By: Vanessa Mixco
When a potential client contacts our firm to pursue a product liability case, he/she is asked specific questions regarding the state he/she resides in, type and date of diagnosis, usage or surgery information, and any other pertinent information. The intake questions allow the attorney to determine whether a case can be accepted or rejected based on a set criterion. If a case is accepted, the case is assigned to a paralegal to handle all pre-litigation and litigation tasks. Moreover, Mass Tort cases are generally consolidated into one giant litigation and court, thus each step the paralegal takes must be done in large waves for every case.
The paralegal first sends the new client a questionnaire to gather additional personal and medical information. Once received and reviewed, the paralegal begins the process of ordering medical records. This process can be either smooth or with hiccups due to lack of provided information, change of addresses, facility standards for medical records requests, third party copy services, archived records, records in off-site storage, incorrectly processed records, retention policies, or invoicing issues. The paralegal is responsible for obtaining all necessary medical records and resolving all medical record related issues.
Lawsuits rely heavily on the information documented in the medical records. Upon receipt of the medical records, the paralegal diligently reviews and bookmarks the records in chronological order while also analyzing the records for case specific facts. As the paralegal reviews the medical records, he/she enters key elements into our database including a medical summary, timeline of events, risk factors, lien information, and other varying factors relevant to one’s case. The records also provide guidance to the paralegal to determine if additional records need to be requested from the same facility or elsewhere if the client was seen or treated at a different facility. The attorney relies on the paralegal’s review and reported information to make changes or decide how to proceed.
It is also imperative for the paralegal to pay close attention to pre-trial proceedings. These act as guidelines on how the litigation process will operate and provide future deadlines.
This attorney considers a multitude of factors when setting a date to file a case. The paralegal researches the court procedures and files the complaint accordingly. As soon as the case is filed, the paralegal must hire a process server to serve the documents to the defendant(s) within a certain amount of time.
Discovery is typically the next phase of the litigation process after filing a case. Unless a case is a Bellwether selection, the plaintiff is sent a court-ordered Plaintiff Fact Sheet (PFS) that must be thoroughly completed by the client. This phase entails high attention to detail by the paralegal when answering questions for the client, following up, comparing the client’s provided information to the medical records, manually entering and submitting the information into an online database, and tracking the process. Defense counsel often issues deficiencies on unanswered questions or answers needing clarity throughout the discovery process. This requires immediate attention by the paralegal to prevent a case from being potentially dismissed.
Throughout the litigation process, the Court or Defense Counsel issues orders requiring additional information, projects, or responses in which the paralegal must complete within the time allowed.
The settlement process is a meticulous process; it requires critical thinking, analyzing, and preciseness by the paralegal. This involves many tasks, both for the settlement program and in-house responsibilities. Settlement programs spell out the terms of a settlement and require re-review of medical records, data entry, enrollment, appeals, uploading records, following up with clients, and briefing injuries that may qualify for additional compensation (extraordinary injury claims). Each step of the settlement program has tight deadlines that the paralegal must meet. As part of a responsibility to the firm, the paralegal prepares all settlement documents and expense reports prior to disbursement of funds as well as confirming/resolving issues with bankruptcy, special needs trusts, probate, and liens.
In the event of a settlement, we are required by law to notify certain third parties such as insurance providers, governmental entities, and bankruptcy trustees. The paralegal is tasked with providing information and effectively communicating with lien resolution groups regarding private and governmental resolution for all cases in the settlement process. Additionally, the paralegal communicates and coordinates with bankruptcy trustees/attorneys and probate attorneys as necessary.
One major benefit for Mass Tort is partnering with other successful firms. This allows us to share resources and expertise without incurring additional expenses. The paralegal is responsible for having effective communication with co-counsel firms, case management, and assisting if needed.
OTHER ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS
Creating electronic files and excel spreadsheets
Medical Records Follow-up
Obtaining Necessary Information
Researching pending claims to keep informed of the litigation status
Serving as person of contact or liaison for all matters
Assisting other paralegals with projects
Locating Next of Kin
Drafting and filing motions, pleadings, subpoenas, etc.