One very good reason to hire a lawyer is that if the lawyer makes a mistake that destroys an otherwise good case, the lawyer’s malpractice insurance can still pay. Missing the deadline for a Tort Claim or Dram Shop Notice are easy mistakes to make. If you make that mistake, or any other big mistake, then the case is probably gone for good. If a lawyer makes one of these mistakes, the lawyer’s malpractice insurance should still be able to pay the estate the money that the estate would have gotten had the lawyer not made that mistake.
Because of this, one of the things to look for in a lawyer is that they have a lot of malpractice insurance. The minimum in Oregon is $300,000, but most lawyers who take wrongful death cases have coverage well above that. You should make sure any lawyer you hire has adequate insurance to cover your case if the lawyer makes a mistake.
You should rush to collect evidence, no matter what the cause of the death. Add to that a need to figure out whether the Tort Claims Act or the Dram Shop Act may apply. These things are nearly impossible without a good wrongful death lawyer.
Do not, however, underestimate the time it takes to find a good wrongful death lawyer. It is important to hire an attorney with experience in this area, particularly because one that is unfamiliar with wrongful death laws may not know which steps to take (and when to take them). It is also extremely important that you trust your attorney – experience is one thing, but a good relationship can be even harder to find.
Questions to ask a potential attorney:
- Do you specialize in injury and wrongful death law?
- Will you perform an initial investigation and preserve evidence?
- Will you agree to research the applicability of the Tort Claims Act and the Dram Shop Act for me at no charge?
- Have you handled other wrongful death cases in the past? Taken any to trial?
- Will you hire the best experts to support my case?
- Who will be handling my case day-to-day?
- How many cases do you handle at one time?
- Will you work on a contingency fee basis?
It is always important that you trust your lawyer, but in a wrongful death case, it is even more important. You may need to act quickly to find an attorney for the myriad reasons outlined in this book, but that doesn’t mean you have to rush into a relationship that doesn’t feel right. Act quickly, but choose carefully.