1. Why should I hire an attorney?
There are several reasons that you should hire an attorney for your personal injury needs. First and foremost, you want to make sure your legal and procedural rights are protected. For instance, there are time limits for filing claims, known as “statutes of limitation,” and it is crucial that your claim is properly filed within those time limits. Additionally, some claims, such as claims against the federal and state and local governments, not only have time limits, but other notice requirements as well. The attorneys at The Joel Bieber Firm know these limitations and notice requirements, and will make sure that you are in compliance with them. Another reason to hire an attorney is to investigate all possible avenues of recovery from which to pay your claim. What if the person who caused your damages does not have enough insurance to cover them? The attorneys at The Joel Bieber Firm will look for other insurance policies or personal assets that you may be entitled to use to pay for your damages. We can help negotiate the best possible settlement of your claim, which may include the use of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation and settlement conferences. Finally, we will fight for you in court. Insurance companies know that your last resort for resolving your claim is in the courtroom. The attorneys at The Joel Bieber Firm start preparing your case for the eventuality of going to trial from the very first time that they meet with you; and will make sure that you are prepared for trial as well.
2. What do I do when the other party’s insurance company calls me?
If when you are contacted by the other party’s insurance company they will likely attempt to have your conversation recorded. You are not required to give a recorded statement, and we strongly urge our clients not to give this statement. In fact, we encourage you not to speak to the other party’s insurance company about the facts of the crash or about any injuries that may have resulted. Your conversation should be limited to information about damage to your car and its location. Tell the insurance company to contact your insurance company or your lawyer.
3. What is the first thing I should do when I’m in a car accident?
A car crash is never a pleasant experience. Afterward, everyone’s emotions are usually running high. It is best to remain calm and not argue with the other driver. Someone may be injured, and you should make sure everyone involved is ok, and that there aren’t any injuries. Even if the accident doesn’t seem bad, and no one appears to be hurt, you should call 911. You need the police to be present to keep everyone safe and to get the vehicles moved. Also, it is good to have the police present for insurance purposes to prove that the accident happened. Be sure exchange information with the other driver including the other driver’s name, address, insurance company name and policy number. Make notes of the make and model of the vehicle. Be sure not to make any statements as to the accident being your fault.
4. How long do I have to report an accident to an attorney?
There are varying time deadlines, and in some instances other special “notice” or filing deadlines, that apply to injury claims. There is no law, however, that requires an injury victim to report an accident-related injury to an attorney. With the understanding that the deadlines apply whether or not an attorney is involved, the better question might be whether it makes sense to call for legal help with your injury claim now, as opposed to later? We believe the answer to this question is always or almost always “yes”.
The person or company that “accidentally” hurts you usually reports what happened to a liability insurance company right away. That company then immediately begins to investigate what happened, to investigate the claims being made, and to investigate the people making the claims. The insurer does this to protect its interests and that of its insured, not the interests of the victim. Often there is an issue over who is legally responsible for what happened. When this occurs, the insurance company may deny your claim entirely or attempt to negotiate a settlement for less than full value. In addition, there is almost always disagreement over the severity of the injuries and damages being claimed, with a resulting argument over their monetary value. Insurance claim adjusters do this for a living. As personal injury attorneys, we do this for a living as well, with the critical difference that we do it for you, not the insurance company. The sooner we get to work, the sooner we are able to protect you, and the more likely it is that we’ll be able to help you obtain the full and fair compensation you deserve. We charge no extra for getting to work now as opposed to later; in fact, we charge no fee until your case is successfully resolved. If the other guy’s insurance company is already working to protect him, shouldn’t someone be working to protect you right now as well? (Call us, right now, toll-free, at 888-777-5635.)
5. What information will my attorney need from me?
Initially, we need you to provide us with as much information about the incident that led to your injuries as possible. How did the incident happen? Where did it happen? Who was involved? Were there any witnesses? Who did you speak with at the scene of the incident? What was said during the conversation? If you have an Exchange of Information Form, an Incident Report, or any other documents relating to the incident, we would like to have copies. Similarly, we ask that you provide us with any photographs that you may have, including photographs of your car (if you were involved in a car crash) and photographs of your injuries, such as cuts, bruises, and scars. Finally, we need information regarding the kinds of injuries that you sustained, where you have sought treatment, information related to any lost wages, and information as to how the incident has impacted you physically and emotionally.
6. How much does a personal injury attorney cost?
Personal injury attorneys do not get paid like other attorneys do. While some attorneys charge by the hour or make you pay in advance, personal injury attorneys get paid a percentage of your settlement or jury verdict. This is called a “contingency fee.” Importantly, you do not have to pay us in advance to represent you and we do not get paid for our work until your case is resolved. Working on a contingency basis provides a real benefit to clients because the client’s interests and the law firm’s interests align. We are both focused on maximizing your recovery.
7. How long will it take my case to settle?
It really depends. The important thing to remember is that before we can think about settling your case, you need to have reached what the doctors call Maximum Medical Improvement. That means that either you have recovered 100% or you have not recovered 100%, your injuries have stabilized enough that your doctor can give us some idea of what the future holds. This can take anywhere from several months to a year or more. Once you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement, we gather all of your records and speak to your doctors, if necessary, and then prepare a demand package containing your records as well as a summary of the facts of the accident and your injuries. Usually, this takes about 4 to 6 weeks, depending on how long it takes the doctors’ offices to respond to our request for documents. Once we have submitted the Demand, we usually get a response within 3-4 weeks, although depending on the insurance company or the individual adjustor, it can take longer. At this point, your lawyer will discuss the offer being made and discuss with you whether the offer is fair. You will make the decision as to whether to accept the offer or file suit. It is importantto remember that even if suit has to be filed, you may not have to go to court as cases frequently settle before the actual trial date.
8. How often will I need to speak to my attorney?
You should always feel free to contact your attorney with any questions you have about your case. It is important that you keep the Firm up to date with your contact information so that your attorney can get in touch with you regarding case developments. In addition to your attorney, you will also have a paralegal working on your case. Your paralegal will be working to collect all of your treatment information. You should keep your paralegal updated on where you are seeking medical care and if you are referred to any new providers. Once you are released from treatment, your attorney will keep you up to speed on negotiations with the insurance company and will provide you with guidance about your cases value. If your case is one that goes to litigation, your attorney will guide you through the litigation process.
9. Will I have to go to court?
There is not a simple yes or no answer to this question. At The Joel Bieber Firm, we take a great deal of time, effort and care in obtaining the best settlement offer we can from the insurance company. If we are able to reach an agreement with the insurance company, you will not have to go to court. However, if the insurance company doesn’t pay a fair value for your case, The Joel Bieber Firm is ready and willing to file a lawsuit and fight for your case in court.
10. What do I do if the insurance company asks me to sign things?
Do not sign any document for the insurance company without consulting a lawyer. The insurance company may ask you to sign a Medical Release or a Final Release of your claims in return for some payment.
Your medical records are protected under a federal law known as HIPAA. While the insurance company may have a right to see some records in order to evaluate your claim, the release of that information should be limited and controlled. The medical release created by the insurance company may allow the insurance company to speak directly to your doctors, to receive all of your records for an unlimited time and to use those records for any purpose even purposes not related to your claim.
Once you sign a release, you cannot seek reimbursement for any additional treatment or other losses regardless of whether you made a mistake in signing too soon. Even a release given in exchange for a property damage settlement could release your claims for bodily injuries and lost wages.
11. What if the person who hit me does not have insurance?
That is a very good question. It can also be the topic for an entire seminar because it can get quite complicated, and every situation is different, which is all the more reason to talk to a lawyer. But the short answer for the typical situation is this—ready?—in most cases, you better hope you’ve got good insurance coverage on yourself. Why, you ask? Because in the typical case, you will be making a claim on your own automobile insurance policy’s uninsured motorist coverage.
The number of uninsured motorists on the road in Virginia is surprising. There are even more people driving around who are underinsured. When the driver at fault is uninsured, or is underinsured, your most likely recourse in the typical situation is to pursue an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim on your own auto policy. The amount of uninsured coverage on your policy is a cap, or the limit, on what money you can collect. An easier way of saying it is that the amount of coverage you have on your policy will probably be the limit on what you get if the other guy doesn’t have insurance or is underinsured. That is why it is so important to make sure you have good uninsured motorist coverage in your own policy. If there is one thing you take away from reading this, it is to go back, look at your policy, and make sure you have enough uninsured coverage on your own policy so that all damages will be covered. Here’s why.
First, understand what uninsured coverage is. It is like insurance you take out on yourself to protect against a costly collision. Uninsured motorist coverage gives you money to pay for damages whether the at-fault driver is uninsured or is less insured than you are. It is insurance to make sure there is enough money to go around in case you are in a wreck with someone who has no insurance, or as we often see, has only the low minimum coverage required in Virginia.
In Virginia, the minimum amount of liability coverage that a person can buy is a 25/50/20 policy. The numbers represent different types of coverage in thousands of dollars. The first two numbers (the “25,000/50,000”) are the amounts that the insurance company will pay for bodily injury claims arising from an accident that you are legally liable for. The first number is the per-person amount and the second number is the per-accident amount. This is the lowest amount of insurance you can get. It also is usually the total amount of uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) available. If you have low liability coverage, you also have low uninsured coverage to cover yourself if someone hits you.
Let’s take a look at a typical example. If you have a minimum policy and someone hits you is uninsured, or also has the minimum coverage, that amount is all you can get—$25,000 per person, and $50,000 for everyone in the wreck. You would make a claim and your recovery would be capped at $25,000 no matter what the total actual damages are. As we often see, $25,000 doesn’t get you very far these days in a moderate-to-significant crash. Taking into consideration all the medical expenses, lost wages, possible future expenses and lost earnings, never mind the injury itself, pain and suffering, inconvenience, and a possible impairment, damages can easily exceed $25,000, but, still, that’s all that you would get. If you have low coverage, you can easily come up short. And, unfortunately, that happens.
On the other hand, if you have higher uninsured coverage—let’s say, $50,000/$100,00 or $100,000/$300,000 or even more—then you would have twice or four or more times the money available to pay for your actual damages, even though the other driver has no insurance or only minimum coverage. With higher uninsured coverage, there is more money available to cover all the damages and a better chance that all your damages will be covered.
Like we said earlier, there are a lot of people out there driving around with no insurance and with only the minimum amount of liability coverage who are causing some bad accidents. There may be other ways to get around an uninsured driver hitting you depending on the circumstances, but the usual case will have you use your own uninsured coverage. So, you should take a look at your financial and insurance situation, talk to your insurance agent, and decide whether or not you need more coverage. The time to decide on the right amount of uninsured motorist coverage is obviously before there is a wreck, injuries, and bills. Now that you know that what coverage you have may be, and probably will be, the total amount you get after a wreck, make sure it’s enough– enough to at least buy you peace of mind.
12. Why is it important to seek medical treatment?
Seeking medical treatment is important for two reasons. The first is your health. Whether you have been in a motor vehicle crash, fell on someone else’s property, been bitten by a dog, or been injured in some other fashion, the goal is to return to the state of health that you were in prior to the incident. That is job one. Secondarily, the cost of your medical treatment is the responsibility of the party that injured you and their insurance company and it is an important factor for determining how much pain and suffering you have experienced from the incident.
13. What do I do when the insurance company offers me a check?
Insurance companies will sometimes offer to or even send you a check as an enticement to settle your case quickly. It is always to their advantage to get you to accept a quick payment before you really know what is wrong with you. Be aware that if you accept, endorse, deposit, or cash the check it can be found to be an acceptance of the settlement offer and your case will be over. (Do not cash or deposit the check and then try to return it later, as that may also be found to be an acceptance of the settlement offer.) This can be a very costly mistake if you are still treating for injuries from a crash, still out of work, or if you may need additional medical treatment in the future. Once the check is accepted, you will likely never be able to get the additional compensation for your injuries, medical treatment, and losses that you deserve.
If you are offered a check or receive one in the mail, do not accept it unless you are 100% sure that you want to forever end your case for the amount of the check at that moment. If you are not 100% sure, you should refuse or return the check and seek legal advice about your case.