Tools of the Trade

Top Ten Practice Tips For Paralegals: Automobile Accidents
guest author: Robert J. Hauer, Jr.

  1. Schedule the initial client meeting, whenever possible, at the home of the injured person where they are most comfortable and feel in control.
  1. At the initial meeting, complete a comprehensive personal injury questionnaire. These forms generally run four to ten pages in length. Having a form to follow at the interview avoids failing to get some critical information.
  1. After being retained by the client, immediately notify the liability insurance carrier, promise cooperation and information and then live up to it. Without medical and wage loss information, the liability carrier cannot set reserves and settlement is delayed. Treat the claims person respectfully; they have the checkbook.
  1. Make sure you are accessible to the client, provide them direct phone numbers and e-mail addresses, respond promptly to their questions; never later than 24 hours. If a question involves legal advice, get the answer from your attorney before talking with the client. Have a diary system so no client goes more than 30 days without talking to you. The number one ethical complaint by a client is "my lawyer won't call me back".
  1. Order your client's medical records and read them! The liability adjuster will. Do a medical records summary of each provider as the records are received. If red flags appear such as excessive treatment, similar treatment with multiple providers or treatment by a physician with a questionable reputation, discuss with your attorney.
  1. Do not request a narrative report from the treating doctor unless you are certain of his/her opinion. Rather, schedule a medical/legal conference with your attorney and the doctor. Prior to the conference, provide the doctor with your medical records summary and information about the dynamics of the accident.
  1. Prior to submitting a settlement demand, discuss with your client realistic settlement parameters and have their consent to send the demand letter. At a minimum, the demand letter should include an itemization of medical and wage loss damages, a short discussion of how the injuries have affected your client at home, work and play and documentation of any existing subrogation interest. Extensive settlement brochures should only be used in a significant case. Do not make a demand that is five or ten times greater than an expected jury verdict.
  1. If settlement negotiations break down, do not threaten the claims person with a lawsuit. They are not afraid and have heard this argument a thousand times. Better to acknowledge you have reached an impasse and suggest an early mediation. On average, 95% of cases resolve at mediation. Why spend money on filing fees, interrogatories and depositions if you don't have to.
  1. Prior to your client's deposition, it is imperative that you obtain ten years of their prior medical records. Read and summarize those records. It is the rare client who has never had any prior treatment to the body parts involved in your case. At deposition, if they deny under oath any prior claims or treatment and that proves to be untrue, the client will be characterized as a liar on cross-examination at trial.
  1. Three months prior to trial contact all possible witnesses to be called, especially before and after witnesses. Schedule meetings to review their testimony and decide their credibility and the necessity of their information. Prepare a witness index with the names, addresses, phone numbers, background information and expected testimony of each witness.

 

Robert Hauer joined the law firm of SiebenCarey in July 2013, bringing with him 40 years of personal injury law expertise. Hauer served as a founding partner of the Minneapolis firm, Hauer, Fargione P.A. where he worked for 33 years. As Attorney of Counsel at SiebenCarey, he will continue to both represent clients with personal injury claims and act in arbitration and mediation cases.

During his career, Hauer has earned numerous honors and awards including being named a Minnesota Top Lawyer by both Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine and Minnesota Law and Politics since 1995. In addition, Hauer has been listed among the Top 100 Super Lawyers, the Top 25 ADR Super Lawyers, and noted as a Leading Minnesota Attorney by the American Research Corporation. In 1993, he received the Hennepin County Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award in recognition of his commitment to providing donated legal services to low income members of the community.

Hauer has served on the Minnesota Supreme Courtís No-Fault Arbitration Standing Committee, as president of Minneapolis Legal Aid Society, and as adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law and the University of St. Thomas Law School.

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