Q: What does a trial lawyer do?
A: Trial lawyers are lawyers who represent people and small business owners (but not big businesses and insurance companies) in litigation matters. These matters include consumer law complaints, real estate litigation, personal injury cases, business disputes, and family law, just to name a few of the types of cases we handle for our clients.
Q: I need a trial lawyer. How do I find a good one?
A: The best way is word of mouth. Ask your friends if they know a good lawyer. If not, look at the advertising for lawyers and start interviewing. Talk to the lawyer who will actually be handling your case. Ask your prospective lawyer if he or she is a member of the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association. Ask them if they are a member of the Texas and/or American Trial Lawyer’s Association. You need a lawyer who will provide personal service to you and will be available to talk with you when you need answers. Most of all don’t let yourself be pressured. Interview several lawyers and hire the one you like—contrary to what P.T. Barnum said, you really can’t fool many people very often if the people are paying attention. Finally, if you are injured in an accident and you get a call from someone who says that they can get you a doctor and a lawyer to help you, get their name and telephone number. What that person is doing is illegal. If it happens, call your local district attorney’s office and make a complaint.
Q: Isn’t hiring a lawyer going to cost me a lot of money?
A: No. Law firms are specialized business professionals. When you are sick you go to a doctor, don’t you? Most of us don’t know how to remove an appendix. We wouldn’t even try. A personal injury case can be just as complicated in its own way. The good news is that lawyers who handle personal injury cases only charge you for their results. The lawyer doesn’t get a fee unless you get a recovery. In fact, in most cases the lawyer pays the expenses in your case up front and only gets them back if you recover. This is called a contingency fee. This is one of the few businesses where you only pay for the result that you get. And you have a say in whether to accept a particular result.
Q: If I am injured due to someone else’s negligence, is there anything I should do to protect my rights?
A: First, the most important thing is to seek prompt medical attention and make sure that your injuries are being properly treated. The second thing is to call a lawyer. If you have a severe injury, it isn’t fair for you to go up alone against a trained insurance company professional. You can visit with a lawyer, usually in a free initial consultation, and decide if your injury case is severe enough that you need help. In some cases, it may not be—and a good lawyer will tell you if you really need a lawyer or if you can handle it yourself, and even give you suggestions about how you can make sure you are treated fairly when you handle the matter yourself. The insurance companies want you to talk to them first before you talk to a lawyer. I wonder why? If the insurance company gets to you first, they may try to get you to accept less than you deserve. A lawyer won’t. The lawyer’s fee is based upon your recovery. It is in the lawyer’s best interest to make sure that your claim is resolved for every cent you are legally entitled to recover. It is an insurance adjuster’s job to settle your claim as cheaply as he can. Who do you think is going to be more fair to you?
Q: What’s the scoop on all this Tort Reform stuff I keep hearing about?
A: Tort Reform is a creation of insurance companies and big business. It is not the invention of consumers like you and me. It is attempt by insurance companies to prevent people like you who serve on juries in injury cases from awarding fair compensation to consumers and injury victims. This keeps the money in the insurance company pockets so they won’t have to pay what they really owe. Every lawyer will admit that there are some people who try to take advantage of the justice system to make a buck. Lawyers will admit that there are even some cases of outright fraud, just like there are people that break other laws of our society. But what the insurance companies won’t admit or tell you about is that the insurance industry has been so bad in the past (and still is when they think that they can get away with it) that every state has laws that require insurance companies to be fair to their insureds. Now think about that: what other business or industry has been so bad that the legislatures and the courts of our country have made laws saying that the business has to be fair? The majority of businesses in this country try to be fair on their own, if for no other reason than to keep their customers doing business with them. You do it. I do it. Why don’t the insurance companies do it? The answer is that by not being fair, insurance companies and big businesses get to keep more money. If I am unfair to you, you go to another lawyer and also tell your friends that I am not fair to my clients. If your doctor is unfair, you do the same thing. You have a lot of choices with doctors, lawyers, stores, and other businesses. But with insurance companies you don’t have a whole lot of choices. And they all act the same.
Q: Do personal injury cases really cause my insurance rates to go up like my insurance company claims?
A: Do you let the IRS figure what you owe on your tax return? Seriously, to answer this question you have to think about how insurance companies make a profit: Insurance companies charge their insureds (you) a premium for their insurance. They collect all these premiums and invest them in the stock market, commercial real estate, and commercial loans (insurance companies are among the largest commercial lenders in the world). If you look at a large office building it’s a safe bet that an insurance company either owns it or made the loan to the owner. So the insurance companies make their money by investing what they collect from all of us. The more money that the insurance companies have to invest, the higher the rate of return that they can receive per dollar. This is like the difference you see in interest rates if you buy a $1,000 certificate of deposit at your bank versus a $100,000 jumbo C.D.: the bigger the amount you have to invest, the higher the rate of return you can get. So when a claim for an injury or property damage comes in, the insurance company is supposed to fairly adjust the claim and either settle it, or defend the claim if a lawsuit is filed. The costs of doing this plus the insurance companies’ expense of doing business are the expenses of the insurance companies. The only other real category of expenses are investment losses. In the last few years, we have experienced an unusually large volume of natural disasters in the U.S. We have had major earthquakes in California, tremendous flooding along the Mississippi River valley as well as an unusually large number of hurricanes. All of these natural disasters caused a huge volume of big claims for the insurance companies. Obviously, insurance companies can’t lobby the legislature to stop natural disasters. And the insurance companies can’t generate a lot of public sympathy because they are having to pay these claims. State insurance commissioners, who are generally elected or appointed by people who are elected, and who are responsible for setting insurance company premium rates, aren’t very sympathetic to insurance companies complaining about these losses, so they won’t let the insurance companies raise their rates because of these uncommon natural disasters. Let’s face it: insurance companies are supposed to pay claims when bad things happen to us. On top of all this, think about all the commercial real estate failures in the 1980s. These failures broke the savings and loan industry as we knew it. Guess who loaned more money for commercial real estate than savings and loans? As we said above, insurance companies. So insurance companies have taken tremendous losses due to natural disasters and bad real estate loans in the last 20 years. Who can they blame that people might believe? You got it: trial lawyers and allegedly greedy hurt people. If you don’t know a trial lawyer (and most people don’t; there really aren’t that many of us), and you’ve never seen or experienced the pain, suffering, and difficulties that accompany a major injury, insurance companies can tell a very good story. So when it comes time to raise your rates, do you think an insurance company will level with you and say, We have to cover our real estate losses,—or will they cry Trial lawyers! Tort abuse!
Q: I have been sued because I was in a car wreck or someone had an accident at my home. What should I do?
A: The first thing you should do is notify your personal attorney if you have one. Your attorney will explain to you who you must timely notify with your insurance company and what your obligations are under the insurance policy contract that you have with your insurance company. The next step is to contact your insurance agent and make sure that a copy of the lawsuit paperwork gets to your insurance company. The insurance company should immediately file a response to the lawsuit on your behalf. Contacting your personal attorney will help make sure that this happens, as your attorney will most probably write your agent and your company a letter on your behalf regarding this matter. In many instances your attorney may also file your initial response for you to make sure that your insurance company does not drop the ball. Insurance companies are usually pretty good about this but it is better to be safe than sorry. When your insurance company hires an attorney for you, you should stay in contact with the attorney. You may be needed to answer discovery requests or to give sworn testimony in a deposition proceeding and/or later at trial if the case does not get resolved. You also need to know what is going on in the lawsuit filed against you. Sometimes your insurance company does a good job of protecting you from a loss of your assets as a result of a judgment being entered against you if you are not successful at trial. However, you should also be concerned that you are being treated fairly by your insurance company. Sometimes the insurance company is willing to gamble with your assets and this can possibly have bad results for you. You can always contact a personal attorney to discuss this situation. While the attorney hired by the insurance company is supposed to have your best interest as his foremost concern, occasionally the attorney can remember who is paying his bill for representing you and not do what is in your absolute best interest. Also, read your insurance policy. If you can’t understand what it means, don’t feel bad. A lot of times an attorney has to work hard to really understand what the language in an insurance policy really means. If you don’t know, ask your attorney to explain the policy to you. Questions you should think about and discuss with your attorney:

  • If the car wreck was your fault, why didn’t your insurance company fairly settle the other person’s claims against you so you didn’t get sued? Many times insurance companies have taken a position that they are going to defend a particular type of claim regardless of whether you were really at fault and even if the injured person is making a reasonable demand. What the insurance companies are doing is trying to make it unprofitable for an attorney who represents injury victims to take that particular type of case so that those people can’t be treated fairly even if they were in the right and really did get hurt. This isn’t fair to the person that got hurt (which unfortunately could be you or me tomorrow) and it isn’t in your best interest. Do you really have a week to spend in court at a trial when your insurance company should have paid the claim?
  • Is the attorney hired by your insurance company doing everything he or she thinks needs to be done to defend you in court, or is the insurance company calling the shots on what your attorney does? In years gone past, defense attorneys used to be able to do whatever they reasonably needed to do to defend you in court. The insurance company paid the cost of doing so. Now the insurance companies have started dictating to the attorney what he or she can or can’t do on your behalf. This is not in your best interest. If you think this is happening see your personal attorney. The attorney hired by the insurance company probably won’t tell you the truth about this because he would lose that company’s business. He will probably be more honest about this with your personal attorney even though he shouldn’t. If that is the case, a short letter from your personal attorney to your insurance company will probably resolve the problem very quickly.
  • Is the attorney that your insurance company picked for you an independent attorney or is the attorney an employee of the insurance company itself? Ask the attorney hired to represent you about this issue. Make sure that you are convinced that the attorney assigned to represent you has your best interest at heart and not his or her employer’s. This is what you pay for when you pay for your insurance policy. If you are not comfortable see your personal attorney and have him or her request independent counsel. In-house attorneys are not necessarily bad. Many are good lawyers and are as honest as the day is long. But you still need to have a good defense in any lawsuit filed against you.
  • Is the litigation process treating everyone fairly? It is hard to say you are being treated fairly when you are getting sued. Guess what? The guy suing you probably feels the same way. When you think about the case, really look at yourself and try to decide, Am I really at fault in this case? If so, admit your mistake. We all make mistakes. You can still defend a case on damage issues if you feel the person suing you is asking for an unfair amount of money.
Q: What are damages in a personal injury lawsuit?
A: This varies from state to state. Ask your attorney about this for specifics. Generally, an injured person can recover the following types of past and future damages that apply in their case. These are:

  • medical bills,
  • lost earnings,
  • physical pain,
  • mental anguish,
  • physical impairment, and
  • property damage.

If a person is disfigured in the injury incident, they can also recover damages for physical disfigurement. Each case has different facts. Each state has differing laws. You need to know these differences to be able to determine what is fair. A good way to look at this is to ask yourself, If this happened to me or my spouse or my child what would I think is fair? You probably just gave yourself a good answer. That is all the other fellow wants also.