If you’re involved in a personal injury case, you probably already know that the process is complex and confusing, and you likely have a lot of questions about what to expect.
Here, we answer some of the more common questions that are raised when a personal injury claim is made.
Q. Do I need an attorney?
A. In order to protect your own interests and ensure that you are treated fairly and appropriately by an insurance company, it is a good idea to have an attorney to help you navigate through the system. Hiring a lawyer will likely boost any potential settlement you might receive, and will prevent you from accepting a settlement that doesn’t cover all of the costs associated with your injury.
Q. What is negligence?
A. Negligence is a failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. In order to file a personal injury claim, someone – either another driver, a doctor, a business owner or a drug company, for example – must be considered negligent, and therefore, potentially liable for any damages that arise as result of that negligence.
Q. How much is my personal injury case worth?
A. The worth of a personal injury case is dependent on a variety of different factors, including the severity of your injuries, the current and anticipated medical costs associated with those injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages and a loss of earning capacity. If an injury is permanent, your case is likely worth more, but there could be insurance limits or caps on settlements that vary from state to state. Certain factors including your degree of fault, your personal history (including lifestyle, past treatment for mental or medical health issues and past litigation) as well as your employment history will also be considered when determining your case’s estimated worth.
Q. How long will it take to settle my personal injury lawsuit?
A. There is no way to estimate how long a case might take. A claim made against an insurance company could be settled out of court in as little as a few months, but if a personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, it could be years before the case concludes.
Q. If I was partially at fault for my injuries, can I still file a personal injury claim?
A. In most cases, victims who are partially at fault in a personal injury case can still file a claim. The amount of compensation, however, will likely be decreased based on your degree of fault.
Q. Does a personal injury claim include medical bills?
A. Medical bills are a key component of a personal injury claim, and are included as part of the economic damages portion of the claim. An attorney will seek compensation for any medical treatment required as a result of your injury or accident from the party at fault in the case, including future medical care and psychiatric care if needed.
Q. Will my health care insurance company be repaid from my personal injury settlement?
A. If your health insurance paid a percentage of the medical bills that were incurred as a result of a personal injury, in most cases the company will be reimbursed the portion it paid if your personal injury case results in a settlement.
Q. Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the settlement check?
A. Clients have the right to see any and all paperwork involved in their personal injury case, including copies of the settlement check and checks your attorney has written to cover costs associated with your case, such as obtaining expert witnesses to either back your claim or to provide testimony in court. Since settlement checks from insurance companies are in most cases written out to both you and your attorney, they will require both of you to endorse it, so you will see how much the insurer paid out to cover your claim.
Q. If I receive a structured annuity from an auto accident settlement, can I break it in exchange for a lump sum payment?
A. An annuity allows an insurance company to make regular payments in a personal injury settlement instead of paying out the settlement in one lump sum. While you’ve likely seen the advertisements from companies offering to purchase these structured settlements, you’ll end up losing a large amount of money if you sell your annuity to one of them, since these companies profit by paying much less than your structured settlement is actually worth. A court could overturn an annuity in exchange for a lump sum payment, but it is rare.
Q. If I am injured, should I sign a release?
A. It is in an insurance company’s best interest to offer an early settlement, since it may then not be liable for any future expenses related to your injuries. In order to protect yourself, never sign a release without contacting a personal injury attorney first to determine if the settlement being offered is fair and will adequately cover your expenses.
Q. How much is an attorney’s contingency fee?
A. In most personal injury cases, a law firm will accept a case for free on the assumption that a percentage of your settlement will cover not only the costs your lawyer or team of attorneys will incur enlisting expert witnesses and other expenses, but also attorney fees. The percentage of your settlement that will go toward covering attorney fees should be determined in writing prior to your attorney taking your case.
Q. What happens before I receive my portion of a personal injury settlement?
A. If you win your personal injury case and are granted a settlement, you will then sign a release with the insurance company, settling your claim. Your attorney will then pay any outstanding medical bills and deduct his or her fees as well as any out-of-pocket expenses. Your attorney will then send you the balance of your settlement.