I recently came across an article written by Mark Bassingthwaighte, a risk manager for a professional liability insurance company, about attorneys that don’t normally take on personal injury cases “dabbling” in the practice area. After reading through the article, his words stuck with me. At LaBovick Law Group, we have been practicing as a West Palm Beach personal injury attorney for 22 years, and about five years ago we added maritime law into our practice group. Where maritime law is a part of personal injury, cases, where injuries occur on the water, are handled differently at the initial stages (including different statutes of limitation, etc.). Over the years we have had many clients come to us visibly upset because their current attorney was inexperienced and did not handle their case correctly. Unfortunately, in many of instances, it is too late and there is nothing we can do for the client other than possibly help them in a malpractice case.
It is extremely important for a client to find an attorney experienced with handling your type of case/accident/injury. To find an attorney who focuses his/her practice on a specific area of law is ideal. Attorneys will often only practice in one area of law but decide to take a maritime or personal injury case, for example, in a special case, like helping a friend or relative. The problem is that that attorney may not be experienced enough to know how to handle certain minute details of a case, and if those details aren’t handled correctly, it could end the case before it even begins.
For example, personal injury and maritime injury cases are similar in that they both deal with injuries and accidents (one on land and the other on water). However, a personal injury auto accident has a statute of limitations of four years, and a cruise accident victim only has one year to file their claim. Another way a non-maritime attorney may show their inexperience is when they try to file a client’s claim from a cruise accident. Cruise tickets have instructions on where you have to bring a suit against the cruise ship. Most of the time this is in South Florida, where many cruise ships set sail.
Bassingthwaighte poses some important questions for attorneys in order to help avoid the risk of just “dabbling” in a legal practice, and I’ll pose the same questions to you:
- Will a difficult client be an issue? Some clients come to us with minor injuries expecting to recover a lot more than they will actually be able to. You also will have clients who don’t keep in contact and don’t seek the medical examinations that you ask them to. This could cause big problems in a personal injury case, and if you leave it be and don’t stay on the client, you could cost the client their case altogether.
- Have you been to trial? Are you ready to bring a case to trial if you don’t get the settlement desired by both you and your client? Here is where those statutes come up again. It is important to have a working knowledge of the time periods you have to file as well as the way different states and federal courts work. If you don’t have the experience then ask for help from a personal injury attorney and bring them in as co-counsel. You don’t have to give up the case, and you might learn a thing or two by teaming up. This will give your client the best chance of coming out ahead.
- Are liens involved? Both attorney and client should be aware of potential liens and what they could mean for the case from the very beginning. Liens have the potential to take away a large amount of the recovery. It’s important to know that an attorney can even be held liable for failing to protect liens against their client’s recovery.
- Do you have the time? Personal injury cases can take a lot of time out of an already busy schedule. As the attorney, you will have to make sure facts are correct by going to sources like police reports, medical records, and other trustworthy, reliable sources. Clients alone, and the people they talk to (like the medical providers), are not reliable sources. The best way to ensure your client’s maximum recovery is thorough investigation into the details of the case.
Personal injury cases can be long and expensive. If you decide to take a case on it is important to have the money to back it. Don’t place all your eggs in the same basket. You may end up failing other clients and lack the ability to help them in the way that they need. Don’t hurt your career by biting off more than you can chew! Find a personal injury attorney who has the experience your client needs and co-counsel, and then if you want to get into regular personal injury practice, you can learn from them.
If you have a current client that came to you with a personal injury case you don’t feel comfortable taking on alone, call us at the LaBovick Law Group, and we would love to help you get your client the recovery they deserve.