Pam: When people get hurt in an accident do they have to hire a lawyer?
Barry Doyle: With a very small number of exceptions people don’t have to hire lawyers after they get involved in an accident. The real question is, should you hire a lawyer? Not every case really requires the help of a lawyer and the real question is which cases really do require the help of a lawyer.
I own my own house, I feel comfortable doing some repairs, but there are a lot things that I don’t know enough about and if I mess around with I know I can cause myself thousands of dollars, like try to fix my own plumbing and people should be making the same kind of decisions about hiring a lawyer. Is this something they feel comfortable and qualified to do, is the issue that is involved is one that can cost them thousands of dollars, if things go wrong. You don’t have to hire a lawyer, but —
Pam: But there are some times when you should.
Barry Doyle: –there are actually only a handful of times where you really have to hire a lawyer.
Barry Doyle: One of those is if there is a death case involved. Your not allowed to represent the estate of somebody else, if they are deceased a lawyer has to do that. If somebody is under legal disability where there is a guardianship, for example, somebody has advanced Alzheimer’s or some type of mental illness or disability that keeps them from being able to represent their own interests. And the last time is if it’s a child whose involved and you’re the parent.
Outside of that if you are an adult, you get to make those kinds of decisions.
Pam: Why are people sometimes reluctant to hire a lawyer?
Barry Doyle: There are a whole slew of reasons why people are sometimes reluctant to hire a lawyer. People don’t want to feel like they’re sue happy. I can’t tell ya how many times I’ve answered a phone call from a potential client who starts by saying, “Well, I am not the suing type.” And, truthfully I don’t think I want a client who is really eager to get involved in a law suit, but there are certainly times where getting good legal help is the smart thing to do and I am certainly in favor of people making smart grown up kinds of decisions.
Insurance companies have bought a lot of trust over the years. They are “good hands people”, “you’re like a good neighbor”, I mean millions and millions of dollars have been spent by insurance companies kind of promoting trust and truthfully all insurance companies really sell you are promises, so that’s why trust is such an important thing for them to be selling. And on the other hand you have, people who are my professional personal injury lawyers, who seem to do an absolutely amazing job of shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to creating trust amongst the public.
We have people who are on TV waving fistfulls of cash. We’re going to get you the quick settlement. It creates a horrible, horrible image of these are people who are in it for the quick buck. It creates a horrible image that quite honestly we are not very bright. The other thing that really causes people to be reluctant about hiring a personal injury lawyer is it’s hard to figure out whose any good.
If you google “Chicago personal injury lawyer” your going to get hundreds of thousands, if not millions of results. If you go to the yellow pages, it will seem like everybody does this line of work. The truth of the matter is, its a very difficult, complex kind of work. Besides presenting your case against an insurance company that has their own set of lawyers who are experts at defending this, you also have all the medical issues that are involved, which really take a lot of training and a lot of expertise to kind of get your arms around. And you have to be able to present these in a smart compelling kind of way to a jury that’s not necessarily pre disposed to buy what you’re selling when it comes to presenting a case in front of the jury.
It can seem like an overwhelming kind of decision to have to make.
Pam: So what kinds of questions should people be asking themselves when deciding whether they should hire a personal injury attorney?
Barry Doyle: The way I look at it is, there are five basic questions that you need to be asking yourself to determine whether or not you should be hiring a personal injury lawyer.
First of these is, Do I understand the legal frame work that’s involved for deciding my case, what are the things I need to be able to prove?
Sometimes it seems like to should be relatively simple and when you get down to understanding what the actual legal requirements are its something that is completely different or more complex than you might actually think.
The second of these is, Do you know what the procedures for actually resolving the case? When you’re in law school there are certain classes that are really required especially when your first one of these is civil procedure and procedures the rules, these are things that nobody is going to teach a lay person. The lawyers all know these cause is this what we do day in day out and it becomes kind of trap for the unwary if you really don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to how do cases get resolved.
Third question I think people really need to ask themselves is, Do they have the time, ability and resources to devout to actually prosecuting the case to attending court hearings?
The lifeline for the kind of case that I do on average in the Chicago area is somewhere between two and half and three and half years.
Throughout the lifeline of the case there is going to be times when have to go to court for status hearings, there will be depositions and other things that will have to be done outside of court that are all part of working the case up and if you don’t have the time and the ability and the resources to devout to handling your case in the right way, then it’s the kind of thing you need to get help with.
The fourth issue I tell people they need to look at is, Have you obtained your medical records and do you understand the significance of what’s in your medical records with regard to legal issues in your case? Part of how a case gets evaluated by an insurance company is based on the nature and extent of your injury and that’s kind of spelled out in your medical record.
You may have a conversation with your Doctor and your Doctor may explain things, but the insurance company is a party to those discussions, so they are going to be looking at what’s in your records and they go through them very, very closely to try to find some ways to point the finger elsewhere in terms of the kinds of injuries you that you’ve got spell out that there is some other cause for the injuries.
For example, if you’re involved in a car accident and you’ve hurt your lower back one of the things that people from the insurance company are going to be doing is taking a look at your X-rays to see do you have bone spurs in your lower back, cause that’s an indication you have degenerative processes going on–
Pam: A pre-existing condition.
Barry Doyle: — a pre-existing condition, exactly, they are going to say that this points in a different direction than the accidents being the cause of the problems that you’re talking about. If you don’t get your medical records and you don’t understand what’s in them, it’s not a fair fight because the insurance company is going to have your medical records before they are ever going to discuss settling your case and they’re going to have a good handle on the meaning and significance of what’s in them.
The fifth question I tell people that they need to ask themselves is, Do you understand how cases evaluated for fair value for a settlement?
I think everybody in the end wants to be treated fairly, they’d like to settle their case and like to settle it for a fair amount of money and how cases are evaluated for settlement is something that’s very important. If you don’t understand how those are evaluated your going to be spinning your wheels for a very, very long time.
Pam: What kinds of things go into assessing a fair value?
Barry Doyle: Well, the two most basic things are the question of liability. Whose fault is it? Insurance companies are only responsible for offering a settlement or paying a judgment if the person they insured is actually responsible for the accident.
The second thing is the nature and extent of the injury. All things being equal and things are never completely equal. All things being equal, the more badly you’re hurt them more money there is in medical expenses, the more money there is lost wages the higher that fair settlement value is, but things are never equal and no two cases are exactly alike.
There aren’t standard settlements for anyone particular kind of case. But there is a process that people use in this particular area of law to evaluate cases for settlement. It’s not uniform. It’s not done the same way at the insurance company as it’s done in my office or in other lawyer’s office. There are some generally understood concepts as to, these are things that we look at to try to evaluate cases. There are things that are really born of years of experience of doing this kind of work.
Pam: This is fighting for what’s right, with Attorney Barry Doyle. Feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel. Click like and leave comments.