The initial case evaluation serves two purposes: The firm reviews your case to see if you have a viable case and allows you and the attorney to determine if you can work together. Personality conflicts between the client and the firm, especially the attorney, are as important as the legal viability of your case. If your case is not viable, you do not want to waste time on it, nor does the attorney.
These reasons are why you should always speak to at least three attorneys. It gives you a chance to determine which firm best matches your personality and, assuming you have a viable case, to find out if the firm has experience with cases like yours.
For example, choosing a car accident firm for a medical malpractice case when the car accident attorney has no experience in medical malpractice is as bad as retaining a criminal law attorney or family law attorney for the medical malpractice case.
Reasons an Attorney Might Not Take Your Case
In some instances, certain cases are not winnable, no matter who represents you. The attorney will tell you if your case is not winnable. In most cases, the reason is clear-cut, such as you waited too long to take legal action and are outside the statute of limitations.
The Statute of Limitations
You do not have a winnable case if your case is outside the statute of limitations. This is why you need a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the accident or incident. Many states have a statute of limitations for three years.
Some states have different statutes of limitations for various types of personal injury cases. For example, some states might give you a year from the time you suffered intentional emotional distress to file a case, three years from the date of an incident if the person inflicting the emotional distress was negligent and unintentional, two years for wrongful death, and two years and six months for medical malpractice cases.
If you seek legal representation for a wrongful death claim, and your loved one died two years and one day ago, the law bars you from taking legal action.
The Case Poses Difficulties
Sometimes, an attorney might refuse to take your case because it is too hard to win. Even if it is clear that another’s negligence caused your injuries if you did not seek medical attention immediately, your case might not be winnable.
Other reasons that make your case too hard to win include:
- You caused the accident.
- The other party questions your credibility.
- You posted on social media, and the posts make it look as though the accident did not injure you.
Law firms spend a lot of money on your case. If you do not win, you most likely cannot pay the attorney’s fees and costs—firms do not like to waste resources on a claim that will most likely be unsuccessful.
Unavailability of Resources
For particularly complex cases that require many expert witnesses and high costs, a firm might not have the resources to pay for your case. In some cases, the cost of litigation might exceed tens of thousands of dollars. Often, this depends on the size of the firm or whether the firm just took on one or more high-dollar cases.
In other instances, the firm might have the money but does not have the time to give your case that it should because it already has one or more cases that will take up all the firm’s time.
The Attorney Does Not Handle Certain Cases
If an attorney does not handle the type of case you have, it benefits you to find an attorney that does. Although personal injury cases follow many of the same general rules, the different types of personal injury cases have different laws that an attorney might not be familiar with. For example, a car accident lawyer that does not handle dog bite cases might not know that there are local laws regarding dog bites besides state laws.
Before contacting an attorney, it is always a good idea to research the firm’s website to see what kind of cases it handles. If you are not sure, you can call the firm and ask if they handle cases like yours and schedule a free case evaluation if they do.
The Firm, Attorney, or Staff Have a Conflict of Interest
Lawyers have to abide by ethical guidelines. One of the guidelines is that they cannot represent someone if there is a conflict of interest. The conflict might be that the attorney is representing the defendant or someone in the firm is related to the defendant. Even being related to you is a conflict of interest. Most lawyers will not take cases if there is a conflict of interest.
No One Is Liable for the Accident
Before taking legal action, you have to have someone to sue. The defendant must have owed you a legal duty of care and breached the duty. If not, you do not have a case.
For example, a truck drives down the highway and does the speed limit on a clear day. A sudden and unexpected gust of wind tips the truck over. During the investigation, the investigators found that the driver was not negligent as there was nothing wrong with the truck, and the driver was not breaking any traffic laws. You might not have a case since you cannot sue Mother Nature.
In the same case, you might have a case if a weather report warned of an impending tornado in the area or if the driver was speeding or driving recklessly. Never decide if you have a case yourself let an experienced attorney tell you if you have or do not have a case, as the attorney would have to first find someone liable.
For example, if the truck driver was speeding and wrecked, not only might the driver be liable, but if a dispatcher “encouraged” a driver to make a delivery “on time, no matter what it takes” and hints that the driver’s job is in jeopardy, the dispatcher might share some or all of the liability for your damages.
Not Enough Evidence
An attorney might not touch a case if the evidence is not clear-cut or if the evidence is disputable. A case that does not have evidence cannot be proven it is just one person’s word against the other’s.
Thus, you should bring evidence to a free case evaluation or at least tell the attorney that evidence exists, for example, a police report, you filed a claim with a store for a slip-and-fall incident, you have medical bills and records, or other evidence, even if you do not have the physical evidence in your hands.
If your claim is too small, it is often not worth suing. Some lawyers will not take small cases if they have to invest tens of thousands to prove it, but the return is only a few thousand.
Not everyone instantly clicks. If the attorney senses that you would not be a good fit during the initial case evaluation, the firm might turn down your case. The attorney might think you are challenging to work with, or it might appear to the attorney that you want revenge. Many attorneys will turn down working with these types of personal conflicts.
At the same time, you might not click with the attorney or someone on the firm’s staff. This would be one to cross off your list. Personality conflicts make it more difficult for you and the attorney to work together, and you both have to be on the same page to recover the compensation you deserve.
Some attorneys will reject a case if the attorney finds out other attorneys have rejected the case. It might be a personality conflict with the other attorneys, or maybe the other attorneys missed an important detail. If an attorney decides to decline your case, keep trying. You need to find the firm that sees that critical detail.
How to Make Your Case More Desirable for an Attorney
The facts of your case are the facts. But, you can make it easier for an attorney to agree to take your case if you are able to do a few things.
If your injuries are severe or catastrophic, you probably will not be able to gather evidence. However, taking photos of the accident or incident scene helps preserve evidence if your injuries allow it. Defendants can “fix” the problem before investigators investigate the accident, especially if they wait a couple of weeks to contact an attorney.
Sometimes, evidence degrades naturally. For example, if you slip and fall on an icy sidewalk hours after it stops snowing, the ice will probably have melted a week later. If you slip and fall on liquid spilled in a store, the manager or custodian is not going to leave the spill there until someone can investigate your case on your behalf.
If the police tow the vehicles after a car accident, many things could happen. The vehicle could sit out in the weather, which can destroy evidence. The defendant might think it is okay to get repairs done, which destroys the evidence. In other cases, defendants could purposely destroy evidence.
Obtain Medical Attention
Never wait to obtain medical attention, even if you think your injuries are minor. You need to create a paper trail because some injuries manifest days or even weeks later. Minor cuts could become infected. If doctors have difficulty killing the infection, it could spread the defendant would be responsible for those medical bills.
The attorney you hire will determine your willingness to see a doctor, just as a defendant’s insurance company would. If you do not obtain medical attention, chances are, there is not much wrong with you. This poses a problem when injuries show up days or weeks later.
Always Speak Honestly With Your Attorney
If you leave pertinent facts out of your narrative, it could end up costing you financially. Lawyers always find out if you are not telling them everything and that is not just your lawyer. The defendant’s lawyer will investigate the case just as much as your attorney, except the defense is looking for a reason to deny your claim. Your attorney cannot create a good game plan if you do not tell the attorney everything about the case. In the end, that could reduce the settlement you might deserve.
Do Not Have Unrealistic Expectations
Everyone wants to win. However, if you go in thinking you have a multi-million dollar case, that is a red flag probably more than one. The lawyer will know that you will not be happy even though you recovered the compensation you deserve.
Additionally, attorneys have to go to court, deal with other clients, and draft pleadings. Do not expect an attorney to respond within minutes of your forwarding communication. Sometimes an attorney might have to review your case file or look up case law to give you the best answer to your question.
Finally, do not expect a daily status. Sometimes it takes weeks for a case to move. For example, once an attorney sends a demand letter, the defendant’s attorney might not respond for the full amount of time in the demand letter. Meanwhile, your attorney has no work to do on your case since the firm cannot take the next step until the defense attorney responds. Likewise, if you have to file a court case, it takes time for the process server to serve the defendant. The defendant then has time to respond.
For example, some states give the defendant 20 days to respond to the initial complaint. If the defendant waits until the 18th day to retain an attorney, the attorney must have time to review the case and will probably file a motion to extend the time.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in an accident or other personal injury incident, contact a personal injury lawyer in New York for a free case evaluation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.