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Experience Pays Off in Personal Injury Lawsuits

Seasoned litigators help preserve rights of injured.

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No one expects to have to hire a personal injury lawyer, until the unexpected happens.

Personal injury lawyers focus on protecting their clients when something has gone dreadfully wrong. Bad things happen in cars, on the operating table, or even just walking down an icy street—and victims of negligence or malpractice want justice and compensation.

The American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), which many personal injury lawyers belong to, explains that trial lawyers ensure access to the civil justice system for the powerless in America—working families, individual workers, and consumers who often lack the resources to take their grievances to court.

“Trial lawyers play a valuable role in protecting the rights of American families,” ATLA explains. “They champion the cause of those who deserve redress for injury to person or property; they promote the public good through their efforts to secure safer products, a safe workplace, a clean environment, and quality health care; they uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of the accused; and they preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury and seek justice for all.”

Some of the types of clients a personal injury lawyer might represent include: a child injured after being struck by a drunk driver; a patient suffering from a medical mistake; or an employee denied a promotion due to racial discrimination. Mass torts are lawsuits that stem from a particular product that injures large numbers of people, such as residents whose drinking water was harmed by a local manufacturer, or consumers who have been injured by a prescription drug.

Robert Komitor, a partner at Levy Phillips & Konigsberg, serves as lead trial counsel specializing in products liability, negligence, and personal injury cases involving exposure to asbestos, hazardous wastes, and pollution. He stresses how important it is for a client to have an experienced trial lawyer, especially when handling the kinds of mass tort cases that he does.

“It’s very complex to learn about the intricacies of a particular product or the medical aspect of a particular disease,” says Komitor. “It becomes a very scientific exercise, and you need a lawyer who understands both the science and the liability for a particular company. Intricate cases, where causation can often be an issue, deal with many different kinds of experts. Occupational health experts, toxicologists, epidemiologists, pathologists, industrial hygienists—all of these people can come into play for toxic tort cases. You need a lawyer who can understand the medicine to be on the cutting edge of what is going on.”

“I’ve always believed that, in terms of trying cases, you’re really not even fairly good until you’ve been trying cases for 10 years.” –Benedict P. Morelli

Bringing a personal injury lawsuit is usually the last resort for injured people. Often clients of personal injury lawyers don’t want to bring a lawsuit, but unfortunately it is often the last resort for injured people who find themselves in situations that they didn’t wish to be in, because of life-changing events. They really have no option but to get involved in litigation to vindicate their rights.

Generally personal injury lawyers do not charge clients fees upfront. Instead, they are paid on a contingency basis. Plaintiffs’ lawyers recover a fee if they win a case, and they receive a portion of any monetary award the defendant receives as their fee. Typically, their fee is one-third of any award.

“It’s all based on risk and reward,” says Benedict P. Morelli, of New York’s Morelli Ratner. Morelli has received numerous multimillion-dollar verdicts, including several verdicts in eight figures. Trial lawyers, he explains, front all the expenses in personal injury cases, but they only recover money if they win. “Contingency fees allow plaintiffs to hire high-powered lawyers to fight for them,” says Komitor. “And they give plaintiffs and lawyers a stake in the case, which means that plaintiff lawyers have to be a little more careful about cases they take. Contingency fees give the system a filter, so that only cases with merit are tried.”

Since most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, it costs the same to hire a seasoned litigator as it does a lawyer who has just hung out his shingle. For the same fee, you could get a lawyer with one or two years of experience, or a lawyer with 20—and as Mr. Morelli says, “Experience is huge. I’ve always believed that, in terms of trying cases, you’re really not even fairly good until you’ve been trying cases for 10 years. Every time you try a case, you gain experience. There is only so much you can learn reading and having people mentor you. You have to live it.”

Despite claims by many politicians that plaintiff lawsuits have run amok, plaintiffs lawyers pursue only a small fraction of the cases that clients bring to their offices. According to ATLA, the number of tort cases in both the federal and state courts has actually fallen. The best lawyers overlook meritless claims and only focus their energy and expertise on potentially successful lawsuits.

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