Frequently Asked Questions
Do I really need a lawyer to represent me?
In most cases, yes. However, if your property damage is minor and you were not injured then you don’t need a lawyer. If you were injured in any way then you definitely require a lawyer. An insurance company may treat you fairly if the only issue is repairing the minor damage to your vehicle. The same is definitely not true with injuries. Assuming it is clear that the automobile accident was not your fault, the insurance company will offer you just a minimal amount. And, you will spend hours attempting to obtain all of the paperwork the insurance company requires to settle. Remember, they are in the business of making money. Paying you a fair value for your injuries helps you but not them. The common public perception is that insurance companies are motivated to settle so they don’t have to pay out the fees and costs of litigation. This is a total myth that the media has perpetuated. Insurance companies use their considerable financial strength to push people around. Having an experienced lawyer helps you to even the playing field. There are numerous other reasons why you need a lawyer if you were injured. At Freeman & Freeman, LLP, your consultation is free so take that time to see how an experienced accident lawyer can help you in your particular circumstance.
What is my accident case worth?
This “bottom line” question cannot be answered until you have completed treatment and your case is ready for settlement. No matter how bad your auto accident was and, despite the fact you may have been rushed to the hospital, it is necessary to see how your injuries progress over time before attempting to place a value on your case. In some cases, a person will sustain major property damage and be taken by ambulance to the hospital and given pain medication to deal with the pain. If that person has recovered a month later, the quick recovery will be strongly considered in valuing the case. On the other hand, a person might have been in a moderate collision, did not go to the hospital, but that person’s injuries continue to worsen over time. If it takes that person a year to recover with the help of substantial physical therapy or other treatment, then that case would have a value far in excess of the example used in the first case above. In addition, the attorney plays a very valuable part in seeing to it that an injured person has the proper medical treatment. If the attorney keeps in close contact with his client, and if the attorney possesses substantial knowledge about medicine through practicing personal injury law, then the attorney can help the client determine the types of doctors that need to be seen. Also, an experienced attorney will be able to recognize if certain types of diagnostic tests would be helpful in proving the client’s injuries.
Will an insurance company partially settle my case and continue to hold it open for future medical expenses?
No! When you settle a case with an insurance company they will have you sign a document that releases all persons or entities that caused your injuries. This document is very clear to state that it is the final settlement between the parties and that you cannot later request any further amounts from the insurance company. In light of the above, it is extremely important that your attorney recognize whether you have fully recovered from your vehicle accident before settling your case. If you have not fully recovered then your attorney should be able to set out the likely future medical expenses and loss of earnings you will have. An experienced attorney is able to do this by discussing with your primary treating doctor your prognosis and obtaining a thorough medical report which fully sets forth the nature and costs of all future medical treatments you are likely to have. Without this document or similar testimony from one of your primary doctors, you will not be fully compensated.
If I have personal health insurance, will I have to pay them back for the accident-related medical expenses?
Maybe. Almost all health insurance policies have provisions that require you to repay the health insurance company back out of your settlement. However, if you have an attorney then most insurance companies will recognize the fact that your attorney performed valuable work in obtaining the settlement for you. Since the settlement directly benefits the health insurance company in their effort to be reimbursed for medical payments, your attorney will often be able to gain their agreement to waive a substantial portion, and sometimes most of, the amount they would normally claim.
For instance, if your health insurance company paid out $5,000 toward your medical bills, if your attorney is experienced, he or she will normally be able to get your insurance company to accept $2,500 to $3,000 as payment in full towards their bills. The difference will be an additional amount that goes directly to you and not the attorney.
Does my attorney get involved in my medical care?
Yes, your attorney should get involved. Some lawyers feel it is not helpful to get involved with the treatment their clients receive. However, many experienced personal injury attorneys realize that a reasonable settlement is unlikely to be achieved unless the client is continuing to obtain the proper medical treatment. Insurance companies often take the position that if a person did not see a doctor shortly after the accident and begin treating, that the person was not actually injured. Further, insurance companies often take the position that anything a client says about how bad he or she was injured is not the truth unless verified by medical records. Accordingly, it is indeed advisable that the attorney be involved with the medical treatment of the client as soon as possible. In many cases, a client is truly in pain and attempting to get on with their life without promptly obtaining an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Most attorneys recognize the importance of obtaining proper medical care for the patient’s sake and for purposes of handling the personal injury claim. It is up to the lawyer to keep abreast of the medical progress being made by his or her client and whether any changes need to be made. Normally, as a patient treats with various doctors, the attorney will receive reports of the progress made and the continuing complaints the client has. It is extremely important for the attorney to read these documents and, based upon the attorney’s medical knowledge gained over the years, make sure that the client is obtaining treatment from the proper specialist. For instance, after a person is involved in a serious auto accident wherein the vehicle is virtually crushed beyond recognition, the client may develop severe anxiety while driving. An experienced attorney will continue to inquire of his client how the client is dealing with sleep, memory, depression, exhaustion, and difficulty performing his or her work or other normal tasks. Often, the treating doctor may not go into these areas in detail. The doctor may only be focused on the physical injuries the client has complained about. An experienced attorney will delve into the issues raised above and suggest to the client that he or she ask the primary doctor about the possibility of a mild traumatic brain injury or a post-traumatic stress disorder. The client can be tested regarding these conditions and it is extremely important for the client’s well-being and proper evaluation of the case for the attorney to know if these conditions are present. Experienced vehicle accident attorneys have achieved some very high settlements and verdicts based primarily on a mild traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. Although it is the treating doctor who should ascertain whether these symptoms exist, in reality, the attorney is often the one who takes the time to question the client more thoroughly regarding the symptoms of these conditions.
If I am sore shortly after an accident but not in pain, should I see a doctor?
Yes. It is often said that an automobile accident victim will be in the most pain in the 24 to 72 hours after an accident. So, if you are sore at the accident scene or a few hours later, you most likely will worsen over the next few days. The part of your body that is sore may be quite painful upon physical examination by the doctor. If you are sore shortly after an accident, try to get in to see your doctor that day or go to an emergency hospital or urgent care center. It will be better for you both medically and legally. Any substantial lag between the accident date and when you first see a doctor will be utilized by the insurance company to claim that you were really not injured in the accident, making the settlement of your claim more difficult.
I have heard of an automobile accident victim awarded money for general damages and pain and suffering. Is this true? If so, what did these terms mean?
The term “pain and suffering” is really the same thing as “general damages.” A personal injury case normally has two basic types of damages: special damages and general damages. Special damages are specific dollar amount losses for items such as past and future medical bills, past and future loss of earnings and other incidental damages. The term “general damages” represents pain and suffering, emotional distress and other similar types of damage. General damages are comprised of past general damages and future general damages. In many cases, the largest portion of the settlement is general damages, particularly future general damages. Suppose your case is settled just a month before trial is to begin and 18 months after your accident. You are compensated for past general damages by placing a value on the pain, suffering, and emotional distress you have gone through since the accident. If you were involved in a serious accident, an experienced auto accident attorney should be able to obtain a future general damage award in an even greater amount, assuming your injuries have not completely healed and your doctor says that they are permanent. In such cases, your doctor will most likely state that your injuries will result in substantial arthritic problems and you will no longer be able to enjoy many of the activities you used to do. An experienced personal injury attorney knows how to bring out what you will experience over your lifetime as a result of this accident and argue how to place a value on your changed life for decades ahead. When done properly, this figure often dwarfs the past general damages figure.