New Jersey Personal Injury and Accident Case Questions
How soon after an Accident or Injury should I get legal representation or guidance?
You should obtain legal representation at the earliest possible time to insure the protection of your rights. Shortly after an accident, the insurance company will attempt to contact the injured party to acquire information it can later use against the person should they bring a personal injury case in Court. However, once an attorney represents you, insurance company investigators are not allowed to contact you directly. Consequently, the faster you retain a lawyer, the sooner your rights will be protected. At the New Jersey personal injury law firm, Clark Law Firm, PC, we offer no obligation free consultations in all personal injury and accident cases. We provide consultations in our office, your office, at your home or hospital room in cases such as auto accidents, fall down injury cases, construction accidents, nursing home neglect cases, defective product or other injury matters. Retaining an experienced personal injury law firm will insure that your rights are protected. Success in your personal injury case will have the prophylactic effect of discouraging dangerous conduct and increasing the level of safety in the community. The defense almost never advocates for safety; it wants to give danger a pass. It seeks to maximize profits by minimizing your injuries.
What should I do if an insurance company contacts me after an injury?
You should never give a statement to an adverse insurance company because they may try to unfairly use it against you later. Rather, contact an experienced personal injury law firm to advise you and protect your rights. Frequently, the insurance company representing the person or company that caused your injury will get in touch with you to take a statement, which they may try to use against you later. The insurance company investigator will look to assemble information from you. To protect yourself, call Clark Law Firm, PC right away. Insurance investigators can be subtle and crafty. They may seem concerned and supportive and often they will discourage you from contacting an attorney. Do not be fooled as these are skilled professionals, not your friends. They are not there to assist you. Rather, their goal is to limit or eliminate a recovery you may otherwise be entitled to. Protecting your rights will help to increase the level of safety in the community. If you succeed in your personal injury case, you will encourage safe conduct in the future. This will reduce others from suffering the same fate and may ultimately save lives.
The representative from the insurance company was so courteous and understanding and told me they would not pay me any more money if I get a lawyer…and the lawyer will in fact cost me money. Is this correct? Why would I need a lawyer?
It is essential to understand that the insurance company representative is working only for the insurance company, not you. Their goal is to limit or eliminate any recovery you may be eligible for. By doing so, they encourage unsafe behavior. If accomplishing this goal means being nice to you, they surely will be. The goal of an insurance company is to sell policies to, collect premiums and deny claims. Such a strategy follows the “unholy mantra” of the insurance industry, as characterized by Judge Baime, that “we collect premiums; we do not pay claims.” Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. United Ins. Co., 264 N. J. Super. 460, 491 (App. Div. 1993), aff’d in part, rev ‘d and rem’d in part, 138 N.J. 437 (1994). It is important to not be fooled or fall into that trap. That is why it is essential to hire an experienced accident lawyer without delay. What is good for the insurance company will almost always be bad for you. Insurance companies work against full compensation for accident victims and thus encourage dangerous conduct. Clark Law Firm, PC will work for you, investigate for you, negotiate for you, and if necessary, litigate and work hard to resolve your case at a fair and just premium to you. In the process it will make the community safer by holding accountable those whose irresponsible conduct caused harms and losses.
How much will attorney’s fees cost me?
The majority of accident and personal injury cases taken at Clark Law Firm, PC are taken on a contingency fee basis. Under such an agreement, the client is not obligated to pay any attorney fee unless the law firm obtains a recovery. Essentially the contingency fee is a percentage of the money the attorney recovers for the client. This type of agreement allows people with limited means to hire an attorney. This systems enables people to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent their interests. The percentage of each agreement varies depending on the conditions of each individual personal injury case and is limited by the New Jersey Rules of Court.
Does my insurance company get to pick my doctor or may I see a physician of my choice?
In auto accident cases, your P.I.P. insurance company does not have the right to choose your treating health care provider or physician. It is your decision to choose the doctor you prefer. However, in other kinds of injuries, you may have to choose a doctor who is on your list of preferred providers or primary care physicians. This primarily depends on the type of health insurance you have. Clark Law Firm, PC can review this with you and help you make an informed decision.
Will the other party’s insurance company be responsible to pay my medical bills?
Each case is different and no one answer will fit all cases. However, generally it is very unlikely the adverse insurance company will if the case or claim is on-going. Still, “out of pocket” medical bills may be calculated into the value of your case. Any “out of pocket” medical expenses you pay will likely be included in the final assessment and ultimately settlement of your case. In auto accident cases medical bills paid by PIP Insurance are not allowed to be sought at trial.
Will the other party’s insurance company be responsible to pay my lost wages?
Again, this is not likely while the case is going on, but “out of pocket” wage loss and lost earning capacity should also be considered into a final valuation, settlement or jury verdict of your case.
Will the other party’s insurance company be required to pay me an “advance” for my injuries and then reach a final settlement later?
No, this rarely if ever will happen. If the “at-fault” insurance company does decide to pay at all, it will usually be in one lump sum at the conclusion of the case.
What if it my injuries turn out to be worse than I expected many years from now?
Generally personal injury settlements are final at the time an agreement is reached. You will be obligated to sign a full general “Release” of all claims against the other party. This is also true if your case goes to trial and a jury allows a money recovery. If your injury gets worse, you will not be able to come back and have another jury allow for further compensation. Still there are a numerous exceptions to this general rule and you should consult with an experienced personal injury law firm for your personal situation. For example, Clark Law Firm, PC may be able to negotiate a structured settlement, that will pay you and your heirs damages periodically for the rest of your life and after your death.
Do I have to pay income tax from my Personal Injury settlement or jury award? You should consult with an accountant for tax questions.
Nevertheless, it is normally understood that damages for pain and suffering in a personal injury case are considered compensation and not a gain. Therefore, money earned from personal injury settlements or verdicts are almost always tax-free. It is ideal for you to speak with a tax professional about this.
How long should I expect my Personal Injury case to last, from beginning to end?
It is important to understand that every personal injury case is different. The length of a case can vary greatly depending on the circumstances surrounding each situation. Factors that influence the length of a case can include the type of injuries suffered, the number of parties involved, the amount of judges available to hear each case, the court a case if filed in, motion practice and a number of other important factors. Still, personal injury cases generally take between one to four years before they are resolved. Clark Law Firm, PC may attempt to settle your case before filing suit. This generally comes after your medical treatment ends and you reach Maximum Medical Improvement (“MMI”).
If a lawsuit is filed, does that necessarily mean my case will go to trial?
No. On average between 80-90% of lawsuits do not go to trial. The majority of personal injury cases are either settled or thrown out of court on summary judgment or dismissal motions.
What if I’m hurt while at work? Can I still sue for “pain and suffering?”
If you are injured while at work and it is your own fault, the fault of your employer or co-employee, or the fault of no one, your remedy is generally a Worker’s Compensation claim. You are not entitled to be compensated for pain and suffering type damages. Nevertheless, if you are injured on the job due to the responsibility of a Third Party (such as a automobile operator without any connection to your boss), then Clark Law Firm, PC can file a Third Party claim and seek the entire slate of damages, including pain and suffering.
What is my personal injury case worth?
The value of any given personal injury case will vary dramatically depending upon the circumstances surrounding each situation. For a better idea of how the value of an accident or personal injury case is determined, visit our “What’s My Accident Case Worth?” page. For cases that do not settle, a jury will have the power to determine what your case is worth. Many say that juries are the “guardians of the community.” When companies or individuals engage in dangerous behavior that causes harm, society relies upon juries to protect the public by holding the responsible party accountable in Court by awarding full damages. An insurance company is behind most trial defenses and they will work very hard to prevent a recovery. The defense almost never advocates for increased safety. It does all it can to see to it the responsible parties are not held accountable. When they succeed, they increase needless danger in the community and expose others to the same kind of risk the plaintiff suffered. When a county gets a reputation of not holding the responsible parties accountable in Court, the county becomes a danger magnet. Juries can very easily speak for the community that needless danger will not be tolerated by awarding full and complete compensation to the deserving victim.
What are the factors that will determine the value on my case?
The value of your case is dependent upon a number of factors including:
- The cause of the accident;
- The degree of responsibility between the participants in the accident;
- The type, degree, and severity of injuries;
- Medical care evidence;
- Your lifestyle, interests, hobbies and activities before and after the accident;
- Your capacity to work before and after the accident;
- Whether you suffered any prior problems to the same areas of body;
- Whether you filed any prior personal injury claims;
- Your work history;
- Your life expectancy and;
- A multitude of other factors, the list could be endless.
What are “liens” or “subrogation liens”?
In the context of a personal injury or accident case, “liens” or “subrogation liens” are a charge, hold or claim against your personal injury settlement to “pay back” monies that have been paid to you in connection with your accident. So for instance, if you were injured while at work and received benefits under workers compensation for temporary lost wages, and you settle a related personal injury case, the workers compensation insurance company will be entitled to a return of about 2/3 of what they paid out on your claim. This is known as a “workers compensation lien.” Likewise, if your received medical benefits from the federal Medicare program for treatment of injuries suffered in an accident, and you settled a related accident lawsuit, Medicare will have a lien on that. That is known as a “Medicare lien.” The law prevents a plaintiff from receiving a “double recovery.” After a trial a judge will review the verdict and deduct from it any benefit the plaintiff received elsewhere. A Plaintiff would never be allowed a “double recovery.” This is called a motion to “mold the verdict.” Contact the experienced trial lawyers at Clark Law Firm, PC for more information.
How does a personal injury law firm go about filing a lawsuit?
If a lawsuit is filed in a matter, the filing of a formal complaint in court generally begins the lawsuit. Once served with the summons and filed complaint, the defendant(s) has 30 days to file an answer. Once all defendants have answered the complaint, the discovery process begins.
How does a firm prepare a personal injury or accident case for trial?
From the time you sign a retainer with Clark Law Firm, PC, we will be preparing your case for trial. Among other things, we will obtain documentation relevant to your case, conduct discovery, perform legal research, retain experts as appropriate, and communicate with the insurance company and defense counsel. We will probably also engage in court motion practice, which can become intensive and time consuming. At all times we will be working to protect your interests. The insurance company will be working hard to give danger a pass and explain away harmful conduct.
What is the discovery process?
The purpose of discovery is to give all parties the opportunity to learn about the facts and information each other party has relevant to the personal injury case. The discovery process includes providing sworn answers to written questions called “interrogatories.” Discovery also includes depositions of parties and/or witnesses, if any. A deposition is generally conducted in a lawyer’s office and consists of the deponent answering oral questions from the other parties’ attorney(s). These questions are similar to interrogatories, but generally seek more detailed information. The deposition testimony is given under oath before a court reporter who creates a written transcript of the proceeding. At your deposition you will probably be asked questions about the accident, the nature and extent of your injuries, your background, health, education, family history and other areas.
Will I have to undergo a medical exam if I file a personal injury lawsuit?
Probably yes. At some point you will probably also be required to undergo a defense medical exam by a doctor that is a paid expert hired by the insurance company and their attorney. Their job is to write reports and testify in Court on behalf of the party against whom the claim is being made. Generally these hired experts will try to trivialize and minimize your injuries. They may even claim you are exaggerating or faking your injuries.
The defense testimony industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. The insurance company has at its disposal thousands of medical expert doctors, many of whom do not actually treat patients. Their livelihood is dependant upon writing reports and testifying for the insurance industry. They write hundreds or thousands of defense reports per year.
The “exam” is often for show; it rarely makes a difference. The defense medical expert will no doubt trivialize or minimize the injuries, regardless of the facts. At one particular seminar a room full of defense medical exam doctors was asked how many times they could write a report favorable to the injured party before they would no longer be hired by the insurance industry. The answer was “twice.”
Remember- the insurance industry goal is to maximize its profits by minimizing your injuries.
Does it matter if I filed a previous personal injury claim in another unrelated matter?
Yes as this is a factor that may possibly be considered in evaluating the compensation you may receive for your injuries. The insurance company will likely check nationwide data bases to see if you ever filed any other lawsuits or ever made any other insurance injury claims. If you have, the insurance company will probably know about it. Regardless, you may be asked in discovery whether you have had any prior accidents or injuries. As with all discovery questions, you will be required to tell the truth.
What happens after the discovery phase of my personal injury or accident case is completed?
After the discovery process is complete, your case will probably go to court mandated arbitration. This is an informal court ordered process in which a neutral third party, usually an attorney who handles injury cases, will review your case. You may be asked to give brief testimony at the arbitration. The arbitrator will decide what, if anything, your case may be worth. Either party has 30 days to reject the award of the arbitrator. If it is not rejected, the decision can become final and binding.
What will happen if the other party rejects the arbitration award of my personal injury or accident claim?
If the arbitration award is rejected, the case will then be placed on the Court’s trial calendar. From the time the complaint is filed until the matter is listed for trial can generally take anywhere from 1-3 years or more. Cases can settle at anytime. However, cases often do not settle until the conclusion of the discovery phase, after arbitration. Sometimes cases do not settle until a jury has been empaneled and trial begun. Sometimes they do not settle at all. Insurance companies and defense lawyers often seek to delay the matter and try to wear down the plaintiff. This only prolongs their suffering and is like salt in the wounds. As a result, my cases will go on for years before being heard by a jury.
Should I speak with anyone other than my potential attorney regarding my personal injury or accident case?
Generally you should not discuss your case with anyone except attorneys or employees of the law firm representing you. Be particularly careful about online social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. Be careful and smart about what you post online. Adhere to the following guidelines:
Check the privacy settings on your profile, and adjust them to prevent unwanted viewers from seeing it;
Do not post anything to your profile that discusses your lawsuit and related injuries;
Make every attempt to ensure your profile includes no photographs (posted by you or your friends) of you attempting to engage in any physical activities that you are now unable to do as a result of your injuries;
Do not accept “friend” invitations from people you do not know. It is possible that someone working for the insurance company may attempt to pose as a “friend.”
- Review your “friend” list. If you do not know someone on the list, remove the person from it.
What is loss of consortium?
Loss of consortium is the term used to describe the loss of companionship, support, community, and love an individual suffers when his or her spouse is wrongfully injured. Even though not physically injured, the individual has a right to raise a claim against the responsible party to obtain reimbursement for his or her loss. Therefore, if you are married and your spouse has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you should discuss the ramifications on your relationship with your New Jersey accident attorneys.
Factors used to determine loss of consortium damages include the following:
The extent to which the uninjured spouse was forced to take on additional household duties, including cooking, cleaning, and child care;
The extent to which the uninjured spouse was forced to care for the injured spouse during his or her period of recuperation by assisting with tasks such as bathing, using the bathroom, changing dressings, etc.;
The extent to which the couple’s sexual relationship was adversely affected (although this subject is uniquely personal, and many claimants are uncomfortable discussing it, if your sex life has suffered due to yours or your spouse’s injuries, you should inform your accident lawyer so that he or she can allow for those damages in your settlement demand);
The extent to which the psychological and emotional impact of the injuries affected the marriage (put another way, the extent to which the injured spouse became irritable, depressed, angry, or upset in any way that strained the marital relationship); and
- The extent to which the spouses are no longer able to enjoy leisure activities, such as athletics, dancing, and hiking together.
How much you will be offered on a loss of consortium claim varies from insurance company to insurance company. More conservative insurers tend to make lower offers, because they are prepared to incur the costs of litigating the case, if necessary. On the other hand, more reasonable insurers usually make fairer offers so that everyone can achieve a relatively painless and fast resolution. Whether the insurer is conservative or not, your accident lawyer will have tools at his or her disposal to procure the most favorable offer possible on your behalf.
For a free consultation, please contact our dedicated New Jersey accident attorneys at (732) 433-0333.