It can be really hard to have your personal injury case rejected by a law firm. It’s even harder when the lawyer doesn’t explain why they are not able to take your case.
Here are some of the most common reasons a law firm might not take your personal injury case. Keep in mind that these are general reasons and may not apply to your specific situation.
- The statute of limitations has expired or is expiring soon.
- The case is out of the lawyer’s jurisdiction, or out of their area of expertise.
- They don’t have the time, or they don’t have the resources, to devote to your case.
- There are problems with proving fault or liability for the claimed incident.
- There is no way to recover the money for your damages through insurance or other means.
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The statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is a law (statute) that limits how much time an injured person has to file a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations (SOL) in a personal injury case depends on:
- the cause of the lawsuit (i.e. negligence vs. intentional tort); and
- the state in which the incident occurs.
In Washington State, most personal injury claims must be filed within 3 years after the date of the incident. However there are SOL exceptions depending on the type of claim, the age of the victim, and other factors.
In some cases, an injured person has a very limited amount of time to give what is called a notice of intent to file a lawsuit. (Also, in Washington State the statute of limitations is tolled for minors.)
If the statute of limitations is quickly approaching, that might be why a lawyer won’t take your case. Often, it is difficult to determine all the negligent parties without some discovery. That is one reason that at Coluccio Law, we do not accept cases with a quickly approaching statute of limitations.
The jurisdiction of a personal injury case is based on the type of incident, where the incident occurred, where the people involved live, or where the companies involved are based.
The attorney has to be licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where your case is based. An out of state can associate with a local attorney and request that the court admit the lawyer for a specific case.
For example, a lawyer who is only licensed to practice law in Washington might not be able to help you with a car crash in Idaho, unless they are admitted to handle the specific case by the court.
There are many different types of injury cases, and lawyers tend to specialize or focus on certain types of cases.
They might not feel qualified to work on a case outside of their usual practice area.
For example, if your car was hit by a commercial motor vehicle—such as a semi-truck, or a garbage truck— then your case is very different than if you’d been hit by a minivan. An attorney who has only handled minor injury crash cases is not necessarily able to help you with a truck crash case that involves federal rules and laws.
In addition, most lawyers do not handle cases outside of their usual practice. For example, if you were hurt in a work accident in Portland, then you would need to hire a lawyer who specifically handles Oregon workers’ compensation cases.
Time and resources
If the law firm is busy with an upcoming trial, mediation, or depositions, then they just might not have the time available to work up your personal injury case.
Also, it can be very expensive and time-consuming to work up some types of cases.
For example, to work up a case for a wrongful death caused by medical malpractice, a law firm might have to hire several expert witnesses to review all of the autopsy and medical records and write reports. The law firm might have to invest tens of thousands of dollars just to learn the facts of a case. Not every lawyer is willing or able to invest that much money in a potentially risky personal injury case.
Liability is one of the most common reasons why a lawyer won’t take your personal injury case. Your case might be rejected—even if you were not at fault—because there is simply no way to prove that another person or entity is liable.
For example, if you are in a car crash between 2 vehicles with no witnesses, it might be difficult to prove that you are not at fault or that the other party is liable for your injuries and damages.
Insurance & Recovering Damages
A lawyer might turn down your personal injury case because there is no way to recover a meaningful amount for your injuries and damages.
For example, if a pedestrian in a crosswalk is struck by a driver with no insurance, or even minimal insurance, there may not be anything a lawyer can do to help them. Washington State only requires a minimum liability car insurance of $25,000 per crash. That is rarely enough to pay the bills if a person has so much as a broken bone.
Some of the hardest cases we see are those in which there is simply not enough insurance to cover the damages.
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What do you do when a lawyer won’t take your personal injury case?
These are just a handful of reasons that a law firm might turn down your case; they don’t necessarily mean that a different lawyer won’t be able to help you. You should certainly contact other attorneys who offer a free consultation.
If you don’t feel that you are getting a clear answer from law firms rejecting your case, you should consider consulting your local legal aid society, or contact the State Bar Association for a referral to an attorney.
Washington Law Help: Helpful information about Washington State Law
CLEAR: Legal advice, assistance, and information, also at 1-888-201-1014
Photo at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington; courtesy of Nick Sarvari on Unsplash.