At Abrams Landau, Ltd., we know that you must have a lot of questions about your situation and the road ahead. You are not alone. The following are some of the most common questions we hear from clients-we present them here in hopes of better preparing you for the important decisions you may be facing. Please contact us to discuss any questions you don’t see listed here or to determine if you have a case.
· When do I need a lawyer?
· How do contingency fees work?
· What happens in the life of a case?
· How can I help my case?
· What is attorney-client privilege?
· What is burden of proof?
· What is a deposition?
· What kinds of information are used in discovery?
· What is evidence?
· What are motions and why would we file one?
· Why would someone be served a subpoena?
· What happens in court?
· How is a jury picked?
· How do you determine settlements?
You need a lawyer right away when there has been a serious accident, with permanent injuries, scarring or disability. It is a fact that those persons who are represented by able counsel generally recover greater compensation than those who are not. In workers compensation and negligence cases, the insurance companies always send at least one lawyer to represent their interests. Under such circumstances, it is extremely unlikely that the unrepresented person (“pro se party”) will prevail.
If you think you may have a case, Abrams Landau invites you to contact us for a free, confidential, initial consultation.
Your lawyer gets paid a fee “contingent” upon the outcome of your case. Contingency fees are based upon the outcome of favorable settlement negotiations or a jury verdict. If you do not win your case, your attorney recovers nothing for time spent working on your case. If you do win your case, no matter how large or how small, your attorney is entitled to a percent of your recovery, based on the amount you mutually agreed upon at the time of your initial conference and the retainer agreement you signed.
An important point to clarify is the term “costs advanced.” These are actual expenses you incur when your attorney must spend money on your behalf to prove your damages. They include such things as: medical record fees, doctors’ narrative reports, deposition costs, expert witness testimony, in addition to your attorney’s expenses such as filing fees, subpoenas, messengers and special delivery, copying, fax and telephone charges, and postage fees. These costs are never considered part of an attorney’s contingency fee. They are expected to be reimbursed when your case is concluded, or paid as your case progresses, no matter what the outcome-win, lose, or draw.
Every case is unique, just as every one of our wonderful clients is unique. Usually cases start with an “investigation stage.” After that, there may be a “negotiation stage.” The settlement negotiations can last for an extended period of time. If the case does not settle, then a lawsuit may be filed. After filing, “discovery” is conducted, where each side tries to learn about the other party’s case. After discovery is completed, then the court may set a Trial or Hearing date. After the Trial or Hearing, there may be an appeal, if one party is dissatisfied with the result. Otherwise the judgment, verdict or workers compensation Award is paid and the case is concluded.
One of the best ways to see what actually happens is to call us and to come see Mr. Landau. We try cases in many courts, and may be coming to a courthouse near you. Unlike other law firms, we encourage, and even insist that clients come “see us in action,” so that they and their family members will know what transpires when “their turn” comes. As the hotel advertising put it so well, “The best surprise is no surprise.”
How can I help my case?
1. Cooperate with your attorney and the staff as we try to help you.
2. Do the “homework” assignments that are given in order to help you with your case, expedite your claim, and save you time and money.
3. Do not give any taped or written statements, because “Anything you say, can and WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU…”
4. Keep the correspondence and other legal documents from us in a safe place.
5. Let us know promptly about any changes in your medical, work or disability conditions.
6. “Loose lips sink ships.” Be careful of what you say, and to whom. Refer questions about your case to us. Our office helps direct information and documentation about your case to the appropriate parties, and takes care not to divulge data or personal information to those persons with no legitimate interests in the case or its outcome.
Come see us “in action,” and you, your family and witnesses will see, firsthand how we try cases and what questions the judges and opposing counsel ask in cases like your own. It is not like you may have seen on television. There is lots of “hurry up and wait,” there are no commercial breaks, and you certainly cannot rewind and have a “do over.” The courts are busy places, and the judges are under extreme time pressure, so they like the parties to get right to the point. When cases run over the time allotted, it is frequently viewed as the plaintiff’s fault, since they are the one bringing the claim. That is why it is important to have your case ready well ahead of time. While no “scripts” are provided to clients and witnesses, it is critically important that everyone connected with a case understand the nature of the proceedings, the oaths being taken and the relevant evidence that is needed in order to come to a fair decision in the case.
In civil (non-criminal) cases in Virginia, the court may bring 20 or more people into the courtroom. The lawyers for the parties are given very basic information about this group, such as their names, addresses, birth dates, occupations and spouses’ occupations. After the judge asks preliminary questions (such as “Are or have any of you ever been represented by either lawyer involved in this case ?” “Do you know any of the parties here today ?” “Are you familiar with the place where this accident happened ?” “Is there any reason that you cannot sit on this jury ?”)
The lawyers are then permitted to ask questions (a process called “voire dire”). The plaintiff’s counsel goes first, followed by defense counsel. The judge may ask jurors to be removed because of a relation to a party or witness or other issue that may make them unable to listen to the evidence fairly or render an impartial verdict.
Then, after the lawyers have questioned the potential jurors, the bailiff presents each side with the jury list, from which each lawyer is permitted to strike a juror. As each lawyer alternately makes those selections, the judge may give additional instructions to the panel of potential jurors. After each side has exercised their three strikes, the seven remaining jurors are impaneled in the jury box, given an oath, and then remain in the court room to hear the case. A civil jury in Virginia must return with a unanimous verdict. A majority vote is not sufficient for a plaintiff to win the case in the Commonwealth.
After we have completed our investigation, we confer with our clients, pose questions to their doctors and request information, where applicable, from their employer regarding lost earnings and future earnings capacity. Once we have the necessary information in hand, we compare what has been taken from our clients to other similar cases where there were similar injuries and theories of liability (fault) we and others have tried in the relevant jurisdictions.
What kinds of things do we look at in evaluating whether a settlement offer is fair? We look at the likelihood of success, the potential verdict range, the cost of trial, and most importantly, the needs of our clients. There is no set formula for injury cases. If there was some simplistic formula based upon special damages only (medical bills and lost wages) then stay at home parents, children and the elderly would be unfairly penalized. Some injured persons “over treat” and other clients have no medical bills because they are in an HMO, the military or medical profession.
So each case, just as each client, is unique. We discuss the elements of their cases carefully with clients, and we come up with a plan to settle, and if necessary, to try the case to a jury verdict. We have learned that a fair settlement is often better for a client than a good verdict because of the time, expenses and emotional costs involved for them and their families. In order to help assess a case’s jury appeal, we have conducted numerous focus groups and mock trials, using real courtrooms, bringing in lawyers from other jurisdictions and “trying out” evidence and case theories. We have found these experiences invaluable and well worth the investment of time, personnel and money. Often the questions of our mock jurors will help us to present our own client’s case more effectively. Also, by trying our cases in advance of court, we can see any deficiencies or weaknesses in parts of our client’s case and thus save them from impairing the rest of their claim.
Without the client’s permission, an attorney may not disclose confidential information that the client has communicated to him or her. Attorney-client privilege does not protect every communication, only that spoken or written information conveyed to an attorney hired by the client, which is communicated when the client is seeking the attorney’s legal counsel on a matter. Counsel and advice unrelated to a legal matter is not privileged. Every member of the firm-attorneys, legal assistants, paralegals, and clerical staff- honors attorney-client privilege, and only a client’s authorization or a court’s ruling can break it.
The Plaintiff has the obligation to present evidence to the jury. The Defendant does not have to produce or present any evidence whatsoever.
During a deposition, a lawyer questions a witness or party, under oath, in front of a court reporter.
Questions and requests regarding the facts of a case, includes: Interrogatories (written questions that must be answered under oath), Requests for Production (of documents, records or things) Subpoenas (compelling a person’s presence at court or deposition), Subpoena Duces Tecum (an order to bring something to a deposition, court or lawyer’s office) etc.
Facts, documents or things (i.e., photographs, diagrams, charts, x-rays, medical illustrations, bills, clothing, etc.) that tend to prove or disprove the relevant elements of a party’s case.
Papers filed in court that seek an Order from the Judge. In a Motion, the party requesting the court order “moves” the court by written Motion for the relief sought. Motions practice usually benefits the defense in a personal injury case. However, when the Defendant does not respond in a timely fashion to our reasonable discovery requests, we may file a Motion in court to “compel” the production of documents or the full reply to our questions (Interrogatories).
A subpoena is request by the court for someone to appear or for someone to produce documents or other tangible things. If a lawyer does not subpoena a witness to trial and the witness fails to show up, there is little that can be done. If, on the other hand, the witness has been properly served with a subpoena requiring their attendance, then, if they do not appear, then they may be held “in contempt of court,” and the lawyer may get a recess until the witness is located and brought to testify.