Hiring a personal injury lawyer may be the best thing you can do following an accident that was the result of someone else’s negligence or malicious intent. Medical bills and lost wages can pile up in a hurry and the American court system provides a method for plaintiffs to bring a suit in an attempt to recover damages from the responsible party. While this is certainly something you should consider doing if you aren’t offered a fair settlement, it’s important to move forward with realistic mindset. Because of movies and the media, many have a somewhat warped view of the civil court system. Here are some things you should know.
It isn’t a substitute lottery
If you’re hiring a personal injury lawyer because you think this accident is your ticket to getting rich, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The days of multi-million dollar settlements way out of balance with the nature of the injuries themselves are largely over. In fact, they never really existed in the first place, save for some very rare and high profile cases. When those cases are all you hear about in the pages of the newspaper, it’s easy to get the wrong idea. While it is noble and justified to seek compensation for your legitimate hardships, looking at a judgment as a stand in for the state lottery is a mistake.
There are limits to what you can get
Unless you live in a state that has exercised no tort reform, there are probably legally enforced limits to maximum awards. You can’t expect to receive any damages that exceed those limits, so if the insurance company is already offering a sum near those limits, you’re probably wasting your time by moving forward with a personal injury lawyer. A good attorney, of course, will tell you this in your initial consultation. It’s also worth knowing whether or not your state has eliminated punitive damages, as this is where the “big money” in many of those high profile cases came from. If you don’t have bills you can point to and say, “This is why I’m owed such-and-such”, you may not have much of a case.
A judgment doesn’t guarantee payment
Every personal injury lawyer knows the term “judgment proof”. What this means, essentially, is that it is hardly worth suing someone who has no money or assets. If you get a jury to rule that a defendant must pay you $300,000, but the defendant lives on welfare, that judgment isn’t going to do you much good. Make sure you don’t waste your time suing someone who has no means to pay what you are owed.