Scott Merl, Esq.
Personal Injury and Family Law Attorney
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit with us, Scott. First off, please tell our readers about yourself. What sort of cases do you handle in your practice?
A: Thank you so much for “spotlighting” me! I handle all kinds of family law cases and personal injury cases. Most of my current family law cases are divorces, timesharing (formerly known as “custody”), paternity (unmarried parents of at least one child), and child support. Most of my personal injury cases are car accidents, slip and falls (falls on a liquid in a store/property), trip and falls (falls on an item in a store/property, broken pavement, and uneven ground), or medical malpractice claims (where a doctor makes a mistake).
Q: Have you always practiced these fields?
A: Early in my career, I was a general counsel for a doctor who is still a client. I helped him manage his business and purchase a laboratory. On occasions, I have handled individual bankruptcies (Chapter 7 and Chapter 13), general business consulting (partnership agreements, business organization structuring, and management agreements), and bad car deals (warranty issues, service issues, car sales issues). In the last couple of years I honed my practice to personal injury and family law, but I still help clients on all matters.
Q: What prompted you to become an attorney?
A: My father was an attorney in Florida focused on personal injury cases. Throughout my time growing up, and in college I knew I wanted to be an attorney. I also knew I wanted to own and operate a business. So at the University of Florida I made it a point to study Political Science to learn the law, but I also majored in Business so I would have the business skills for the future. The day I came to visit the University of Miami law school, I knew I wanted to come back to Miami to one day open my law firm.
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I have to say that the most impactful family cases are those where I force the parties to put aside their differences and ensure that both parents see the kids regularly. I always feel proud when even in spite of the parents’ issues the parents put the best interests of their children first. Similarly, there is nothing I love more than a hard fought personal injury case where, at the end, my client knows I fought hard for them regardless if its a smaller settlement or a six figure settlement and they have closure.
Q: Do you find some of your clients are preoccupied with their immigration status in conjunction with divorce/dissolution proceedings?
A: Yes, often it is a concern in my cases. When someone is here illegally, it’s often the first thing an angry ex-spouse threatens to use as leverage. Fortunately, judges are used to those kinds of threats and do not take kindly to them. Immigration status isn’t usually an issue unless it’s directly relevant to an issue in the family case. Specifically, in family cases so long as one of the parties has been in the jurisdiction for a required a period of time (typically 6 months), immigration status is irrelevant.
Q: What about your personal injury cases?
A: In personal injury cases, immigration status has no impact as anyone can be injured and bring a claim, regardless of their immigration status. However, insurance companies and their attorneys will threaten to report my client to the immigration agencies as a means to strong-arm my client into a low settlement, but they rarely ever do so.
Q: Should out of status individuals be afraid of appearing in court?
A: Not at all. Family court judges are not generally concerned with immigration status, unless it directly affects an issue in the case (Ex: One parent wants or needs to relocate). Similarly, civil court judges are not generally concerned with immigration status, unless it directly affects an issue in the case (Ex: the injured party, even a tourist stated they had no intention to go back to the United States or appear for an issue related to the case).
Q: Is a parent’s immigration status relevant in a child time sharing/custody case? If so, how could it effect the case?
A: Immigration status is not a statutory factor to determine timesharing, nor does it reflect on a person’s ability to parent, which is the main factor in determining a timesharing schedule.
Q: What happens if a foreign national wants to divorce someone who is somewhere in their home country but they have no idea where or how to find them?
A: If my client truly has no idea where his or her spouse lives, it’s allowable to serve the other party with the divorce petition through publication. Service by publication requires a “diligent search,” which is accomplished by contacting various agencies and listing the case in a local newspaper in an attempt to discover the other party’s whereabouts. Some countries accept service of process via mail, but other countries’ requirements for service of process can end up being costly and lengthy.
Q: What happens if a foreign national is injured or the tortfeasor (person who caused the incident) is foreign national?
A: If a foreign national is injured that person is able to bring a claim, but the person may be required to come to the jurisdiction for court proceedings. For example, if someone while visiting Miami slips in a store or gets into a car accident, that person is required to come back to Florida for their case whether it be a deposition (sworn statement), mediation (settlement conference), or a trial. On the other hand, if the tortfeasor (at fault person) is a tourist, foreign national, or illegal immigrant and causes an accident, the parties will have to go to that person’s home location. Sometimes the Court can force that Non-Florida resident to come back to Florida for the case.
Q: What do you like best about your family work?
A: Family attorneys get a bad rap because of the costly over-litigated cases portrayed in the media and horror stories heard from other friends. For me, I constantly act as therapist, counselor, and officer of the court and there is nothing more rewarding then when the client is able to communicate with the other party without needing my guidance.
Q: What do you like best about your personal injury work?
A: Personal injury attorneys also get a bad rap for being greedy or “ambulance chasers,” and because of the media portrayal. But prosecuting personal injury cases makes the world a better place to live in. Just think about the recent airline fiascos, the tobacco cases, or even the BP oil spill a few years back. All of those instances, have helped make things safer and better for everyone. Day after day I act as therapist, counselor, and even at times a de facto insurance agent providing my clients valuable information to have the best insurance coverage for a future car accident. Yet, there is nothing I love more than when my client tells me they are able to do almost all the things they could do pre-accident. Yes, the monetary settlements help my clients cope with their injuries, but hearing my client’s life is returning to normalcy that is best token of gratitude from my personal injury clients.
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I have to say that the most impactful family cases are those where I force the parties to put aside their differences and ensure that both parents see their kids regularly. I always feel proud when even in spite of the parents’ issues they put the best interests of their children first. Similarly, there is nothing I love more than a hard fought personal injury case where my client knows I fought hard on their behalf no matter if the accident was a smaller case or a six figure case.
Q: Personal Injury attorneys always advertise, “no money until there is a recovery,” what does that mean?
A: As cheesy as all the advertisements we hear and see, they are true, Personal injury lawyers work on a percentage of the recovery and these rates are regulated by the Florida Bar. These percentages may be steep to some clients (25%, 33 1/3, 40%) but this is because the lawyer pays for any costs (filing fees, expert fees, medical record copies, depositions) through the case, whether the case goes for 1 year or 5 years and the attorney only recovers these costs spent if there is a recovery. Same is true if the case goes to trial and there is a non-verdict, the lawyer too is responsible for all the costs spent at the trial.
Q: How can our subscribers reach you for a consultation?
A: I can be reached at 305-444-1575 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and for any case we always offer a free consultation. Thank you again!
Thank you, Scott, for sharing your knowledge with our subscribers. This is Elina signing off until next month’s spotlight interview. Have a great month!