Personal Injury

Hire the right lawyer for a catastrophic auto accident claim

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

Having a strong case after a catastrophic automobile accident may not be enough if you don’t have knowledgable representation, says Barrie-area personal injury lawyer Steve Rastin.

“It’s now more important than ever to ask the right questions, to hire the right experts. The test for catastrophic impairment is one that has evolved, and the government is continuously changing the definition,” says Rastin, managing partner with Rastin & Associates.

“The point is you need to hire the right lawyer that’s going to have the right doctors, that has the experience in this field because the medicine is complicated. If you don’t, the law of unintended consequences says that you might end up leaving a lot of money on the table that you need to get better aftercare.”

Rastin tells AdvocateDaily.com that the playing field has changed in the past three years and the definition of a catastrophic injury and the way it is adjudicated in court are not the same.

He says it can be a complicated process when it comes to determining if someone qualifies to seek damages for catastrophic injuries, so getting the most up-to-date advice is essential.

Rastin cites an example of a client who was claiming loss of a limb even though her arm was still intact.

“She was unable to use it. The limb was sort of pressed to her side all the time,” he says. “I hired a doctor who advised that the total loss of the use of the limb was akin to an amputation and wrote such a compelling report that my client was deemed to be catastrophically impaired.

“So knowing how the legislation works, knowing the right experts to hire, and being able to argue the case allowed me to get my client catastrophic damages.”

Finding guidance can be difficult because “there are many lawyers looking for these big cases and a lot of very aggressive advertising going on,” Rastin says.

“It is fair to say that if you needed heart surgery you probably wouldn’t hire a surgeon because you saw her ad on the side of a bus or at halftime at a Raptors’ game,” he says. “Hiring an injury lawyer can be as important a decision as hiring a medical specialist so you can’t just rely on mass advertising. Just because it’s a name that you know doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.”

Rastin says among the criteria to look at is whether the lawyer has been certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in civil litigation.

Find a lawyer “who has a history of contributing in the right areas in the profession by taking a leadership position with the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, The Advocates' Society or the Ontario Bar Association,” he advises.

Hiring a local lawyer who has insight into the local justice system and medical field can be beneficial, Rastin says.

“Knowing the judges is important because local lawyers have relationships in area courthouses that are beneficial,” he says. “Local lawyers also have relationships with the therapy clinics and doctors in the area. If you’ve got somebody that doesn’t have ties to your community, the question becomes, why is it advantageous to get in the car and drive for two hours to see that lawyer?"

Rastin says hiring someone with courtroom experience can also be important, explaining that insurance companies may be inclined a push a smaller settlement if they believe a lawyer is not equipped or prepared to go to trial.

He says it’s not enough to have a good case — you also need a good lawyer.

“Mediators will tell you that the same case has a different supplemental value based on the quality and reputation of the legal counsel advocating for the plaintiff,” Rastin says.

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