you speak with them, hire the firm. On the other hand, if you have doubts, don’t hesitate to talk to several lawyers before making a choice.

Ethical rules specifically allow a client to change lawyers. Stated another way, a lawyer cannot require a client to remain a client. So, if your case does not appear to be progressing, you can call another law firm. However, before doing this, it would be a good idea to meet with your present lawyer to get an explanation for the lack of progress. If after this, you decide to call another lawyer, you should be aware that switching lawyers where there’s a contingent fee agreement presents some complexity. You should make sure that your new personal injury lawyer fully explains how your first lawyer’s right to be paid will be handled and that the fee agreement you sign with your new attorney addresses this issue.

Some insurers have tried to contact those injured in accidents directly and tell them not to hire a lawyer. The insurers say that they’ll pay the injured party directly, saving legal fees and expenses. While you might hear from someone that they have been successful doing this, the vast majority of times it is only the insurance company that benefits.

The knowledge that a personal injury lawyer adds can be shown by some examples:

  • How long do you have to make a claim or file a lawsuit?
  • How much should the insurance company pay for your type of injury?
  • What factors are used to determine this amount?
  • Does the insurance company have the right to interview and take statements from you and your family?
  • Do you have to repay Medicare, Medicaid or your health insurers from the settlement? If so, how much?

Unless you know the answers to these and other questions, the insurance company will always have the upper hand and will try to take advantage of you if you deal with them directly. A personal injury lawyer levels the playing field.

Every case is different and so cases take differing periods of time. Our Massachusetts state courts have guidelines for different types of cases that provide from 1 ½ years for the least complicated to 3 years for most, from the time a case is filed in court until trial. Although the courts make every effort to meet these guidelines, it’s not unusual for specific cases to take longer. However, not every case goes to trial as some are settled out of court. For these cases, settlement can happen anywhere from the early stages to just before trial.

When personal injury cases are settled, they are settled for a set lump sum amount. You cannot come back later to ask for more money if your injuries worsen nor can the insurer come back to get a refund. For this reason, much of the timing depends on the medical status of your injuries. Until there’s some certainty as to the extent of your injuries and whether they are permanent, it is often too risky for either you or the insurer to settle. The unknown nature and extent of your injuries make determination of the right amount impossible.

After the initial meeting with your personal injury lawyer, typically you will be asked to periodically update your lawyer on your treatment for and progress of your injuries. How often you will need to update depends on where you are in your recovery and how much treatment is needed. These updates are also a good opportunity for you to get an update from your personal injury lawyer.

After a lawsuit is filed, you will be asked to participate in discovery, answer written questions, gather documents and give a deposition (oral testimony). All this usually takes a day or two over the course of months after suit is filed. Along the way, either before or after suit is filed, you may be asked to submit to an examination by a doctor hired by the insurance company. Under most circumstances where personal injury is claimed, the insurers have the right to this examination.

Finally, if your case goes to trial, you should expect to meet with your personal injury lawyer to prepare for several sessions before trial and usually will be asked to be present for the trial from beginning to end. The length of trials varies widely with the type of case: anywhere from 2 days for the least complicated of cases to weeks for the most.

How SUGARMAN Can Help You.

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    We will listen carefully to you.

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    We will advise you regarding your potential case and the relevant law.

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    We will investigate for you and bring legal proceedings if appropriate.

SUGARMAN lawyers know that the damage done to lives by injury can be profound, yet often difficult to quantify or describe. And those effects last a lifetime. Our personal injury lawyers have the experience and resources to make a powerful case by developing the evidence and using expert consultation and testimony in order to prove your claim at trial. Just as important, we represent the injured and their families with special regard for the social, mental and emotional issues they face.