Don’t hire the lawyer who promises you the highest recovery for your personal injury case.
Some clients will “shop” attorneys to see who guarantees them the biggest result. Lawyers who guarantee you any kind of result are simply trying to get you to become their client. There is no way to predict how a personal injury case is going to unfold. A lawyer can give you an “idea” but don’t just pick a lawyer because he/she says your case is worth more than the last lawyer told you. Get a lawyer who’s going to be honest with you. There are some honest lawyers out there….I promise!
If you didn’t get hurt, don’t bother bringing a personal injury claim.
Sometimes some people believe that just because there was an accident, they are entitled to some kind of compensation. Without any damages, you can’t simply collect money.
I’m reminded of a fellow who slipped at McDonald’s. I asked him if he was hurt. He said, “No, I’m fine. My pants got a little wet, but otherwise, I’m fine.” I told him that without an actual injury or lost wages, he doesn’t have a case. I have clients who call and say there was a bug in their fast food sandwich, but they weren’t hurt by it. Again, no case there either! Simply because something happened to you doesn’t mean you have a personal injury case to pursue. Life happens every day. Sometimes bad things happen and we simply move on with our lives.
There are still clients who don’t understand, so I give them the following example which seems to help: Imagine if I went to your home and slipped on your lawn. I wasn’t hurt, but I knock on your door and demand $10,000 from you! Are you going to pay me if I wasn’t hurt? Probably not.
During the course of most personal injury cases in litigation, there comes a time when settling the case makes sense. This is usually after all information has been exchanged with the other parties and the plaintiff’s condition has either resolved or at least reached a plateau. Sometimes the parties will participate in a settlement conference of some sort a short while before trial.
Today I attended something called a “Voluntary Settlement Conference.” The court ordered us to take part in this conference because the judge felt we might be able to settle prior to the trial date. Actually, it isn’t really a “voluntary” conference because the judge ordered us to participate, but that’s what it’s called.
During the conference, a volunteer settlement officer tries to get both parties to the law suit to settle. Usually this person is a lawyer volunteering his/her time. The defense lawyer offered $4000 on a case that was probably worth about $85,000. We started very high…at around $250,000. I knew that was probably too high given some of the difficulties of the case. However, I was prepared to “dance” with the other party.
I remembered something I learned in one of the mediation courses I took several years ago. The leader of our course at the time explained that in most other countries of the world, haggling is a way of life and is expected. To some extent, in some parts of the world, it is rude not to haggle. However, in the USA, we usually don’t haggle. Usually one party says, “That’s my final offer” far too soon. You need to be prepared to haggle for a long time, in small increments, sending “signals” to the other party about your good faith settlement approach.
We came down to $175,000, which was a strong signal to the other party that we were willing to talk. They came up to $12,500. We went back and forth about 10 times until we agreed on $75,000. This would not have been possible if one side decided to dig in their heels or give a “final” position too early. When both parties engage in the “dance,” cases have a better chance of settling. Of course, we also had a great settlement office who kept both sides talking and engaged in some of the best shuttle diplomacy I’ve seen in a long time. My client thought it was silly to some extent to go back and forth too many times. However, when you’re dancing with the enemy, you need to play by the rules and avoid stepping on any toes.
When you first go to the doctor after being involved in a serious accident, you need to make sure that you mention everything that bothers you from the accident. This is not a time to be tough and withhold information from the doctor. I’ve handled many cases were my clients tried to be brave and did not mention certain injuries to the doctor - because they didn’t want to be a bother. Once again if you don’t mention the injury to the doctor and it doesn’t make it into your medical records, the insurance company will treat it like it never even happened.
For example, let’s say a client has a neck injury from the accident but he doesn’t think it’s that bad. He may choose not to tell his doctor during the first initial visit. He’s probably thinking the injury will resolve over time. The simple absence of that information in the medical records means that you never hurt your neck - at least in an insurance company’s world. The insurance adjuster will doubt that the person had a neck injury because he did not mention it to the doctor during the first visit. The client may have been trying to be polite, brave, or simply wasn’t paying that much attention to his neck at the time. However, the absence of the information leads to some insurance adjusters to doubt the injury. Therefore it is very important to be very inclusive of every single injury that you had after the accident, no matter how minor. If the client chooses not to mention something and then it bothers them later on, it may be too late to assert that injury.
When you go to the doctor, basically start at the top of your head and visually make your way down your body, noting everything that bothers you. It is better to be over inclusive rather than under inclusive during your first visit. You can always withdraw an injury claim, but it’s much harder to add one! The most important thing to take away from this entry is that you must mention every single thing that bothers you on your first visit to the doctor, no matter how minor the injury might be.
One of the questions I often get is whether or not a client can settle their property damage claim before they settle a personal injury claim. The truth of the matter is the attorney is rarely involved to a large extent with the property damage portion of the claim. In most cases, my clients resolve the property damage issue on their own, with occasional guidance from my office. Either the insurance company will offer you something fair or they won’t.
Generally speaking, when it comes to fixing your car, you are better off having your vehicle fixed by your own insurance company because they owe you a duty the opposing party’s insurance company doesn’t owe you. Therefore it is sometimes better to incur the deductible by going through your own insurance carrier. If they don’t fix your car properly, you can complain because you actually have a contract with them. They need to do an adequate job. You generally don’t have that leverage when dealing with the other party’s insurance company. If you use the other party’s insurance company to fix your car, you don’t have to pay the deductible, but you also don’t have the leverage that you might have with your own insurance company.
Settling your property damage claim should not affect your personal injury claim. As a matter of fact, it is most often that property damage claims are settled before personal injury claims. Some people think they are the same thing. Property damage is NOT a personal injury which involves an injury to the body in most cases. When settling your property damage claim, you must make sure that you’re not signing a general release. You need to make sure that whatever documents you are signing pertain only to the property damage portion of your claim. Some unscrupulous insurance adjusters will have you sign a general release and argue that you are cut off from bringing any further claim for personal injury. You need to make sure that you understand your rights and your attorney can guide you through that minefield.
If you’ve been involved in a significant car accident, don’t delay in seeking attorney’s advice. Many people are reluctant to involve a lawyer because they believe the lawyer will take a portion of their settlement. However, studies have shown that people who hire lawyers generally fare better than those who don’t hire a lawyer. Some studies indicate that recovery can be three times as much when a client engages an attorney’s assistance versus doing it on their own. The studies were funded by the insurance companies themselves.
Another reason people delay is they figure they will get better over time. However they find that they aren’t getting any better and they’re feeling worse. In the meantime they have not engaged a doctor or other healthcare professional. Insurance companies routinely use gaps in treatment as well as delays in the commencement of treatment as reasons to deny your claim or minimize payment to you after an auto accident. Therefore, since most personal injury attorneys allow for a free consultation, it is in your best interest to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury lawyer so that you know what your options are. Remember, don’t delay. Get a lawyer’s advice right away.
There is an interesting trend that I must discuss today. I got another call from a potential client. He is confused because the insurance adjuster for the responsible party wants to have “coffee” with him. The adjuster wants to “talk” things over with the client. This tactic is usually done a few days after the accident. Trust me…the insurance adjuster doesn’t just want to “talk” to you. They aren’t interested in exchanging recipes, talking about family, or any other chit chat. So why do they want to meet with you?
Unfortunately, some insurance companies are encouraging their adjusters to wrap up their personal injury cases as quickly as possible by meeting claimants in coffee shops or other locations in an effort to get them to settle their case. Generally, they will meet you and present you with a check of some small amount – usually much less than you deserve. They will ask you to sign a release (so they can close their file). Some people who don’t know better end up signing these releases, and they can’t come back if they later discover their injury was worse than they thought or the “settlement” doesn’t even cover their medical bills.
Some insurance adjusters dangle the check in front of you like a carrot. Please understand there is no “emergency” and you don’t have to settle your case right away! In California, as of the writing of this blog entry, you have two years to file suit after an incident has occurred. Therefore, you don’t have to settle anything right away, much less within a week of the accident! Consult an experienced attorney first. It’s in your best interest. Let them dangle the carrot. You certainly don’t need to take it unless you’ve explored your options with a lawyer.
It is important to obtain a property damage estimate on your vehicle after a car accident. If your car has been damaged, make sure you get a property damage estimate for your vehicle, maybe even two. Take it to a shop, a dealership, wherever you want to take it and make sure you get a detailed property damage estimate.
Sometimes people say, “Well it was a total loss.” Well, a total loss doesn’t really mean much except that the value of the car was less than what it cost to fix the car. So if you have a $1,000.00 vehicle, and you have $1,500.00 worth of damage to that vehicle, which isn’t very difficult to do by the way, you might have a “total loss.” But that doesn’t really tell the attorney anything about what exactly was damaged in the automobile accident. A detailed property damage estimate shows exactly what was damaged as a result of the accident.
Your property damage estimate is very helpful because it’ll show whether there was a any frame damage, any damage to the door frame, any damage to the axle of the vehicle, wheel alignment issues, etc., bumper support structures. Those kinds of things, those kinds of bits of information in a property damage estimate can be very helpful to the attorney when they’re advocating for you. So even if you’ve been told, “Oh, it’s a total loss,” see if you can get a property damage estimate nevertheless.
Listen to the audio below:
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you should get medical care right away. Don’t wait around hoping that you’re going to feel better. Sometimes people try to tough it out, and all they’re doing is hurting their own case. The longer you wait from the date of the accident to when you first seek medical treatment, the more the responsible party, the insurance company for the responsible party, is going to doubt whether you had any injuries at all. The insurance companies will use your delay against you.
Make sure you keep track of all medical providers, and make sure that you seek medical care right away. Also, every time you go to the doctor after a car accident, make sure you mention to the doctor why you’re there. Some clients go to the doctor and say, “Oh, my back hurts or my neck hurts,” but they never mention to the doctor it was because of an automobile accident. If you don't mention the accident, some insurance adjusters might say your treatment wasn’t related to the car accident. Doctors can’t read your mind. You have to tell them why you are there. The insurance adjusters review your medical records very carefully. If something isn't documented, it's like it never happened as far as many adjusters are concerned.
Also, when you go to the doctor, make sure that you mention everything that bothers you - no matter how slight. Start from the head and make your way down. Make mention of all injuries to the doctor. Some people try to "tough it out" but all they’ve done is hurt their own case because they waited too long or failed to mention an injury. This is not the time to be brave or stoic. So make sure you are very mindful of what you are telling your healthcare professionals. After all, they want all the information so they can provide you with the best care.
Finally, when you seek medical care, you should let your health car professionals know how the accident has affected you. Have you canceled travel plans? Are you having trouble sleeping? Trouble at work? Does it hurt to walk or tie your shoes in the morning? Is it difficult to shower? What other difficulties are you having? Insurance adjusters evaluate your injuries but they also take into account how the accident affected your life. Again, they look to your medical records for that information. If you don't articulate the information to your doctors, it won't be in your records and likely won't be considered.
So in review:
1) Make sure you seek medical attention right away.
2) Make sure you mention ALL your injuries, no matter how slight.
3) Make sure you articulate HOW the accident affected your life.
4) Keep your health care professionals informed and follow through with your care.
5) Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your options. Your health is very important and should be your primary consideration.
One of the most difficult things that I do as a lawyer is managing the expectations of my clients. This is especially challenging on personal injury cases.
Everyone remembers the famous TV commercial where an accident victim says, “Larry Parker got me $2.1 million!” Of course, most people did not notice the man saying this famous expression was most likely sitting in a wheelchair after having been paralyzed by a car accident. When a client comes into my office regarding a car accident case, I have to make sure they don’t have dollar signs in their eyes. Recovering from an auto accident case does not involve becoming independently wealthy, obtaining a shortcut to retirement, or any other way to beat the system.
What the Law DOES Provide
The law provides compensation for reasonable medical expenses that were incurred due to the accident. These are called special damages or economic damages. In addition to this, in most cases, people can recover general damages or “non-economic” damages. This is also sometimes known as pain and suffering damages. Focus has to be on the word reasonable.
What is “Reasonable”?
Clients who have $10,000 worth of medical bills are often surprised the insurance company for the other party doesn’t believe the treatment they received was worth $10,000. In fact, insurance companies routinely examine every single charge from the doctor and hospital and test each entry for “reasonableness.” They will compare each charge to what they believe is reasonable in that particular region of the country.
In many cases, they use software to assist them with this task. The trouble is, some insurance adjusters do not exercise enough judgment and place too much trust in such software. In some cases, it is the luck of the draw! Some adjusters are simply more reasonable and open minded than others. Some make it their mission to make your life miserable. Others see the forest from the trees.
So keep in mind, recovering monetary compensation in a personal injury case is not anything like winning the lottery. You need to get that out of your head. If I sense that my client is trying to get rich from an accident, I will probably not accept their case. They need to understand that the law is simply designed to attempt to make them as whole as possible. It will never be a pleasant experience. I tell my clients all the time, “You’re not going to walk out of this experience saying, Gee, wasn’t that terrific! I wish I could do that again!”
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.