Welcome to the first in a series of Q&A’s with Soloway Wright’s partners. Here we sit down with Peter Hagen, one of Ottawa’s most experienced personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers to get answers to common client answers and concerns.
1. Can you describe your area of practice?
Personal injury is a very broad practice area. We deal with any injury that has been caused, intentionally or unintentionally, through negligence or breach of contract. We could be talking about anything from physical and sexual assault to car accidents, equipment malfunctions to slips and falls. Personal injury also includes a wide range of medical negligence or malpractice issues, including misdiagnoses and failure to treat appropriately. This is the area that I now focus on.
I started out my career defending insurance companies from liability claims. If a guy fell off a faulty ladder, I was the one responding to the product liability claim against the manufacturer of the ladder. As things have evolved, I have been doing more work for Plaintiffs. More often than not I act for the guy who is climbing up the ladder. My early experience defending insurance companies has been a valuable asset in achieving fair and expeditious settlements for clients. I am of the view that a good lawyer is able to assess the claim from the point of view of both the injured person and the insurer that is responding to the claim.
2. When should you contact a lawyer for a personal injury claim?
Make the call as soon as you think you may have sustained a significant injury as a result of someone else’s negligence. The reason a claim is made is to assist you in dealing with your injuries. The point of compensation is to offset the impact of those injuries; consequently you want to start receiving that compensation as quickly as is reasonably possible. Most importantly, unless you are dealing with an infant, there is a two-year limitation period on claims, so it is essential to get moving on the claim quickly to ensure your claim does not become statute barred.
3. What value do you feel you provide?
We help people, and their families, deal with the life-altering consequences of their injuries. This means seeking fair compensation. It also means helping clients navigate a very complicated insurance regime and accident benefit process. We work with clients to access the different sources of funds that can make a real difference in their quality of life, whether it’s extended physiotherapy benefits, long-term disability benefits or CPP disability benefits.
Our clients appreciate that we try to move things forward as quickly and expeditiously as possible. We make ourselves available to our clients and try to make them understand and appreciate the process. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect process, and can be very stressful for those involved. We recognize that and do our best to help our clients get through it.
4. Any advice for clients?
After an injury, preserve whatever evidence exists that is relevant to the injury. For example, in a car accident, take a photo or video of the vehicles involved. Obviously if you have just sustained an injury this may not be possible, but family members can be helpful in this.
Also, get the best insurance you can afford. This should mean at least $2 million liability coverage on your place of residence and your automobile.
5. How is the Personal Injury team at Soloway Wright different?
We have been doing this work for a long time and have developed an excellent network of connections within the medical community. We know where to go and who to go to for expert advice, and consequently we are able to do that in a cost-effective and expeditious way.
Our approach to contingency fees is also worth mentioning. Most personal injury cases are taken on a contingency fee basis, which means the lawyer only gets paid if they are successful. It is commonplace in the industry for the contingency fee to be set at 30% of the claim, and most clients don’t know that in some circumstances a lower percentage might be more appropriate. The percentage should reflect the degree of risk being undertaken by your lawyer. At Soloway Wright, we take the approach that the contingency fee should be based on the case. If it is a straightforward claim and there will likely be a large recovery, it may not be appropriate for us to charge 30% and we will adjust our fee.
When acting for an injured person the whole point is to recover compensation for that client and for the family members affected by their injury. We care about the client. It sounds trite but we have an interest in the outcome that we are able to achieve for our clients.