Do I really need a lawyer to pursue my case?
There are some people who have attempted to pursue their own personal injury cases, but this can be very difficult. You will be up against seasoned experts from the insurance companies who will more likely than not attempt to compensate you far less than the actual value of your case. Handling your own personal injury matter is like attempting to perform surgery on yourself. You could probably do it, but the results will likely be undesirable.
How long will my case take?
The length of a personal injury case, from beginning to end, is often times determined by the severity of the injuries and how long it will take to fully recover from the injuries. If the injuries are very minor and there is enough insurance to cover the full extent of the injuries, the case should resolve within 3 to 6 months. If the injuries are very serious and there is little insurance monies to recover, the case can also be resolved quickly. However, when there are major injuries, insurance disputes, disputes over fault, and prolonged medical treatment, the personal injury case can last substantially longer.
Will I be dealing with my lawyer or my lawyer's office staff?
While many law firms approach client contact differently, we believe it essential that our clients have communication with the attorney at all times. While our office staff will be working on your case on a regular basis, all decisions are reviewed by the attorney, and all matters of importance are discussed with the client directly.
Will my case go to trial?
The common misconception, probably brought about by television, is that every case goes to trial. Nothing could be further from the truth. Approximately 99% of all cases brought and filed in the court system are resolved before trial. Trials are extraordinarily unpredictable, expensive, and time consuming. Because of that, in the interest of all parties, the vast majority of cases are resolved without the necessity of a trial.
What am I entitled to in a personal injury action?
In a personal injury action, you are entitled to your actual out-of-pocket expenses, such as repairs to your vehicle or the fair market value of your vehicle. You are also entitled to rental expenses or the loss of use of your vehicle. You are entitled to have your reasonable medical bills paid, if the injuries are in fact sustained from the accident. You are also entitled to your loss of earnings for the past, present, and future, in the event any loss of earnings are incurred. Lastly, you are entitled to damages for the pain, suffering, and emotional distress you have suffered from an accident. The at-fault party or insurance company is not responsible for your attorney’s fees.
Should I be seen by a doctor?
If you were injured in the accident, you should seek medical attention which would be appropriate for your injuries as soon as possible. With some types of injuries, you may not experience any pain or discomfort for a day or two following the accident. In any event, it is best to use common sense - if you are in fact injured, the sooner you seek medical treatment, the better off you will be in the long run. It is best to rule out a more serious injury by seeking medical attention as soon as you begin to feel pain or discomfort.
Do you have doctors to refer me to?
Yes. Most attorneys have doctors who they are familiar with and who have established themselves as excellent physicians in areas close to the client’s work or home. An injured client should never wait for a referral to a doctor if you are in need of a doctor immediately. Family doctors or emergency hospitals are available for immediate medical attention and should be utilized for that purpose.
Who pays for the doctor bills?
In personal injury cases, many doctors will take a case on a "lien" basis. This means that the doctor will not require any monies from the client during the course of treatment, but will wait until the settlement of the case to get paid. If liability or cause of the accident is undetermined or is questionable, it is sometimes best to use your private medical insurance for all of your medical needs. Assuming that it is determined that the at-fault party is responsible for the accident, the insurance company for that party will be responsible for all reasonable medical expenses incurred. Insurance companies will not pay for medical reports or record reviews, treatment that was not related to the accident, medical expenses which are unreasonably high, and for unnecessary medical exams. Your doctor should consult with your attorney regularly in order to make sure that the medical expenses being incurred are reasonable and customary.
How much is my case worth?
Prior to reviewing all of the evidence in a personal injury case, it is nearly impossible to accurately predict the true value of your case. There are some lawyers who will "ball park" the case, which we believe is a mistake. Until all medical documentation has been reviewed, photographs examined, liability determined, loss of earnings determined, future need for medical care and expenses are evaluated, the value cannot be determined. In other words, all facts and evidence of a case must be at the disposal of your attorney in order to make a clear, informed, and professional opinion.
How is my car going to get repaired?
If your vehicle is repairable, you are permitted to take it to any body shop of your choice. Insurance companies cannot dictate where you must take your vehicle. Sometimes it is advisable to use your own collision insurance in order to get your car repaired quickly. If you rely on the insurance company for the at-fault driver to repair your car, it may take longer to get the vehicle repaired due to the insurance company’s duty to investigate the case prior to setting any claims. If you incur a deductible by going through your insurance company, the at-fault party’s insurance company will usually reimburse you for your deductible.
If my car is declared a total loss, how is the value of the vehicle determined?
You are entitled to the fair market value of the vehicle at the time of loss. You are not entitled to the amount you actually paid for the vehicle, unless the fair market value at the time of loss is more than what you paid for the vehicle. Please keep in mind that if there is any monies left owing on the vehicle loan or lease, the lender will have to be paid. If the vehicle is worth less at the time of loss than the money owed on the vehicle loan or lease, you may end up owing the lender more than what the insurance company is obligated to pay you. While this situation is uncommon, this obviously can be a devastating loss. The purchase of "gap insurance" can reduce the risk of this unfortunate event from happening. The value of a vehicle is determined by the insurance industry via a consumer index. The Kelly Blue Book, while used as a guide, is not determinative of value.
Who pays for my rental expenses?
The at-fault party’s insurance company is also responsible for your rental expenses. You can sometimes request that the at-fault party’s insurance company be billed directly for the rental expenses, although this is certainly no guarantee. More likely you will have to rent a vehicle on your own and get reimbursed from the insurance company at a later time. If you have rental coverage under your own auto policy (which is strongly recommended), it is sometimes easier to go through your own insurance company for your rental expenses. It is important that you do not rent a vehicle for more time than is absolutely necessary, because insurance may not cover all of the expenses.
Will my lost earnings be recovered?
In personal injury actions, lost earnings and future lost earnings are recoverable from the at-fault party’s insurance company. The loss of earnings must be proven to the insurance company. This can sometimes prove difficult, especially for self-employed individuals. Keeping good employment records is a must, and the earnings must be relatively easy to calculate. Because of the unpredictability of obtaining recoveries for lost earnings, the injured party is well advised to return to work as soon as possible.
How does my attorney get paid?
In personal injury actions, nearly all personal injury lawyers accept these cases on a contingency fee basis. If the attorney is not successful in winning the case on your behalf, the attorney does not receive any attorney's fees. Your attorney will be entitled to a percentage of the entire gross recovery for the bodily injury portion of the case. Standard fees are usually 33% of the gross recoveries if the case is settled prior to filing a lawsuit, and 40% of the gross recoveries if a lawsuit must be filed to reach a settlement. The fees to minors under the age of 18 are less.
Who pays for the costs of pursuing the case?
It is the client’s responsibility to pay all costs of pursuing a case. Many lawyers require costs up front, others advance the costs on the client’s behalf and then the attorneys reimburse themselves at the conclusion of the case. As a general rule, the stronger a case, the more likely it is that attorneys will advance the costs on the client’s behalf, reimbursing themselves at the conclusion of the case.
If I didn't carry automobile insurance at the time of my accident, will that affect my case?
Yes. In California, a driver of a motor vehicle must carry liability insurance. The results of not carrying liability insurance can be devastating. Unless the at-fault driver was convicted of driving while under the influence, the uninsured plaintiff will only be entitled to actual out-of-pocket expenses and not to additional damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. An uninsured driver may also be subjected to a suspension of driving privileges.
Should I take photographs?
Absolutely. Photographs of the scene of the accident, the damage to the vehicles involved, and injuries to any parties are critical to the success of a personal injury case. The pictures of the above should be taken from all angles and distances with a high quality camera. We always recommend keeping a disposable camera in your car for purposes of photographing accident scenes, if you are able to do so.
I didn’t get a copy of the police report, how can I get it?
The police report will be obtained either by your insurance company or your attorney by sending a request with a fee to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Are personal injury settlements taxable?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, settlement proceeds from a personal injury action are not taxable, with the exception of the portion of the case which was for loss of earnings.