What Is A Personal Injury Attorney?

Personal injury notecard

In the strictest sense, a personal injury attorney is just as the name says.  An attorney for personal injuries. Within the medical profession, when you have a fractured leg you can see an orthopedic surgeon. This surgeon will have special training and skills to perform exactly the type of surgery needed to set your leg.  In most states, by contrast, attorneys are not certified in legal specialties. States, such as Missouri and Kansas, have no central certifying organization that confirms that a given attorney has the expertise to handle the specific legal problem you have. In fact, to a large extent, any licensed attorney is legally permitted to handle any type of legal problem.  This means that, technically speaking, any attorney can handle your case.

However, many attorneys tend to declare a specialty on their own.  It is within your best interest to obtain an attorney who specializes within the area of practice you need.  There are tax attorneys, family law attorneys, criminal attorneys, probate attorneys, personal injury attorneys, business attorneys, and on, and on.  When you are injured, you need a personal injury attorney.

Specializations of Personal Injury Attorneys

Even though they may not be recognized by any governing agency, there are many sub-specialties within the personal injury realm of practice.  It takes a discussion of some of these sub-specialties to grasp what a personal injury attorney can do for you.

Motor Vehicle Accidents:   Many attorneys handle a steady diet of motor vehicle cases. Even within this category, however, there are refinements for attorneys who handle specific motor vehicle cases such as personal automobile accidents, over-the-road trucking accidents, accidents involving buses and public transportation, and motorcycle accidents to name a few.  Each mode of transportation has its unique issues.  Some, such as public transportation and trucking accidents, may have strict government regulations with which drivers and operators must comply.

Product Liability:  Let’s start with the overwhelming multitude of different consumer products on the market.  Some are dangerous and have inflicted serious personal injuries or death on users and bystanders.  This area of the law is very expert-intensive.  High priced engineers and other product safety specialists are needed to prove a product liability case.  An attorney can prove a case on one of three different theories:  1) the product is defective by reason of design; 2) the product was designed properly but manufactured or assembled incorrectly; and 3) the product was not accompanied by adequate warnings or instructions on use that best enable the user to avoid injury

Medical Malpractice Medical malpractice is simply medical negligence.  It is the equivalent, in a professional sense, of a driver of a motor vehicle running a stop sign.  However, the ordinary juror does not understand medicine. Therefore, in almost all medical negligence cases, an expert witness is needed to help explain how the defendant healthcare provider failed to treat a patient with ordinary care.   As with product liability, expert witnesses are costly. It is not unheard of for these cases to require as much as $100,000 in expenses to prove.  Hence, you should only hire attorneys with the experience and the financial resources to handle such matters.  Few attorneys practice in this field.

Premises Liability:   There are a variety of case types that fall within this category.  Most people are aware of “slip and fall” cases.  However, premises liability also includes defects in land that result in personal injury. Additionally, there is a separate host of cases commonly referred to as “negligent security” or “failure to protect”.  Such cases arise when the violent criminal acts of outsiders injure someone on a personal or business premises; e.g. an assault at a bar or restaurant.  All premises liability cases start with a requirement of “notice”.  In other words, the injured party must prove that the owner/operator knew about the dangerous condition before the injury occurred.

Construction and Industrial Accident:   There are unique legal issues with construction site injuries.  Workers compensation immunity protects employers.    But, true third parties, such as other subcontractors on the job, are not protected.  Defective scaffolding, ladders, trenching cave-ins, heavy equipment errors, falling materials and improper shoring can all result in on-the-job accidents against these third parties. The factual and legal nuances of cases in this category require an attorney familiar with navigating claims that involve “statutory employer” defenses. A statutory employee is a person in business as a separate company from the hiring company but is treated as an employee of the hiring company for tax purposes.

Wrongful Death:  While this is not necessarily a stand-alone category, it does present unique issues with respect to laws and needed experts.  Any of the categories listed here can manifest themselves as one for wrongful death. Wrongful death is more about who can sue and the damages that can be pursued, than it is about a unique legal theory of recovery.  Hence, an attorney can pursue a wrongful death case as a motor vehicle case, product liability, medical negligence, etc.

General Liability:  Clearly this is a catchall category, but there are any number of cases that do not fit neatly within one of the categories above.  Some such cases are quickly taking on an identity of their own, such as cases involving child sexual abuse.  Cases against churches, youth organizations, daycare centers, and other care facilities are increasingly common as people become more aware of the predations on children.  Boating accidents and airplane crashes are also highly refined types of personal injury cases.   Other cases involve employment discrimination and harassment.  While many personal injury attorneys also practice employment discrimination, this field is highly specialized and requires someone well-versed in employment law.

Find the Right Injury Attorney for You

Not all personal injury attorneys are alike.  Despite the absence of official legal specialties, some types of cases require a special familiarity with laws in highly regulated fields.  Others, like medical malpractice and product liability cases require an attorney with not only special experience but the financial resources to successfully pursue the case.  Some cases require expert support.  An attorney who has a relationship with engineers, life care planners, economists, and other medical experts, is a better road to success than an attorney without those connections and resources.

When you are injured, seek out an attorney who is best for your case.