If you’ve been injured and are thinking about filing a lawsuit, you’ll need an attorney. There are more attorneys than ever to pick from, and a good choice may be the most important step you can take toward recovering the compensation you deserve. Here are a few things you should do in considering your options and some red flags along the way that can help you avoid an attorney who’s not right for you.
All attorneys are required to register with the State Bar, so you can find a compete list of those near you online. The bar’s website also identifies attorneys who have been accused of or disciplined for practicing law incorrectly or unethically. That’s most often a red flag.
You should also visit the attorneys’ and/or firm’s websites and check to see if the attorney has the type of experience you’re looking for. There’s little to stop most attorneys from taking your case, but not all attorneys focus on personal injury law. If personal injury cases aren’t mentioned among the attorney’s areas of practice or, as is often the case, they’re listed as one of what seems like too many different areas, that can be a red flag.
The websites should also tell you how long the attorney and his/her firm have been working in your community. If they’ve been established there for more than a few years, chances are they provide services that their clients find valuable. If they haven’t, it may be a red flag.
Your family, friends and others you trust have probably worked with a number of local attorneys, including on personal injury cases. Talk with any who have about their experiences.
Ask about the attorney’s work habits. Did the attorney return their phone calls and emails promptly? Were they regularly updated on what was going in their case? Did the attorney seem well prepared for and perform well in meetings with the opposition and court appearances? Criticisms in their responses could be red flags.
Obviously, the most important question to ask is whether they would recommend the attorney for you. If not, why not? If the reason makes sense to you, that’s a red flag.
Once you’ve narrowed your list of candidates down to a few finalists, it’s time for the initial consultations. You should meet, one-on-one in their offices, with as many attorneys as you feel is necessary to help you make your decision. A consultation doesn’t obligate you to hire the attorney or obligate the attorney to accept your case, but it is definitely an occasion to be on alert for red flags.
Look at the attorney’s office. A clean desk suggests that everything is in order, which is vital in preparing a case. It’s likely a sign that the attorney keeps up with the work and is not allowing the paperwork to fall behind, a good indication that he or she will keep up with your case as well. If that’s not what you see, it may be a red flag.
Be prepared, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. How much of the attorney’s firm’s business comes from referrals from other attorneys and previous clients? How many cases like yours has the attorney had, and how did those cases work out? How often will you hear from the attorney about the progress in your case? How will you be billed for the attorney’s services and any extra costs or fees? If the attorney uses legal terms or says anything else that you don’t understand, ask for an explanation.
There may, of course, be red flags in the attorney’s reactions and responses to your questions as well as in questions the attorney asks you. Apart from any of those, however, there are a few essential attributes you want to be as convinced of as possible by your consultation. You want to know that the attorney is:
If you come away with any doubts about those, it’s a bright red flag.
If you’re looking for experienced personal injury attorneys who strongly value their clients, contact our team at Kelly & West. Having served the Lillington community for nearly 40 years, we are confident that our attorneys can offer you the best legal assistance.
Your insurance company is legally obligated to deal with you “fairly and in good faith.” When you file insurance claims, such as claims for bodily injury and/or property damage under your auto policy, that good faith obligation is tested. After all, the insurance company’s bottom line and your best interests are at odds. The more claims a company denies and the less it pays o claims it accepts, the more profit it makes. But you’ve paid your premiums and deserve to be fully compensated for your losses up to the limits of your coverage.
Most often, insurance companies investigate and administer claims professionally, deny only those claims they reasonably believe are invalid, and attempt to evaluate and settle valid claims fairly. Sometimes, they get it wrong, even though they have acted fairly and in good faith. When that’s the case, the policyholder can file a breach of contract lawsuit and go to trial to recover the compensation to which he/she is entitled under the policy.
If the insurance company does not act fairly and in good faith, the policyholder has grounds to file an insurance bad faith lawsuit and, if successful, recover not only what is due under the policy but also either punitive or multiple damages. Here is what you should know about bad faith insurance lawsuits in North Carolina.
In North Carolina, there are two sources of insurance bad faith law, state statutes and common law (court decisions). A policyholder can file an insurance bad faith lawsuit based on either or both, but where the court determines that both apply, the policyholder must elect to recover under one or the other.
Under the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, a policyholder can recover “treble damages,” three times the amount of any damages caused by the insurance company’s “unfair” or “deceptive” behavior. Such behavior is not limited to, but definitely includes, any of the fourteen “unfair claim settlement practices” defined in a section of North Carolina’s insurance statutes.
Among those unfair claim settlement practices are:
* misrepresenting pertinent facts or policy provisions relating to the coverages at issue,
* failing to acknowledge and act reasonably promptly upon communications with respect to claims,
* refusing to pay a claim without conducting a reasonable investigation of all available information,
* failing to affirm or deny coverage of claims within a reasonable time after proof-of-loss statements are completed,
* forcing the policyholder to resort to litigation without attempting to settle in good faith,
* attempting to settle a claim for less than a reasonable man would have believed he was entitled,
* failing to promptly settle claims under one coverage where liability is reasonably clear (e.g., property damage claims) in order to influence settlement of claims under another coverage (e.g., personal injury claims) and
* failing to promptly and reasonably explain the basis in the policy or applicable law for denial of a claim or the offer of a compromise settlement.
In addition to liability based on those North Carolina statutes, North Carolina courts have held that an insurance company is responsible for bad faith wrongdoing when it refuses to pay policy benefits after receiving and recognizing a valid claim or otherwise acts solely in its own interest, provided, that there must also be some “aggravating” or “outrageous” misconduct by the company that harms the policyholder. Such additional misconduct has been described as including “fraud,” “malice,” “gross negligence,” “willful and wanton conduct,” or “reckless disregard.” Those can be difficult to prove and have to be considered and determined based on the facts in each case.
The theory in the bad faith case decisions is that a judgment awarding the policyholder only what is due under the policy (for breach of contract) does nothing to discourage the insurance company (and other insurers) from engaging in such bad behavior when responding to future claims. Under those circumstances, the court’s judgment may also require that the company pay the policyholder punitive damages that may be much higher than the value of the original claim or the policy limits.
North Carolina does not recognize a claim for bad faith against someone else’s insurance company. Also, your insurance company may treat you “fairly and in good faith” yet still deny your claim in whole or in part. When it accepts liability, it may still honestly and reasonably disagree with your calculation of your covered losses.
As you should understand, based on this very brief introduction to the applicable law, distinguishing between good faith (though rigorous) and bad faith insurance company conduct is difficult and can only be done on a case-by-case basis. It requires the kind of analysis that can best be done by an experienced attorney.
Our attorneys at Kelly & West have helped hundreds of clients with their insurance claims. If you have filed a claim and feel that your insurance company is ignoring you, unnecessarily delaying its response or otherwise treating you unfairly, you are welcome to contact us at Kelly & West and arrange for a free consultation.