Common Questions Clients Have About Their Attorney in Personal Injury and Automobile Accidents Cases
Should I Negotiate with the Insurance Adjuster Myself Without the Help of an Attorney in Order to Settle a Case?
No, representing yourself and negotiating with an insurance adjuster is usually not a good idea! Because you are not an attorney and have not handled personal injury matters before, you are often not aware of the full value of your case. The insurance adjuster may take advantage of your inexperience. Insurance adjusters typically will offer a lot less money to a person representing themselves than they would to an attorney representing a client.
Furthermore, when you are representing yourself in a California personal injury or slip and fall case, the insurance company knows that you do not know how to litigate a lawsuit. Therefore you don’t have as much leverage with the insurance adjuster.
How Does a California’s Personal Injury Attorney Charge for Personal Injury Cases?
Most attorneys In California take a personal injury, premises liability, dog bite cases, slip and fall and auto/car accidents on a contingent fee basis. This means that the attorneys do not collect any fees unless they are successful in settling your personal injury case or winning a verdict at trial. The attorney typically will take the case costs from the settlement or verdict at the end of the case. Most attorneys advance case costs.
If I Hire a California Personal Injury Attorney, How Does the Process Work?
You should retain a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the automobile or other accident. At the first meeting, the attorney typically will get all the important information concerning the accident including, but not limited to, the names of the witnesses, all injuries and the treating physician and doctors.
The attorney may want to visit the actual scene of the accident or slip and fall so that he can get further perspective on how the accident occurred. If the case is a slip and fall case, the attorney should visit the scene of the accident if possible and interview potential witnesses. If you have any pictures of the accident scene, your damaged automobile, or of the resulting injuries, it is usually a good idea to show those to the attorney.
If your attorney is interested in taking the case, he or she will typically enter into a contingent fee personal injury fee agreement with you. You will need to provide a list of the names and addresses of all witnesses. Your attorney will also ask you for the names and addresses of all treating physicians and the names and addresses of all hospitals and treating facilities. The attorney will ask you to sign medical releases pursuant to federal law which will allow your attorney to collect your medical bills and medical records from your health care provider concerning your injury.
The attorney will be very interested in knowing whether or not you have health insurance and the extent of your health insurance coverage. If your health insurance plan is covering your medical bills, they typically have a lien against any settlement proceeds you receive. It is necessary for your attorney on your behalf to repay your health insurance company from the proceeds of any settlement or verdict that you receive. These liens typically can be negotiated with the health insurance company. Some insurance companies will typically lower their lien 25% to 33% to account for the work that your attorney has done on the case.
Sometimes, if liability or damage is in dispute, you can get a further reduction of the lien. Typically your attorney will not be able to disburse any monies to you until he has paid the insurance company for the lien amount.
After the initial consultation and after you have retained the personal injury attorney, the attorney will typically do an investigation, if necessary, by calling witnesses, reviewing police reports, or doing anything else that is necessary to further your case. The attorney may need to read relevant negligence case law to evaluate the merits of your personal injury case. The attorney will collect your medical records and billing records. Obtaining your billing records for the accident from the medical providers is extremely important because the amount of medical bills that you have is a very important factor in determining the ultimate value of your case for settlement or trial purposes.
Your attorney typically will wait until he/she believes that you have reached a certain point in your medical treatment before he makes an offer to the insurance company to settle your personal injury case. Attorneys are typically concerned that they will settle the case prior to knowing the full extent of a person’s injuries. After an automobile accident case is settled and the release is signed, there is no way to get paid any further damages even if your injuries become substantially more severe. Therefore, it is usually not a good idea to settle the personal injury case prior to having some idea as to the extent of your injuries in the future. Your back, neck, shoulder or leg injury could get worse as time goes by.
After the attorney meets with you, he will typically send a letter of representation to all the insurance companies involved giving them general information about the case. The insurance company will open up a personal injury case file and respond to your attorney. Insurance companies are required by law to investigate the facts and look into the potential personal injury cause of action. When the attorney is comfortable that the right time has arrived, he or she will typically send a settlement package to the insurance company. This settlement letter usually includes an evaluation of the permanency of the injury, if any, and describes the pain and suffering of the client as well as any lost wages and medical bills incurred. The attorney typically includes in the settlement package an initial demand for settlement of the case.
The insurance company will usually reply to the letter with either an offer to settle the case or a denial of liability. If the insurance company is denying liability in the personal injury case and refusing to pay anything, then the attorney will have no choice but to file a lawsuit to seek damages. In the event that a settlement offer is made to the attorney, there usually will be a period of negotiation to see if the parties can agree to a settlement amount.
If the parties cannot agree to a settlement amount, it may be necessary to file a personal injury/ negligence lawsuit in either any of the California District Courts or California Superior Court. In California, most personal injury, automobile accident, premises liability and slip and fall cases are handled in California Superior Court because matters over $10,000.00 must be heard in Superior Court.
My California Personal Injury Attorney Is Unable to Settle My Car Accident Case with the Insurance Adjuster, Then What Happens Next?
If the attorney is unable to settle the case with the insurance adjuster, then it is necessary to file a lawsuit in court. The process of a California personal injury civil lawsuit can take up to a few years to resolve. Your attorney will file a complaint in court alleging negligence or other causes of action asking the court to award you damages. After the complaint is filed, the insurance company will typically hire an attorney to represent their insured. The insurance company’s attorney will file an answer to the case.
After the complaint and answer are filed, there is usually a discovery period. The parties can send interrogatories to each other which are written questions that the other party must answer. The parties can also take depositions of witnesses which is when the other attorney asks you questions about the case in front of a stenographer. After the discovery period, there may be a motion to dismiss or motions for summary judgment that are filed by either of the parties.
If the case is not dismissed or summarily decided, then the case will proceed to trial. The average amount of time for a lawsuit in California is about two years, although the amount of time for the lawsuit could vary depending on how complex the case is, availability of witnesses, and the number of cases on the docket.
How Do I Obtain Evidence of My Personal Injury in California?
Please take photographs of all injuries including, but not limited to, cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Do not wait too long after the accident. Please do the best that you can to obtain the witness names, addresses, phone numbers, and other information to give to your California personal injury attorney. Please keep records of your out-of-pocket expenses for your medical bills, lost wages and other expenses incurred such as medication and medical accessories. You need to keep accurate records because you will need to provide them to the insurance company. If your injury was caused by a whiplash injury caused by a rear-end accident you may need to hire an expert to testify on your behalf as to the seriousness of upper and lower back injuries caused by whiplash.
Will My California Personal Injury Attorney Keep What I Tell Him Confidential?
In California, there is an attorney-client privilege. Your attorney is precluded from disclosing confidential information that you do not want him to disclose to others. There are certain limited exceptions to the attorney-client privilege which usually do not apply.
What Type of Costs Are Typically Incurred in California Personal Injury Cases?
Out-of-pocket costs are expenses that are incurred by your attorney to properly settle or litigate your case. The out of pocket expenses are usually advanced by the attorney. Medical providers usually charge a nominal fee to copy your medical records. Most doctors also charge a fee to write a comprehensive medical report detailing your course of treatment, injury prognosis and whether or not your injuries are permanent. If it is necessary to have a doctor testify at the trial of your case, then the doctor may charge a substantial fee for his attendance.
The amount of costs incurred in your case varies from case to case and depend on how complex your personal injury case is. The more serious your injuries are the more out of pocket expenses that may be incurred. Most attorneys will get prior approval before incurring a substantial cost on your behalf.