The potential client sounded frantic on the phone. How could she get to our office to see us for legal representation when she was being admitted to the hospital? If only such diligence were more widespread.
In fact, the retention of counsel in personal injury cases tends to run gamut from the very prompt to the very delayed. There are injury victims who feel that it is more important to speak to a lawyer than to get medical attention. Of course, this is exactly backwards. On the other hand, we encounter injury victims who never think about retaining counsel until the 23rd month. (The statute of limitations terminates any right to recovery after two years). We tend to recommend a balanced and common sense approach. Of course, we would like to be involved with a new case as soon as possible. Accident scene evidence is considered perishable just like fruits and vegetables in the produce department. It spoils and then gets thrown away. On the other hand, early action can assure that videotapes are retained, skid or scuff marks are photographed and measured and other important actions are taken before important proof is lost.
In the case of serious injuries, we frequently will intervene by and through relatives or loved ones who can serve as intermediaries. Once the retainer paperwork is completed, the law office can go about its business while the client begins the process of healing. The loved ones intervene and assure that the patient/client is avoiding mistakes like giving recorded statements to the insurance company, posting ill-advised statements on Facebook, etc. Once the hospitalization is over, a real client conference can take place (either at the patient’s bedside or in our office).
If there has been significant delay in retaining a lawyer, all hope is not lost. We were recently retained in a substantial wrongful death matter after almost 1.5 years. Much of the evidence has been preserved by insurance carriers, state investigators, etc. Of course, much of the evidence has also been lost but whether there will be an adverse effect (known to attorneys as “prejudice”) remains to be seen. The important evidence appears to have been preserved and the chances for a favorable outcome are intact.
So, how soon should counsel be contacted? The short answer is as soon as practical. In the meantime, rules apply: injury victims need to be very careful about discussing their accident and injuries. They need to empower others to preserve evidence and to begin the claims process. And, when the time is right, legal counsel needs to be consulted to assure the best possible result.