Legal Questions and Answers about Auto Collisions
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.
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.
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.
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.