Auto Collisions

Legal Questions and Answers about Auto Collisions

Things You Need to Know

Will Attorney’s Fees Take Up Most of Your Settlement?

When you are injured, if that injury is anything more than a minor one that might motivate you to go to your doctor “to just check it out,” then, you need an attorney to help you obtain fair and reasonable compensation.

You say you’re not a person “to sue.” Okay, great.  No lawsuit is being filed yet. The process of recovering compensation typically involves making a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance company.  Or the business’ insurance company.  No lawsuit ever gets filed until you say so. A voluntary “settlement” is reached over 90% of the time.  And then, if the case does not initially “settle” and you want to go to court, usually, after the lawsuit is filed, the case settles. Very few cases actually get into the courtroom.

You say it was “just an accident.”  Very true.  Except when it’s an auto accident and the at-fault party was intoxicated.  Then, it wasn’t an accident.  That person chose to go out and drink. It was a choice. Knowing he or she would later driver.  No accident.  But when it was an accident, you still are entitled to be compensated. If you knock over the jar of jelly in the grocery store, it was an accident, right? But you then go and pay for it.  Because it is the right thing to do.

So you consider getting an attorney.  But you’re concerned about not getting “enough” because the attorney’s fee might take up most of your settlement.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  First, the attorney’s fee is contingent and is based upon the recovery made in the case.  That means that if we (us attorneys) do not resolve your case, we get nothing.  If we do resolve it, we get a percentage. That percentage can vary from, usually, 30% to 40% of the total “gross” settlement amount.

So let’s look at an example (and appreciate I am just making up these numbers in what might be a typical auto accident case where someone maybe went to the hospital and then to physical therapy or to a chiropractor for a few months, and fully recovered from a muscle injury to their neck (whiplash):

$20,000 recovery of compensation for you by the attorney negotiating

Minus 1/3 attorney’s fee = $6,666.67

Minus unpaid medical bills =  $4,000.00

You receive:  $9,333.33

Now, let’s take another example when you might want to try to resolve this claim yourself.

First, however, understand that insurance companies are not afraid of you.  They will not offer you the same amount as they will offer an attorney to settle your case. The reason is simple: an attorney can file a lawsuit; you cannot.  The lawsuit means the insurance company might have to pay more if the case goes to court. So they will offer to settle for a reasonable amount to avoid the possibility of having to pay more later.

You ask then, why doesn’t every lawyer in every case just file the lawsuit?  Because you, the client, would most often rather get a reasonable (certain and known amount) resolution soon, then wait a year to go to court, and maybe your case doesn’t get a good result.  Going to court is not a guarantee of a good result.  There is a risk to both you and the at-fault person.  Insurance companies try to eliminate risk.

Here’s the example:

$11,000 recovery of compensation for you when you try to do this yourself

Minus unpaid medical bills = $4,000

You get $7,000

Oh yes, I forgot to tell you: often your attorney will get a discount on your medical bills.  You cannot get that discount.  Why you ask? Because the attorney works with these hospitals and doctors every day, and often makes referrals to the doctors.  The doctors, in turn, wanting continuing referrals, are happy to discount their bills. The hospitals too!  Because they know the attorney is protecting their bill.

In the first example above, suppose the attorney gets a $1,000 discount on your bills.  You then end up with $10,333.33.

Attorney fees do not take up most of your settlement.  You get more than you can possibly ever obtain by yourself.

 

Injured?  Hire an attorney.  Hire me.

Can You Afford an Attorney?

When you are injured, and someone else, or some business is at fault, you cannot afford not to get an attorney.  Obviously, this is a very self-serving statement from an attorney.

But it is not so different than saying you need a brain surgeon to do your brain surgery. Or a dentist to extract that tooth. Or your mother to make you that great peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Smart people recognize that professionals make things better, faster, and at less cost when compared to the “do it yourself” option.

I’m going to get to the “afford” question here in a moment.

Attorneys work on a “contingent fee” basis and are paid a percentage of the total recovery they obtain for their clients.  If there is no recovery, the attorney receives nothing.

Why then do you need an attorney?

Because the attorney will get more – much more – than you can get as compensation for your injuries.

Why?

Because they can threaten. They can file a lawsuit. You cannot. Going to court is a risk for both sides, but the insurance companies HATE risk. They will thus offer and pay more, much more, when an attorney is involved. Insurance companies do not believe an injured person, not represented by an attorney, will actually get an attorney and then file a lawsuit. They believe this because of statistics.  Their statistics, from hundreds of millions of claims show them, overwhelmingly, that a person who undertakes to represent themselves and negotiate with them will not cut-off those negotiations and then hire an attorney.

You may be highly intelligent. But you’re not an attorney. You can’t file a lawsuit and conduct the process properly. An attorney can. Insurers pay more to attorneys.

Can you afford an attorney?

You will get more, much more, with the services of an attorney, than you can possibly ever get by negotiating yourself.  In fact, like everything else, the insurance industry has statistics. Their own published statistics reveal that the average person receives three times (3x) more when using an attorney!

So once again, it costs you nothing up front.  The fee for an injury attorney is contingent upon recovery for you.  No recovery, no fee.  What is the fee?  It is typically a percentage of the total recovery. Fees usually range from 30% to 40%.

Injured?  Hire an attorney. Hire me.

Can You Change Lawyers?

You are hurt. In pain.  Can’t move where it hurts. Can’t sleep fully, restfully. Worried about medical bills. Doctor not helping. Stressed. Upset. Car not being fixed. Can’t get to work without an Uber. Maybe not working – more stress because maybe household bills not going to get paid. Can’t get kids to soccer practice or the game. Spouse and kids being supportive but you feel you’re letting them down.

AND YOUR LAWYER isn’t helping?  Or not doing anything? Or enough?

Aaaaaaggggghhhhh!

Wait.  Hold the phone.  How do you know?  Much is being done “behind the scenes” by your attorney, assuming they are doing what they should be doing. But you don’t know unless you ask.

Attorneys do not routinely tell clients every single thing they do, or report to them about every single phone call or letter or email they make or receive.

The number one reason people fire their attorney is because of lack of communication. I get it.

The number one reason lawyers don’t communicate with the clients (or communicate enough) is because they don’t have anything significant to tell them, so they don’t call.

The top reasons lawyers don’t have anything significant to tell you is because:

  1. Insurance companies don’t give them answers in a timely manner
  2. Car repairs take a long time, particularly nowadays when seemingly EVERY part needed is on back-order
  3. Getting medical records and bills, needed to evaluate your case, despite having been requested by the attorney’s office, have not been received – because hospital billing and records offices, and doctors, take their time sending those things – and even more infuriating, often lie about getting the request, or send the wrong records or bills.

Non-communication is not usually a valid reason to dump your attorney.

Call him, or her, and politely ask for more communication, more updates, even just a call to tell you they’re working “on it” but don’t have an answer. Ask for an explanation in a non-aggressive manner.

If you are repeatedly put off, if your telephone calls, emails or texts are continually not answered, if you can never speak to the attorney or the legal assistants tell you “someone will get back to you” and they don’t in a reasonable time, then, maybe, maybe, you should consider changing attorneys.

Sometimes I get calls from people upset with their attorney, asking if I’ll take their case. I discuss with them all the above, and I try to restore the relationship. If the potential client is insistent, and in certain circumstances, I will agree to take over their case.

First thing to do however, again, call your attorney and ask questions, and ask for more communication.

Can I Negotiate My Injury Claim Myself?

You can negotiate yourself, but the real question is “Should You?”

If you have a minor injury, one that maybe you went to your doctor once just “to check” you probably can negotiate yourself.

You should not negotiate yourself if you have any appreciable injury.

Why?  Because if you are going to make a claim for compensation – which you are legally entitled to receive – you will NEVER GET AS MUCH YOURSELF AS YOU WILL IF YOU USE AN ATTORNEY.

Period. Not debatable. No discussion.

Let me ask you – would you do your own brain surgery? Extract your own tooth?

Do you do your own taxes?

Do you recognize, that while you are certainly highly intelligent, brilliant, beautiful, handsome, skilled in many ways, you cannot do everything and get best results?

Smart people recognize that professionals make things better, faster, and at less cost when compared to the “do it yourself” option.

Attorneys work on a “contingent fee” basis and are paid a percentage of the total recovery they obtain for their clients.  If there is no recovery, the attorney receives nothing.

Why then do you need an attorney?

Because the attorney will get more – much more – than you can get as compensation for your injuries.

Why?

Because they can threaten. They can file a lawsuit. You cannot. Going to court is a risk for both sides, but the insurance companies HATE risk. They will thus offer and pay more, much more, when an attorney is involved. Insurance companies do not believe an injured person, not represented by an attorney, will actually get an attorney and then file a lawsuit. They believe this because of statistics.  Their statistics, from hundreds of millions of claims show them, overwhelmingly, that a person who undertakes to represent themselves and negotiate with them will not cut-off those negotiations and then hire an attorney.

Again, you are highly intelligent. But you’re not an attorney. You can’t file a lawsuit and conduct the process properly. An attorney can. Insurers pay more to attorneys.

You will get more, much more, with the services of an attorney, than you can possibly ever get by negotiating yourself.  In fact, like everything else, the insurance industry has statistics. Their own published statistics reveal that the average person receives three times (3x) more when using an attorney!

So once again, don’t negotiate with an insurance company to recover compensation for your injury. You don’t know what they know, and that lack of knowledge means SIGNIFICANTLY less compensation for you.

Hire an attorney. Hire me.

Ethical Lawyers

Will My Case Go To Court?
You Call I Answer

At the Scene

Q. What should I do if I’m injured?
A. Seek medical attention as soon as possible. Medical documentation can be very important later on even if your injuries seem minor now. Above all, if your injuries persist, keep a diary of your medical conditions and the problems they are causing you. This information may be very helpful later as once the injuries have resolved, they may be forgotten. If forgotten, they may not be compensated.
Q. What information do I need?
A. Get the name, address, telephone number and automobile insurance information from the other driver. Also, get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Make notes of statements made by the other driver or occupants of the other vehicle about how the accident occurred. Take photographs of any damage to your vehicle and the other vehicle.
Q. Should I move my vehicle?
A. Unless your vehicle is creating the potential for another accident, do not move it or the accident debris until you are instructed to do so by the investigating police officer.
Q. Is it okay to talk about the accident?
A. Do not discuss the accident with anyone other than the investigating police officer, your doctors, and your lawyer. Insurance representatives are the LAST people you want to talk to. It is okay to talk to them, after your lawyer has properly counseled you.

Next Steps

Q. Do I need a lawyer?
A. For cases involving anything more than a minor injury, YES! Insurance companies are not your friends, and they will not “take care” of you. Often, claims adjusters are lawyers, so you are unevenly matched right from the start. A lawyer will help you obtain full and fair compensation for your injuries, including all of your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Insurance representatives are only looking out for their company, and they will not tell you about your rights, nor will they give you a fair offer. A lawyer has the ability to file a lawsuit and expose the insurance company to additional expense and to a possible payout for damages which might be more than they’d settle for earlier.

Using an experienced lawyer can actually increase the amount of money you will be paid to compensate you for the accident, so that even after the lawyer’s fee is paid you will have more money in your pocket than if you attempted to represent yourself. An experienced lawyer knows what you are entitled to receive as compensation. Having an experienced lawyer on your side, representing only you, tells the insurance company that you are serious about protecting your rights. They know better than to misrepresent their obligations or tell you that you have to take whatever they offer. Peace of mind from knowing your interests are being protected allows you to get back to your life with as few delays as possible and with a settlement that fairly compensates you for the accident.

Q. What is the process once I hire a lawyer?
A. The process begins with a meeting with the lawyer. In my office we explain things to you, and ask you to provide information to us so we can begin work on your case. You will be asked to sign authorizations so that we may obtain medical records and lost wage documentation. A contract will be signed which identifies you as the client and me as your lawyer. Thereafter, we handles the details of collecting information, dealing with insurance companies, and generally overseeing all important matters for you, so you can go about your normal routine and get back to full health. Once your injuries have resolved, it is my job to identify for you the value of your case, and then, with your permission, to negotiate to recover that money from the insurance company.
Q. How does a lawyer charge for a personal injury case?
A. Most lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Normally the lawyer takes a fee of one third out of the settlement, or higher, if the matter goes to court and a verdict is obtained in the case. I charge one-third if we settle the case before filing a lawsuit, and 40% once the lawsuit is filed.
Q. What will this cost me?
A. You will not need any money up front, and the possibility for having to pay out of your pocket at any time is very small. While lawyers are ethically prohibited from paying for the expenses of a client’s case, routinely the expenses are small and they are advanced by the lawyer. Expenses before a lawsuit is filed usually consist of costs for the police report, and for copying medical records. In my office, these expenses typically add up to no more than $50.00 per case. I do not ask our clients to pay this up front, but rather, I deduct expenses at the end once settlement is reached. In cases involving litigation, each case is different and will have varying expenses. Before beginning that process, I always explain things thoroughly to my clients, so that they understand what is involved. Finally, I would never commit a client to an expense that they did not approve of in advance.

Fault and Insurance

Q. Does fault matter?
A. The issue of fault is always important. If the collision was not your fault, you should be compensated. In both Maryland and Virginia, laws in these matters focus on fault, and provide that if a party was partially responsible for an accident, he or she cannot recover against the other party, even if that party was mostly at fault. In cases where our potential client was partially, or even fully at fault, we determine if they have coverages called PIP or MEDPAY on their own insurance policies, and advise them on how to recover these benefits.
Q. What is “No-Fault” Insurance?
A. Maryland and Virginia do not have “no-fault” insurance. Those states that do have different variations of “no-fault” insurance require minimum coverages to pay anyone who was injured while in a vehicle involved in a collision. The key feature of a no-fault law is the guarantee of being paid by your own insurance company for a variety of limited losses, whether or not you were at fault, in exchange for giving up your right to make a claim against the other driver. No fault laws are designed to limit your recovery. Fortunately, no such limits have been enacted in Maryland or Virginia.
Q. The person who hit me has no insurance coverage. What do I do?
A. Report the accident to your insurance company. Your insurance policy most certainly has what is called “Uninsured Motorist” coverage, which protects you in cases exactly like this. Your premium, by the way, does not and cannot go up because you make a UM claim.

Your Car

Q. Can I get a rental car while my car is being repaired?
A. Yes. There are companies specializing in providing cars to people whose cars are being repaired. Look for them in the Yellow Pages or ask your attorney.
Q. What will I get for my car?
A. You will get the amount of money necessary to repair your car to the condition it was in before the accident. If the car is a “total loss” you would then be offered the amount the car was worth, based on industry price-settings guides (like the Kelly Blue Book), and the car would not be repaired.
Q. Where do I have to take my car to get it repaired?
A. It is up to you to decide who you want to repair your car. Do not be bullied by the insurance company into thinking you have to have your car repaired by the shop giving the lowest bid. You are entitled to have your car repaired to the same condition it was in before the accident.

Your Injuries and Their Consequences

Q. If I have been hurt, who will pay for my treatment?
A. The person who caused the accident, or his or her insurance company, is responsible for paying for your treatment. Your insurance carrier may also be involved in paying your medical claims in some cases. This does not, however, relieve the at-fault party from paying for all of these bills. In cases like these, there is a “double” payment, and it is perfectly correct, and legal. The “at-fault” party pays because they caused the injury, and your company pays because you paid premiums for them to do so!
Q. Does the insurance company pick the doctor I have to see?
A. No. You can use your own doctor. No one can tell you what doctor you may use.
Q. What do I do if I have to take time off from work?
A. Keep a record of the time you miss from work, even if you still get paid because you use sick time or vacation. Keep track of the amount of money you lose by not being able to work. All this time you cannot work has to be paid by the person who caused the accident.
Q. What do I do with all the bills that come in after the accident?
A. Talk with your lawyer about the bills. In my office, we call doctors and ask that payment of the bills be postponed until after your case has been resolved. Many doctors will agree to this. Don’t let the bills worry you.

Case Value

Q. How do you know what pain and suffering is worth?
A. Pain and suffering evaluations are necessarily subjective and are based on similar cases, and a lawyer’s experience and knowledge of the community. My practice is limited to personal injury claims, and I have been practicing law since 1980, during which time I have handled thousands of cases.
Q. What is my case worth?
A. This the most frequently asked question by new clients. First, every case is unique. The value of an injury depends on many factors which are probably unknown when the client first contacts the lawyer. For instance, the value of a case depends not only the nature and extent of injuries, but also on the factual circumstances of the accident. Many of these factors cannot be known until the lawyers investigates the claim. Before a value can be made, you should be fully recovered from your injuries, and if that isn’t possible, your doctors should have provided a permanency or disability rating. This is a letter stating you have a permanent injury and how it will affect you. We must have all the medical records so we can have a thorough understanding of your treatment, your current condition and your future prognosis. We must have a document detailing the wages lost due to the accident. We must also have a complete understanding of how the accident affected you while you were recovering. Once all of this information is available, then, and only then, can a value be estimated. I provide this estimate to my clients, in writing, before I attempt to settle their cases.
Q. Isn’t it better to take the insurance company’s settlement offer instead of risking a trial where I might lose and get nothing?
A. Your lawyer can advise you but it is your claim and your injury so you have to make the final decision of whether to settle or go to trial. Your lawyer’s experience can guide you in making your decision. He or she knows the chances of success at trial and how far below a full adequate settlement the insurance offer is.

How Long It Takes and Going to Court

Q. How long does it take to conclude my case?
A. An experienced lawyer will be able to give you a general guideline as to how long the case may take to resolve. Generally speaking, the more complex the case, the longer it takes. Sometimes a relatively simple case can take a long time to resolve because of disputed issues. Also, in a personal injury case, most lawyers will not attempt to resolve a case until the client has reached a medical end result. That is the point at which the person is either healed or has reached a plateau where a physical has reported that the patient will not improve any further. The reason the case is not settled until the medical end result is reached, is that the lawyer needs to know the future consequences, if any, of the injury. I want you to get as much as possible for your injuries, so I wait until treatment is completed before evaluating your case. We never rest, however. While we wait for your treatment to be completed, we gather the information that increases the value of your case. We constantly do everything we can to move your case forward toward settlement.
Q. If I hire a lawyer but do not want to go to court, can I settle?
A. Yes, the final decision to settle is yours alone. In my office, I will be the person with whom the insurance companies deal and to whom they make an offer on your claim, but a final decision for settlement cannot be made without your consent. You should understand, however, that sometimes filing a lawsuit is the only option when the insurance company offers an unfair settlement amount. It is necessary to sue to protect your rights to full and fair compensation. An experienced lawyer can calculate the value of your case so you will know whether the offer from the insurance company is adequate or not. Finally, it is well-documented that most lawsuits that are filed are settled before trial. Regardless, we prepare every case as if it might ultimately be decided by a jury. I believe in being prepared in the event an agreement between the parties cannot be reached. At the same time, my philosophy is to aggressively pursue a resolution of claims at all stages in the case, so that the process does not become unduly difficult, burdensome, or expensive for my clients, and so that I obtain the best results possible. Through constant preparation, I can negotiate from a position of strength, helping you get the maximum award for your injuries.

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