It can be difficult to get your life back in order following a serious traffic collision. One aspect of that challenge is handling your insurance claim and, if necessary, filing a lawsuit in civil court. Fortunately, some questions you may have are common, and we have done our best to answer them for you below.
Do I need to have an attorney?
It is highly advisable to hire an attorney when you have been injured in a car accident. The laws governing your right to recovery are complicated, and it is easy to overlook important facts or legal arguments that substantially add to the value of your claim. Also, insurance companies tend to assume that unrepresented parties are looking for “quick cash” and, consequently, rarely offer to settle for the full value of your claim. It is important to understand that although an attorney will take a portion of your reward as his or her fee, the net amount of money in your pocket will almost always be greater than if you had handled the matter on your own.
How long will my case take?
The amount of time it takes to resolve a personal injury case is often determined by the severity of your injuries and the amount of time it takes you to fully recover from those injuries. If your injuries are relatively minor and there is enough insurance to cover the full extent of damages, your claim will typically resolve within 4-8 months. However, where your injuries are severe and/or there is a potential that you may require surgery, your claim will generally take longer to resolve. Further, disputes over insurance coverage, liability, or reimbursement for medical expenses, may also prolong your claim. All in all, there is no sure way to predict how long it will take before you receive compensation for your damages, but one of the most useful indicators is the severity of your physical injuries.
Will my case go to trial?
Portrayals of our legal system in television and on film are to blame for the common misconception that nearly all cases go to trial. In reality, about 95% of cases brought and filed in state or federal court resolve before trial through settlement or pre-trial adjudication. In short, it’s possible though unlikely.
What am I entitled to in a personal injury action?
As a claimant, you are entitled to collect both “general” and “special” damages. Special damages are your out-of-pocket expenses, which include the cost to repair your vehicle, the cost for a rental car, the cost of medical bills that you have paid, and any past or future loss of earnings. General damages account for the intangible pain, suffering and emotional distress that you endured as a consequence of your accident. General damages are, of course, somewhat subjective, but generally bear some relationship to the amount of special damages that you have incurred.
Should I go to a doctor?
Absolutely, for both legal and medical reasons. In terms of your personal health, symptoms from whiplash or small fractures usually take days to fully develop. If you don’t see a doctor immediately following your accident, you may be aggravating injuries you are not yet aware of and doing further harm to your body. From a legal standpoint, it is very important to establish a record of medical treatment and paper evidence that you were actually injured. Indeed, from your perspective, you may have spent two weeks at home writhing in pain and unable to move. However, from your insurance company’s perspective, those two weeks were spent doing whatever they can imagine. Quite simply, your insurance company will not acknowledge your damages without proper documentation. Seeing your doctor, as needed, provides the necessary proof to collect on your claim.
You say I should see a doctor, but how will I pay for it?
Many doctors will take a personal injury case on a “lien” basis. This means that the doctor will not require payment from the client during the course of his or her treatment, but will wait until the settlement of the case to get paid and will deduct their fee from your settlement or award.
Assuming it is determined that the other motorist is responsible for your accident, his or her insurance company will be responsible for all reasonable medical expenses that you have incurred. It is important to be mindful, however, that insurance companies will not pay to obtain medical reports, treatment that is not related to your accident, medical expenses that are unreasonably high, or for unnecessary medical exams. You and 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?
It is almost impossible to accurately predict the value of your case prior to reviewing all of the relevant evidence and determining the full extent of your injuries. Small cases can become large when doctors later determine that surgery is required. Conversely, large cases can become small if new facts come to light that affect liability.
Some lawyers will “ballpark” the value of their cases, but this is generally a mistake. The value of your claim cannot truly be determined until your attorney has reviewed all medical documentation and photographs and your physician has determined the full extent of your injuries and the need for surgical treatments. These processes can take weeks or months, and for this reason, you should be suspicious of any attorney who immediately tries to promise you a particular monetary outcome in your case.