One of the first questions that you may ask yourself after becoming involved in an accident in Hawai’i is the question: “Do I need an accident lawyer in Hawaii or can I handle it by myself?” There is nothing in the law that requires you to hire a lawyer to represent you in your claim for damages arising from your brain injury, car accident, spinal cord injury, products liability, wrongful death, truck/bus accident, auto-automobile accident, motorcycle accident, dog bite claim, construction accident, malpractice claim or other liability claim in Hawaii.
In many cases, your biggest impediment to self-representation is the detailed knowledge you must have about the medical and legal issues.
Car accident cases you will usually, but not always, be better off with an accident lawyer in Hawaii. In minor accident cases involving limited damage to your car, for example, it may be easier for you to negotiate a repair settlement with the insurance adjuster directly without an attorney. You may want to check your local library or bookstore for written guides about how to represent yourself in a car accident case, if you choose to do so. You should be careful about what you sign and these guides can be useful tools for you to better understand the car accident settlement process.
Why, then, would you want to bring an accident lawyer in Hawaii into your case? Attorneys are advocates – which means that they have a professional obligation to represent you and your interests. Sometimes this means that the friendly relationship you have with an insurance adjuster will come to an end and it may mean that your case may not settle as quickly as it might if you handled matters on your own.
In an ideal world, attorneys would not be needed. In accident cases for example, the other driver would act honestly and admit fault, his insurance company would offer a fair payment for your car damage and your personal injuries and loss- you would simply submit information about your accident to the responsible insurance adjuster and a fair payment would be made to you that would cover your present and future medical expenses, lost time from work, as well as the pain and discomfort you have experienced as a result of your accident.
In a malpractice case, your doctor would readily admit his mistake and his insurer would offer enough compensation to put you on the road to recovery. In a case with long term consequences from a defective product, the manufacturer would create a fund to care for the medical needs of all injured.
Unfortunately, in the real world, people do not always act honestly or honorably, especially when they have done something wrong. More importantly, insurance companies are in business to make money and their employees are directed to limit payout and to deny liability whenever possible.
An experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii offers several important benefits:
An attorney is engaged in the “practice” of law because every experience he has and case he works is on-the-job training. Just as a basketball player practices shooting the ball to improve his performance in a game, a good lawyer sharpens his skills by representing clients, trying cases and attending continuing legal education courses. An experienced and capable accident lawyer in Hawaii can offer you several important benefits to help you with you claim in Hawaii (besides freeing up a lot of your time):
Knowledge of the Hawaii system. You may have already figured out that the insurance claim system in Hawaii is a kind of game with its own lingo and rules. When notice of a possible claim by you is received in the office of an insurance company, the assigned adjuster immediately assigns as projected payout figure to your case called a “reserve.” The reserve represents the potential loss to the insurance company’s bank account.
The creation of a reserve for every claim is required by law so that State insurance commissioners can evaluate the financial strength of a particular insurance company. In every State, insurance companies are required to have enough money in cash to pay expected claims. Thus, if adjusters set high reserves on cases, the insurance company will have less cash money available to invest in profitable ventures such as shopping centers, buildings and other real estate.
An experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii knows that your case will be worth more money if they can convinced the adjuster to set a high reserve on your case. If a low reserve is set, the adjuster cannot offer you a settlement that exceeds the reserve without special permission. Experienced lawyers make every effort to convince the insurance adjuster that your injuries are serious and that a high reserve is appropriate for your case. Your attorney’s written and verbal communication with the insurance company is designed to send a message that your injuries are serious and that the insurance company should be prepared to pay significant damages.
Perspective about case values. Experienced injury lawyers work within the marketplace of insurance settlements. An experienced lawyer will know which parts of your case are strong and which are weak. He may also subscribe to a jury verdict reporting service so he will know what similar cases in your area have generated in settlement or verdict. Attorneys who negotiate injury cases day in and day out will have a sense of what makes up a fair settlement in your city or town.
Insurance adjusters would much prefer to deal with you directly and not with a lawyer. While many insurance company employees are honest and fair people, the individuals trained to serve as adjusters clearly are advocates for their employer. They may receive bonuses for keeping settlement payouts low. Insurance adjusters are given specific training in the psychology of gaining the trust of an unrepresented injury claimant and convincing that unrepresented person to accept a low settlement.
There is nothing wrong or illegal with an insurance company’s efforts to use psychology to get you to settle for a low amount – applied psychology is used everyday in business. Your accident lawyer in Hawaii, as a professional negotiator and representative, has also received training in persuasion and applied psychology. His goal will be to use his training in negotiation tactics to increase the payments made to you.
Professional detachment. As your hired representative, your lawyer has a professional obligation to represent you zealously and to explore all sources of recovery for you. Your lawyer is also trained to maintain a level of independence from your case. Experienced lawyers know that anger and emotion make it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct serious negotiations. After all, if you are hurt and your life has changed because of your injury, it would be difficult for you to listen quietly while an insurance adjuster minimizes your injuries and offers a lowball settlement figure. A good lawyer can engage in negotiations without taking personally the offers and counter-offers that typically occur.
Ability to litigate. If you have ever been in a courtroom, you know that the court system is its own world – with its own vocabulary, procedures and customs. Because of overburdened dockets, judges expect court litigants to know how to proceed when they appear. Non-attorneys rarely fare well when they appear in court without representation. Even lawyers will hire other lawyers for court appearances – thus the saying “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Every lawyer understands that taking a case to trial is a risk. The right case with the right judge or jury could result in a huge verdict. On the other hand, a bad judge or unreasonable juror could sink even a strong case. Insurance companies offer to settle cases in order to manage their risk. If the insurance company knows at the beginning of a negotiation that a large jury verdict is not part of the equation, the settlement offers will be low.
Insurance companies realize that unrepresented claimants are not likely to know how file a lawsuit asking for money damages, and that if they did, they would probably not fare well. Logically, insurance companies offer less money to an unrepresented claimant because their risk of a large loss (payment to you) is small.
In sum, you may find that an experienced accident lawyer in Hawaii can benefit you in several ways – he understands the insurance claim system; he has experience and knowledge about what a local jury might award; he is a trained negotiator and will not be influenced by an insurance adjuster’s rhetoric; and he will not be personally offended by statements made in negotiation. Finally, lawyers have the ability to go to court if negotiations break down, whereas non-attorneys do not have this option.
How do I open communications with an accident lawyer in Hawaii?
Do not be afraid to ask questions when you interview a lawyer prior to hiring him to represent you. How long has he been in practice? Does he regularly try cases? Does he belong to professional associations that provide on-going training and exposure to tactics and strategies?
You should make clear what you expect from your lawyer. Some people want to be kept “in the loop” with copies of all documents sent to them and regular telephone communications. Others are looking for results and do not want to be bothered with copies of letters.
Many very qualified lawyers utilize paralegals to deal with the paperwork part of the case, with the lawyer getting involved near the end when it is time to negotiate or try the case. Paralegals are usually in the office and available to speak with you frequently. Other lawyers do not use paralegals and handle all details themselves. It is a trade-off between a more thorough knowledge of the case and availability to do things like answering your phone calls.
Attorney client communication is often a major issue in attorney-client relationships. You would be wise to address this issue at the outset of your relationship with a lawyer so both you and your lawyer understand each other’s expectations.
Attorney web sites are excellent resources to get a sense of a lawyer and his style of practice. A good web site will reflect a lawyer’s personality and you have the ability to get a sense of a lawyer’s style without the pressure of a face to face meeting. Look for web sites that offer useful and extensive content.
A web site will also give you a sense of how responsible and dedicated a particular lawyer is. Very high volume personal injury practices that attempt to grab headlines to promote their law practices may not offer you the kind of service you will want. Frequently, high volume personal injury law firms use flashy full page ads in the yellow pages and repetitive television commercials to juice up their business- without regard to the quality of the service that they are providing.
In general, you should use more than a yellow pages ad or a television commercial to choose a lawyer. In comparison to the detail offered by a web site, the yellow pages or television ads offer very little information. The more research you can conduct the better your decision will be.
Initial FAQs about hiring an accident lawyer in Hawaii
The vast majority of personal injury cases are handled by lawyers on a “contingency” basis, meaning that there are no up front fees, and the attorney only collects a fee if he wins your case.
A “no fee unless you win” contract can range in terms of the percentage requested. Most contingency fee contracts fall within the 33 1/3 % to 40% range. The percentage charged will be dependent on the complexity of the case, the likelihood of litigation and the lawyer’s experience and reputation.
Do note that file costs – such as copying, faxing, photocopying, couriers and court filing fees are not part of the contingency arrangement. You will have to pay these costs out of your pocket – either during the case or at the end, whether you win or not. Be sure to ask a prospective lawyer about his typical charges for file costs.
In general, since just about every lawyer who handles personal injury work will offer you a contingency fee contract, legal fees should not be an issue for you.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
The time required to resolve your case will depend on both the complexity of your case as well as the statute of limitations in your State.
Complex cases with numerous parties or extensive evidence may take months or even years to prepare for trial. Since the filing of a case starts the clock running towards a trial date, most lawyers like to conduct a through fact investigation prior to filing a lawsuit.
Many lawyers will wait until you have stopped treating with your doctor before they will start settlement negotiations. Other lawyers do not even start settlement negotiations until after a lawsuit has been filed.
Every claim has an applicable law called a “statute of limitation” which requires that a lawsuit be filed within a certain period of time after the claim arises. The filing of a claim with the insurance company does not stop the running of this statute. Here is an example: suppose you are involved in a car accident on March 1, 2004. If the statute of limitations on your particular claims is two years from the date of the accident, you must file a lawsuit to recover damages no later than February 28, 2006. If you wait until March 3, 2006, you are out of luck and your case is over.
Sometimes well-intentioned auto accident claimants decide to deal with the liability insurance company directly in order to save attorney’s fees, thinking that they can always hire an accident lawyer in Hawaii if settlement negotiations break down. Recognize that some lawyers will not get involved in a case if it is presented to them too close to the running of the statute of limitations. Moreover, unsuccessful negotiations by a party representing themselves often pose serious risk to successful negotiations by the lawyer later on. Please note: do not depend on the insurance company to advise you regarding the statute of limitations laws.
How much money will I recover?
The amount of money you can expect to recover will be determined by a number of factors, including
– how badly you were hurt;
– how much documented wage loss you can produce
– whether your injuries are permanent
– whether your earning capacity has been diminished by your injuries or illness
– your age and expected earnings career
– whether you were in any way at fault
– the amount of insurance coverage available to you
– your lawyer’s skill in presenting your case
– your credibility
– the presence of any aggravating factors on the part of the defendant – such as prior knowledge of a dangerous condition
Attorneys who regularly represent injured claimants should be able to offer you some insight as to a range of values for your case. Be careful about believing stories of outrageous recoveries by friends or neighbors. Talk is cheap. Recognize as well that no insurance adjuster, judge or jury is going to fully appreciate what you have gone through. Money, no matter how much you get, is going to bring back your health or give you back the months and years you have suffered- and judges and juries recognize this. Just as insurance companies engage in “risk management,” so should you. If your injuries are such that you will need on-going medical care or income replacement, it may be wise to settle rather than take a chance in court.
Taking your case to court is unusually unpredictable. Even trial lawyers with years of experience will admit that there are no sure things when you go to court and even the strongest cases have been lost for no logical reason. In some cases going to court does make sense, and you should rely on your lawyer as your advocate and representative to offer you guidance.
Where is the trial held?
Your trial will be held in the court and court system where “jurisdiction” is proper. In cases like most car accidents involving a plaintiff and defendant who live in the same State, the case will generally be heard in the county where the accident occurs. In more complex cases involving large corporations or out of State defendants, your case may be heard in another State entirely or in the federal court system.Once your accident lawyer has all the facts, he can advise you where the trial of your case will be held.
Should I accept a settlement offer from an insurance company?
Your decision about whether to accept a settlement offer should be based on a thoughtful and informed evaluation of the merits, as well as the problems, with your case. Your lawyer, with training, experience and some personal detachment, will be a useful resource for you.
Ask your accident lawyer about case summaries and Hawaii jury verdict reports for similar cases in your area. If you wish, ask your lawyer to schedule a “round-table” discussion with another personal injury lawyer to discuss the pros and cons of a particular settlement, if he hasn’t done so already.
Recognize that you will have emotional attachment to your case and that it will be difficult for you to see your case the way judges or potential jurors might. Realize as well that court trials are draining experiences and very unpredictable.
Ultimately, know that if you settle, it means that you are giving up the possibility of a larger verdict for the certainty of a negotiated dollar figure. On the other hand, the insurance company, by settling, is eliminating the possibility of a huge verdict. Expect both sides to be a little unhappy if you settle.
What is the first step to begin my case?
The first step is to choose a lawyer and sign a retainer agreement. For help in selecting the right accident lawyer in Hawaii for your case, you may wish to click on the following link:
It is recommended that you get a copy of any proposed retainer agreement and read it carefully before signing. Do not be afraid to interview several lawyers before signing an attorney-fee contract, especially if you are uncomfortable with the first lawyer(s) that you contact.
While you can change lawyers in the middle of your case, doing will create issues to get past. Terminated lawyers may have the right to a portion of the fee recovery and the opposing insurance company will view your decision to switch lawyers as a sign of weakness. It is much better to make a good choice in lawyers at the outset.
Litigants who go through three or more lawyers will be perceived poorly by the opposing insurance companies and this characteristic will cause your settlement value to go down.
Once you have hired a lawyer, let him do his job. Unless your lawyer tells you otherwise, you should discontinue efforts to collect medical records or speak with witnesses.
Also, when you look to hire an accident lawyer, try to reach a clear understanding about how often you expect to hear from your lawyer and what your lawyer’s policy is regarding telephone calls and emails. If your lawyer is in court frequently, he may not be available to return daily phone calls and both you and your lawyer will soon grow frustrated. If your lawyer uses paralegals to collect evidence but you had the expectation of more regular lawyer involvement, you may become unhappy. Recognized that good lawyer-client communications and understanding are crucial to you being satisfied with your representation.
Still not convinced? Try reading the following article – Should You Hire An Accident Attorney? by David G. Hallstrom,a private investigator.