A. Every client’s story presents us with a new and different challenge in answering this very question. Typically we follow a very painstaking process to determine whether a client has a case. First, we take detailed information from the client. Next, we obtain the relevant medical records or other documents that relate to the incident we are investigating. If the case involves a birth injury, for instance, we would need to obtain the mother’s prenatal records, her hospitalization records, including fetal monitor strips and also the baby’s hospital records. If the case involves a consumer product defect, we would want as much information about the product as we could obtain from public sources, including government agencies, reference texts, independent consumer agencies, and other attorneys.
Once we have obtained the relevant records, we will review them personally as well as with the assistance of qualified outside experts to determine:
1. Does the client have a meritorious claim?
2. Are the damages (the injuries) sufficient to warrant the time and expense of litigation?
3. Who are the individuals and/or entities who should be named in the lawsuit?
4. What are the theories of liability, i.e., what do we say the defendant did wrong?
5. Where should the case be brought, i.e., in state or federal court? In Philadelphia or in Bucks County?
A. Sometimes we can tell right away, just by speaking with the client that the case has merit. For example, we have represented clients all of who suffered complications after their physicians left a surgical sponge or instrument inside them following an obstetrical or other surgical procedure. In a case like this, the real question is not “is there a case,” but rather “what are the damages.” Most of the time, we have to do our homework to determine whether there is a case and this means ordering records and documents, a process that varies in duration depending a great deal on the specifics of each case. Sometimes obtaining medical records comes easily, sometimes not. Typically, we receive records within two to three weeks of when we send out our requests, but it can take longer. Once we have the records, we then retain an appropriate expert – and sometimes more than one expert is needed – to review the records, a process that can take several more weeks.
Although it is not possible to give a definite answer on how long this part of the process lasts, what we can say is this: In our experience, the time is well spent. In our view, it makes no sense to rush to the courthouse to file a lawsuit in a case unless we have done the work necessary to give us reasonable confidence in the merits of the case. We do not believe in filing suit and then “seeing what happens.” We do not file lawsuits figuring “they will pay us something to make the case go away.” When we file a lawsuit, typically we know that we have a reasonable basis for filing the case. We know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the case. Typically, we know that we have an expert willing to support the case. This all means that we have a reasonable basis for believing that we are not wasting our client’s time and we are not wasting our time and resources.
No one can guarantee a client the outcome of a case. Only a fool would try. But when we file suit, our clients know that we have done our homework. When defense lawyers receive the Complaint in a case we file, the fact that we did our homework shows. We think that makes a difference, too.
A. Good question, but, again, not one with a simple answer. Statistically, the chances of your case going to trial are slim. Many civil cases, including claims for substantial personal injury, settle or resolve at some point before trial. The number is probably in the 90 percent range.
The focus at our firm, different from most, is on the trial of cases. This does not mean that every case in our firm goes to trial. It does mean that we prepare every case for trial. From the first conversation we have with a client, we are envisioning the case unfolding in a courtroom. Everything we do during the preparation for and litigation of our cases is with an eye to the courtroom. When we interact with defendants and their lawyers, they know that we will be ready, willing and able to take the case to the courtroom, when the time comes. In our experience, this is the best way to get the best results for our clients.
If the lawyers and insurance companies on the other side believe that we are not serious or not prepared or not confident on our feet in front of a jury, they will surely take advantage of that. We believe that if we have done our homework before filing suit and if we have worked hard to prepare the case for trial, the case has a better chance of resolving favorably for our clients, either because the defendants get wise and make a reasonable settlement offer, or because we take the case to the courthouse.
A. Every case is a bit different, once again. How long it takes for a case to get to trial depends a lot on where the case is filed. Cases filed in federal court tend to move more quickly, sometimes reaching trial in as little as 12 months. Cases filed in Philadelphia state court are now fairly strictly managed to reach trial in approximately two years from the date of filing the Complaint in medical malpractice cases, less time in less complex cases. As part of your initial meetings with our firm, we will try to give you a rough sense of what to expect.
A. We handle most of our cases on a contingent fee basis. This means that the fee for our services will come from the recovery we obtain for the client. When we obtain a recovery for the client, either by settlement or at trial, then we take a percentage of that recovery plus any costs of the lawsuit we have paid. If we evaluate the case and decide not to pursue the matter or if there is no recovery for whatever reason, then the client has no obligation to us for our fee or costs. The specifics of this will be contained in a simple “Contingent Fee Agreement,” which we will discuss with you if you decide to retain us as your attorneys.
A. This varies greatly with the type of case. For a relatively straightforward case, the costs can be as much as $15-20,000. The costs increase if the case goes to trial. Much of the cost relates to experts who expect compensation for the hours spent reviewing documents, preparing written opinions and offering their testimony at deposition or trial. In most situations, it is not possible to prove a case without one or more expert witnesses, so this is a necessary expense. In a very complex case, the costs of litigation can be as much as $75-100,000, again depending on the case.
The high cost of litigation is another reason why we are careful during the evaluation stage of this process. Careful case selection is good for our clients and good for our business.
A. We often tell clients that we have an “open door, open phone policy” at our firm. When we started our firm, we made a commitment to be there for our clients. We believe this means answering any questions our clients may have. We recognize that most clients come to us in the first place to help them with some painful experience they have had. We do not want to add to our clients’ problems; our job is to help. We believe this means being available to meet with or speak with our clients as necessary.
Sometimes, there are quiet, slow periods during the life of a case, so there is not much need for communication. When there is such a need, even if only because the client has a question or concern, we are available. We have a first-rate team of secretaries, paralegals and associate attorneys, so that there should always be someone who can address a question or concern. We don’t believe in having people wait on hold for long periods of time and we try very hard to return all calls in a timely fashion. Some clients check in by email. Some clients call ahead and then stop by the office for a quick update on their case.
We are dedicated to our children and our families, too, and we think this gives us solid motivation to work hard and do well. But we understand that we have to do what is necessary to give our clients the best service possible. We have met clients in the evening or on the weekend, when necessary. Although we are very proud of our beautiful offices and enjoy seeing clients there, we also know that sometimes we will need to see clients outside the office. In fact, at some point in the life of every case, we will likely find ourselves in your living room. We want to know you better, because eventually that will help us tell your story more convincingly.