Category: Understanding Personal Injury

How to Find a Good Personal Injury Attorney California

Why Should I Hire a Personal Injury LawyerAfter an accident, you may need an attorney to help you get the money you deserve.

In this post, San Diego personal injury attorney Curtis Quay shares his tips on choosing a good accident lawyer in California. For the past 15 years, Mr. Quay has successfully handled thousands of personal injury cases. See his suggestions below.

Table of Contents

  1. Search Online
  2. Legal Directories
  3. Online Reviews
  4. California State Bar
  5. What To Ask During the Initial Consultation
  6. Preparing for the Initial Consultation
  7. Understand the Fee Structure
  8. Personality

1. Searching Online

Google

When choosing a personal injury lawyer, start by searching via a search engine like Google.

You can search by using terms like “good personal injury lawyers near me” or “personal injury attorney” followed by your City and State. So if you live in Pasadena, CA, you would simply type, “personal injury attorney Pasadena CA” into the search bar.

This type of search will usually give you a list of attorneys in your area and a list of legal (and non-legal) directories. See more about those below.

 

2. Legal Directories

Avvo

Legal directories are like mini-search engines of their own, but focus only on attorneys. We’ll go over the most popular ones and one non-legal directory, Yelp.

Avvo

Avvo is one of the more popular attorneys directories. Avvo offers a lot of great info including ratings, law school attended, and contact info. More importantly, Avvo tells you if the attorney has ever been disciplined by the California State Bar. Visit Avvo by clicking here.

FindLaw

FindLaw is another popular legal directory that may show up in the search results. FindLaw includes attorney contact info and a bio. FindLaw lacks the robust review system you’ll find in Avvo, but given FindLaw’s search engine placement, we included it in our list. Visit them by clicking here.

Lawyers.com

Lawyers.com is owned by Martindale-Hubble. They’ve been around for years providing info on attorneys. Lawyers.com provides contact info, client reviews, and peer reviews. You can see more by clicking here.

Yelp

Although not a legal directory, Yelp has established itself as a go-to location for those seeking an attorney. Yelp includes contact info, bio, and reviews. Visit Yelp them here.

 

3. Online Reviews

Yelp Reviews

Many of the online directories listed above include personal injury lawyers reviews. When looking at reviews, make sure you don’t just look at the amount of reviews or overall ratings.

Instead, take the time to read the reviews – especially the longer ones. A long review might give you more insight into an attorney.

Another way to find attorney reviews is by using Google Maps. Once you’re there, type “personal injury attorney” and you’ll see results below with reviews.

 

4. California State Bar Page

California State Bar

No attorney search is complete without visiting their profile on the California State Bar website. On this site you’ll see their official contact info, educational background, and further detail on their disciplinary history, if any.

You can lookup a lawyer by clicking here.

 

5. Asking the Right Questions During the Initial Consultation

People with with attorney

Most, if not all, personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation. This is a great time to ask a lot of questions regarding their practice and your case.

Here are a list of questions to ask a personal injury lawyer during the free consultation.

  • How many years have you been practicing?
  • Have you handled my type of case before?
  • Where did you attend law school?
  • Do you exclusively practice personal injury law?
  • How long have you exclusively practiced personal injury law?
  • Have you taken any cases to trial?
  • Have you been disciplined by the California State Bar?
  • Ask for a list of their previous victories – both verdicts and settlements
  • How much do you think my case is worth?

 

6. Be Prepared During Your Initial Consult

Prior to meeting with an attorney, take some time to learn a little about personal injury law in your state. For example, most personal injury attorneys will not take a car accident case which solely resulted in property damage.

Additionally, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with tort law and legal terms like negligence.

 

7. Understand the Fee Structure

Don’t sign a retainer agreement without making sure you understand the fee structure. We’ve all heard personal injury attorneys say, “I get nothing unless you win.” This means they work on a contingency basis. While that my be true, make sure you understand what they get in the even that you do win.

In California, an accident attorney will typically take somewhere between 25% – 40%. However, many attorneys will also require that you pay for any fees incurred throughout the process. Your attorney will charge these fees on top of the percentage. What you’ll want to know is exactly what these fees include. For example, it might include the cost for experts, private investigators, and depositions.

Make sure you don’t get blindsided, as these fees can significantly cut into your award settlement.

 

8. Personality

People meeting with an attorney

The last thing to consider is how well you got a long during the initial consultation. Did you find it easy to speak with the attorney? If not, you might want to consider continuing your search until you find someone who is a good personality fit for you.

 

Did We Miss Anything?

We hope that this guide will help you find a reputable personal injury lawyer in your area. Did we miss something? If so, please comment below.

About the Author: Attorney Curtis Quay has over 15 years experience handling both plaintiff and defendant personal injury claims. Mr. Quay earned his J.D. at prestigious Temple Law School.

 

Reasons Why You Should Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer:

We put together this infographic dealing the benefits of hiring a personal injury lawyer after an accident. These reasons include:

  1. Medical Issues: A good attorney will work with a team of experts that can properly evaluate your injuries.
  2. Financial Issues: An attorney will help you with the financial issues that inevitably arise after an accident.
  3. Higher Settlements: An experienced attorney can often help you negotiate higher settlements with the negligent party’s insurance company.

 

Why Should I Hire A Personal Injury Lawyer?

What Is Negligence?

More and more people and groups are questioning the phrase “car accidents.” Planes crash, trains wreck, ships sink, so why should cars be involved in accidents? To be sure, most car crashes are accidental to the extent that they are unintentional. But one of the dictionary definitions of “accident” is “an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause,” with synonyms like “coincidence, mere chance, and twist of fate.” In most car crashes, someone is clearly at fault, so this definition is inappropriate.

We all make mistakes, and when we make mistakes, we must take steps to make things right again. That principle is the underpinning of negligence law. In court, what does the victim need to prove to obtain monetary compensation that makes things right?

Burden of Proof

Many people remember the double murder saga of former USC and NFL standout O.J. Simpson during the 1990s. After a lengthy trial, a criminal jury decided that Mr. Simpson was not guilty of the crimes he allegedly committed. Yet in a later proceeding, a civil jury determined that he was responsible for the deaths and ordered Mr. Simpson to pay $33.5 million. How could two different juries look at essentially the same evidence and make two opposite conclusions?

In criminal court, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Definitions vary by jurisdiction, but essentially, the state must present such overwhelming evidence that there is no reasonable explanation other than guilt. However, in civil court, the plaintiff must only establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. If there are two equally-full water glasses on a table and a person adds an eyedropper full of liquid to the glass on the left, it contains more liquid than the glass on the right, and that is a picture of preponderance of the evidence.

In most negligence cases, the plaintiff must establish four elements, each by a preponderance of the evidence.

Duty

California and Nevada typically impose a duty of reasonable care in these situations. This legal responsibility comes from the 1932 English case of Donoghue v. Stevenson. At the time, there were essentially no negligence laws in either the United States or the United Kingdom. In this colorful yet also rather nauseating case, Ms. Donoghue’s friend bought her a bottle of ginger beer at a local cafe. As she emptied the contents, she discovered a dead and decomposed snail at the bottom of the bottle. Ordinarily, Ms. Donoghue could have sued for damages under contract law, but since she did not buy the beer, she relied on the then-novel theory that the beer bottler had a duty to sell bottles of beer that did not contain dead animals.

In deciding the case in favor of Ms. Donoghue and against the beer bottler Mr. Stevenson, Lord Atkin articulated the “neighbour principle:”

The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law you must not injure your neighbour. . . .You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who then in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected.

The neighbour principle made its way into American law, and became the duty of reasonable care.

A higher duty applies in some situations. For example, in both Nevada and California, truck drivers, taxi drivers, Uber drivers, and other commercial operators are common carriers. These drivers have a higher duty of care with regard to the goods and/or passengers they transport from one point to another. Essentially, while the duty of reasonable care requires drivers to avoid crashes if possible, common carriers must take affirmative steps to ensure that their passengers arrive safely.

Breach

Duty is a legal question, and breach (violation) is a fact question. One way to breach the duty of care is to violate a traffic law, like speeding or making an illegal lane change. Drivers who are impaired by alcohol, drugs, or fatigue may also breach their duties of care, especially if they are common carriers.

Since this is a fact question, the jury must conclude that, by a preponderance of the evidence, the behavior was serious enough to breach the duty of care. For example, adjusting the radio is technically distracted driving, because drivers take their eyes off the road, take their minds off driving, and take at least one hand off the wheel while fiddling with the radio. However, such behavior may not constitute a breach of duty, in the minds of many jurors.

Cause

The third element is both a fact and legal question. Lawyers sometimes refer to the factual component as “but-for causation,” as in the crash would not have happened “but for” the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) action or inaction.

Legally, the plaintiff’s damages must be a foreseeable result of the tortfeasor’s conduct. Most courts in both Nevada and California use the majority rule from 1928’s Paslgraf v. Long Island Railroad. In that case, a court determined that negligent railroad workers were not responsible for an injury that took place on the other side of the train platform, because the link between a man dropping a package of fireworks and scales toppling over because of the shock wave was too indirect. A few courts use the more-inclusive “zone of danger” test, and in these jurisdictions, bystander cases are a bit easier to win.

Damages

The plaintiff must sustain a physical personal injury, such as a broken bone or a brain injury, or property damage, such as a banged-up car, to satisfy this element. If there is a tangible injury, the plaintiff is also entitled to compensation for intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium (companionship). In some cases, additional punitive damages may be available.

Liability

In a few cases, fault in a car crash is rather easy to establish. For example, if Debra Defendant is talking on her cellphone while driving her own vehicle on her own time when she rear-ends Paula Plaintiff, who is stopped in traffic and waiting at a red light, Debra is clearly at fault and clearly responsible for Paula’s damages.

But assume Paula pulled out in front of Debra in traffic and Debra rear-ended Paula. Who is at fault in that scenario? Or assume Debra was hauling goods for XYZ Company in a delivery truck when she hit Paula. Who is responsible for damages in that scenario?

Liability is a two-part inquiry. First, the responsible party, or responsible parties, must be identified. Second, the appropriate party, or parties, must pay damages.

First Party Liability in Car Crashes

The crash between Debra and Paula did not happen by chance or by accident. Most likely, the choices both parties made in the hours, minutes, and moments before the collision caused the wreck.

Decisional liability has to do with the choices made, or not made, before operators start driving. Typically, these decisions revolve around the three types of impairment. Although the sources (alcohol, drugs, and fatigue) are very different, the effects are quite similar.

In most cases, drivers are alcohol-impaired after only one drink. Alcohol is an antidepressant, so people who drink nearly always experience a sense of release and euphoria. When it comes to driving, this feeling of euphoria often means that operators are slower to recognize dangerous situations and more willing to push the envelope in terms of their driving habits. That extra few ticks on the speedometer or half-second delay before tapping the brakes can mean the difference between a safe drive home and a serious injury collision. There are also physical symptoms, such as blurred vision and slower reaction times, that are extremely dangerous when operating heavy machinery, including motor vehicles.

Contrary to popular myth, much drugged driving results from abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Many painkillers and antidepressants are very powerful and have serious side-effects even when patients take them exactly as directed. Taking too many pills, or taking pills while not under a doctor’s care, can be even worse. Similarly, many over-the-counter sleep aids and other medicines have active ingredients that required prescriptions just  few years ago.

Fatigued drivers have many of the same issues as drugged and drunk drivers. In fact, driving after eighteen consecutive waking hours is like driving with a .08 BAC, which is above the legal limit in both Nevada and California. Moreover, most of the tips and tricks that observers once suggested, like turning up the radio volume, may make drivers feel more alert for a few minutes, but the effect quickly passes. Also, these tricks do nothing to remedy the impaired judgement and motor skills associated with fatigued driving.

Behavioral liability, or the choices that drivers make just before the crash, is the second liability area. Typically, behavioral liability is associated with motor vehicle code violations, like speeding, illegal lane changes, ignoring traffic control devices, and the like. Distracted driving is also a serious issue, which is why California lawmakers recently expanded the cellphone ban. Previously, the ban only applied to talking or texting; the amended VC 23123.5, which takes effect January 1, makes it illegal to “use or hold” a cellphone or other electronic device.

Finally, there is environmental liability. Many drivers fail to adjust to adverse conditions, like rain or darkness, by slowing down and driving more carefully. Additionally, although it is easier to drive on familiar streets than unfamiliar ones, many drivers do not acknowledge or appreciate the difference.

In most car crash cases, the insurance company tries to shift blame to the victim, to reduce or deny recovery. Contributory negligence is one of the most common arguments. To return to the previous example, assume Paula made an illegal lane change, and Debra — who was speeding — rear-ended her. In cases like this, the juries must apportion fault on a percentage basis.

California is a pure comparative fault state that divides liability based solely on the percentage of fault. Assume the damages were $100,000 and the jury splits fault 50-50. In California, Paula would receive $50,000. But if the same crash and same result occurred in Nevada, Paula would get nothing. That’s because the Silver State is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. So, if the defendant’s liability is not at least 51 percent, the plaintiff is ineligible for recovery.

Third Party Liability in Crash Cases

Many states have dram shop laws that hold commercial alcohol providers liable for damages if their intoxicated patrons later injure someone. But Nevada has never had a dram shop law and California legislators recently did away with the Golden State’s version of that law.

Other third party liability theories may apply, such as respondeat superior (“let the master answer”). In a nutshell, if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was an employee acting within the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash, the employer is at least partially responsible for the victim’s damages. All the relevant terms are defined in broad and plaintiff-friendly terms.

Third party liability is often important because so many drivers are under-insured. Nevada has one of the lowest minimum auto insurance policy requirements in the country, and California’s requirements are not much higher. While it is relatively easy to collect damages from insurance companies, it is difficult, but not impossible, to collect from individuals.