In the personal injury area, I handle medium-size cases. If your medical bills are less than $5,000, it might not be economical for me to take your case. If your injuries are extremely serious, your medical bills are in six figures, and liability is contested, I will probably refer you to your choice of big plaintiff’s personal injury firms who have the resources to hire the required army of experts.
Here’s some general advice for what to do if you are injured.
For all personal injuries:
- Do seek out medical help directly after the injury. “Directly” means within one hour. Do not assume that you are OK or that your discomfort will go away by itself.
- Do try to be seen first by a medical doctor, preferably an orthopedist. If your doctor thinks you would benefit from chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical therapy, and other modalities, your doctor can refer you.
- Do fill your prescriptions for pain reliever and take them as prescribed. If you need more, get more.
- Do keep all your medical appointments. Tell your doctor accurately about your pain — don’t exaggerate or minimize.
- Do be watchful for signs of emotional injuries that commonly arise from traumatic events: insomnia, anxiety, flashbacks, stress reactions, irritability, and the like. If this happens, get a referral to psychological counseling.
- Do keep a diary of your recovery: the level of your pain, activities that you cannot do, feelings of depression or stress that you have, the impact of your injury on your intimate relations and on your friendships.
- Do collect and keep all your bills for everything related to your injury, including doctor bills, pharmacy receipts, pay stubs showing time off work, mileage to appointments, everything!
If you’re injured in an auto collision:
- Do get and write down the other driver’s license plate number. Try to get the driver’s name and insurance information. Take a cell phone photo or video if you can.
- Do call 9-1-1 and ask for a police officer to come and do a report.
- Do NOT discuss the facts of the collision with the other driver(s).
- If a police officer asks you for a statement, be factual and truthful about speed, direction, signals, other hard facts. Do NOT make opinion statements like “I guess it was my fault” or “I should have seen him.”
- If you don’t have obvious injuries (bleeding, fractures, etc.), do NOT make statements about your medical condition. If asked how you feel, answer “I’m not sure yet, it was all very sudden.”
- If offered an ambulance, accept. Do not be “macho” or “superwoman.”
- Be aware that it is common in auto collisions for the onset of symptoms to be delayed until the third or fourth day.
If you’re injured due to a defective condition in your home, in a store, or a public place:
- Get photographs and/or video of the defective condition immediately — within seconds after the injury if possible. If you delay, the evidence may disappear and your case along with it.
- Get names and addresses of witnesses immediately.
- Notify the owner of the premises as soon as possible.
If you’re bit by a dog:
- Try to remember an accurate description of the dog
- If it isn’t obvious who owns the dog, write down the address where it happened
- Get medical help immediately
- Dog bites often produce symptoms of PTSD in victims; get counseling — it helps.
Dealing with insurance people:
- If someone contacts you from the other party’s insurance company, be careful what you say — it will be used against you. Even a polite “Fine” in answer to “How are you?” can hurt your case.
- The other side’s insurance adjusters can keep calling you every day until you get a lawyer. Then they have to stop contacting you, and must contact your lawyer instead.
- Unless you are represented by a lawyer, the insurance company’s settlement offer typically amounts to chump change.
Attorney fees and recoveries in personal injury cases:
- Most attorneys, myself included, handle personal injury cases on a contingency basis. The rates are not set by law, but the standard practice is to divide the gross settlement or award into thirds, with the client to get two thirds and the attorney one third. The attorney also gets reimbursed for the costs advanced to prosecute the case. If there is no settlement or the case is lost at trial, the attorney gets nothing. We will discuss the contract in detail before you sign up.
- You will have to make time to answer discovery requests and probably to give a deposition. You will not be paid for that time.
- These cases are typically referred to mediation or settlement conference. You will be required to appear.
- It will probably take a year or even two years from the filing of the complaint until the case settles or comes to trial.
- Somewhere around 90 per cent of all personal injury cases settle. But it is usually necessary to prepare them fully for trial in order to obtain the best settlement.
Here’s a little booklet I put together to prepare clients for giving their deposition. (It’s a PDF file meant to be printed on both sides of the paper and folded in the middle).