Lawyers & Legal System

Click on the frequently asked questions below for answers regarding lawyers and the legal system.

Getting the Professional Legal Help You Need

Our Legal System

Getting the Professional Legal Help You Need

Do I need to see a lawyer?

You should obtain professional advice as soon as possible. Fees in a civil case are a percentage of the recovery (known as a contingent fee). If you don’t win your case, there are no attorney’s fees. It has often been said that the contingent fee is the common person’s key to the courthouse. While insurance companies can pay their lawyer on an hourly basis, a percentage fee allows the worker to hire competent, qualified representation.

How are expenses paid?

Typically, there are expenses in bringing a claim, such as the charge for copying medical records that doctors and hospitals charge. These expenses are usually advanced by the lawyer and reimbursed from any settlement or recovery and are in addition to the attorney’s fee.

What should I look for in a lawyer?

Law, like medicine, is now a profession of specialization. You should be represented by a lawyer who concentrates his practice in representing injured workers. Just as you would not have an eye doctor operate on your back, you should not ask a real estate lawyer to represent you after a work injury. You should also make certain that your lawyer only represents injured workers, and not insurance companies or businesses.

Our Legal System

I have been hearing a lot about the number of lawsuits or a “lawsuit crisis.” Should I be worried about adding another lawsuit to the system?

The attack on the civil justice system (the tort system) has been unprecedented in recent times. The insurance industry began this assault because of criticism against insurance companies due to poor management. The propaganda campaign by the insurance industry was well financed. The insurance companies came up with the advertising phrase “lawsuit crisis” to try to shift the blame for their problems to someone else. This phrase wrongly gave many Americans the impression that their problems were due to people too anxious to sue at the encouragement of greedy lawyers. There are some people that abuse the system, and no one would argue that we must put a stop to frivolous lawsuits. The courts and juries, however, provide an “even playing field” for the ordinary citizen to disagree with the mighty, the powerful, and the rich.

Will “Tort Reform” save everyone money on insurance premiums?

The states that have enacted tort reform legislation have not demonstrated that tort reform has resulted in lower insurance premiums. In fact, the insurance industry has admitted that there is no tie-in between tort reform and insurance rates.

What about all the million-dollar verdicts I keep hearing about?

Million-dollar verdicts are not as common as the insurance industry would have the American people believe. The average size of jury verdicts has not skyrocketed. They have been keeping pace with the Consumer Price Index. Some reasons for higher jury awards are higher medical bills, higher wages, and people living longer.

If a jury verdict is excessive can anything be done about it?

If the trial judge finds that the evidence does not support the verdict of the jury, he has the power to reduce it. Judges exercise this authority frequently. This is called a remittitur. The first multi-million dollar verdict was 3.5 million dollars. The judge reduced the jury’s verdict to $450,000. On appeal the appellate court may reduce the verdict or overturn it totally. Because of the uncertainty and expense of an appeal, the parties often agree to an immediate settlement after the trial, which can be significantly lower than what the jury awarded. One reason the public hears about the million-dollar verdicts is that they are reported in the press. The media generally does not report on the thousands of cases where the juries awarded five, ten or fifty thousand dollars. These routine cases are not deemed newsworthy. These cases are important, however, to each victim that receives the money to pay for medical expenses and lost wages as a result of the injuries.

A million dollars is still a lot of money. It seems too much like playing the lottery. What type of case usually ends up with a jury awarding one million dollars?

Of the 1,642 million-dollar verdicts between 1962 and 1985, 362 were for permanent paralysis, 338 for permanent brain damage, 362 for wrongful death, and 161 for amputations. Most people would not want to pay that kind of price to play the lottery.

What are some examples of how litigation has benefited society?

Because of access to courts and the protection provided by juries, we have the removal or redesign of products like containers of lye, chemicals, and poisons, dioxin (in herbicides and pesticides), Dalkon Shield intrauterine devices, incinerating fuel tanks in passenger cars, asbestos, calcium-deficient baby formula, and flammable infant sleepwear. If the victims of these products had not obtained the advice of a lawyer, most of these dangerous items would still be on the market. We can not depend solely on the government and self discipline to protect the public.

Can a lawsuit really make a change that will benefit people other than the injury victim?

Yes. Take the case of the construction carpenter working on a 30-story condominium in Seattle. The carpenter helped remove the 40 foot steel and lumber forms used to pour the concrete floors of the core of the building. As he stood on the edge of the concrete core a tower crane eased the form out of the core. The tower crane had been in use daily for about two months. The dead-end of the lift line was secured with U-bolt clamps. The stretching of the cable with use defeated the clamping effect of the U-bolts. Suddenly the lift line attaching the spreader bar to the crane gave way and dropped on the carpenter. The blow severed a nerve to his main shoulder muscle and crushed the bones in his foot. The crane company blamed the accident on operator error. It claimed that the worker failed to properly release the mold bolts, that the cement had not cured, and that the crane operator overloaded the crane. The construction carpenter’s lawyer investigated and learned that a becket and thimble was used to secure the boom instead of U-bolts. The company president admitted that the boom would fall if secured with U-bolts. The lawyer claimed the lift line should also have been secured with a becket and thimble because the U-bolt system was not safe. For the two and one-half years that the case was pending the defendant continued to use U-bolts to secure the dead-end of the lift line. The case settled one week before trial. Within a few weeks of the settlement all the crane owners in the Seattle area replaced U-bolts on all their tower cranes with becket and thimble attachments. The cost was less than forty dollars each. The carpenter’s lawyer said later ‘While the infliction of an injury on a human being often does not inspire subsequent safety measures, a successful lawsuit almost invariably does.”

This content is intended to provide general information and guidance only. You should see an attorney and obtain advice if you have questions or concerns regarding your work injury. Most lawyers will not charge any fee for an initial consultation to review your case. Only by asking questions and obtaining answers will you obtain the rights and benefits to which you are entitled.