On this page:
- What is my case worth?
- How long is my case going to take?
- What does the civil litigation process entail?
- What are the differences between a civil case and a criminal case?
- How much is my personal injury case going to cost me?
- Why have I heard or read things in the popular media that are critical of contingent fee agreements and trial lawyers?
- What is alternative dispute resolution?
- Will my case settle or will it need to be tried?
1. What is my case worth?
The value of your personal injury case is unique to you and depends on a few factors. First, the lawyers at HBMHlaw will use their experience in handling claims and their trial experience to determine who was at fault in your accident. Second, the value of your case depends on the type of injury you suffered, how long the injury lasted, and what losses have you suffered as a result of your injury. Your losses include the amount of your medical bills, your lost wages and the effect your injury had on the types of activities you enjoy. The lawyers at HBMHlaw will take all of these factors into consideration, together with their experience in handling cases similar to yours, when discussing with you the value of your case.
No matter what type of personal injury case you have, whether it involves a whiplash type injury, a catastrophic injury or even a wrongful death, it is most important to remember that your case is personal to you. Your case is different from anyone else’s whether that person is a friend, neighbor or family member. The lawyers at HBMHlaw will work with you to personalize your case and to present your case to the at fault person’s insurance company and when necessary, to a jury.
Finally, when you bring a claim you will have one opportunity to receive the compensation you deserve for your injury and your losses through either a settlement or from a jury verdict. It is important to remember that when you first speak or meet with an attorney, it is nearly impossible to determine what your case is worth at that time. Your injuries may not have healed, the amount of medical bills may be unknown and the full extent of your damages will yet to be discovered. The lawyers at HBMHlaw will work with you to make sure that when the time comes for you to receive your compensation, that your case is prepared thoroughly to maximize your recovery.
2. How long is my case going to take?
Each case is unique. Some settle after a written demand is made; some take years of effort and require a jury verdict that is sustained on appeal. In Massachusetts, typical negligence cases are assigned by the court to the “Fast Track” which contemplates at least one year of litigation. More complex cases, like products liability and wrongful death cases, are assigned by the Court to the “Average Track” which contemplates at least 3 years of litigation. All cases settle sooner and for more money if they are properly prepared. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for insurers to make low offers to injured parties who may be having financial difficulties. In such circumstances, it is important to have experienced counsel who can properly advise you as to the value of your case and whether an offer to settle from an insurance company is worth considering.
3. What does the civil litigation process entail?
While every case is different, most cases involve many of the same steps. These include: (1) initial investigation; (2) pre-suit demand (when warranted); (3) filing suit; (4) discovery; and, (5) trial. Discovery is a process of court-sanctioned fact exchange and can take years to complete based on the complexity of the case. Discovery includes the exchange of written questions, depositions and other activities like site inspections. A deposition involves the taking of a sworn statement before a court reporter who prepares a transcript of the proceedings. In some cases, few depositions will be required; in others there can be dozens.
4. What are the differences between a civil case and a criminal case?
While there are many differences between such cases, there are a few that are fundamental. Criminal cases are brought by the Commonwealth (usually through the District Attorney's Office) against the perpetrator of a crime to enforce the law and punish the offender. The Commonwealth must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In contrast, a civil case is usually brought by private counsel against those who have caused harm. The Plaintiff in such cases must prove his or her case by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence. In the event that there is a criminal conviction arising out of events that also support a civil case, the criminal conviction can be important evidence in the related civil case.
5. How much is my personal injury case going to cost me?
In most cases, Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. takes personal injury cases under a contingent fee agreement. These agreements allow injured individuals access to justice in the Courts without having to pay an attorney hundreds of dollars per hour to get there. Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C.’s fee is a fixed percentage of the gross recovery (between 33 and 1/3% and 40% depending on complexity) plus the repayment of its expenses. A fee is due only if Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. is successful on the client’s behalf in obtaining money through either settlement or judgment. Such an arrangement ensures that Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. has every incentive to maximize your recovery in accord with its obligation to zealously represent your interests. Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. usually advances all of the expenses of a case. Such costs include many things including investigation fees, filing fees, sheriff fees, court reporter fees, expert fees and copying expenses. If Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. is not successful on your behalf, you will owe us nothing.
6. Why have I heard or read things in the popular media that are critical of contingent fee agreements and trial lawyers?
For more than the last decade some insurance and business interests in the United States have been engaged in nationwide conduct that has been noted by some to be tantamount to jury tampering. Through various front organizations that have names suggesting an interest in justice for all, these organizations have proffered so-called “tort reform” as a cure for the ails of our society. In so doing, they have vilified the contingent fee agreement and personal injury lawyers generally while urging caps on damages and fee agreements. Usually the proponents of these “reforms” say they are necessary to stop frivolous lawsuits. The caps on fee agreements are designed to destroy the Plaintiff’s bar, who work on a contingency fee, so that only those who can afford to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars and hour will have access to justice in our courts. As to the claims regarding preventing frivolous lawsuits, these are belied by the facts. First, no contingent fee lawyer would knowingly bring a “frivolous” case when the lawyer’s compensation is directly tied to the value of the case. Second, the damages cap proposals are aimed at capping damages and fees at the high end of the spectrum. Thus, these tort reform proponents seek, in the most disingenuous of ways, to limit the rights and access to justice of the most seriously injured victims in our society. Ironically, if successful, they will have succeeded in shifting the responsibility from those who caused the harm, and those who are paid to insure them, to the American taxpayer who will pay through the Medicare and Medicaid programs in the absence of a recovery from those responsible.
The right to a jury trial is enshrined in the Federal and many State Constitutions. The contingent fee agreement is the mechanism that allows most Americans to access the Courts, with competent counsel.
7. What is alternative dispute resolution?
A trial is the ultimate dispute resolution mechanism in the civil litigation process. To get to a trial, however, takes time and resources. Alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, takes several forms; the most common of which are mediation and arbitration. Mediation is a process where the parties submit the case to a neutral mediator who assists the parties in an effort to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution of the case. Mediation is non-binding and the mediator (usually a former Judge or experienced attorney) does not make a decision about the case if the parties cannot reach a voluntary agreement. Arbitration involves the use of a neutral arbitrator who hears the evidence and makes a decision in the case. In contrast to mediation, arbitration is binding and final. Arbitration takes the place of a trial and is only subject to very limited rights of appeal.
8. Will my case settle or will it need to be tried?
It is too early to tell. Most civil cases (more than 90%) settle before going to trial. Proper preparation increases the likelihood that a mutually agreeable settlement can be reached. Some cases, however, simply need to be tried. Accordingly, Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, P.C. prepares every case as though it needs to be tried.