Because of the complexity and severity of serious burn cases, very few lawyers have the experience, record of success, and financial wherewithal necessary to pursue them. That is why it is essential to not only speak with an attorney as soon as possible but also make sure the attorney is, in fact, a reputable and recognized fire/burn/explosion professional.
Many people think that they will need to travel to meet with their attorney in person. However, these days many meetings can happen over the phone or via video conferencing (for example, Zoom or FaceTime). An experienced burn attorney will also know that it’s often important to make house calls and hospital calls and will travel to whatever state and city you are in when needed.
When you first speak with an experienced burn attorney, the lawyer will need to ask a lot of questions and get as much information as possible.
This information may include:
Newspaper or television accounts of the fire
Fire marshal reports
Police/fire/first responder records
Purchase or repair records
Photos of the fire scene
Identification of potentially at-fault parties, etc.
Because some or all this information will not be available when you first speak to the attorney, the attorney will have to rely on their experience to initially decide whether to hire experts and spend the money necessary for them to inspect the scene, conduct the origin and cause investigation, retain, evaluate, test components, and do whatever else needs to be done to secure the best possible outcome.
It is important to note that the costs associated with investigating a case and then pursuing a claim on your behalf (assuming the results of the initial investigation warrant it) are the responsibility of the lawyer you desire to retain.
That means it comes from the lawyer’s pocket, not yours.
This is part of what is known as the contingent fee agreement.
Experienced burn attorneys understand that most people cannot afford to pay a lawyer by the hour and fund the costs associated with burn cases, especially if those sums are payable even if there is no case or if the case is lost at trial.
That is why you need to ask the potential lawyer these and similar questions:
Will you handle this case on a contingent fee basis?
If so, what percentage of the recovery do you charge?
Because of the complexity, time and risk associated with serious burn case, the smallest percentage is usually one-third but may be as high as 40% depending on circumstances.
Will you confirm in writing that if there is no recovery, I do not have to pay you or anyone else anything, including any attorney fees and case costs?
Regarding case costs (e.g., cost of obtaining medical and investigation records; hiring and paying for experts; filing costs; travel expenses; etc.), do you agree to front all such costs, not look to me personally to advance any costs; and agree to “eat” all costs if there is no recovery?
I understand that burn cases are expensive to prosecute and that costs can run high, particularly if the case goes to trial. Do you, attorney, have the financial wherewithal to front those costs and make sure my case is funded at the level it deserves?
An important note about case costs: if you are like most people, you are concerned about your net recovery – how much is going to go in your pocket after deduction of fees and costs?
Unlike the fee percentage that is known right from the beginning, case costs are not known at the time you hire the lawyer. Obviously, there is no point in pursuing a case, even if the burns are serious, if it winds up that you get next to nothing when it is over.
The good news is that in cases worth pursuing, the percentage of the total recovery attributable to costs is usually not very high and is usually scalable depending on whether the case settles out of court prior to the intense preparation needed for trial. For example, let’s say the total settlement is $3 million dollars and the amount of costs incurred is $100,000. That sum is only about three percent of the total recovery and is reasonable under the circumstances.
An experienced burn attorney should pursue a claim on your behalf only if it is likely that you, the burn survivor, will be fairly compensated.
In your initial meetings with your attorney they may not be able to precisely estimate the amount of the costs necessary to pursue my case, but an experienced burn injury attorney should be able to provide you with:
A good faith estimate of the overall value of your case (and the factors that go into that estimate)
A ballpark estimate of costs likely to be incurred at various intervals including:
When the case is first ready for settlement negotiations
At the time when fact discovery is completed (but before expert depositions start)
When all discovery is completed prior to trial
The total of all expenses if the case is tried all the way through to a jury verdict
While a burn attorney can be consulted at any time to determine if you have a case, the earlier you or a family member are able to talk to one, the better. As difficult as it may be, early consultation with a capable attorney can be critical.
The factors and conditions at a fire scene are changing even before the fire is extinguished. Fire officials are obligated to put out the fire and protect the public. They are usually not equipped to search through debris or precisely identify the origin and cause of the fire. In reality, this is the job of insurance companies on behalf of any potential wrongdoers they may insure. In practice, this means that insurance adjusters and their experts are often on scene within a few hours of the fire. Putting it more bluntly, insurance companies are trying to build a case in their favor even as the burn survivor is fighting for their life. For that reason, it is imperative that investigators for the burn survivors be at the scene as soon as possible.
Burn survivors and their families have never been through something like this before. In the immediate aftermath of devastating injuries, they have no idea what their rights are, who they should talk to, and what they should say (or not say). Unfortunately, this confusion is often exploited.
Treatment for burn injuries and the pain and distress endured by burn survivors while receiving treatment are critical elements in any burn case. Jurors have no frame of reference for understanding the suffering of burn survivors without graphic photos and video depicting their actual ordeal. This is particularly true during the earliest treatment phases when the survivor’s pain and suffering is most intense. Early documentation is therefore critical.
Peace of mind. This is hard to quantify, but it may be the most important factor. Serious burn injuries are both life threatening and life changing. There is simply too much at stake and too much to learn. Without information and guidance – right from the beginning – there is a high probability that even a very strong case will be jeopardized.
The purpose of an early meeting with an experienced lawyer is to get information that will allow you to make decisions that are right for you and your family.
Following the meeting, you may decide that you do not want to make a claim or simply wish to postpone the decision. Consulting with a lawyer does not obligate you to do anything. You always retain the right and the responsibility to take no action if that is what you choose to do.
For example, some people are philosophically opposed to legal action. Some are dealing with emotional and behavioral issues that make it too challenging to proceed. And some do not believe the amount likely to be recovered is enough to justify taking legal action. Any or all these reasons are real, valid, and entirely up to you.
Concerns and beliefs about the wisdom of making a claim (or not) should be discussed during the initial consultation with a lawyer.
If you feel pressured to make a claim, you are meeting with the wrong lawyer. This is your case, not theirs.
Some people erroneously believe that bringing a claim requires a huge time commitment, lots of money or a very uncertain outcome that does not justify making a claim.
In fact, and as we have already discussed, the vast majority of work on a case is performed by the attorney, not the client. Any experienced burn lawyer understands that burn survivors and their families are legitimately pre-occupied by the physical and emotional consequences of treatment and recovery.
Likewise, the costs associated with a burn case are advanced by the lawyer with repayment only if there is a settlement or verdict. No seriously injured burn survivor should ever expect to pay anything out of pocket even if there is no recovery.
Most people, including lawyers, do not understand and need to be educated about burn care and the life-long complications and treatments associated with severe burn injuries.
When consulting with a burn lawyer, you should ask these additional questions:
How many severe burn injury cases like mine have you handled?
How much money did each of those burn survivors receive?
How many of those cases went to trial?
What were the verdict amounts awarded by the jury in each case?
As a burn lawyer, what do you do to keep abreast of the science and medicine of burn injuries, burn care and burn complications?
What medical journals and publications do you regularly read to do so?
For example, the official publication of the American Burn Association is the bi-monthly Journal of Burn Care & Research from the Oxford University Press. Each issue contains a variety of articles and case reports specific to the care, treatment, and outcomes associated with severe burn injuries.
Finally, keep in mind that any reasonable and experienced burn lawyer will meet with you for free for an initial consultation.
Since there is no out-of-pocket cost and no obligation to hire the lawyer or proceed with legal action and because you will learn so much valuable information, it is in your best interest to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
Wondering if you have a case? Learn more about taking legal action after a burn injury.
The award-winning Pritzker Hageman national burn, fire, electrocution and explosion legal team is led by attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman. They help survivors and their families throughout the United States get compensation and justice. Fred and Eric know that it’s not just about money. It’s about restoring dignity, holding wrongdoers accountable, and forcing changes so that what happened to their clients doesn’t happen to someone else.