Waiting too long to contact an attorney after your accident is not a good idea. In most cases, it's a good idea to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer at the outset of your case, long before you talk to any insurance company/adjuster. The insurance companies are out to protect themselves, not you. Even your own insurance company may not have your best interests in mind. How you handle things during the first few weeks after your accident is critical. Lawyers are not magicians. Don't visit a lawyer after you've done too much damage to your case, hoping he/she is going to make everything better. That's not how it works. Lawyers don't have any magical powers. We do our best to present your case in the best light, but if too much damage has been done, there isn't much we can do. We're kind of stuck with what we have.
In recent years, I have taken on a handful of cases where clients called me about a year or two after the accident. Sometimes, they indeed have a good case but they mismanaged the entire thing. They didn’t go to the doctor to seek care - even though they were hurt. Even if they did go to the doctor, they did not provide details during their visits. Their medical records leave a lot to be desired. It’s kind of like watching a horrible movie. By the time the movie is over, there’s really nothing you can do about it. You can’t rewind the film and re-watch it - hoping for a different result.
In some cases, clients waited months before seeking medical care. Of course the insurance company will argue that they weren’t really hurt and the provided care was unrelated to the accident. Then we have clients who bring up injuries months after a car accident. If your shoulder hurts after an accident, bring it up to the doctor. Don't keep your injuries a secret! Don't wait till a year after the accident to mention the shoulder issues. As you can imagine, the insurance adjuster will also argue that such injuries are likely unrelated as they were not raised until months (or longer) after the accident.
It is important to seek an attorney’s advice early on in your case, even if you don’t intend to hire a lawyer. Presenting an injury claim is an art to some extent. There is a strategy to it. We are not out to fake injuries or embellish anything. We are not out to commit insurance fraud. However, you want to present your matter in the best light possible. Knowing how to present your case properly is half the battle. Insurance adjusters are looking for ways to poke holes in your case. Don’t make it easier for them!
Hiring an attorney won't magically help your case. You must work together. We always tell our clients that we need their help while we are representing them.
Here is exactly what we tell all our personal injury clients:
By hiring a lawyer, your case won’t automatically be successful! We can’t guarantee anything, but without your help we will be at a deficit. To some extent, we have to be strategic about our approach. Unfortunately, insurance companies have created an atmosphere that demands such an approach.
Here are some things to keep in mind. Please review this checklist on occasion as things may
change as your case progresses.
1. Keep our office advised of your current address and phone number.
2. Please get back to us promptly by email or phone if we try to reach you. Sometimes we need time-sensitive information.
3. Inform this office and your doctor(s) of any prior motor vehicle accidents or medical treatments. If you have an aggravation or exacerbation of a previous injury, they should know about it.
4. Contact our office when you have any questions regarding your claim. Do not speak with a representative of the opposing insurance company. You may of course talk to your own insurance company regarding property damage issues but keep it confined to property damage.
5. Keep all medical/doctor appointments with your doctors, as well as any medical specialists to whom you are referred. Gaps in treatment will be used against you. If you miss an appointment, try to reschedule it.
6. If you are unable to work, do not leave your doctor’s office without written verification of your working status from your doctor – in other words, get a “note” from your doctor! Lost wages from work are dependent upon your doctor’s written verification of your work status. It is your responsibility to get this information from your physician. We cannot do so. Without such notes from the doctor keeping you off work, your claim for wage loss, if any, will be severely hampered.
7. If you are going to allege lost wages, we will also need verification from your employer of the dates missed and your rate of pay. If you are missing work due to the accident, your employer (the person offering verification) should know WHY you are missing work. They need to know it is accident-related. Provide us with the name/address/phone of the person who can assist us with verification of your lost earnings. If your claim is significant, providing tax returns from the past 2 or 3 years is helpful to show the decline after the accident. They won’t pay for lost wages unless they have verification from your employer AND your doctor. They don't pay lost earnings because you are a nice person. We may ask you for help if your company refuses to cooperate with our office.
8. If you see additional doctors after our initial interview you must inform us of their name, address, and telephone number. We don’t automatically find out about these things.
9. You may have sought treatment with facilities that have no relationship with my office (especially before hiring my office). We can obtain your records from these facilities, but in most cases, a direct request from you (their patient) is more effective. By law, they should comply. Please try to obtain the medical records AND billing from these facilities. Some may insist the attorney’s office obtain the records and bills.
10. Keep track of your mileage and prescriptions and submit them to us. It helps to keep a journal of doctor’s appointments and mileage (parking charges) incurred. This can be a simple sheet of paper and/or receipts from parking lots. If your mileage is very minor, this effort may not be worth it.
11. If you receive any documents by mail regarding your case (from ANYONE), please forward them to our office. This includes health care insurance, letters from insurance companies, collections agencies, etc. Keep our office completely in the loop. We are not necessarily copied on correspondence you receive from others.
12. Your “diagnosed injuries” may affect the evaluation of your case. Therefore, you MUST tell
your doctors (written and orally) about ALL your injuries. Doctors cannot read your mind. This is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Break your injuries down to smaller components. For example, saying “my shoulder pain radiates into my neck” will simply be considered only a “shoulder” complaint by the insurance company. Your neck pain may not be considered. If you just say “my back hurt” that will count as “one” injury when in fact, you might have “upper back pain” and “mid back pain.” That’s two injuries – not one! Keep your doctors aware of your progress or lack of progress during each visit.
The rule you should keep in mind is this: Most insurance companies are using software to analyze your case. If something is NOT mentioned in the medical records, it simply won’t be “inputted” and basically doesn’t exist as far as the insurance companies are concerned. The insurance company wants to minimize your complaints whenever they can. Also, mention ALL YOUR INJURIES to every doctor you see…even if they are not treating you for that particular injury. For example, your chiropractor and orthopedist should both be aware of ALL your complaints. Inconsistencies in their records/reports may be used against you.
13. How an accident affects your life may also affect the evaluation of your injury case. You must also report any daily activities (work, school, household, etc.) that are affected by your accident. The doctors MUST document these issues or they simply won’t be considered by most insurance companies. Just like in the previous paragraph, the insurance adjuster will not input your information into their software if the information is missing or unverified by the doctor’s chart notes and/or report.
We know this is a lot to keep in mind. However, we truly believe that our clients are better off if they are “informed” participants in their case. After years practicing personal injury for the defense and plaintiff, I share these guidelines with you so we can truly work as a team. Of course, your health is the most important thing, but we also want to maximize your chances of having a successful personal injury claim.
Call (661) 414-7100 if you want advice regarding your own personal injury case.
Some people are afraid to proceed with pursuing a personal injury claim because they are afraid to get stuck with medical bills and attorney fees they cannot pay. Here are some things worth keeping in mind regarding these important issues.
First, in most cases, personal injury lawyers work on "contingency" which means they don't get a fee unless they recover compensation for you. This compensation is usually obtained from the responsible party's insurance company. However, in some cases, the compensation comes from your own insurance company (this happens if the other party didn't have insurance or not enough insurance, provided you have "uninsured" and "underinsured" motorist provisions on your auto policy).
In any event, if you don't recover anything, then you don't owe a fee to the lawyer. I've worked on some cases for 2 years before getting a fee. In most cases, you can choose to dismiss your claim for one reason or another - if you didn't get any recovery, then you still don't owe the lawyer. A good lawyer will not force you to proceed with your claim just so he/she can get a fee.
Clients worry about getting stuck owing a lawyer for services. In most cases, it isn't much of an issue. You might be on the hook for some "costs" such as filing fees etc., but before filing a lawsuit, there are rarely many significant costs. In many cases, the lawyers will waive minor costs as business expenses (i.e., obtaining the police report, getting medical records, photo printing fees, etc.).
Next, clients worry about owing the doctor money for treatment. While it is true that most doctors won't work for free, there are strategies you can employ to minimize the risks. Here are some common routes to entertain:
First, you can ask the doctor to treat you on a "lien." That means the doctor will provide treatment to you without up front costs. In most cases, they will do so only if you are represented by a lawyer. They will submit a bill to your lawyer after you conclude treatment. The bill is usually paid out of proceeds obtained when settling with the responsible party. However, if you don't recover any money from the responsible party (or from your insurance), you are still technically on the hook for the doctor's bill. The "lien" approach is good when you don't have any other insurance resources and/or if liability is clearly established in your favor.
Therefore, if that is a concern (i.e., liability is an issue and there is a danger the other party won't pay, or there is another concern you won't be able to pay the doctor), then you should consider having your medical bills paid by your health insurance company. If you choose to do that, the responsible party won't entertain the full amount of your bills, but they will instead consider the amount accepted as payment in full. That can be a fraction of your actual bills. Also, it depends if the health care provider has an agreement with your health insurance company (i.e., they are a preferred provider, etc.).
That means if your actual bills are $3000 but your health insurance paid $1000, the insurance company for the responsible party will only consider $1000 as your bills (if your provider accepted it as payment in full). That may be a detriment, because your case will seem "smaller" and less significant as a result. However, on the positive side, you will have peace of mind knowing your bills have been paid. Make sure your provider will accept the payment as payment in full if this is important to you.
Now, one more caveat to consider - your health insurance will expect to be repaid in most cases. You have to reimburse them from any settlement you may get. This expectation of reimbursement is usually contractual. The silver lining is that, in most cases, you only have to pay them back IF you recover any money. If you don't recover any money, then you generally don't have to reimburse them. That way, your medical bills are paid and you don't have to worry about any outstanding medical bills.
Finally, you can have your bills paid by your Medical Payments Coverage, if you have that kind of coverage under your auto policy. This is known as MPC. You need to find out if you have that kind of coverage, and you also need to learn how much you have. Typical amounts are $2000, $5000, and sometimes more. In some cases, your auto insurance will only pay secondary to any health insurance you may have. In other cases, they will go ahead and pay regardless.
Therefore, your health care provider can bill your auto insurance instead of billing your health insurance (very helpful especially if you don't have health insurance). Again, that doesn't mean your MPC will pay every dollar billed, but you need to ask the health care provider if they are going to accept payment from the MPC policy as payment in full or if they are going to hold you responsible for the balance. You see, your health care provider may have a contract with your health insurance company to accept payments as payment in full, but they probably don't have the same agreement with your auto insurance company. Similarly, your auto insurance company will expect to be repaid the MPC benefits IF you recover from the other party. If you don't recover anything from the other party, you generally don't have to repay your auto insurance company for payments made under the MPC provisions. Therefore, your medical bills are paid and you don't have to worry.
Just keep in mind that how your bills are paid is important. Strategically, you may consider one avenue over another. Just talk to your lawyer about the pros and cons of each approach. At the end of the day, you want to proceed cautiously, and your lawyer should offer you some direction about which path to take.
If you have been involved in a serious car accident and you want some legal advice, call Robert Mansour at (661) 414-7100 for a free consultation. Robert serves Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,