Please tell us about yourself and Console & Associates.
I am the founder and managing attorney of Console & Associates, a personal injury law firm in New Jersey. I grew up in Haddonfield and earned my Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law in 1992. Now, I live in Cherry Hill.
I decided shortly after I started my legal career that I wanted to run my own law firm. In 1994, I started the Law Office of Richard P. Console, Jr. P.C., which would ultimately grow into the multi-lawyer firm Console & Associates. Over the years, I’ve had a great team join me, sharing in my vision to help individuals injured in accidents in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. It’s been 26 years since I established my solo firm, and I’m so thrilled at what my colleagues and I have achieved so far and at what the future holds for the Console & Associates family.
What services does Console & Associates offer?
Console & Associates is a full-service, personal injury law firm that offers no-win, no-fee legal representation in all areas of injury matters.
We handle personal injury cases exclusively and have experience with all varieties of injury cases, from automobile accidents to slip and falls, dog bites, and instances of medical malpractice.
Your law firm specializes in personal injury, can you tell us about what led you to focus on this particular area of law?
When I first started out, I handled all kinds of legal matters. What I found most fulfilling about my work as an attorney was helping people.
To me, personal injury law offers a unique opportunity to help people at a time when they really need help the most. They’re physically hurt. They’re afraid of what’s going to happen to them. Then they have this insurance company that’s trying to stop them from getting the money they need to get better, and they don’t know how to handle it.
I like knowing that I’m able to help these people really get things back on track. One of my favorite things about the work I do is that I stand up for the people who were hurt, not a company that just wants to hold onto its profits.
Over the last 26 years, I’ve seen the lengths defendants and insurance companies will go to in an effort to get out of paying what accident victims deserve. It’s appalling. It really matters to me that I’m fighting on the side of the “little guy” – the average person, the mothers and fathers who need to provide for their families, the parents who have lost a child. Instead of a job where I have to compromise my integrity to represent someone who’s trying to get out of doing the right thing, I get to celebrate every result I get that helps a client get their life back. There’s no more fulfilling work than that.
Another thing I like about handling personal injury claims exclusively is the depth of understanding you develop about this type of law when you’re in the trenches day in and day out. A general practice law firm would allow me to do some of this work, but focusing on personal injury allows me to do this work every single day.
I see patterns in clients’ injuries and treatments, in the behavior of insurance companies, and so much more. When I speak to a prospective client who is feeling really lost or overwhelmed because of their accident, I have so much knowledge to draw from. I can tell them, in complete honesty, even though everything isn’t all right now, everything will be alright.
Can you elaborate on how personal injury lawsuits often play out? Are cases usually resolved out of court, or do many of them make it to trial?
A lot of people think that lawsuits almost always go to trial, but it’s actually the opposite. Statistically, between 95 and 97 percent of lawsuits settle out of court, based on data from the American Bar Association and faculty scholarship conducted out of Cornell University Law School. Anecdotally, I can say that our firm has a similar track record of resolving the vast majority of our cases out of court, but we’re prepared to take each claim to trial if that’s what’s necessary to get our clients the money they deserve.
I think it’s important to understand how personal injury lawsuits play out, because the legal process really is such a mystery to everyone who doesn’t have a background in law. Whether it settles out of court or goes to trial, a claim begins in the same way. An attorney investigates the accident and compiles evidence of the other party’s negligence and documentation of the damages you suffered. When you are far enough along in your recovery, your lawyer uses these facts to write a demand letter that outlines all of the reasons you deserve to be compensated. That’s when negotiations begin. Sometimes a case goes to mediation or arbitration, a way for an outside party to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach a settlement and avoid a trial.
A lot of times, an experienced attorney is able to negotiate the settlement with the insurance company, and that’s the end of it. Of course, negotiations go back and forth quite a bit. My goal is always to get my clients the full amount of money they’re entitled to, and the insurance adjuster’s goal is always to pay as little as possible, so there’s definitely a conflict there.
This is exactly what makes it so important that an attorney thoroughly prepares the case from the start. If the case is weak, the insurance company knows it. The adjuster is more willing to go to trial than offer the client a fair settlement because it’s possible that the accident victim will lose the case and walk away with nothing. When you have a strong case with plenty of compelling evidence that is likely to win over a jury, it really motivates the insurance company to avoid a trial that could cost them even more money than just settling for an amount that the accident victim deserves.
One other thing to know about settling versus going to trial is that it’s not a matter of what an attorney wants to do, but rather, what’s best for your claim. Some people think that an attorney is always looking for a reason to take their case to trial just so they can fight in court. Others think settling a claim instead of going to trial is taking the easy way out. In all honesty, it’s an individualized decision made between the client and the attorney on a case-by-case basis. It boils down to answering one crucial question: which option is likely to get the better result for the client?
If the insurer isn’t budging on their settlement offer, a trial may be the only option to get my client what the case is worth. If I’m able to negotiate a settlement that covers my client’s losses, avoiding a trial means my client gets their money sooner and gets to keep more of it, since the costs of pursuing the claim aren’t as high.
What is the biggest difference between personal injury cases and other civil lawsuits?
A personal injury is a physical injury to your person, and that means that when you sustain one, it’s constantly part of your life. It’s not like it only affects you part of the time. It’s there every waking moment (and, many of our clients say, it keeps them up at night, too).
Because of this, I’d say the stakes are higher for the clients we serve, regardless of the financial value of the claim. A car crash injury that ultimately recovers a $100,000 settlement means a lot more to the victim than a corporate litigation that cost millions of dollars would mean to a business. For the accident victim, it’s their life and their family’s future that’s at stake.
How has your team adjusted to the pandemic to make it safe and easy for clients to proceed with new and existing lawsuit efforts?
I won’t say that COVID-19 hasn’t had an impact because it definitely has. Like other companies, our team is working remotely to do our part to stop the spread of the disease that causes the coronavirus. However, in some ways, our firm was a lot better prepared for this situation than many other businesses.
Long before the pandemic started, Console & Associates began offering a fully remote intake process. As much as my colleagues and I love to meet our new clients face to face, we also know that it isn’t always feasible or convenient for our clients.
My law firm is completely focused on helping people who are injured. A lot of them have trouble getting around. They’re not feeling like themselves. Some are currently hospitalized or recuperating in an inpatient rehabilitation center. In the case of car accidents, victims may not have a vehicle to get them to our office.
We realized that the best way we could serve our clients was to offer them more convenient options for retaining the legal help they need. We often conduct initial consultations by phone or email and use secure online technology to send prospective clients the paperwork they need to hire us. When our clients need help, we get on the phone and walk them through every step of signing the document.
Our remote intake process is fast, convenient, and safe. Because we’ve offered remote intake for such a long time, we didn’t have bugs and glitches to work out once COVID-19 hit and remote intake went from being one option for signing up our new clients to the only option.
As far as the work we’re doing to keep our existing clients’ cases moving forward, we’re using technology to make the best of the situation. My colleagues and I are using videoconferencing software to continue having roundtable meetings to discuss what needs to be done for our cases. We’ve been able to keep using the same practice management software we’ve relied on for years from our remote work locations. When our clients call our office, they can still get immediate assistance with their claim. Nothing has changed about the scope of services we’re able to offer our clients, only the way we communicate (through technology, instead of in-person meetings).
Are there any new types of cases you are seeing more frequently as a result of COVID-19?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought out the worst in some people and in a lot of companies. We have seen an influx of new plaintiff matters, some involving physical injury and others revolving around financial damages, in the wake of COVID-19.
Some of these claims focus on exposure to the coronavirus. Nursing homes have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, and nursing home residents have made up more than one-quarter of the coronavirus deaths reported in the United States to date, according to the Associated Press. In certain instances, the surviving families of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 are able to sue over this exposure, under the theory that the nursing home was responsible for every aspect of the resident’s environment — including exposure to the deadly infection. We have also seen wrongful death cases on behalf of the families of essential workers who say the employer of the deceased didn’t do enough to protect them.
Beyond that, many of the COVID-19 claims we’ve seen involve financial harm. There are workers whose employers have refused to pay them for the work they did prior to business closures. Some essential workers have sued for hazard pay or for unpaid overtime as they put in extra hours, risking their own health to keep others safe in a pandemic. Other workers, particularly in the healthcare industry, have been fired over whistleblowing — going public about lack of personal protective equipment and safe work environments — or because they brought in their own protective gear to keep themselves safe while on the job.
Business owners are being ripped off by their insurance companies, which are refusing to pay business interruption claims arising out of COVID-19, even if their policies did not contain language excluding infectious diseases. Consumers are suing over price gouging of essential products — like cleaning products, hand sanitizer, and facemasks — that have been in short supply during the crisis. Companies in the travel and entertainment industries are facing lawsuits for refusing to refund consumers’ money, even when their trip or event has been canceled.
COVID-19 has also made more typical types of personal injury claims more complicated. When two cars crash, there’s the added worry of whether getting within six feet of the other driver to share insurance information is going to expose you to COVID-19. Our first responders are at risk of exposure every time they respond to a call, and if they are exposed, they could be unknowingly bringing the virus with them to every subsequent injury scene they visit.
What is one of the biggest challenges you often face when working with personal injury victims?
I think one of the biggest challenges is misinformation about the legal process, about the insurance industry and about your legal rights. Misinformation is everywhere, and it really does a disservice to people who have legitimate claims but don’t know their rights.
A lot of personal injury victims feel a reluctance to sue because the insurance industry has created this myth that lawsuits are frivolous and that being “the kind of person who sues” for an injury is a bad thing. When you really think about it, it’s crazy.
Most people in a car wreck have no problem making an insurance claim for the property damage (and they shouldn’t). Why? Because they know they shouldn’t have to pay for the other driver’s recklessness. Because they need their car to get around in their life. Because the whole point of purchasing insurance coverage is to pay for the damage when a covered event happens.
All of those same arguments are equally true of an injury claim, but people look at them completely differently. The insurance industry has done such a great job spreading this myth of frivolous lawsuits that nobody wants to be seen as “the McDonald’s coffee lady” looking for a million-dollar payout instead of taking personal responsibility (which, if you know the true story of Liebeck, isn’t even close to the truth). I can’t tell you how many times personal injury victims have called me and told me about their truly life-changing injuries and the clear negligence of the at-fault party, only to say that they don’t know what to do because they’re “not the kind of person to sue.”
How have you worked to overcome this challenge to help clients and also improve your practice?
This challenge stands in the way of personal injury victims who are really hurt getting the money they need to recover physically and keep their families afloat, so it is a big deal. What I’ve learned is that overcoming this challenge is all about communication.
When I explain to personal injury victims with this mindset how the legal process actually works and what it means to pursue a lawsuit, they often realize that buying into these myths about being “the kind of person who sues” isn’t going to help them get better or get their lives back on track. We have a good talk about what they really want and what the process of getting it looks like.
I can honestly say that my clients aren’t the kind of people who are “looking for a lawsuit,” and I’m glad. Believe it or not, no one finds truly frivolous lawsuits more frustrating than an attorney! They make it harder and more time-consuming for individuals with valid claims to get the money they deserve.
I’m also really glad that they ultimately decided not to let this stigma of being “the kind of person who sues” keep them from getting the compensation they needed to get better — and not only as an attorney. I really hate to see someone suffering needlessly because of this misguided, propaganda-fueled belief that holding the at-fault party accountable for their actions somehow makes the victim any less of a good person.
Although I wish this misinformation wasn’t so rampant — and my firm does its best to educate people about misconceptions in the legal industry — I do think facing this challenge has improved my practice. It’s a constant reminder of why I do what we do, and why my colleagues and I need to really listen to every potential client who contacts my law firm to really understand their needs, their concerns and their values.
Lawyer burnout is a fairly common problem for the profession. What steps do you take to make sure yourself, and your team, are not becoming overwhelmed?
Lawyer burnout is definitely a problem. I think maintaining a good work-life balance is vitally important. Personally, I’m a voracious reader and an avid cycler. I’m also a family man, and I love playing basketball with my two sons. I do a lot of meditating, as well.
I think it helps that the close-knit team at Console & Associates likes to have a lot of fun, even when we’re working hard. Whether it’s sharing a meal, celebrating a special occasion or playing pranks on each other, we make a conscious effort to build each other up and to make our work environment a place where all feel fulfilled, appreciated and motivated to keep on getting our clients the results they deserve.
What advice would you give to somebody who has suffered from a recent workplace or accident injury?
This is probably the advice you expect to hear from a lawyer, but: Get a lawyer. Seriously.
The insurance company isn’t on your side, and it will have no problem taking advantage of you, even in a time of crisis, to hold onto the money that should be yours. Most personal injury victims don’t regret hiring an attorney, but what they do regret is not hiring an attorney sooner.
Why should you waste your time and energy — something that’s even more valuable now, while you’re working so hard on rehabilitation — on interactions that are only going to stress you out and potentially hurt any claim you have? It’s not worth it.
Get yourself a lawyer and pass that burden of dealing with the insurance company onto your attorney. We’re professionals at this.
For more information visit www.myinjuryattorney.com