Do I need a wrongful death lawyer or can I handle it by myself without an attorney?
There is nothing in the law that requires you to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you in your claims for damages arising from a wrongful death or from any other accident in the State of Hawaii. In many cases, the biggest impediments to self-representation would be the emotional toll that it takes and, of course, the detailed knowledge you must have about the medical and legal issues.
In an ideal world, attorneys would not be needed. In accident cases for example, the other driver would act honestly and admit fault and his insurance company would offer a fair payment for the damages and loss arising out of the accident. You would simply submit the information about your accident to the responsible insurance adjuster and a fair payment would be made to you that would cover the social, economic, emotional and other losses, as well as the costs and expenses associated with the last illness and the death. In a malpractice case, the doctor would readily admit his/her mistake and the insurer would promptly provide the appropriate compensation. In a case arising out of a defective product, the manufacturer and suppliers would acknowledge their errors and responsibility, compensate the families of those killed and even create a fund to care for the future needs of all affected.
Unfortunately, in the real world, people do not always act honestly or honorably, especially when they have done something wrong. Even more importantly, however, insurance companies now act as if they are in business solely to make money and their employees are frequently told to limit payouts, to delay payments and to deny liability whenever possible. In general - the insurers frequently grasp at any excuse to delay and to refuse to pay a claim. They find that holding the float of other people's money is very profitable. The profit motives of the insurance business are primarily responsible for most wrongful death claims which end up in court.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii offers several important benefits:
An attorney is engaged in the “practice” of law because every experience he has and case he works is on-the-job training. Just as a basketball player practices shooting the ball to improve his performance in a game, a good lawyer sharpens his skills by representing clients, trying cases and attending continuing legal education courses. An experienced and capable wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii can offer you several important benefits to help you with you claim in Hawaii (besides freeing up a lot of your time):
Knowledge of the Hawaii system. You may have already figured out that the insurance claim system in Hawaii is a kind of game with its own lingo and rules. When notice of a possible claim by you is received in the office of an insurance company, the assigned adjuster immediately assigns as projected payout figure to your case called a “reserve.” The reserve represents the potential loss to the insurance company’s bank account.
The creation of a reserve for every claim is required by law so that State insurance commissioners can evaluate the financial strength of a particular insurance company. In every State, insurance companies are required to have enough money in cash to pay expected claims. Thus, if adjusters set high reserves on cases, the insurance company will have less cash money available to invest in profitable ventures such as shopping centers, buildings and other real estate.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii knows that your case will be worth more money if they can convinced the adjuster to set a high reserve on your case. If a low reserve is set, the adjuster cannot offer you a settlement that exceeds the reserve without special permission. Experienced lawyers make every effort to convince the insurance adjuster that your injuries are serious and that a high reserve is appropriate for your case. Your attorney’s written and verbal communication with the insurance company is designed to send a message that your injuries are serious and that the insurance company should be prepared to pay significant damages.
Perspective about case values. Experienced wrongful death lawyers work within the marketplace of insurance settlements. An experienced lawyer will know which parts of your case are strong and which are weak. He may also subscribe to a jury verdict reporting service so he will know what similar cases in your area have generated in settlement or verdict. Attorneys who negotiate injury cases day in and day out will have a sense of what makes up a fair settlement in your city or town.
Insurance adjusters would much prefer to deal with you directly and not with a lawyer. While many insurance company employees are honest and fair people, the individuals trained to serve as adjusters clearly are advocates for their employer. They may receive bonuses for keeping settlement payouts low. Insurance adjusters are given specific training in the psychology of gaining the trust of an unrepresented injury claimant and convincing that unrepresented person to accept a low settlement.
There is nothing wrong or illegal with an insurance company’s efforts to use psychology to get you to settle for a low amount - applied psychology is used everyday in business. Your wrongful death attorney in Hawaii, as a professional negotiator and representative, has also received training in persuasion and applied psychology. His goal will be to use his training in negotiation tactics to increase the settlement back up to an appropriate amount.
Professional detachment. As your hired representative, your lawyer has a professional obligation to represent you zealously and to explore all sources of recovery for you. Your lawyer is also trained to maintain a level of independence from your case. Experienced lawyers know that anger and emotion make it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct serious negotiations. After all, if you have suffered the loss of a loved one and your life has changed because of it, you would find it difficult to listen quietly while an insurance adjuster minimizes your losses and offers a lowball settlement figure. A good lawyer can engage in counter-negotiations without taking personally the low ball offers that typically occur.
Ability to litigate. If you have ever been in a courtroom, you know that the court system is its own world - with its own vocabulary, procedures and customs. Because of overburdened dockets, judges expect court litigants to know how to proceed when they appear. Non-attorneys rarely fare well when they appear in court without representation. Even lawyers will hire other lawyers for court appearances - thus the saying “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Every lawyer understands that taking a case to trial is a risk. The right case with the right judge or jury could result in a huge verdict. On the other hand, a bad judge or unreasonable juror could sink even a strong case. Insurance companies offer to settle cases in order to manage their risk. If the insurance company knows at the beginning of a negotiation that a large jury verdict is not part of the equation, the settlement offers will be low.
Insurance companies realize that unrepresented claimants are not likely to know how file a lawsuit asking for money damages, and that if they did, they would probably not fare well. Logically, insurance companies offer less money to an unrepresented claimant because their risk of a large loss (payment to you) is very small.
In sum, you may find that an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii can benefit you in several ways - he understands the insurance claim system; he has experience and knowledge about what a local jury might award; he is a trained negotiator and will not be influenced by an insurance adjuster’s rhetoric; and he will not be personally offended by statements made in negotiation. Finally, lawyers have the ability to go to court when negotiations break down, whereas non-attorneys do not have this option.
How do I open communications with a wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii?
Do not be afraid to ask questions when you interview a lawyer prior to hiring him to represent you. How long has he been in practice? Does he regularly try cases? Does he belong to professional associations that provide on-going training and exposure to tactics and strategies?
You should make clear what you expect from your lawyer. Some people want to be kept “in the loop” with copies of all documents sent to them and regular telephone communications. Others are looking for results and do not want to be bothered with copies of letters.
Many very qualified lawyers utilize paralegals to deal with the paperwork part of the case, with the lawyer getting involved near the end when it is time to negotiate or try the case. Paralegals are usually in the office and available to speak with you frequently. Other lawyers do not use paralegals and handle all details themselves. It is a trade-off between a more thorough knowledge of the case and availability to do things like answering your phone calls.
Attorney client communication is often a major issue in attorney-client relationships. You would be wise to address this issue at the outset of your relationship with a lawyer so both you and your lawyer understand each other’s expectations.
Attorney web sites are excellent resources to get a sense of a lawyer and his style of practice. A good web site will reflect a lawyer’s personality and you have the ability to get a sense of a lawyer’s style without the pressure of a face to face meeting. Look for web sites that offer useful and extensive content.
A web site will also give you a sense of how responsible and dedicated a particular lawyer is. Very high volume personal injury practices that attempt to grab headlines to promote their law practices may not offer you the kind of service you will want. Frequently, high volume personal injury law firms use flashy full page ads in the yellow pages and repetitive television commercials to juice up their business- without regard to the quality of the service that they are providing.
In general, you should use more than a yellow pages ad or a television commercial to choose a lawyer. In comparison to the detail offered by a web site, the yellow pages or television ads offer very little information. The more research you can conduct the better your decision will be.
Initial FAQs about hiring an personal injury attorney in Hawaii
How much will cost me to hire a wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii?
The vast majority of personal injury cases are handled by lawyers on a “contingency” basis, meaning that there are no up front fees, and the attorney only collects a fee if he wins your case.
A “no fee unless you win” contract can range in terms of the percentage requested. Most contingency fee contracts fall within the 33 1/3 % to 40% range. The percentage charged will be dependent on the complexity of the case, the likelihood of litigation and the lawyer’s experience and reputation.
Do note that file costs - such as copying, faxing, photocopying, couriers and court filing fees are typically not part of the contingency fee. Most lawyers require these to be paid out of the client's pocket. Some lawyers agree to waive the right to recover costs in the event that the case is unsuccessful. Be sure to ask a prospective lawyer about his typical arrangements for litigation costs.
In general, since just about every lawyer who handles personal injury work will offer you a contingency fee contract, legal fees should not be an issue for you.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
The time required to resolve your case will depend on both the complexity of your case as well as the statute of limitations in your State.
Complex cases with numerous parties or extensive evidence may take months or even years to prepare for trial. Since the filing of a case starts the clock running towards a trial date, most lawyers like to conduct a through fact investigation prior to filing a lawsuit.
Every claim has an applicable law called a “statute of limitation” which requires that a lawsuit be filed within a certain period of time after the claim arises. The filing of a claim with the insurance company does not stop the running of this statute. Here is an example: suppose you are involved in a car accident on March 1, 2006. If the statute of limitations on your particular claims is two years from the date of the accident, you must file a lawsuit to recover damages no later than February 28, 2008 (or possibly March 1, 2008). If you wait until March 3, 2008, you are out of luck and your case is over.
Sometimes well-intentioned wrongful death claimants decide to deal with a liability insurance company directly in order to save attorney’s fees, thinking that they can always hire a wrongful death lawyer if settlement negotiations break down. Recognize that some lawyers will not get involved in a case if it is presented to them too close to the running of the statute of limitations. Moreover, unsuccessful negotiations by a party representing themselves often pose serious risk to successful negotiations by the lawyer later on. Please note: do not depend on the insurance company to advise you regarding the statute of limitations laws.
Attorneys who regularly represent
injured claimants should be able to
offer you some insight as to a range of values for your case.
Be careful about believing stories of
outrageous recoveries by friends or neighbors. Talk is cheap.
Recognize as well that no insurance adjuster,
judge or jury is going to fully appreciate what
you have gone through. Money, no matter how
much you get, is going to bring back your loved
one - and judges and juries recognize this.
Taking your case to court is unusually
unpredictable. Even trial lawyers with years of experience will
admit that there are no sure things when
you go to court and even the strongest
cases have been
lost for no logical reason. In some
cases going to court does make sense, and you should rely
on your lawyer as your advocate and
representative to offer you guidance.
Where is the trial held?
Your trial will be held in the court
and court system where “jurisdiction”
is proper. In cases involving a plaintiff and a defendant who
both live in Hawaii, the case
will generally be heard in the county where the accident occurs.
In more complex cases involving out of State defendants, your case
may be heard in Honolulu in the federal court system. Once your
lawyer has all the facts, he can advise
you where the trial of
your case will be held.
Should I accept a settlement offer from an insurance company?
Your decision about whether to accept a settlement offer should be based on a thoughtful
and informed evaluation of the merits, as well as the problems, with your case. Your lawyer,
with training, experience and some personal detachment, will be a useful resource for you.
Ask your wrongful death lawyer about case summaries and Hawaii jury verdict reports
for similar cases in your area. If you wish, ask your lawyer to schedule a “round-table”
discussion with another personal injury lawyer to discuss the pros and cons of a particular
settlement, if he hasn't done so already.
Recognize that you will have emotional attachment to your case and that it will
be difficult for you to see your case the way judges or potential jurors might. Realize as well
that court trials are draining experiences and very unpredictable.
Ultimately, know that if you settle, it means that you are giving up the
possibility of a larger verdict for the certainty of a negotiated dollar figure. On the other hand,
the insurance company, by settling, is eliminating the possibility of a huge verdict.
Expect both sides to be a little unhappy if you settle.
What is the first step to begin a wrongful death case?
The first step is to choose a lawyer and sign a retainer agreement.
For help in selecting
the right wrongful death in Hawaii for your case,
you may wish to click on the following link:
How do I find a wrongful death lawyer in Hawaii?
It is recommended that you get a copy of any proposed retainer
agreement and read it carefully before signing.
Do not be afraid to interview several lawyers before
signing an attorney-fee contract,
especially if you are uncomfortable with the first
lawyer(s) that you contact.
While you can change lawyers in the middle of your
case, doing so will create issues to get past.
Terminated lawyers may have the right to a portion
of the fee recovery and the
opposing insurance company will view your decision
to switch lawyers as a sign of weakness.
It is much better to make a good choice in lawyers
at the outset.
Litigants who go through three or more lawyers will be perceived poorly by the
opposing insurance companies and this characteristic will cause your settlement
value to go down.
Once you have hired a lawyer, let him do his job. Unless your
lawyer tells you
otherwise, you should probably discontinue efforts to
investigate the accident, speak with witnesses and so forth.
Also, when you look to hire a wrongful death lawyer,
try to reach a clear understanding
about how often you expect to hear from your
lawyer and what your lawyer’s policy is
regarding telephone calls and emails. If your
lawyer is in court frequently, he may not be
available to return daily phone calls and, if you
find that essential to your relationship, both
you and your lawyer will soon grow frustrated. If
your lawyer uses paralegals to collect evidence
but you had the expectation of more regular
lawyer involvement, you may become unhappy.
Recognized that good lawyer-client communications
and understanding are crucial to you being
satisfied with your representation.
Still not convinced? Try reading the following article -
Should You Hire An Accident Attorney?
by David G. Hallstrom, a private investigator.
Should You Hire An Accident Attorney? by David G. Hallstrom