Personal Injury Litigation
We have helped both plaintiffs and defendants navigate through various types of personal injury cases. We believe that having experience on both sides of personal injury cases gives us the perspective that many attorneys may lack. An attorney who solely practices on one side or the other can often develop tunnel vision and fail to recognize when a catastrophic verdict lies ahead. We've handled everything from minor fender-benders all the way through serious accidents that resulted in permanent injury and death for both plaintiffs and defendants, and we believe this experience places us in the position to counsel new clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
1. Guiding Principles of our Practice
Regardless of who we are representing, the key in personal injury cases is to identify your case's strengths and weaknesses very early on. Not every case is the same, and in our opinion, a good lawyer generally needs to evaluate the case within the first 30 days from receiving the claim. This evaluation doesn't mean your lawyer should tell you the precise case value or predict the future, but it just means that the lawyer needs to know what weaknesses there may be and also what he or she doesn't know. Discovery moves quickly, and if you don't have a proper analysis of your case's strengths and weaknesses, you can run into a multitude of issues - the wrong experts, the wrong case narrative, or the wrong tactic in settlement negotiations.
It's not just about the lawyer understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the case, though -- the client needs to know, too. Plaintiffs and defendants both tend to take it personally when their lawyer tells them an aspect of their case is weak, and sometimes a party will try and modify the facts to make his or her claim seem stronger than it is. Don't do this. Listen to your lawyer and be prepared to recognize that few claims or defenses are perfect. If your lawyer tells you your case is perfect, that means something is probably being missed. Just about every case has its warts, and it's important to recognize those as soon as possible and address them through discovery or negotiation. Some problems can't be fixed, but the sooner you know that the better. That can help you decide whether to press forward, settle, or just walk away, depending on the circumstances.
Here at Muehlbauer Law Office, we'll take the time to get deep into the details of your case and evaluate where the strengths and weaknesses lie as early on as we can. We're not afraid to give you our frank analysis. The conversations won't always be easy, but it's better than telling you an optimistic case value for two years only to drastically change the analysis down the road because we wanted you to feel good about your case.
2. Plaintiff Ideology
It is common for a plaintiff firm to brag about its verdict and settlement sizes, but that only tells half of the story. The problem with plaintiff litigation is that the lawyer has very little incentive to properly and efficiently handle a file because his or her fees come "off the top," meaning that you look at the total verdict or settlement and calculate a lawyer's fee based on that number as opposed to the net recovery of a plaintiff. This system is difficult to avoid (the other option would be paying a lawyer hourly, which most plaintiffs do not want to do), but it creates the wrong type of incentive. All too often a lawyer runs up huge medical liens to the detriment of his client's recovery. You could easily see a $1,000,000.00 settlement yielding only $250,000.00 or less to the client because of these practices.
This way of doing things has some very negative effects. (1) It hurts the client. (2) It abuses the system. That drives up insurance premiums and only lines the pockets of lawyers and pain management experts. (3) It makes everyone hate lawyers. Rightly so.
There are ways to get a good recovery without hurting the client or abusing the system. Most insurance carriers can very easily recognize claims that have value and those that don't. If they can't, then your lawyer needs to talk to their supervisor. Despite what you're constantly told on billboards and television ads, insurance claims examiners don't hate paying meritorious claims. That's their job, actually. Insurance adjusters respect attorneys who look for fair recoveries early on in the process instead of demanding 20x the case value for two years and making them pay defense fees for that entire time. If you can present a coherent and reasonable case to an insurance adjuster and his or her defense attorney, you can shorten the litigation process, reduce wasteful spending, and get the same or better value than any of the ambulance chasers out there.
Again, the key here is that the client's interests need to come first. We calculate your recovery when talking settlement and we won't drive up costs needlessly just to brag to the public about our massive verdicts or to inflate our fee.
3. Defense Ideology
The defense ideology for the Muehlbauer Law Office is summed up in the following 5 points:
- Evaluate your case early. Identify the strengths and weaknesses early on and let the client know. Don't be afraid to take a position on an issue and explain why; lawyers don't get hired to write "To Be Determined" in every line of a case evaluation. Use experience and knowledge of the law to give recommendations on a course of action, even if the facts are imperfectly known.
- Make a substantive offer to opposing counsel as early as possible. The offer should be based on an expectation of obtaining a defense-friendly verdict adjusted to account for the guaranteed "sunken costs" the case will require to even reach a mediation. Give opposing counsel every opportunity to take an early, defense-friendly recovery and move on to his or her next case. It just may work, and at a minimum it will tell you where your opponent is at.
- Manage costs by litigating the case in phases. This means we don't front-load costs or work - we handle each task as necessary, but keep a constant line of communication open with opposing counsel on settlement. This allows you to make sure you are only spending on defense what needs to be spent to get the best result and not just spending for the sake of spending.
- Limit motion practice to only those motions that make sense for the case. Don't use a shotgun approach hoping that the judge will like one of your many scattered arguments; focus on only the best arguments and give the judge the best quality brief you can on those issues.
- Keep the client and/or carrier informed in a way that they want. This means understanding that billing 4 hours for a status report the client doesn't want or need is unacceptable. We tailor communication to the client's desires. Most of our defense clients tell us they want short e-mails when anything important happens and status reports periodically summing up the key developments over a 120-day period.
This ideology has developed over the years and served us well. We think our defense clients appreciate that the term "working up the file" makes us as sick as it does them. Our motto when it comes to handling defense files is "There are always other cases." This means that putting the client's interests first is the best form of business development. Excessively billing a file to "cash in" or delaying settlement to make sure the file is "profitable enough" will only alienate your client and ensure that they never send you another file. Doing the right thing by the client seems to always work out for the best.