Car accidents, slip and fall injuries, medical malpractice, and dog bites are all just some of the ways people can be injured and need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to recover losses for their injury.
Robert Greening is a board-certified personal injury lawyer who’s been practicing for more than 30 years. He’s frequently recognized by his peers for the work that he does in helping people find peace and reclaim their own dignity and justice after suffering an injury.
- What falls within the realm of personal injuries?
- When should someone contact a personal injury attorney?
- What should somebody expect from a personal injury attorney?
- How are fees paid in a personal injury law case?
- Do personal injury attorneys typically handle all kinds of personal injuries, or specialize in a certain kind?
- What got you interested in personal injury?
- In a personal injury suit, who are you suing?
What falls within the realm of personal injuries?
Personal injury law covers any kind of accident or negligent behavior on the part of someone else that causes another person to be hurt.
When I’m driving around the city, and I think of personal injury, I think of the billboards and signs all over town. So, it’s good to drill down and get a better understanding of it. It isn’t always a big trucking accident or a car accident. Things happen even more often in our day-to-day lives.
Right. People don’t think about medical or nursing malpractice or pharmacy malpractice cases as being personal injury cases, but those are a subset of personal injury.
Additionally, there are all kinds of crazy things that cause injuries to people. If the injurious can be tied to negligent behavior, that’s where an attorney like me comes in to help build the evidence and prove that case.
Of course, there are different types of injuries. There are injury claims that span from a sprained ankle all the way to the death of a loved one.
When should someone contact a personal injury attorney?
It depends on the kind of case it is.
In a motor vehicle accident, a personal injury lawyer should be contacted as soon as possible. If you’re in the hospital and you can’t contact someone, that’s okay, but contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible is imperative. The insurance company for the person at fault is going to put pressure on you, and you need to know what your rights are.
I always tell people that it is important if you are in a bad car wreck to take pictures or get video footage if you can. With all that’s going on at the scene, eyewitness information will be invaluable.
If it’s a medical or a nursing malpractice case, sometimes you don’t even realize what’s going on. You’re just trying to get well, and maybe you don’t realize that something happened at the hospital until after you’re already home. Medical malpractice cases vary. But as is the case with any legal concern, the sooner you can get in touch with an attorney, the better. Remember, in personal injury cases, there are statutes of limitations that can creep up on you quickly.
Exactly. I know in the instance of family law and divorce cases people are often afraid to reach out and to talk with an attorney. People hear stories about exorbitant fees for example. With personal injuries, it’s a little bit different.
What should somebody expect from a personal injury attorney?
At our firm, we attempt to make the whole process as easy as possible because we know that when people call us it’s because something bad has happened. It’s the loss of a loved one, or somebody has been badly injured and is in the hospital. Our clients are hurting in some way, whether it be physical or mental, and we are very aware that the people who call us are under a lot of stress.
So, our firm’s mission statement is: “We’ve got this for you.” We’ll fight your legal battle, so you have time for healing and renewal. We go to work every day with that mindset, and everybody at our office from the person who answers the phone call to the person who handles the intake process is aware that people are in crisis. We want to alleviate that crisis immediately and restore their confidence that we’re going to take care of the situation so they can focus on their family or on themselves and get better.
So, when you’re looking for a personal injury attorney, you should look for a place that has the resources to support you through your recovery.
For that person who’s hired a lawyer in the past, maybe for a divorce, they’re probably going to be worried about how costly the process can be.
How are fees paid in a personal injury law case?
We don’t charge by the hour because many of our clients may not have the means to pay by the hour. In fact, many of our clients are out of work because of their injuries.
Here in Texas, we can do our work on a contingency fee basis, which not all states allow. Moreover, there’s a movement to do away with attorney contingency fee contracts in Texas, which would be a horrible thing for the consumer because they could get taken advantage of by big corporations or other powerful people who can harm and prevent justice.
A contingency fee contract basically states that when you sign a contract with our firm, we take all the risk in terms of bringing the claim. Then, at the end of the claim, we would take a percentage of the recovery as an attorney’s fee.
Now, the percentage depends on the kind of case it is. It always starts at a lower percentage if we don’t have to file a lawsuit and we get the case settled. The fee goes up if we must file a lawsuit
Of course, because if you’re filing a lawsuit, then you’re fronting all the filing fees, paying for the expert deposition, etc.
Right. For example, in medical malpractice cases, the expenses can be pretty high, and we’ll fund all of those fees in a catastrophic motor vehicle accident, too. Ultimately, fees can be quite high because you may need expert witnesses, but we front all that money for our client.
Then, let’s say we go all the way to trial on a case, and for some reason, we lose. Maybe the jury just doesn’t see it our way. In that scenario, the client doesn’t owe us anything. That’s what I mean when I say we take all the risks. The only time the client owes us something is if we recover for them, whether it be settlement or at trial, and then we take our fee and our expenses out of that recovery.
Contingency fee contracts make sense in the context of personal injury law. They give people access to lawyers who might otherwise not be able to afford one.
Sometimes people ask us: Well, if you take a percentage of my claim, then am I not being fully compensated?
Our clients are fully compensated, and it’s important to know that there are types of damages that can be paid beyond just your out-of-pocket expenses.
Regardless of whether you’ve been bitten by a dog or hit by a car, you can seek compensation for your medical expenses in the past as well as in the future. “Damages” considers the loss of earning capacity in the past and in the future. There are even noneconomic damages which are physical impairment, physical disfigurement, and pain or mental anguish. Those are the main injury claims that can be made in a personal injury case.
So, it isn’t just the amount you’re going to spend on medical bills, it’s compensating you for the loss.
I will add for people who are married that it’s important to pay attention to the type of recovery you’re getting for the different damages because your spouse may have a claim to some of those lost wages, too.
Right. The other part of it is wrongful death. If there’s a wrongful death claim, the claimants in a wrongful death action are the deceased spouse, the deceased children, and the deceased parents. That’s where it could overlap with a divorce situation.
You definitely need to seek legal advice. There are times when, as a family lawyer, I have to consult with a personal injury attorney when things like sexually transmitted diseases are discovered or other torts have happened during the marriage.
Do personal injury attorneys typically handle all kinds of personal injuries, or specialize in a certain kind?
We have two sections in our firm.
There’s the personal injury section that covers everything except medical malpractice. So, that would include personal injury, motor vehicle accidents, and premises liability cases. Premises liability is a fancy way to say something bad happened on a premises—like slip and fall, or dog bite incidents. It would also cover an unsafe workplace where the employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance, or there could be a third party related to the premises that shares responsibility.
The other section of the firm specializes in medical cases. These would cover legal action taken against hospitals for nursing negligence and doctor errors. We also have a real interest in inpatient suicide cases and sexual assault claims at psychiatric facilities. We have quite a number of those cases.
The only thing our firm doesn’t do is product liability work. The only time we litigate product liability work is if it’s a medical device in conjunction with a medical malpractice case.
What got you interested in personal injury law?
Back in law school, a hundred million years ago, I took a class called “Corporations,”. It’s called something different at every law school, but that’s the class where you learn about how corporations are set up and how they operate. In the class, we had to do a case study project on how a corporation handled a crisis. We could choose anything we wanted to. I chose the Bhopal gas leak disaster in India.
A big fertilizer and chemical company had a plant in a poor part of India. They employed all the people in the village, and they had very unsafe work practices. They took advantage of these poor people who lived locally to produce their fertilizer sold all over the world. Anyway, they had a gas leak at the plant, and thousands of people died. The victims hired United States attorneys to come over because at that time India had a really bad tort system where a wrongful death claim just wasn’t worth very much, no matter how bad the negligence was.
The US lawyers were able to assert US laws since an American company called Union Carbide owned a majority percentage of this fertilizer company. These lawyers were able to increase the health and safety expectations, the standard of care if you will, of a US corporation. They really put the feet of the company to the fire for exploiting the Bhopal villagers and for having them in a very unsafe environment. And they got them fair compensation!
Because money talks to corporations—it’s the only thing that talks to corporations—they also got Union Carbide to clean up their act and stop exploiting people. So, I thought, “Wow, it’s cool how powerful the civil justice system can be when it makes a difference in people’s lives. And as a lawyer, I can be a part of that.” That’s a long answer to your question, but that’s what turned me onto doing this kind of work.
When you’re bringing a lawsuit against the hospital, of course, you’re looking to get compensation for your client. But it is also rewarding to see the changes in how the hospital delivers care, so it doesn’t happen again.
That’s exactly right. Oftentimes, in our settlements, we insist as part of the settlement that they have to clean up their act.
In a personal injury suit, who are you suing?
The defendant is the actual wrongdoer whether it be in a car wreck, a doctor, the hospital, or the nursing care. Most of the time that person is insured, so the insurance company comes in and provides them a defense. In this scenario, they don’t have to pay for their defense. The insurance company does that. Then, if a settlement is made or if a judgment is rendered against them, it’s paid by their insurance company.
I’ve heard that in smaller cases where there’s been a slip and fall on somebody’s sidewalk or something, and the homeowner gets sued, it can feel very personal. What do you tell people in situations like that?
It can be personal. We’ve had people call us, and they feel funny about suing a hospital. Maybe it’s a powerful hospital, and they’re self-conscious about their name being out there. What I tell them is that it’s ultimately their decision, but I also ask them if they really want to let that entity get away with it?
Especially when someone gets hurt badly, I don’t understand why they hesitate to make a claim to get compensation. Let us look into it at least.
Alternatively, we also tell people when we don’t think they have a case.
Our approach is to listen to their story, and then we think, “We’re not physicians or healthcare providers, but we’ve done this long enough to know this just doesn’t pass the smell test. Something doesn’t seem right. Let’s evaluate what happened.”
We want our clients to at least see what the truth is. Let’s get the medical records and find out what happened.
Robert Greening, I want to thank you for your commitment to justice, for making sure that the wrongs are righted, and for taking the time to visit with us today and share your insights about personal injury.