A Guest Post from our friend Deborah Nelson at Nelson Boyd, PLLC
Although we would like to be able to help everyone who contacts us, unfortunately, we just can’t. The following are several reasons why an attorney may not be able to help you and suggestions for how to avoid having an attorney turn down your case:
1. No one is at fault or YOU are at fault. One of the first questions we ask when evaluating a new case is “what did the defendant do wrong?” If we can’t answer this, there probably isn’t a case.
In order to pursue a claim against someone who injured you, you need to prove that (a) that person owed you a duty; (b) they breached that duty; (c) you were injured; and (d) your injury is a result of that person’s breach of their duty. This is a relatively easy inquiry for car wreck cases – a person ran a red light, struck your car, and you were injured. However, most cases aren’t so clear cut. It isn’t always clear who was at fault and there may be some question that you were at fault. Fortunately, in Washington (and Massachusetts), you can still pursue a claim, even if you were partly at fault for your injury, but if you were too much at fault or if it will be too difficult to prove that you were not 100% at fault, your claim may simply be too difficult to pursue.
2. The timing isn’t right. If your case is set for trial in the next couple months or the deadline for filing a lawsuit is in the next couple months, we will probably have to decline your case. We have a duty to investigate your case before filing a lawsuit, and preparing for trial takes several months. We simply cannot do a thorough job for you if there isn’t enough time for us to do it. The solution to avoiding this problem is simple – hire an attorney as soon as possible. This way, we can investigate your case, file a lawsuit, and prepare for trial using the time necessary to do the best job possible.
3. You haven’t received treatment for your injuries or you had gaps in treatment. If you suffer an injury, it is important for you to get the necessary medical treatment as soon as possible. You need to go to the appropriate doctor to treat your injuries AND you need to follow your doctor’s advice and get the treatment as often as prescribed and from the appropriate people. If you suffered an injury and have not received treatment or you haven’t followed your doctor’s advice or you have large gaps in treatment (i.e. you don’t receive treatment at all for several months), we may not be able to take your case. For juries, it doesn’t matter why you haven’t been going to the doctor or following their advice. They believe that gaps in treatment mean that you weren’t really injured. After all, if you were really in pain, wouldn’t you be going to the doctor and following their advice? This may sound harsh, but this is the reality we have seen time and time again from jurors. If you are injured, you simply must make whatever sacrifices are necessary to obtain the medical treatment you need and follow your doctor’s advice.
4. You don’t pay income taxes. No one likes paying taxes, but it is the law. We all have to pay our income taxes. If you don’t pay your income taxes, you will have great difficulty proving that you have suffered a wage loss. You will also face a suspicious jury who may believe that you are not honest or truthful and that you have committed a crime. They will be reluctant to reward your failure to pay taxes by giving you compensation for your wage loss claim and may not be willing to award you anything for your injuries either. The solution to this, of course, is to pay your taxes and keep copies of your tax returns.
5. You have too many prior injuries. People who injure you are responsible for compensating you for (a) new injuries; (b) the worsening of pre-existing conditions; and (c) the triggering of previously dormant pre-existing conditions that were not bothering you before this injury. This seems easy enough, but, in practice, it is much more complicated. If you have been injured several times before and/or have significant physical conditions, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove what injuries are new or worsened, as compared to conditions that just would have manifested themselves over time given you medical condition and/or conditions that have nothing to do with the injury. To address this, if you are injured in a part of your body that has been injured before, you need to be very clear about what aspects of this injury are new or different, how it feels different, and how it impairs your functioning or daily activities. If you are clear on these things and convey them to your doctors, it may be possible for an attorney to take your case, even if you have a complex medical history.
6. You have been convicted of felonies. If you have been convicted of felonies, the opposing party may be able tell the jury and may use that against you to question whether you are telling the truth about your case. Although this may not seem fair, juries are naturally suspicious about people who file claims and are even more suspicious of people who have been convicted of crimes. Even if your criminal history has nothing to do with your current case, it might make an attorney less willing to take your case.
7. You have had too many prior attorneys. We all understand that not every attorney is a good fit for every client. In addition, some attorneys have to decline cases they have already accepted because their caseloads get too full and they simply cannot devote enough time to some of their cases. That happens and it often won’t interfere with your ability to hire a new attorney for your case. However, if you have had two or more attorneys for your case and are now searching for a new one, you may find that you have some difficulty getting one to take your case. Quite often, this is simply because too much has already happened in your case and it is too far along for another attorney to effectively become involved at such a late date. It also means that there is far more information to delve into and sort through in order to determine how best to represent you. The answer to this dilemma is to choose your attorney wisely, work well with them, and then act promptly if you find yourself looking for a second attorney.