When I first meet with a client, it is important to gather all the important information. While many factors are important, here is a discussion of some of the most important issues.
First, I need to know when the accident happened. If it happened a long time ago, my concern is what has been going on since then. Have you just been sitting at home? Have you been seeking medical care? I need the client to fill me in from the date of the accident to the time they visit with me. Generally, I'm concerned when a client calls me weeks or months after the accident. To be honest, I like to be brought aboard soon after the accident so I can best guide and advise the client. However, every case is different and I would encourage someone to seek legal counsel anyway.
Also, I need to know when the accident happened so I can be aware of any statute of limitations issues. The statute of limitations is the time within which a lawsuit must be filed or your claim will probably be barred. I also need to know where the accident happened. This will help me determine which court will probably host the trial for the case. Most cases don't go to trial, but it's good to know which courthouse might be involved. Certain jurisdictions are traditionally liberal while others are traditionally conservative. It is good to know whether or not your potential jury pool will be liberal or conservative.
I also need to know how the accident occurred. I need to know who was at fault and how it happened. It's helpful to have a police report which points the blame squarely on the responsible party. If you are found at fault, or even if liability is disputed among the parties, then we have to ask ourselves whether it is worth the time, energy, and money to fight the claim. It probably doesn't make sense to spend $10,000 or $15,000 trying to prove a $5000 claim.
Next, I need to know what happened to your body in the car crash. This is important to determine the "mechanism of injury." All insurance adjusters are concerned about mechanism of injury. In other words, if you claim injury to your knee, it begs the question: How was your knee injured? The answer can't just be: "Because I was in an accident." Did you twist your knee? Was it hit from the side? Did your knee hit the dashboard? If you're claiming injury, you need to explain how the injury occurred. The mechanics of the accident and how your body reacted to the accident are important. The mechanism of injury is very important to the insurance adjuster. In fact, if they don't believe your injury, they will often argue there was no "mechanism for injury."
Then I need to know how much property damage there was to your car. This has become increasingly important as insurance companies fight injury claims. Think about it - if you are claiming significant injury but there's only a little scratch or dent to your car, and adjuster and the jury will probably have a hard time believing you were injured. However if the entire rear of your vehicle was crushed, that is something much more compelling and convincing. I can tell you unequivocally that this issue of property damage influences adjusters and juries perhaps more than any other issue. I hate to say it, but no matter how hard the impact felt to you, if the adjuster or a jury can't easily any appreciable damage to the rear of your vehicle, then you have an uphill battle.
Next, I would like to find out what happened immediately after the accident. Were you taken away by ambulance? If so, it is generally more believable that you were injured. After all, why would anyone willingly take an ambulance ride to the hospital unless they were indeed injured? Insurance adjusters use the absence of emergency transportation as evidence that you were probably not injured in the accident. Conversely, they often consider emergency transportation as evidence that you were indeed injured.
Also, I look to see if the police report documented any complaints of injury at the scene. If there were complaints at the scene, and they are consistent with your later claims, it is more convincing to an insurance adjuster. Therefore, it is in your best interest to tell the police officer what injuries you had so they are properly documented in the police report. It will serve you well later and add credibility to your claim.
If you were injured in an accident, it is important for me to find out what subsequent care you received. Did you follow through with the recommendations of the emergency room doctor?Insurance adjusters are an inherently suspicious bunch. They deal with exaggerated claims all the time. If you were referred for physical therapy, make sure you follow through. If you fail to follow through or miss scheduled appointments with doctors, that will be used against you.
Your medical history is also important. If you are claiming back pain from an accident but you have a history of back pain, you can bet that your previous condition will be used against you. Of course, you will likely argue that your previous condition made you predisposed to injury. However, that won't stop the insurance company from arguing that your current complaints are probably related to your previous injury and have nothing to do with the auto accident. Do not hide your medical history from your attorney. It is very important.
Also, it is important to know what kind of insurance is involved in the case. The types of insurance available may help dictate how we approach your particular case. We may choose to use your car insurance or perhaps your health insurance instead. In some cases, people have medical payments coverage available under their insurance policies. It might be better to use that to pay the medical bills. Also, you need to check if you have uninsured motorist in case the other party was uninsured at the time of the accident or didn't have enough insurance at the time of the accident. Make sure you show your attorney your "declarations page" which contains a summary of all the insurance available to you on your auto insurance policy. If you don't have your declarations page, call your insurance company and they should send you a replacement declarations page.
We also need to consider how we are going to pay for the treatment you might need in your case. Perhaps we should use the health insurance you have. However, keep in mind that whatever resource you use, they may have a right to reimbursement. We have to enter into these decisions carefully. If you had no health insurance at the time of the accident and incurred medical bills, there may be limited options. In some cases, your attorney might be able to get the health care providers to hold off before sending you to collections. This doesn't work in every case but it's certainly worth trying.
This was a snapshot of the types of issues I think about when approaching an accident case. There are other concerns of course, but these are some of the most important. If you've been involved in a serious accident and you have questions, please call (661) 414-7100.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,