We get a lot of questions from potential and current personal injury clients. We address those questions today!
Justin Hill: Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases, a podcast discussing real-world cases handled by Justin Hill and the Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names have been removed. However, the facts are real and these are the cases we handle on a day-to-day basis.
Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases podcast. This is going to be our second edition of a lawyer Q&A that we have put together. I’ve asked my staff and I myself have done the same as we get common questions from people that call the office or from our current clients that we get. I’ve already done Part 1 of this series. It looks like we’ve got about another 40 or 50 questions that we have compiled, and I’m going to just go through some of the most common questions we get. If I didn’t hit the question that you have, try and listen to Part 1 of this series and we might’ve covered it there.
In Part 1, we talked about honors and awards we’ve received, how we get paid, what a fee arrangement is? Who’s responsible for out-of-pocket? How much time do we spend on a case? What is a case worth? How are we paid? What happens if you lose? Then questions about our firm, what percentage of our case load is personal injury? Do we get cases referred by their lawyers? Do we handle complex cases in cases against Fortune 500? The questions that you have, feel free to listen to our lawyer Q&A Part 1, that’s up on our website, jhlawfirm.com.
Today, I’m going to start with a common question that I personally have gotten. One of those questions we hear a lot is, “Have you handled personal injury cases like mine before,” and/or questions such as, “Have you ever tried a personal injury case like mine?” One thing I always have to tell everybody when they call and ask you a question like that is that every case is unique. Every case is unique from the fact that what our plaintiff has gone by case and also the liability against the defendant and the ability to recover against the defendant is going to be different.
For example, we have handled lots of car accident and vehicular accident cases, but I’ve never seen two that are exactly the same. Have had the same plaintiff, have had the same liability, and have had the same insurance company and lawyers. Every case is different. My first boss always said a lawsuit is a lawsuit is a lawsuit and as long as you can learn and understand the substantive law, then you get evidence to support your substantive law, you go try it to a jury under the same rules of evidence that don’t really change depending on what type of case it is. We can never tell somebody, we have handled a case exactly the same as theirs.
Ethically, we are bound to only take cases that we feel we are competent to handle. It’s the reason I turned down a mortgage, a dispute case that came in last year. When a bank asked me to go try a case on their behalf regarding a mortgage fraud claim, it’s not something I have done before. Honestly, I didn’t feel too motivated to get into a trial representing a large bank. We have tried lots of different types of personal injury cases, dram shop cases and negligence cases, car wreck cases, on-the-job injury cases.
We have the ability, the resources, the knowledge and the know-how to work up, prepare and try a personal injury case, a product liability case, dram shop case, 18-wheeler case, on-the-job injury case. Even though the case may have some differing details, we feel like we are competent, ready and able to handle those cases. The next one we’re going to hit up is, “Do cases like mine usually settle out of court or go to trial?”
I tell all clients that the vast majority of cases settled before trial and there’s multiple reasons for that, but the biggest reason is at the end of the day, the defendant has to ask themselves, do they prefer to let a jury decide, which means it’s out of their hand and the plaintiff also has to ask, do they want a jury to decide, which means it’s out of their hands? Sometimes, the defendants make it easy.
We have a case, [unintelligible 00:04:26], they do not think they have any liability. I’ve told them they don’t understand the law in this case and I think that is why they have misevaluated the case but regardless, we can’t force them to be good lawyers, pay attention, learn, and understand. All we can do is prepare our case for trial. With that being said, rarely do cases get zero offers and get forced to trial. Usually, they get offered some amount of money and the client has to decide, did they think that that is fair to them or would they prefer to let a jury decide their case, even though there’s a risk that they get more or less or exactly the same.
We get asked a lot of times by current clients and new clients, “Do you see any problems with my case? How does my case look?” Early on, it’s impossible for us to know what’s going to flush out in the end on a case. We just recently settled a case, it was a three-car pile-up, 18-wheeler crash. The first car that was hit settled their case before filing a lawsuit for what I think was very little money.
We filed a lawsuit, we started discovery and in discovery, there was a video of the trucker on his phone when the crash occurred. That makes the value of the case increase substantially. When my client had come in originally and asked me, “How does my case look?”, I would’ve told him, “I’ve handled similar cases. Here’s what I think the defendant is going to do. Here’s what I think they’re going to do as a defense and here’s what I think they’re going to generally offer you at the end of the day.”
When that video came out showing the trucker looking down for seven seconds before he hit the first car which then hit our car, that video probably doubled the value of the case. It’s very easy for us to tell people at the start, “Hey, we think you have a good case,” but that case could get better or it could get worse depending on how the facts turn out in discovery.
Next question we get sometimes is, “If I’m not satisfied with a settlement offer, are you prepared to take the case to trial?” We just discussed that, yes, we handle cases all the way through trial unlike some lawyers that try to settle them and then if they look like they’re going to go to trial or be in litigation, they refer them out. We prepare our cases for trial and we think because they’re prepared for trial, we get a better offer for our clients. This brings up a side thing that we hear a lot.
We will have clients that just tell us, “Hey, go tell them to give us more money.” I always have to tell clients that, “We can’t force them to give you more money. We can’t force them to increase their settlement offer. All we can do is present our case in the best light we have prepared for trial and tell them what it’s going to take to get the case settled. If they say no, we can’t force them to do that.” We can then go ask a jury to give us more than what that was going to be and if a jury awards us that amount or more, the defendant can then either pay it or they can appeal it.
We’re not in the game of forcing insurance companies what to pay. We’re in the profession of preparing our client’s case for trial, to the extent that they know that we’re not going to fold at the last minute-and-a-half to present an offer that they think will get the case settled. One of the things that sets us apart is we’re a small law firm and I often get asked, “Will you be the attorney handling my case?” I think a lot of people now have heard horror stories from some of the big advertising law firms, I guess it’d be the best way to put it, where they have gotten assigned four, five, six, seven different lawyers during the life of their case. They never know who to call.
They don’t know what’s going on with their case or who the point of contact is. At our law firm, I am involved in every single case. We bounce back and forth between one and two lawyers, being me or me and someone else. In all cases, I will always talk to clients if they call and set up an appointment and go over their case with them. My role in the case is to prepare their case for trial and if I have another lawyer helping me, that’s what that means. They’ll help me in that process, but when people hire our law firm, they get me as their attorney.
We get asked those specific questions about, “Do I get to talk to a lawyer? How do I get updates? What is the role in the case?” I think I just kind of addressed all of that, but the biggest thing for us is clients always get all the information they need and they have a million different avenues by which to seek it. They can email us, they can text us, they can reach out to us by phone, Zoom, or come in-person.
We always make sure to keep our clients informed, it’s something that we really focus on here. Another question we get is, are we too busy to take on their case? I think this stems from the idea I talked about earlier where people have heard horror stories about lawyers taking on a case and then it’d be shifted around to multiple different associates and/or partners and case managers or litigation managers or whatever they want to call them. At our law firm, we have to be really careful about what we take on.
I actually got an email in the middle of the night last night from somebody saying that they had the best case and only to call them if I was certain, I would take it. There was no information about the case or what it was or anything about anything other than they have the best case and if I called them, that meant I was taking their case. I politely responded and said that we are very limited in what we take because we do not want to become a law firm that doesn’t know our clients, that doesn’t know our cases, and that doesn’t do a good job because we’ve taken off more than we can chew.
We have a small caseload. If we choose to take on a case, that’s because we believe we have the capacity at the time to handle it. We do sometimes tell people, “Hey, we can’t take your case right now. We’re really swamped,” and then we’ll give them recommendations on people to call. We get asked sometimes to provide references. This is less these days than I think it probably would have been 10 years ago with the Internet. Our best source of references are the reviews that we have gotten from clients.
When you have clients two years, two months, two weeks after their case resolves, remembering how good of a job you did for them and hopping on the Internet so that they can let other people know how happy they were with your services, I think that’s the best reference anyone could get or give. I always tell people, “Feel free to look into those.” I think in a lot of the platforms, you can actually reach out to the people and ask them questions.
“Has my license ever been suspended or revoked? Had disciplinary issues at our law firm,”– And that’s because we do our best. I can’t say we’ve never made a mistake here or there, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying, it’s the practice of law because there is no perfect way to do it. You do your best, you stay compliant with the rules and the ethics standards, and you just do your best for your client and usually, that works out in your favor. I think as long as we’re always trying our best for our clients, trying to answer them zealously that we’re going to stay on the right side of any complaints.
The last question we’re going to handle today is, “Am I a member of any professional organizations? We’re a member of the San Antonio Bar Association, the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and the Texas Bar. We’re on and off members of AIG which is a products group. We’re members of AAJ, American Association for Justice. We think it’s really important to stay involved with our professorate associations, not only for the edgy element that we get good CLE and information from our peers, but also from the advocacy element that those organizations work to protect consumers rights.
A lot of places have really well-funded government, consumer protection agencies and things like that. In America, we don’t focus on government regulation like other countries, other industrialized nations. One way we do this as by self-governing and one way we self-govern is by the right to trial by jury. If we think products hurt somebody or persons hurt somebody, we’re allowed to go to a jury and ask for redress.
Now, as you see and hear, every couple of years or every year, tort reform, the insurance industry and the corporate interest do not like that. They try to change the laws to keep everyday people from having the right to trial by jury or they want to supplant what a jury does and say, “Yes, maybe you were hurt,” or, “Maybe somebody in your family was killed, but the most you should ever get is this amount of money.”
They just want to pull out of thin air what they think is the right amount of damages or the right legal remedy for somebody and take that away from a jury and take it away from me and use right to go ask a jury for what’s right and wrong. We are involved with a lot of trade associations, a lot of personal injury related trade associations in San Antonio legal associations for many reasons, but probably the most important is that we believe that it helps protect the right to trial by jury and it helps to protect consumers’ access to the courthouse. Join us next time. We’ll be covering more questions on Part 3 but until then, we’ll see you next time.