Personal Injury Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I got injured in an accident?
First, and foremost, you should do everything you can to overcome your injuries. This is your life you are talking about. You also want to consider 1) how badly you are injured; 2) whether the other side’s insurance can and will cover your damages; and 3) whether your insurance will cover your damages.
If you just got into an accident, you should probably:
- Step 1: Get yourself to safety;
- Step 2: Check yourself for injuries;
- Step 3: Do not tell anyone you are sorry, or that the accident was your fault;
- Step 4: Call 911 and report the accident;
- Step 5: Ask the other driver to stay and find as many witnesses to the accident as possible. Gather their contact information;
- Step 6: Document the scene. Take pictures and video of the damage. Take lots of pictures and lots of video. You want to show the scene from every angle.
- Step 7: Help with the accident report. The responding officers will fill out an accident report. Do everything you can to help the responding officers get an accurate account of what happened. Be kind, and courteous, and do all that you can to help them clarify their written report. Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells the story of a drunk driver who hit him. But, the officers were in a hurry, and the report said that Birbiglia’s car hit Birbiglia, (Vehicle 2 hit Driver 2), and then concluded that Vehicle 1 was at fault. So, Birbiglia had to pay for the accident caused by a drunk driver because the officers accidently wrote that Vehicle 2, not Vehicle 1, hit Vehicle 2. In other words, Birbiglia had to pay because the police report indicated that Birbiglia hit himself with his own car, while driving his own car. Get a copy of the report as soon as possible. Many forms are written on carbon paper so you can get a copy immediately.
- Step 8: Call a lawyer. Most people want to call their insurance company. They figure, “What’s the harm, if I wasn’t at fault?” But, insurance companies, are out there to make money, even if that means hurting their own insured. So, they will ask you if you are okay. You might say, “Yes” out of habit. Now, imagine the other side doesn’t have adequate insurance. So, you need to file a claim against your insurance company for underinsured motorist coverage. Except, now your insurance company uses that statement that you are okay against you.
- Step 9: When you report the accident to your insurance company, you should do so in writing. The report should, to the extent possible, mirror the police report, or, even better, just send a copy of the police report.
WHAT SHOULD I TELL MY INSURANCE COMPANY IF I GOT INTO AN ACCIDENT?
Report that you got into an accident online as soon as possible. The best thing to do is just send them a copy of the police report, assuming it is accurate. The next best thing to do is just report the information that is contained in the police report. You should not call them, and talk to them at length about the accident, or your injuries. They may use that information against you.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY INSURANCE COMPANY IS NOT COVERING MY EXPENSES?
Insurance companies make their money by collecting the highest premiums they think they can get away with, and paying out as little money as possible. It should be no wonder that insurance companies have so many Super Bowl commercials, and have so many buildings and stadiums with their names on them. Insurance companies are swimming in money. If your insurance company is not paying you what they should, you may have a basis to sue them for “bad faith.” You can check our page on “Bad Faith[JM1] ” to learn more.
What does it mean to settle “out of court”?
Settling “out of court” typically means settling without going to trial. But, sometimes it can mean settling without filing a lawsuit.
ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO SETTLING MY PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUIT OUT OF COURT?
There are advantages to settling out of court. Trials are expensive. Trials are risky. Settling out of court eliminates the expense, and the risk of going to trial. Also, lawsuits are public records. So, if you file a lawsuit, your name will be a part of a public record. Lawsuits often come up in background checks for all kinds of different things. Some employers will find the lawsuit, and decide not to hire you because of it. Settling out of court can eliminate all those things.
SHOULD I SETTLE MY PERSONAL INJURY CASE OR GO TO COURT?
It depends. If you are really concerned about your name being a part of a public record, then you might not want to file a lawsuit. But, insurance companies pay out based off of what they think you might be able to get at trial. So, it makes sense that the more convinced they are that you will go to trial and win a large verdict, the more likely they are to offer a large settlement. As such, it typically behooves you to take your case to trial. Juries are made up of your peers. Most people do not like seeing other people get taken advantage of. Insurance companies often take advantage of other people. They do not like going to trial. They do not like losing. Losing means bad press. Bad press means more people asserting their rights. If you want to assert your rights, and have your day in Court, there is no better way than to take your case to trial in front of a jury of your peers.
SHOULD I TAKE MY PERSONAL INJURY CASE TO TRIAL?
It depends. The vast majority of cases settle. They settle for a bunch of different reasons. Mostly, they settle because one side, or the other, or both, decides that the risk of going to trial simply isn’t worth it. But, if you want your day in Court, and you don’t mind the risk of losing so that you can have your day in Court, or the other side is just totally unreasonable, then you don’t have much of a choice, but to take your case to trial. Those are the clients we like to represent.
HOW LONG DO PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUITS TAKE?
A lot of people think that lawsuits are fast. They see TV shows where a lawyer takes on a client, and gets to trial by the end of the episode. But, that’s not how the real world works. Lawsuits can take a long time. California has laws to ensure cases get to trial within two years of filing. But, that’s not always realistic. It’s not uncommon for cases to take 3-5 years to get to trial, longer if there are appeals. If you are hoping to get rich quick, you are probably better off buying a Lotto ticket.
WHY DO PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUITS TAKE SO LONG?
There are a few reasons personal injury lawsuits take so long. First, Courts are severely underfunded. Populations have grown. The number of judges and court rooms have not necessarily grown as quickly. So, Courts have a lot more cases than they had in the past. More cases mean more work. More work means less time for trials. Second, most defendants want it that way. Insurance companies and large corporations have a lot of money. That money buys them influence. That influence helps underfund courts, and create laws that make it a lot harder to take cases to trial. Delays weaken a person’s resolve, meaning they are less likely to take their case to trial, and more likely to accept whatever hush money the corporation is willing to shovel at them to make them just go away. Also, anything can happen. You could go into cardiac arrest making your bed tomorrow. The more time between the accident and the trial, the more of a chance you will die, and won’t be able to hold them responsible.
DO PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS HELP?
They can. Good personal injury lawyers will guide you. They can help you sort through treatment options. They can guide you throughout your lawsuit. They can try the case on your behalf. Good personal injury lawyers get to know you, get to understand what you want, and then fight like hell to make that happen. Unfortunately, there are a lot of really bad personal injury lawyers out there. Many lawyers realize that personal injury work is plentiful, and pretty easy to make some money. These “mills” take on personal injury cases, and settle them quickly, before filing lawsuits. If they can get their client, and them, some quick cash, with a letter, they do that. We believe these lawyers are a disservice to the public, and help give us lawyers a bad name. But, if you’re looking for some quick cash, most lawyers can help you (and we are probably not the right firm for you).
HOW MUCH DO PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS CHARGE?
Most personal injury lawyers work on a “contingency fee”. A contingency fee means that the lawyer’s fee is contingent upon how well they do for their clients. Most reputable personal injury lawyers will charge 25%-40%, depending on when the case is resolved. So, if the case settles before filing, you would owe your lawyer 25% of the gross. If the case settles after filing, but before trial, you would owe your lawyer 33%. If the case settles after summary judgment, or goes to trial, you would owe your lawyer 40%. If you didn’t get anything, then you wouldn’t owe your lawyer any fees. Most contingency fee lawyers advance costs on behalf of their client. So, they pay for things like filing fees, depositions, and even experts. That can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. When a case settles, the attorney usually gets reimbursed for their costs. Realistically, if the lawyer advances the costs, and then the plaintiff loses their case, the lawyer isn’t going to get their costs back anyway. So, most don’t even bother including it in their fee agreements. A contingency fee is a way for folks, who don’t have the resources of a multinational corporation to hire a lawyer who can go toe to toe with the corporation’s lawyers, who charge $1,000 an hour. We get nervous when we see lawyers charging hourly rates. If the lawyer really believed in the case, wouldn’t they be willing to work for a percentage of what they can collect?
WHAT’S A CONTINGENCY FEE?
A contingency fee means the lawyer’s fee is contingent upon recovering for the lawyer’s client. So, if the lawyer does not recover, then they do not get paid. This is where you see the whole “No Recovery- No Fees” thing.
HOW CAN I FIND A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER?
There are a lot of different ways to find a personal injury lawyer. The main way most people find anything nowadays is by searching the internet. This can be good, and bad. It can be good because you can find a lot of lawyers out there. It can be bad because it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. You want a lawyer who has experience handling the type of case you have, and a track record showing excellence in handling the type of case that you have. After you have whittled it down a little, see if you can set up consultations. Most personal lawyers will offer free consultations if they think they can help you. Some get so many requests for help that they have some more advanced screening procedures before offering a free consultation. But, they will still offer a free consultation if they think they are in a position to help you. That’s what we do here. We offer a free case evaluation. If we think we can help, we’ll set up a free consultation. If we don’t think we’re in a position to help, we’ll send you some resources to help you understand the law, find a lawyer, and even represent yourself. After you have done a few free consultations with lawyers, go with the one you feel most comfortable with. If you’re not a fan of internet searches, or you don’t like the idea of filling something out on the internet, you can call the State Bar of California. The State Bar of California certifies lawyer referral sources to help Californians find qualified lawyers that best match their needs. You can check out their website, or call (866) 442-2529.
WHAT SHOULD I ASK A LAWYER I’M CONSIDERING HIRING?
- How experienced are you with handling my type of case?
- You want to make sure your lawyer is experienced handling your particular type of case.
- Will I win? If so, how much will I get?
- This is sort of a trick question. You shouldn’t expect a precise answer, and you should probably be wary of anyone who provides you a precise answer. But, the lawyer shouldn’t stumble when answering.
- Who will do the work on my case?
- Some lawyers love the personal attention they can provide when they are the attorney working on the case. Most top-notch lawyers, at larger firms, don’t handle everything themselves. They have junior attorneys handle more mundane tasks, and they have paralegals or legal assistants handle more administrative tasks. But, lots of firms are “mills” where they outsource work to junior attorneys, paralegals, and sometimes even lawyers in other countries, who aren’t licensed to practice here.
- What is your fee for taking on my case?
- Most plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys will work on a contingency. They should be able to explain that to you.
- Who pays case “costs” and when are they paid?
- Most plaintiff’s lawyers advance costs and don’t expect reimbursement unless they recover for you. They should be able to explain how that works.
- How much courtroom experience do you have?
Most cases settle. But, no matter how likely your case is to settle, you should choose an attorney who isn’t afraid to take a case to trial, and who can do a good job in the courtroom.