Do I Have a Personal Injury Case?

Determining whether you have grounds for an injury claim in DC is a complex matter that requires a thorough and careful review of the facts and documentation of the case by qualified attorneys. However, when you are thinking about whether you want to pursue a claim, you may be wondering what general factors and requirements attorneys are looking for when they see a case for the first time. Below, John Yannone discusses some of the important aspects of a case that he examines when reviewing the facts for the first time. This is not in any way a substitute for having a qualified DC attorney review your case, and the information below should not be used to make any decision about whether or not you have a case.

What Are the First Things You Look For in a Case?

There are three main aspects: liability, damages, and the link between the two, which in legal language is called ‘proximate cause.’

There has to be liability in that there’s a duty or a standard that has been breached in some way. There have to be damages, because in our system the only way to get compensated for someone’s wrongdoing is if there is an economic loss, or a non-economic loss of pain and suffering or convenience, etc. So you have to have damages in order to have a claim. You also have to have the link between the two, and prove that the breach led directly to the damages that are being claimed.

Also, in order to be successful, you have to have a pocket to pursue. Ours isn’t a system that is driven by economic compensations or by the negligence that has occurred, you have to have liability, damages, the link between the two, and you also have to have sufficient insurance coverage or assets to go after in order for all that to mean anything. That’s what I look for, generally.

Then, in terms of the merits of the case, in terms of proceeding with a case, I look at who is on both sides. Which elements are going to inspire a jury to want to award the plaintiff money? There’s a lot that goes into that.

The plaintiff has to be credible, have a reasonably decent background, and present as honest and forthright and legitimate so that the jury likes the person and wants to award that person damages.

On the other hand, the defendant has to be someone who has the ability to pay, and who has clearly done something wrong and egregious enough that warrants a jury wanting to award damages in favor of the plaintiff and against that defendant. A lot goes into it.

Experience tells you which types of claims have more chance of success. Different types of claims have different nuances, like slip and falls, for example. Many people think because they fall on someone else’s premises that automatically that establishes a case, but it doesn’t.

In most jurisdictions, and certainly the jurisdictions I’ve practiced in, the law is rather favorable to the property owner. The property owner has to have notice of the defect, and they have to have notice within enough time to do something about it. It also can’t be an open and obvious defect, because then the plaintiff is deemed to be equally responsible for seeing it and not putting themselves in harm’s way, so there’s a responsibility put on the plaintiff. Couple that with contributory negligence.

If the defendant is 99% at fault, and the plaintiff contributes in any way, even 1%, then their claim is barred. There are all these nuances in different types of cases that one has to be aware of in order to be able to pursue a case. It’s a process, it’s based on experience, and it helps to have a lot under your belt as an attorney to be able to advise clients from an experiential point of view, as well as a substantive and knowledgeable legal point of view.

How Does Payment Typically Work With A Personal Injury Lawyer?

Typically, personal injury and medical malpractice matters are taken on a contingency basis, which simply means that the attorney does not get paid unless there is a recovery in the case. If there is, then there’s a customary percentage that the attorney is entitled to based upon getting a settlement or court judgment. Typically, that is 33% if the case settles and 40% if the case is filed in court and has to be litigated.

That’s what we call a contingency fee arrangement: there is no obligation for the client to pay anything except out of the recovery that is obtained in the case.

How Does Payment Typically Work With Your Firm?

We adhere to the standard contingency fee arrangement: no fees unless we are successful in obtaining a recovery. Again, it’s a third if it settles and 40% if the case is litigated and is filed in court. The same is true for costs: we will advance the costs necessary for litigation on behalf of the client, and those costs do not need to be repaid unless there’s a recovery in the case.  If so, then the costs are deducted from the recovery amount.