General Questions About Personal Injury (Tort) Claims

What do you mean by “personal injury”?  What sorts of cases does this include?

“Personal injury” is a broad term that means any kind of accident or occurrence that leads to bodily injury.  Here are some examples:

  • car and truck accidents
  • medical malpractice
  • products liability (injury from a defective product),
  • slip and fall
  • wrongful death cases

Someone rear-ended my car while I was at a stoplight.  What should I do? 

First and foremost, seek immediate medical treatment for everyone in your vehicle.  Often, individuals are in shock after an accident and may not appear hurt.  This frequently changes as time passes and the body adjusts to the impact of the accident.  If there are no police officers on the scene, be very careful in making statements to other persons at the time of the accident.  Make sure you obtain all relevant information on the other party involved in the accident (name, address, phone number, make and model of vehicle, insurance company and policy number, etc.)  After your immediate medical and transportation needs have been addressed, contact your own automobile insurance company to report the accident.  After you have taken these steps, we recommend that you speak with an attorney.

What does “negligence” mean?

This is the frequent basis upon which one maintains a claim against another party in the context of a personal injury claim.  The elements of negligence are (1) a duty of care owed to another party, (2) breach of that duty, (3) injury to another party, and (4) proximate cause between the breach and the injury.  The injured party must demonstrate these elements to prove negligence.

How do you evaluate whether I may have a successful claim?

To have any chance of obtaining a successful result, the claim needs three elements: 1) liability on the part of the other party; 2) damages on the part of the injured party; and 3) assets (or insurance coverage) to compensate the damages of the injured party.  If any one of these elements is missing, the claim will not be successful.

What is PIP coverage?

Personal Injury Protection coverage (PIP) under an automobile insurance policy provides a certain amount of coverage for medical expenses or other costs directly related to injuries or inconvenience resulting from an automobile accident.  Many policies offer $10,000 to $35,000 of coverage.  The provider of PIP coverage will usually claim a “subrogation” right for reimbursement of the funds it paid out from the other party’s insurance company.  This means that your PIP provider will seek compensation for its payment from the other insurance company.

The person who hit my car does not have automobile insurance.  What do I do now?

You need to see whether you have UIM (uninsured or underinsured motorist) coverage under your automobile insurance policy.  If you have such a provision in your policy, we will deal directly with your own insurance company to negotiate a settlement, or if necessary, to arbitration or trial.  If you do not have UIM coverage, you may need to resort to going after the individual who hit you to compensate you for your injuries and expenses.

The accident has caused me to miss several weeks from work, and I had to go to physical therapy for months.  What can I expect as a reasonable settlement?

The “value” of your case depends on many factors, such as the extent of your injury, the amount of your medical bills, loss of income, and your condition after you have finished treating.  The calculation also involves the ability of the other party to pay a judgment, and whether you played any role in causing the accident.

Once you accept my case, do you guarantee success?

We will not accept your case unless we think it has a good chance of success. Even so, there are no guarantees.  All we can do is give you a fair assessment of the outcome of your case based on our experience, the injury itself, and what settlements or jury verdicts have been achieved in cases similar to yours.

I don’t have money to hire an attorney.  Will you accept my case anyway?

After an initial evaluation, we will discuss accepting your case on a “contingent fee” basis.  This means that the attorney is paid only if you obtain a settlement or award.  You do not have to pay the attorney an hourly fee.  However, you will be ultimately responsible to pay for case expenses.  The usual fee for a personal injury matter that is settled before arbitration or trial is one-third of the total recovery. 

What are case expenses?

Case expenses are costs we incur in order to get your case ready for settlement or trial.  Examples would be photocopying fees, medical records, the filing fee required by the court and expenses for depositions and experts. Case expenses vary depending on the complexity of the case. 

Can I talk to you about my case for free?

Yes.  We will be happy to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case for free on the telephone or in our office.  We may need to review of certain documentation, photographs or other evidence as well.  After the initial consultation, we will be able to decide whether or not we can help you.

The insurance adjuster for the other party says I can handle the case myself without a lawyer.  Is this a good idea?

Exercise caution when speaking with insurance adjusters.  No matter how nice an insurance adjuster sounds on the phone, the adjuster has one goal in mind above all others–to pay you as little as possible.  Since your initial consultation is free, you have nothing to lose by speaking with an attorney to evaluate your case. 

How long will this process take?

It will depend upon many factors, including whether you are in a “fixed and stable” medical condition, the ability for us to gather evidence to prepare a settlement demand, and the negotiation posture of the other parties involved.  Even though many cases settle before trial, this does not usually happen until both sides have prepared the case.  Generally, lawsuits take about two years from filing to trial.

What happens if I wait too long?

Failure to properly file and serve a lawsuit within the time limits set forth under the law will forever bar you from making a claim for compensation for your injuries.  If you were injured more than one year ago and have not settled your claim, you should seek legal advice immediately.