1. How much is my case worth?
This question is one of the most frequently asked questions and is also very difficult to answer in the early stages. It is virtually impossible to predict the value of a case until all of the information has been collected and you have recovered or almost recovered from your injury. There are many factors that determine the value of a case. They include:
- The actual amount of all of your medical bills..
- How such medical bills were incurred; that is, from diagnostic tests, treatments, physical therapy, hospital stays, prescription medication, over‑the-counter medication, chiropractic care and other treatment.
- How much income and other employment benefits were lost as a result of your injury. This would include lost pay, sick leave used, vacation time used, loss of insurance benefits and other losses resulting from your injury.
- The actual extent of your injury and how such injury affected your daily life. This would include limitations of household activities, sports and leisure activities, and social life.
- Whether or not any aspect of your injuries is permanent. This would also include permanent disfigurement such as scars, blemishes and other disfiguring characteristics.
- Whether any of your injuries required hospitalization.
- The extent of liability on the part of the potential defendant.
- Whether there is any evidence that you were partly at fault for your own injuries.
- The status of the law as it relates to your case.
- The quality of your witnesses, including those who will testify about the incident, your injuries, and your medical treatment.
- Other factors such as pain, suffering, inconvenience and loss of consortium (how the injury affected your marital relationship).
- Which insurance company is involved in the case.
The above are just a few of the factors that must be taken into consideration in determining a settlement value. Some factors are more important than others and because insurance companies require specific documentation, it is your responsibility and that of your lawyer to provide the insurance company with as much clear information as possible to support your claim.
It is impossible in the early stages of a personal injury claim to predict when that particular claim will actually settle. Some cases settle in a matter of months after the injury while others can take years to get to settlement or trial. Your lawyer will usually wait until you have completed recovery from your injury or have at least come close to recovery before trying to settle your case. It is important to know the following before your case is settled:
What is the total of all medical bills?
Will any further medical treatment be necessary?
If further medical treatment is necessary, what is the prediction of its cost?
Are any of your injuries permanent?
If any of the injuries are permanent, how do such permanent injuries affect your earning capacity?
What was your total loss of income and what other employment benefits were lost because of the injury?
Is it likely that you will lose any further income as a result of your injury?
There are other factors that must be taken into consideration before settlement. As the case progresses, your lawyer will have some idea as to the approximate time that the case may be appropriate for settlement.
If the case does not settle between you, your lawyer and the insurance company and proceeds to litigation (lawsuit), the insurance carrier will again contact the insured. An attorney hired by the insurance company will be assigned to defend and represent the tortfeasor, whether the tortfeasor is a person, persons or company. The insured will be required to participate in the litigation process and will be required to cooperate with the attorney assigned.
It is important to remember that if a lawsuit becomes necessary, it will be brought against the tortfeasor and not against the insurance carrier, even though the insurance carrier will probably be the one to pay the settlement or verdict.
Again, absolutely not! If you contact the person or persons responsible, you could jeopardize settlement of your case. Remember that any statement you make, even an innocent comment, could be used against you or misinterpreted. It is not appropriate for you to contact the tortfeasor even if the tortfeasor has not told the truth about how the incident occurred.
5. Should I communicate with or contact the insurance company for the person who caused my injuries?
Absolutely not! Under no circumstances should you contact the insurance company once you have retained an attorney. If you contact the other person’s insurance company, for any reason, you could ruin your entire case with one question or one statement.
Secondly, because you are now represented by a lawyer, the insurance company, in most states, is absolutely prohibited from having any personal contact with you for any reason.
There are usually several reasons why a case does not settle including the following:
- The insurance company believes that you and your lawyer have asked for more money than they are willing to pay voluntarily for the claim.
- Liability, that is, “fault,” is either being denied by the insurance company or the insurance company believes that you and/or some other party bear some responsibility for your own injuries.
- The insurance company, because of internal reasons or company policy, resists payment of your claim and is forcing claimants to go through the trouble of a lawsuit.
- The insurance company is stalling for time hoping that you and your lawyer will reduce your value of the claim.
- The insurance company does not believe that you were injured, or that you were injured as badly as you claim. Therefore, the company is requiring that you pursue a lawsuit to prove your injuries.
After the lawsuit is commenced, your lawyer will contact you about your duties. You will probably have to answer interrogatories and attend a deposition. During litigation it is important for you to do at least the following:
- Stay in touch with your lawyer.
- Inform your lawyer of any changes of address, phone number, work status, marital status or changes in your injury.
- Respond to your lawyer’s letters and phone calls if he or she requests contact.
- Prepare and obtain any documents requested from your lawyer immediately after the request.
- Keep track of all medical bills and lost income and report such information to your lawyer.
- Stay out of trouble which could be used against you in court such as drunk driving, shoplifting and other criminal activities.
- Maintain your employment status and avoid confrontations with your employer that could be used against you at trial.
The most important thing for you to do, quite simply, is to recover from your injury. The law requires injured people to “mitigate their damages.” In other words, the law requires you to do that which is necessary to improve your physical condition and recover from your injury.
For you this may mean some, or all, of the following steps:
- Do not miss appointments with your doctor. Stay in touch with your doctor and be certain to maintain your appointments. If you have to cancel, notify the doctor with as much notice as possible. The words “no show” on a doctor’s record sheet can be used against you at the time of settlement or trial.
- Attend physical therapy sessions as prescribed. Your physician or hospital may prescribe therapy to facilitate recovery from your injury. Such a procedure is often helpful in many types of injuries including strains, sprains and other so‑called “soft tissue” injuries. If physical therapy is prescribed, be sure to keep your appointments and participate actively in the process. Again, if you have to cancel an appointment, be sure to call, but try to avoid cancellation as much as possible.
- Do what your doctor tells you to do. If your physician prescribes certain medications, therapy exercises, or limitations on activities, be sure to follow your doctor’s orders. Failure to follow your doctor’s advice can be used against you when it comes time to settle your case, or can be used against you in court if your claim proceeds to litigation.
- Follow your doctor’s advice with respect to work and leisure activities. If your physician advises you to rest, stay home from work, or avoid certain activities, it is important that you follow such advice. If you resist your doctor’s advice and do activities that have been limited, it will not only prevent a speedy recovery, but could also affect the legal aspects of your case. Even though staying out of work may have an impact financially, it is important that you follow such advice so that your recovery will be enhanced. Your attorney will attempt to recover lost earnings.
Your lawyer will discuss the payment of your medical bills in detail with you. In summary, your medical bills may be paid by one of the following methods:
- Your own health insurance from your employment benefits package.
- Your own health insurance that you may have paid for personally.
- Health insurance obtained by your spouse for your benefit or by your parents if you are under age and living with such parents.
- Medical payments insurance coverage from your own automobile policy if you were driving your automobile and were involved in an automobile collision.
- Medical payments insurance coverage from the person you were riding with if you were a passenger in an automobile that has automobile insurance coverage.
- Your own personal funds if you were not insured and are able to pay medical bills as they are incurred.
- Workers’ compensation insurance if your injury occurred while you were working on the job and the injury occurred as a result of your employment.
- The liability insurance coverage for the person, persons or company who caused your injuries. Such insurance coverage will most likely be paid at the time of settlement rather than during the period that you incur such medical bills.
- Other possible sources.
Depending on the nature of your case, your medical bills may be covered by any of the above possibilities. If there is no insurance coverage, your bills will be saved by you and your lawyer, and will be paid at a later date when and if your case settles.
10. Will the doctors, hospitals and other medical facilities wait for payment if I am unable to pay my bills as they are incurred?
In most cases where there is no immediate method to pay medical bills as they are incurred, many doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities will wait to be paid for their services when the case is finally resolved by way of settlement or verdict in court. It is important to let medical providers know early in the process if you have no insurance or financial means to pay medical bills as they are incurred.