Your Case Questions & Answers
What is the firm's goal if it represents you?
We want you to be a satisfied client who is so pleased with our services that you will have no hesitation to recommend us to your family and friends should they require a personal injury attorney.
When is my lawyer's office open?
A receptionist is available to take phone calls from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Various matters may require your attorney or paralegal to be away from the office. If your attorney or paralegal is not available when you call, please leave a message and a number where you can be reached and your call will be returned at the earliest opportunity.
Who decides when it is time to try to resolve my case?
Our office will obtain medical records from all doctors who treat you for your injuries. From time to time your attorney will conference with one or more of your treating doctors for the purpose of having them complete a report which will be submitted to the insurance company or defendant in your case. When your doctor has performed all the tests necessary to diagnose and treat your injuries and has determined that you are not likely to get any better or any worse in the future, we will request that your doctor write a final report outlining the degree of permanent impairment you have sustained as a result of your accident. It is the formulation of this final report by your doctor that begins the settlement negotiation process.
How does an insurance company decide how much money to offer on my case?
Insurance companies consider the same elements of liability and damages that your lawyer does in deciding how much to demand for settlement from the insurance company. The insurance company may not agree with how you and your lawyer have evaluated the liability and damage aspects of your case. Therefore, before any settlement is reached, there are generally a series of negotiations involving offers and counter-offers between your lawyer and the insurance company. Insurance companies rarely agree to pay the amount of money which you initially demand to settle your case unless your case is worth the insurance company's policy limits.
All insurance companies handle their claims differently. Some companies like to settle cases before a formal lawsuit is initiated in order to save the expense of hiring an attorney to defend them. Other insurance companies will not make any serious attempt to settle your case until you are "on the courthouse steps" and ready to go to trial. Your attorney deals with many different insurance companies every day and will be able to advise you how to approach the settlement negotiations in your particular case.
Is my case going to trial?
About 85% of all civil cases settle prior to trial. The cases which most often go to trial are those cases involving questionable liability, questionable damages, or cases where the plaintiff has pre-existing medical conditions or injuries. However, we handle and prepare all of our cases as if they are going to trial even though they may settle at some stage before trial.
Who is going to pay for my medical bills?
Although the defendant in your case, if found liable for your accident, can be held responsible for your medical expenses, the law does not require the defendant or his insurance company to pay your medical expenses as they are incurred. Medical expenses are however, considered by the defendant or his or her insurance company when determining how much money to offer you to settle your case and will be considered by the judge or jury in assessing your damages at trial.
In every case you should provide all medical bills that you receive to your paralegal so that we may maintain an accurate medical bill file.
Depending on your case, there are a variety of different insurance coverage's that may be available to pay your medical bills as they are incurred, these include:
If you have insurance to cover your medical bills, the law allows the insurance company thirty (30) days from the date the bill is submitted to them to make payment. However, if an insurance company has a question about the reasonableness or necessity of a medical bill, it has the right to request additional documentation from you or your doctor before payment is made.
If you do not have any insurance coverage available, some doctors will refuse to treat you unless you pay for their services at each office visit. Because continued medical treatment is one of the most important aspects of your case, if you have no insurance or funds to pay your doctors you should notify us immediately so that we can attempt to make arrangements for you to see a doctor. This is frequently accomplished by having the doctor agree to treat you without payment provided that payment will be made at the time your case is resolved. You may also qualify for Medicaid or other government programs which will provide your doctors with payment.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
Some cases take months to resolve, others take years, but on the average it takes between twelve (12) and eighteen (18) months to resolve a personal injury case.
How do you decide how much my case is worth?
Every personal injury case involves an analysis of two elements:
In analyzing the liability of your case we attempt to determine the probability of proving that the defendant was negligent. Negligence means that the defendant did something that a reasonable person would not have done, or failed to do something that a reasonable person would have done under the same circumstance. Also, we must be able to establish that the defendant's action or inaction caused your injuries. If liability cannot be proven, then no damages or compensation can be recovered from the other party.
The liability analysis also requires us to evaluate the probability of the defendant proving to a judge or jury that you were partly responsible or contributed to your injuries.
In analyzing the damages aspect of your claim, your lawyer will determine which of the following legally recoverable elements of damage apply to your case:
Because pain and suffering is an element of every personal injury case, and because no two cases have the same amount of pain and suffering, no two cases ever have the same exact value. To determine how much money to ask the defendant or insurance company to pay in your case, your lawyer relies on his or her experience gained from handling similar cases, a review of New York's Jury Verdict Reporter, which publishes jury verdicts from every county in the State on a monthly basis, as well as a formal review and valuation of your case by the members of our firm at a scheduled weekly meeting.
The only way to truly find out exactly what your case is worth is to go through a full trial and have a judge or jury return a verdict. Because the vast majority of cases are settled without the necessity of a trial, your lawyer will advise you what value a judge or jury would likely assign to your case if it were to be tried.
What happens when my case is settled?
If your case is settled it will take approximately twenty (20) days to receive the settlement check from the insurance company or defendant. Once the settlement check is received by our Firm, it will be deposited into the Firm's attorney trust account. Settlement checks generally clear the Firm's trust account in ten (10) business days. When the check clears, your attorney will provide you with an itemized closing statement which reflects the total settlement or verdict, the amount of attorneys fees, amount of costs advanced, and any unpaid medical expenses which will be paid from the settlement. If your case is settled without a trial, it will take approximately thirty (30) days from the date of settlement until the settlement proceeds can be disbursed to you.
What are some of the adverse things that may affect my case?
You should be sure to let your lawyer know about all of the following:
Who is going to pay for the time I miss from work?
As with medical bills, the defendant is not responsible for paying your lost wages as they are incurred. Whether or not you have insurance coverage to pay your lost wages, you should keep close track of any time lost from work as a result of your injuries because this is an important factor in assessing the value of your case. Insurance companies do not consider claims for lost wages unless they can be documented. Moreover, if your case goes to trial, lost wages must be proven with specificity and appropriate documentation. Therefore, it is essential that you provide us with your complete tax returns, W-2s and/or other documents substantiating your earnings both before and after your accident or injury.
When will my case be resolved?
Although there are delays inherent in the court system that will prolong the resolution of cases, the main factor that will delay the resolution of your case is your body's normal healing process.
In order to maximize your recovery it is generally necessary that we postpone any attempt to settle your case until your treating doctors can accurately predict what problems or limitations you will likely have in the future as a result of your injuries. Once a case has been settled, it is over forever. The last thing we want to happen is to settle your case too soon and then find out that your condition is worse than was originally believed. In order for us to obtain a full recovery for you it is essential that your doctors have enough time to gain a full understanding of the nature and extent of your injuries
Who makes the decision to settle my case?
You are the only person who can decide to settle your case. However, your lawyer will provide you advice and direction which will assist you in making the decision whether to settle your case or go to trial.
It is important for you to understand that a settlement guarantees some recovery, but no lawyer can guarantee a recovery if your case goes to trial. A settlement is by its very nature a compromise. If we are unable to negotiate a settlement with which you are satisfied, the only way to find out what your case is really worth is to accept the risks associated with trial, and allow a judge or jury to return a verdict.
What can I do to help?
The most important function you can perform during the handling of your case is to keep your lawyer fully and completely informed. You should discuss completely and openly all aspects of your case and your personal background, both good and bad. Virtually every case has some negative element. There are few negative aspects of a case which cannot be successfully handled by your lawyer provided that he or she knows about them. It is the defense lawyer's job to create or discover negative aspects of your case. When insurance companies defend cases they leave no stone unturned in an effort to uncover something negative about you or your case. If the insurance company or defendant discovers something negative about your case before your own attorney does, your case may be irreparably damaged.
An important part of a personal injury case is of course the injury. In order to present your claim to the insurance company or defendant it is imperative that your lawyer have copies of all of your medical records and all medical bills. Keep your lawyer up-to-date with your medical treatment if your treating doctor refers you for a test outside of his office, refers you to another doctor, refers you to physical therapy, or any other medical treatment, let your lawyer or paralegal know so he or she can obtain the medical records and medical bills.
When you receive medical bills, or explanation of benefit sheets from your health insurance carrier, provide these to your lawyer or paralegal so your medical bill file can be kept up-to-date.
Tell your lawyer everything about your case. Sometimes the things you think are unimportant may turn out to be the most important aspect of your case and sometimes the things you think are very important may be unimportant from a legal standpoint. Tell your lawyer everything so he or she can determine the information importance.
It is also important that the lawyer and paralegal handling your case have a full and complete understanding of your medical history prior to the accident or injury for which we represent you. Insurance companies usually inquire extensively into any injured person's medical history in the hopes that they will uncover a previous accident or condition upon which they can attempt to blame your current condition or problems. It is vitally important that your lawyer know about your prior medical history before the defendant does so that the presentation of your claim can be tailored in a manner consistent with your complete medical history. If you have a pre-existing injury or medical condition it is "essential" that you tell your lawyer about it.
In addition to being open and candid with your lawyer about your prior medical history, it is also vitally important that you provide each of your treating doctors with a full and complete prior medical history. The strength and credibility of your doctor's opinions will determine in large part the value of your case. A doctor's opinion is worthless if it is based upon incomplete or inaccurate information about your medical history.
Be sure to follow all of your doctors recommendations. Insurance companies love cases where injured persons do not follow the doctor's recommendations or do not maintain a consistent course of medical treatment. Your lawyer understands that it is an inconvenience for you to take time from your work and daily routine to attend a doctor's appointment, but if you fail to maintain a consistent course of medical treatment you provide the insurance company with a very valuable argument that your injuries cannot be as bad as you claim because if they were, you would be going to the doctor and following his recommendations.
It is also important for you to maintain a consistent course of treatment with your doctor until the time your case is settled or goes to trial. If your doctor testifies at trial that he has not examined you in several months, his opinions about the nature and extent of your injuries, as well as your need for future medical care, will not carry much weight.
The first time you go to a doctor's office you will be asked to fill out several forms. These forms often ask you questions about the nature and extent of your injuries, the accident you were involved in, as well as any prior medical history. Be sure to fill these forms out completely and honestly. The doctor often uses this information as a basis for his opinions. Without accurate and complete information, the doctor's opinions will not be credible.
Be sure to convey all of your complaints to your doctor. Do not exaggerate or over state your complaints at any time, but be sure the doctor is well aware of all your complaints. Insurance companies will carefully review and will rely on your medical records in evaluating your case. Months or years after your visit when a doctor is called upon to render testimony, the only thing he will remember about the visit is what is contained in his medical records. The doctor will most likely testify that if something is not written in his medical records that means you did not mention the problem to him.
Be sure to keep your lawyer advised as to any changes of address, marital status, occupation, new doctors or physical therapists, or additional accidents or injuries.
What can I do that will hurt my case?
The easiest way to hurt your case is to not tell the truth. Insurance companies know that even the best cases can be ruined or significantly weakened if the person who is claiming injury has not told the truth, or appears to have not told the truth. Insurance companies and defense lawyers most frequently try to call an injured person's credibility into question with regard to the person's medical history before the accident, or incident that gives rise to their claim. If your treating doctors' records do not reflect your medical history accurately, insurance companies and defendant lawyers know that it will appear that you are trying to hide something. Similarly if you testify you were in good health before the accident, and later medical records are discovered which contradict your statements, the value of your case has been significantly lessened. It is impossible to conceal prior medical treatment from an insurance company. The insurance industry's vast computer network allows them to gain information on your prior medical history from other states and countries.
Often insurance companies use investigators to observe you in an effort to call into question the credibility of an injured person. A single still photograph or short segment of video tape depicting a person who claims to be injured engaging in work activities and/or recreational or sporting activities against doctors' advice or in contrast to their testimony can severely damage their case. It is entirely legal for an insurance company to photograph or video tape you any time you are in the public view. However, if you suspect that you are being followed or watched you should contact the police immediately. The companies that perform surveillance often contact the local police department and advise them that surveillance is being conducted.
You should not avoid activities during the pendency of your claim simply because you are worried that someone may be watching you. You should follow your doctors recommendations regarding work restrictions and/or recreational or sporting activity restrictions. As always, be truthful with your doctor about your problems and limitations. If your doctor's notes reflect that you are in too much pain to ride a bicycle and the insurance company has video tape surveillance of you riding a bicycle, your case has unquestionably been adversely affected.