A personal injury lawyer, also known as a plaintiff lawyer or trial lawyer, is a type of civil litigator who provides legal representation to plaintiffs alleging a physical or psychological injury as a result of the negligent or careless acts of another person, entity or organization.
Personal injury attorneys specialize in an area of law known as tort law which includes private or civil wrongs or injuries, including defamation and actions for bad faith breach of contract. The main goal of tort law is to make the injured party whole and to discourage others from committing the same offense.
Personal injury lawyers help plaintiffs receive compensation for their losses, including loss of earnings capacity (due to an inability to work), pain and suffering, reasonable medical expenses (both present and expected), emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, legal costs and attorney fees. Personal injury attorneys also work to safeguard clients from being victimized by insurance companies and the legal system.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Any case or claim that involves an injury to the body or mind falls under the umbrella of personal injury law. Some of the most common types of cases handled by a personal injury lawyer are:
Animal Bite Injuries
Nursing Home Abuse
Slip and Fall Accidents
Spinal Cord Injuries
What does a personal injury attorney do?
Personal injury lawyers handle a case from inception through appeal and perform tasks similar to most litigators. Typical tasks include investigating claims; screening potential clients and evaluating the merits of their case; gathering evidence; formulating legal theories; researching case law; drafting pleadings, motions and discovery; interviewing and deposing witnesses; preparing for trial; advocating at trial; and counseling clients.
Personal injury attorneys often juggle large caseloads, tight deadlines and demanding clients. However, many lawyers find the most rewarding aspect of personal injury practice is helping injured victims and their families seek justice through the legal system.
Since many personal injury lawsuits are extremely complex, personal injury lawyers may specialize in certain niche types of cases. For example, personal injury attorneys who handle medical malpractice may specialize in breach births; personal injury attorneys who routinely litigate motor vehicle accidents may specialize in ATV rollover accidents.
Personal injury lawyers pursue the same path of training and education as every lawyer; they must earn a law degree and pass a written bar examination. Personal injury attorneys can also become certified as a specialist in civil trial advocacy by completing a specialty certification program accredited by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, a non-profit organization accredited by the American Bar Association to provide board certification for attorneys.
Personal Injury Lawyer Skills
Personal injury lawyers typically possess certain legal skills. The most successful personal injury attorneys excel at oral advocacy, negotiation and client development and develop specialized knowledge in a niche field of personal injury law.
Personal Injury Lawyer Salaries
Personal injury lawyers are among the highest paid professionals on the planet. The most successful lawyers earn seven-digit salaries although most plaintiff lawyers earn between $30,000 and $300,000, depending on practice size and location. Plaintiff lawyers who pull in fees at the higher end of the spectrum usually handle class action suits or high-dollar personal injury cases. In addition, punitive damages – damages designed to punish the defendant and deter bad conduct — can raise verdict amounts by millions of dollars, adding cash to the lawyer’s pocketbook.
Personal injury lawyers usually represent clients on a contingency basis, in which the attorney’s fee represents a percentage (typically 30%-40%) of the plaintiff’s eventual compensation, payable when the case is resolved. This arrangement means that the plaintiff does not pay a fee unless the lawyer recovers money on his behalf.
Since litigation is on the rise and represents the bread and butter of many law firms, the employment outlook for personal injury attorneys is excellent. An uncertain economy, stricter regulation, and company growth topped the reasons cited for anticipated increases in litigation in a recent litigation trends survey. However, tort reform — proposed changes in common law civil justice systems that would reduce tort litigation and cap damage awards – could potentially reduce the number of claims filed and a number of damages recovered by plaintiff attorneys in the future.