When Would a Lawyer Not Take a Case?

A judges gavel sitting on a table

If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you are owed compensation. You bring your case to a lawyer, only to be surprised when they refuse to take your case. But, under what circumstances do attorneys turn down cases?

Here are seven possible reasons and recommendations for what to do next in the situation.

1. You Contacted the Wrong Type of Lawyer

Lawyers often specialize in one area or a specific subset of law. For a personal injury case, it is best to find an attorney focused on this area. If it is your first time looking for a lawyer, you may have decided to ask for recommendations from friends and family.

When looking for a personal injury lawyer, you should also be aware that some lawyers focus on certain types of injuries. “Personal injury” is a broad category, and some of the cases that fall under it include:

Car Accidents

Truck Accidents

Fire Accidents

Dog Bites

Workers’ Compensation

Slip and Fall Accidents

Premises Liability

Product Liability

Medical Malpractice

Wrongful Death

You also need to ensure that you contacted a lawyer in the right state. For example, if the accident happened in Los Angeles, you need a California personal injury lawyer. Lawyers are only allowed to practice within the state they passed the bar in, so you may be refused or referred out if you contact a lawyer outside of the state.

Also, the law firm you contacted may not be the right size for your case. Generally, a small firm can handle small cases, and a big firm can handle bigger cases. However, if you’re trying to go up against a multi-million dollar company, a small firm may not have the resources to handle the case.

2. You Missed the Deadline

If your injury occurred years ago, but you only recently learned that you might have a case, a lawyer will likely turn you down. This is due to the statute of limitations, which limits how long you have to file a claim.

The statute of limitations for a personal injury case is two years after the injury in California. If the injury was not discovered immediately, the deadline is one year after the injury was discovered (or should have been discovered).

If you miss this deadline, your claim may be dismissed. There are exceptions to this rule, but most cases won’t qualify for these exceptions. Even the best lawyers will have no legal recourse. You can call for a free consultation and ask for advice, but you may have already lost your right to file a claim.

3. Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest arises when the law firm’s interests don’t align with yours. For example, if they previously represented the defendant (the party you want to sue) in another case, they will likely turn you down. This is part of their duty to uphold ethical standards. It is also possible that a lawyer will reject your case if they are concerned about bad publicity.

4. The Damages Are Minimal

Minimal damages will mean a minimal settlement, which is a problem for lawyers that work on a contingency basis. In a personal injury case, compensation covers two main areas:

Economic damages: Losses with monetary value, such as medical expenses, loss of income, or property damage.

Non-economic damages: Losses with no monetary value, such as mental anguish and “pain and suffering.”

You could receive a large settlement if you suffered a debilitating injury that caused you to miss work and rack up medical bills. On the other hand, if you only experienced a sprained ankle, a dent in your car, or mental anguish without a physical injury, a lawyer might not find your case worth pursuing.

5. The Defendant Lacks Sufficient Insurance Coverage

If you are trying to sue someone uninsured or underinsured, there is little hope of a large settlement. For example, say you were injured in a car accident. Your injuries cost you a million dollars in medical expenses, and the other driver is entirely responsible. However, if they are uninsured and have minimal assets, you will most likely be unable to collect compensation.

As mentioned, many personal injury lawyers take cases on a contingency basis. Little to no compensation means that your lawyer will not get paid for their time so they may reject your case.

6. Establishing Responsibility or Negligence Is Too Difficult

In a personal injury case, you need to establish that negligence occurred. The four criteria your case needs to meet are:

The defendant owed you a legal duty of care (ex: a restaurant owner to their customers)

The defendant breached that legal duty (ex: neglected to mop up a slippery floor)

The breach caused an injury (ex: the slippery floor caused someone to slip and hit their head)

Your injury was caused by this breach (ex: your head injury was due to the floor and not a pre-existing condition)

If your case fails to meet these criteria, it will be tough to win.

Your injury was caused by this breach (ex: your head injury was due to the floor and not a pre-existing condition)If your case fails to meet these criteria, it will be tough to win.
There is also the possibility that you are partly to blame for the accident. Some states operate under “modified comparative fault,” which means that you cannot recover damages if you are 50% or more responsible.

In states like California, “pure comparative fault” is used instead. You could recover damages even if you were 99% responsible.

7. Lack of Documentation

Lawyers need proper documentation for two reasons: to verify that your claim is legitimate and build a solid case. Medical bills and records are the best proof you can have for a serious injury. Plus, other forms of evidence, including photos and videos of the accident scene or testimonies from expert witnesses, are also helpful.

If you lack this type of hard evidence, a lawyer may turn down your case for being difficult to win. However, if your injury was recent, there may still be time to seek medical help and develop a record.

Best Practices for Getting a Lawyer

Even if you cannot change the circumstances surrounding the accident, you can still take steps to increase the chances of a lawyer accepting your case. First, be organized when compiling documentation, such as medical records, police reports, potential witnesses, photos and videos, and your account of what happened. Be honest during your consultation and respect their advice. Lastly, consult a lawyer as soon as possible so you do not go over the statute of limitations.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, feel free to reach out to us. Our team of experienced attorneys can help you understand the facts of your case and advise you on the best way forward. Call us at (213) 252-1070 or contact us online for a free consultation today.