How Do You Navigate a Personal Injury Case?
Here's how it all works in Texas
on January 20, 2022
Updated on February 25, 2022
If you’ve been seriously injured, your No. 1 job is to heal. But if those injuries are someone else’s fault, navigating the legal side of your injury can be painful, too. The right personal injury lawyer can shepherd you through the process.
Every case is different, says Rajesh ‘Raj’ Mahadass with Paranjpe Mahadass Ruemke law firm in Houston, but they all start with the same priority: your well-being.
“People on our team guide our clients to the appropriate doctors, and while that’s going on, we will start our initial reaching out to the party responsible for the injuries and see if we can begin to find a reasonable way to resolve what’s going on,” he says.
In a case of medical negligence, Paula Sweeney of Slack Davis Sanger in Dallas notes that her first point of business is to secure expert witnesses: “In Texas we’re required to file an expert report within 120 days of the suit, so we ensure we’ve got the right expert—neuro, cardio—on hand from the start.”
Personal injury settlement vs. court trial
There are two outcomes for a personal injury claim: a settlement or a trial by jury or judge. In terms of your wallet, personal injury lawyers typically only get paid if you do. “Every case we take is a contingency fee,” says Mahadass. “We pay for all potential expenses up front, and our clients only pay upon the case’s successful resolve—whether that be settlement or trial.”
Adds Sweeney: “Most people can’t afford the cost of litigating a case by the hour after they’ve just been clobbered by something terrible because of the negligence of someone else. If, say, we go to trial and we lose, and we lose on appeal, that’s on us—the client does not have to write us a check for expenses along the way.”
If your case settles, expect your lawyers to take about 33% of the damages awarded.
Lawyers may encourage a settlement offer. “There are times when a case is personal, and it may be hard for a client to see, ‘Oh … this is a good number. We ought to settle, because if we take this to trial, we’re just going to end up spending more of your money, and also, you need this if you can’t work anymore,” Sweeney says. “But as lawyers, something we keep in mind is it’s the client’s case at the end of the day.”
So if you end up in trial and win, the firm’s percentage of the award typically gets closer to 40. “Primarily because we have to expend more time and effort,” Mahadass says.
Timeline for a personal injury case
But how long will all this take? “It really depends on the case, as well as on the venue,” says Sweeney, who typically gets a case in Dallas County resolved in between 18 months and two years.
Adds Mahadass, “There are several factors right now that are lengthening the process, particularly in Harris County. We’ve been impacted by severe hurricanes, and then the pandemic, therefore it’s taking longer than usual to get in front of a judge or jury.”
How to prepare for a personal injury lawsuit
Consider using that time to prep for potential depositions, Mahadass says. His best tips? “Really make sure you understand the questions, and don’t feel like you have to rush to answer,” he says. “Also, don’t feel like you have to be steered toward a particular answer based on what the other side is asking. And don’t give unnecessary information.”
The same rules apply if you’re called to the stand. “Like the bumper sticker says: ’If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said,’” Sweeney says. “The other part is, if you don’t know, say so. Not ‘I guess.’”
Keep decorum top of mind, too. “It’s hard to sit there stoic at a trial, if it comes to that, and not respond to the bad things that might be said about you or your case,” Sweeney says. “But you truly have to behave—no eye rolls, hand gestures.”
The importance of image extends to social media. “Be very careful about what you post,” Mahadass says. “Just one post of you looking happy and peaceful can be easily twisted by the other side into the idea that you are not suffering or injured.”
And avoid contact with the other side. “Once you become our client, we become your voice,” Mahadass says. “Any communication to the other side or their insurance company, we’ll handle it. An injured person’s main objective should be to focus on recovery.”
“The most important thing I tell my clients is, to the best of their ability while the legal process plays out, carry on living your life without thinking of your case every day,” Sweeney says. “If you have questions, call me. But don’t feel like you need to call me every day to help me. You’ve hired a lawyer for a reason—we’ve done this before. We also don’t have the emotional component, so we can look at this with cool, rationed logic. And keep in mind: The thing with a contingency practice is our interest is just the same as yours.”
An experienced personal injury attorney can help you through the process. To learn more about this area of law, see our overview on personal injury, as well as overviews on car accidents and truck accidents.