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.
When I interview clients regarding their personal injury case for the first time, I will always ask about their car insurance. First, I want to make sure they had it - if not, their recovery will be severely limited for violating California's financial responsibility laws. Second, I want to learn what coverage was available so I can best advise my clients of their options. Many of my clients will automatically say, "Oh, I had full coverage." However, few of them really know what that means. While some may consider themselves to have "full coverage," they might find out it wasn't that "full" after all.
In California, there are two kinds of auto insurance. First, the required basic coverage is what many people have. That provides $15,000 per incident to an injured party for their bodily injury, $30,000 total payments if there are more than one person injured per incident, and $5000 for property damage to another's vehicle. This is what your insurance company will pay. In some cases, you will be on the hook for the balance.
Second, optional coverage includes "uninsured motorist" (UM) and "underinsured motorist" (UIM). These two coverages are very important if the party at fault had no insurance or not enough insurance to cover your damages. Get at least $30,000/$60,000 in such coverage. I would recommend buying what you can comfortably afford because so many folks out there are driving without insurance, either deliberately or by mistakenly letting their applicable insurance policy lapse. You can also carry comprehensive and collision coverage. The amount necessary is basically determined by the value of your car. This will pay for damage to your car even if the other party had insurance. Your insurance will fix your car then go after the opposing insurance company for reimbursement. However, you may incur a deductible when utilizing your own comprehensive and collision coverage for repairs. Finally, "Medical Payments Coverage" (MPC) will pay for your medical bills in most cases, up to a certain amount - usually $2000 or $5000.
When my clients say they have "full coverage," we often learn they only have liability coverage to pay the other party for damages. They don't have UM or UIM coverage. They don't have comprehensive and collision. They don't have "medical payments coverage" which will pay for their medical bills much sooner than other avenues might pay. Also, they might have very minimal coverage but still consider themselves "fully" covered. Therefore, make sure you understand what kind of car insurance you have. Carefully examine your declarations page (the page which summarizes your coverage) with your insurance professional and ask yourself, "Can I comfortably afford more coverage?" In my opinion, medical payments coverage and UM/UIM coverage are the most overlooked options, yet they are perhaps the most important options to have.
If you need help with your personal injury case, call Robert Mansour at (661) 414-7100. Robert serves Santa Clarita and its communities of Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Castaic, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch and surrounding areas.
Sometimes clients call my office and they say, “Rob, I was involved in a personal injury accident. I really don’t know what to do.” A car accident occurred, T-bone, rear-end, whatever the case may be, and they really don’t know what to do so, and so I want to spend a few minutes here as I talk to you from my office giving you some ideas about what to do if you were injured in an automobile accident, and you have a claim that you’d like to bring. So there are a few things to keep in mind.
First things first, make sure that you take photographs of every vehicle that was involved in the accident. If you have the energy at the scene of the accident, and you have a camera or perhaps a cell phone that has a camera, a camera in it, take pictures but not only of your vehicle. I have a lot of clients they bring me lots of pictures of their vehicle only, and that’s fine, and that’s very helpful, but if you can, take pictures of all the other vehicles that were involved in the accident as well. The other thing that I would add is take pictures from several different angles because a lot of times because a picture is a static image, and it’s a two-dimensional image, sometimes it’s very difficult to assess the damage just by looking at it in, from one angle. If you’re taking a look at a vehicle with your own eyes you have three-dimensional ability, and you can, you can kind of assess the damage a little bit better.
So if you’re taking a photograph, make sure to take photographs from several different angles so that you’d better tell the story. If you don’t have photographs, it’s not terribly helpful when you’re trying to convince a jury or an adjuster or anybody else of the severity of the impact. So pictures really do tell a thousand words so to the extent that you can take photographs. If your vehicle has already been towed to a yard, see if you can get to that yard or have a friend or a family member go to that yard and take some pictures of your vehicle and the more the merrier. There really is no limit as to far, as far as how many pictures are good. Also, again, pictures of the other vehicle are very, very helpful.
Also, you want to make sure that you provide your lawyer with all of the auto insurance information. We need, as your attorneys, we need to know your policy number, what insurance company you had, whether your insurance was in force at the time of the accident and also what kind of coverage you had in your insurance policy, and that information is very important because it provides us with a contact person.
Also, it’s very helpful to find out if you had something called medical payments coverage. Sometimes your own insurance company will pay for your medical bills if you need to turn to them to do that. Of course you can use your own health insurance as well, and sometimes you can go to a doctor and see them on what’s called a “lien” basis, and a lien basis means that the doctor will provide you with physical therapy and care, etc. if it’s appropriate, and that doctor will expect to be paid later on when you settle with the responsible party. But anyhow, get all of your insurance information that when your attorney contacts your insurance company, they have all the information they need. Also, very important, make sure you have the insurance information for all the other parties involved to the extent that you can. Sometimes you’re unable to get that at the scene of the accident, and I understand that.
Many times that will be on the police report. Speaking of which, very important, if there is a police report, please provide it to your lawyer. It’s going to have a lot of important information in there, sometimes insurance information, also the officer’s opinion about the responsible party, sometimes there is information in there about witnesses, the severity of the impact, and how the accident occurred. So the police officer’s report, which by the way, is not the definitive answer, if you will, as to who is at fault, but it’s helpful, and it’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that will be very helpful to your lawyer. Sometimes you won’t have the police report. Instead you will have a police report card that the officers give you at the scene and it will have the police report number on it. Give that to your lawyer so they can secure the police report from the responsible agency. Also sometimes officers take photographs at the scene of the accident and your attorney can obtain those as well.
Another thing that you can think about is property damage estimates. 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 because sometimes people say, “Well it was a total loss.” Well, a total loss is fine that helps me a little bit, but 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.
Your property damage estimate is very helpful because it’ll show whether there was a any frame damage, any damage to the doorframe, 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. Sometimes your own insurance company will provide with a detailed analysis of what was damaged in the accident, and of course, it’s unlikely, but if you have a property damage estimate from the other party, provide it to your lawyer as well.
Also, 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 because the longer you wait from the date of the accident to when you first seek medical treatment, the longer you wait the more the responsible party, the insurance company for the responsible party, is going to doubt whether you had any injuries at all. So make a list of all the doctors that you go to and make sure that you seek medical care right away even if you just make sure you’re all right because if you wait too long, they will doubt whether or not you were injured. And also, every time you go to the doctor after an automobile accident, make sure you mention to the doctor why you’re there. I have many clients they go to the doctor and they say, “Oh, my back hurts or my neck hurts,” or something like this, and the doctor provides care, but they never mention to the doctor that it was because of an automobile accident, and as a result, the absence of that information, some insurance adjusters will take a look at that and say the absence means that it wasn’t related to the car accident. You were there for some other reason. So you want to make sure you always provide your healthcare providers with the information that is relevant to the matter so that it ends up in your medical file.
Also, when you go to the doctor, make sure that you mention everything that bothers you. Start from the head and make your way down even if you’re not terribly sure, make mention of it to the doctor because sometimes some people try to tough it out and they don’t mention their back because, “Oh, it, I don’t want to trouble the doctor or, or I don’t want to trouble the physical therapist,” but the problem is that all they’ve done is hurt their own case because once again, the absence of information in medical records, as far as some insurance adjusters are concerned, the absence of information means it never happened. So make sure that you always are very mindful of what you are telling your healthcare professionals, and plus the healthcare professional wants all the information so they can provide you with the best care.
Finally, if there were any witnesses to the accident, make sure that provide that information to your attorney. Sometimes the witness information is in the police report, but sometimes it’s not. Any passengers in your vehicle might also be witnesses to the accident. So once again, it’s very important to provide your lawyer with more information than less. Some people go to the lawyer and they sign up with the attorney and they think everything’s going to happy magically. Not quite. We still need assemble information because remember, insurance companies don’t pay out of the goodness of their heart. I mean of course there are always very nice adjusters and in many cases, they’re trying to do the best job they can, but they don’t write you a check just for fun. They need to have evidence. They need to have information, and so you need to provide that information to your lawyer so your lawyer can advocate for you.
Many prospective clients who call my office have no idea what to provide to their lawyer when involved in a car accident. I try to explain to clients that I need all the “pieces of the puzzle” because I’m not a psychic. I’m not going to magically get copies of your hospital bill, and I’m not going to magically have photos of the damage to your vehicle or your injuries, etc. I need the client’s help in obtaining these materials.
Here is a list of what I encourage my clients to bring to the first meeting.
Dear Client: Here is a list of everything I need to help you with your case:
ALL Photographs depicting damage to your vehicle. If you don’t have any photos, please try your best to take some. Photos should capture the damage from several angles. Digital pictures are best and can be delivered to us by email and/or disc. If your insurance company took photos, please ask them to get you those pictures as well. If you are already our client, you can have your insurance company send the photos directly to our office. It’s your file, so you are entitled to the photos.
ALL photographs depicting damage to any other vehicles involved in the accident.
Your auto insurance information (name, address, policy numbers and claim numbers if available). If you have the “Declarations Page” showing evidence of insurance covering the date of the accident, that is best. This page outlines the important information including policy number, amount of coverage, etc. If you don’t have it, please call your insurance company and ask them to fax it to us.
Insurance information of all other parties. Including insurance name, policy numbers if known, claim number if known, adjuster, address, etc.
Property damage estimates (if available). Even if your car was a “total loss,” it is often helpful to obtain a good property damage estimate that outlines all the parts of your car that were damaged. Frame damage and other significant entries on your property damage estimate can affect your case.
Any and ALL doctors and facilities with whom you have treated. Please provide all contact information (names, phone numbers, addresses, etc). Make sure that whenever you initially go to a doctor for treatment related to this accident, you MUST tell the doctor’s office you are there because of the accident. If you don’t mention the accident, some insurance adjusters will doubt whether the treatment was accident-related.
Please let us know if you have ever been a Medicare recipient. Also, please provide us with your health insurance information.
Police report (if available). If you have the police report number, we can order the police report for you. If you already have the police report, please provide a copy. If there was no police report prepared, please let us know that as well.
Were there any witnesses? If yes, we will need their contact information. Once you provide your lawyer with this information, he/she will be better able to represent you. They need all the pieces of the puzzle if they are going to paint a picture for an insurance adjuster.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,