What is the process of a personal injury case?
The process is always the same no matter what type of case it is. Whether it is a medical malpractice case, civil rights case, car accident case, fall down case; the legal process is the same. Once you provide us information about what happened to you and what your medical injuries are, and the treatment you are obtaining. We obtain all medical records and do our investigation: for instance, in a car accident case we go to the see, take photographs, speak to witnesses, and so on. Once the investigation stage is done, once we collect all the medical records, we send all the itemization to the opposing insurance company, and the settlement negotiations are started. If the parties cannot reach a settlement then we file suit. Once the lawsuit is filed, the court sets certain time tables. The court will tell us by what date we must complete our discovery—that is, depositions, interrogatories, and so on—after that, the court will set the trial date. Before the trial date, the parties usually go through a pre-trial settlement conference. You may or may not be involved in the pre-trial settlement conference, but you will always be informed of what happens at the conference. If the parties cannot reach an agreement there, the trial date will be set and the parties will go to trial, at which point you will be fully engaged in the trial process.
Who pays my bills in a personal injury case?
In a typical motor vehicle accident case, your own insurance company pays your medical bills. In a fall down accident, furthermore, your health insurance coverage pays your medical bills. Clients frequently assume that the other person’s insurance company is responsible for paying all of their medical bills but that is not correct under the law in Pennsylvania. Rather, the other person’s insurance company is responsible for paying for your pain and suffering. That’s typically the larger portion of the case.
When settlement proceeds come in, who is reimbursed first?
The first entity that gets reimbursed is the entity that is owed a lien; that is, Medicare, the Department of Public Welfare, your health insurance, or worker’s compensation. Any of those entities may have a lien to your personal injury settlement, and those entities have to take a piece out of the person injury proceeds before anyone else gets reimbursed. This is a matter of Pennsylvania law. Of course, your attorney’s fee gets paid as well as any expenses your attorney pays in order to prosecute the case: for instance, expenses to file suit, expenses to get deposition transcripts, and expenses to get medical records. All of this is itemized for the client and is taken out of the proceeds from the settlement or the jury verdict. Only after those items are paid does the client receive the proceeds of the personal injury settlement or jury verdict.
What are my responsibilities as a client?
Your responsibilities as a client in a personal injury case are to give all of the information to your attorney about your injuries and about the accident, as well as to provide thus information to your medical providers.
What are my rights regarding recorded statements?
When a car accident occurs, the very first thing the opposing insurance company is going to do is send an investigator out to see you or call you on the phone. What they want to do is get your recorded statement. You do not have to offer a recorded statement to the other person’s insurance company. Rather, call your lawyer and let him or her speak on your behalf.
What is the hold up in settling my personal injury case?
There can be a variety of reasons for a hold up in settling your case. It could be that we are not getting the records or reports that we need from your doctor or doctors. We need those items in order to prove your injuries and in order to present your case properly to the opposing insurance company. In addition, the opposing insurance company may be intentionally delaying the settlement of your case. It is not in their interest to resolve a case quickly. Those are just some of the reasons why there might be a slow down in settling your personal injury case.
Do defense expert witnesses utilize deceptive tactics and misrepresentation?
Yes. Defense medical experts are hired by the defendant’s attorney and insurance company to render an opinion regarding your injuries, once the case is in suit. It is your lawyer’s job to uncover those misrepresentations. Defense doctors may claim to be experts in some specialty or profess to have a formal medical degree or specialized training when in fact they don’t. How prevalent is it? It’s not an epidemic in defense medical experts, but it does occur with some frequency. The internet certainly provides certain tools to weed out theses misrepresentations, but the inquiry does not stop there. Your lawyer should have access to his or her local trial bar materials on experts, and should be able to cull through those documents, for instance prior deposition testimony, to pin the defense expert in flat out lies, for instance in relation to his or her medical training. In addition the amount the expert gets paid annually by a particular defense firm or insurance company is discoverable information in Pennsylvania, and can go a long way to showing the jury that the defense medical expert is biased in favor of the insurance company. The defense is ultimately paying not only his bill, to provide an opinion in court in the case against you, but essentially is also paying the defense expert’s annual salary. This can be very good ammunition at trial if used effectively.
Am I permitted to speak with another attorney for a second opinion?
Yes. You as a client reserve the right to seek new legal counsel at any time. You are even entitled to speak with an attorney while you are involved in an ongoing case with your current attorney. However, you will be required to end your arrangement with your current attorney before signing a fee agreement with your new one.
Do you always need a lawyer to settle a personal injury case?
Stuart Carpey explains when it’s possible to settle your case directly with the opposing insurance company, and when you probably need legal representation. Click here to request a copy of Stuart’s book, “The Pennsylvania Accident Victim’s Guide to Settling Your Car Accident Case with the Insurance Company.”