Imagine for a moment that you are driving your car on I-76 through Akron and you must suddenly slow down due to road construction. The person behind you is paying more attention to texting on his phone than driving and does not see your brake lights. Wham! You get rear-ended and your airbags deploy. The stunning moment subsides, and you start to realize just what happened. You try to unbuckle your seat belt to get out of your car but find you are having trouble moving. As the adrenaline wears off, a sudden burst of pain travels through your body and you pass out. When you awake, you find yourself in a hospital bed feeling bewildered with a cast on your arm and another on your leg. As your eyes finally focus, you see your spouse holding your hand, with an expression of both great concern and extreme relief. The two of you discuss what happened and what lies ahead. You agree you are going to need legal help and will have to find the right attorney. This is the question you ask yourselves:
What essential qualities should this attorney have?
In July 2020, we commissioned a market research consultant to answer that question. The consultant reached out to 5,788 Akron, Ohio area residents ages 25 to 64 in order to provide feedback on what they considered to be the essential qualities of an auto accident attorney. 279 of these people agreed to take the survey. Here is what these Akron area residents had to say are the essential qualities listed in order of importance:
Years of Relevant Experience and Results
Akron residents ranked “Years of Relevant Experience and Results” as the #1 quality when searching for an attorney to help them with an auto accident case. As one survey respondent states, “I want someone who can answer all my questions confidently and get me a realistic outcome. You can only do that if you have handled a large number of these cases over many years. There’s just no substitute for experience and a track record of success!”
The #2 quality for an auto accident attorney was “Assertiveness”. Many respondents stated that an attorney should stand up for their client’s rights, take charge of the case, and move it forward as quickly as possible.
Resources ranked #3 on the list of essential qualities for an auto accident attorney. Comments from respondents included, “Very serious auto accident cases can get very complicated and require a lot of time, it’s important for an attorney to have support staff and access to various types of experts who can testify about different aspects of a case.”
Availability and Responsiveness
Respondents believe that an attorney should be available and respond to a client as quickly as possible. They ranked “Availability and Responsiveness” as the #4 essential quality. As a respondent stated, “Prior to hiring an attorney, he would call me daily, but once I did hire him, it took days and even weeks before I would get a call back. Every time I would contact his office, he wasn’t unavailable.”
Rounding out the top five essential qualities for an auto accident attorney was “Professionalism”. A respondent stated that an attorney should conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. A client places his or her complete trust and confidence in an attorney and that should not be violated.
Other Noted Essential Qualities
The top five qualities listed above were not the only ones the respondents identified. Other essential qualities listed included:
- Awards Received
- Honesty and Integrity
A Blend of All These Essential Qualities
The majority of respondents in the survey agreed that an accident attorney should possess a blend of all these qualities, not just one or two. When an attorney does have all the qualities listed, a client is most likely going to receive the type of legal representation they expect and the best possible outcome for their case.
Akron Attorney Offers His Opinions on What It Takes
You have heard from the residents of Akron about what qualities are essential in an auto accident attorney. We also asked an Akron attorney what it takes to successfully handle a significant accident case in order to receive a fair settlement.
Richard V. Zurz, Jr. is the co-founder of our Akron, Ohio law firm. He has been practicing law for over 38 years and has represented clients in a large number of very serious auto accident cases which resulted in significant settlements or verdicts. Here is what he said it takes:
Investment in a Case
First, a lawyer / law firm must be able to finance the case. A large case can require in excess of $150,000 in advanced costs – experts, depositions, transcripts, travel, trial exhibits, videos, etc. Most law firms do not have the financial resources to invest that type of capital for 2-3 years (or longer) with no guarantee of success. You have to have the capital and the willingness to spend to the end.
The insurance carriers know who will robustly finance a case and who will cut corners or run out of capital and settle cheaply to avoid further expenses. To succeed on a claim, the carrier has to know that you will invest the money, put in the work, and have the legal acumen and experience needed to bring the case to a successful conclusion either by a trial or by a favorable settlement. It takes years to develop that reputation with the carriers and defense counsel.
Full Potential of an Insurance Claim
Through experience you have to be able from the inception of the case to identify the liability and damage issues, know the proof which will be required, and anticipate how the insurance lawyers will defend. In a large case, typically you have multiple defendants and defense counsel. So, you have to be able to analyze the claims against each, the potential overlap of those claims, and the defenses each are likely to assert. If possible, you want to assert claims which may cause the multiple defendants to begin to blame each other. Then, you have to identify and retain the right experts to be able prove your claims, support your damages, counter the anticipated defenses, and/or minimize your weaknesses.
You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to give your experts the factual ammunition that they need to formulate their opinions by engaging in voluminous discovery – both paper discovery and depositions. Multiple rounds of interrogatories and requests for production of documents to the defendants typically generates thousands and thousands of documents which have to be reviewed and understood. It is like putting together a puzzle with a seemingly infinite number of pieces. The paper discovery of the defendants typically leads to motion practice and then more paper discovery when important documents are identified which were not produced. The paper discovery of the defendants is typically followed by the issuance of subpoenas to third parties who may have information/documents relevant to the case. After paper discovery of the defendants and third parties is complete and the documents reviewed and analyzed, then depositions of all the relevant or potentially relevant witnesses are taken. It seems to hold true that the larger the case the more witnesses exist which have to be deposed. Even in a seemingly factually simple car accident case, you typically have 3 – 4 responding officers, the police accident reconstructionists, the multiple accident witnesses, the Fire Department personnel who extricated the victim from the vehicle, the EMS personnel, the at fault defendant driver and his/her passengers, the plaintiff, his/her family, and representatives of his/her employer. As our society is now very transient and businesses have multiple offices in different states, it is common to conduct depositions in many different states on a case. Typically, it takes 4-5 hours of preparation time for each hour that you depose a witness. While you are preparing for upcoming depositions of new witnesses, you also have to read and summarize the transcripts of the depositions of the witnesses already taken so that you can keep your experts apprised of the factual developments, consult meaningfully with your experts, and properly outline your inquiries of upcoming deponents.
Communications and Coordination with Experts
After all the depositions are taken, then you have to coordinate with your experts to make sure that their reports are going to be completed in accordance with the court’s schedule, are consistent with each other, are factually supported, meet the criteria for an admissible expert opinion, and are consistent with your theory of the case. You have to work with and obtain reports from your liability experts, your damage experts (life care planner, vocational expert, and economist), and your multiple treating physicians. Once your expert reports are completed and submitted, then you have to review the defense expert reports with your experts and identify weakness for cross-examination. Then, you have to schedule your experts for a discovery and a trial video deposition, and the defense experts for a discovery deposition.
Filing and Responding to Motions
The trial motion practice then starts, including motions for summary judgment, motions in limine, trial briefs, jury instructions, etc. Not only do we have to file our multiple trial motions, but we have to respond to the defendants many trial motions.
After the trial motion practice is closed, then we appear in court for multiple oral hearings to argue the motions. After the trial motion practice is completed, preparation for the actual trial begins. All of the witnesses have to be subpoenaed, their appearance at trial scheduled and coordinated, and their examinations outlined. The reams and reams of paper and facts have to be distilled down to a simple story (consistent with the court’s ruling on trial motions) which will be understandable and convincing to a jury. The art of trial preparation is as much about knowing what claims to drop and what evidence not to present at trial.
A Fair Settlement
Once the insurance carriers and defense counsel understand that your case is solid, that you have invested the money and time to get the claim in a position to be tried, and that you are willing to try the case, then and only then are they willing to begin to tender fair settlement offers. It is said that to be able to successfully litigate a large case that plaintiffs’ lawyer has to get 100 out of 100 things right, whereas the defense lawyer only needs to find one point on which to hang their defense. To get a large case successfully settled the carrier and defense counsel must conclude that the plaintiff got it all right and that there is potential exposure to a large verdict. Experience with larger cases is also beneficial in settlement negotiations to not only understand what is a fair amount, but to be able to navigate complex issues which arise in resolving a case, such as subrogation liabilities, Medicare set asides, Medicaid special interest trusts, release indemnifications, confidentiality, etc.
Our law firm, Slater & Zurz LLP, represents clients across Ohio and is able to settle the larger accident cases for substantial and fair amounts because we have the knowledge, experience, legal resources, and financial wherewithal needed to convince insurance carriers that paying a large amount of money is preferable to going to trial and risking a runaway verdict.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an auto accident and you are looking for an attorney with the essential qualities listed above, please contact us at any time, including evenings and weekends, for a free consultation. You can reach our law firm by calling 1-888-534-4850, sending us an email at [email protected], or chatting with one of our 24-hour live representatives.