Personal Injury Attorney Serving Tacoma, Seattle, Olympia and all of Western Washington.
Determining Available Insurance Coverage
One of the very most important steps that we take during the initial stages of the claim is to thoroughly investigate ALL parties or entities who may be responsible for our client’s injuries and locating ALL available insurance policies that may be available to pay the claim when we are successful. Washington law requires all drivers to carry minimum liability insurance. Minimum liability insurance will only pay a maximum of $25,000 to each person injured in the accident and no more than $50,000 for ALL persons injured in the accident. With Skyrocketing medical costs, $25,000 is sometimes barely enough to cover the emergency room bill for a moderately serous accident. It is certainly not enough to replace lost income, or pay future medical care, not to mention pain and suffering. In addition, various studies have determined that nearly 20% of Washington drivers are driving without any liability coverage at all. Therefore, we always determine what insurance coverage may be available to our clients under their own policy. To do this, we simply contact our client’s insurance carrier and request a certified copy of the entire policy that was in effect on the date of the injury. We want to accurately determine if our client has uninsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection, or any other coverage that may be available to help fully compensate them for their injuries. In addition, we gather information on our client’s health insurance policy(s) as well. This information is critical to maximizing the financial recovery to our clients for the injury when we get down to settlement negotiations. Surprisingly, many new clients, and health care providers believe (wrongly) that health insurance will not pay for medical expenses resulting from in injury caused by a car accident. This is not true. However, many health insurance policy plans include provisions that require an accident victim to pay back the health insurer if he or she recovers damages from the person causing the accident. This is generally known as the doctrine of subrogation. Washington law has a strong policy in favor of making sure accident victims are fully compensated. However, whether an accident victim must pay back his or her health insurance company depends on too many factors variables to be properly discussed in a general video. Just beware that if you are injured in an accident, having an attorney that is knowledgeable in this subject could increase the compensation that you receive for your injuries. If you have specific questions about subrogation, I have another video that goes deeper into that topic, or you can contact our office for a free consultation.
The Client’s Role in Litigation
In this video, I am going to briefly cover the injured client’s role in the lawsuit. For many people, the prospect of being involved in a lawsuit is daunting and scary. However, we like to remind our clients that they have done nothing wrong and should not be timid about seeking adequate compensation for their injuries. Regardless, I find that after I explain the client’s role in the litigation process, I can make the client more comfortable with the litigation process. Knowledge is power. Obviously, we love clients that are super responsive and will keep in touch with us about their case. We pride ourselves on being super responsive and giving clients many communication channels so we can communicate freely during the life of the claim. So, it goes without saying that we expect clients to keep us informed about their contact information and any changes in their medical condition. This is covered more under the general overview video. When a claim moves into a lawsuit, the main thing that we need our client to do is to participate in the discovery process. For more information on this process see my video on litigation overview. Typically, we need our clients to cooperate with our team when responding to discovery requests from the other party’s attorney. We will take care of all the legal aspects, but we often need to gather or confirm information from our client. In addition, when it comes time for our client to sit for a deposition, it is critical that we take time to meet with the client to discuss how to best present and answer questions at the deposition. For detailed information about preparing for a deposition, please see my video on that topic. The deposition of the injured party is often a critical point in the settlement process. Frequently, once an injured client sits for a deposition and presents well, the insurance attorney will report back to the insurance adjuster that the injured party is going to make a good witness. This can have a positive impact on settlement negotiations. Therefore, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of thorough preparation prior to our client’s deposition.
If the case does not settle after our client’s deposition, then the client’s main role is simply to present his or her testimony at the trial or arbitration. Again, we will work with the client prior the hearing or trial to make sure they are prepared and comfortable with telling their story and prepared for cross examining by the insurance attorney.
Although every case is unique, this is a general overview of the client’s role in the litigation process. There may be circumstances where more is required of the client.
Do/Don’ts After a Car Accident
In this video, I am going to give you some actionable items about what to do and what not to do if you or someone you love is ever injured in a car accident.
First, the most important thing is to take care of your safety. Do not get out of your car at the scene of the accident unless you can do so safely and are physically capable of doing so. If you or someone else is severely injured or traffic is such that it would be dangerous to get out of your vehicle, you should call 911 and wait for police/medical aid.
Second, render aid to anyone else who is injured if you can do so safely.
Third, insist in a police investigation. If the other party does not want you to call the police, then you should have them sign a written statement admitting fault of the accident. Be sure to include the date, time and location of the accident and take a picture of the other driver, his or her license, insurance car, and the registration for the car he or she is driving.
Fourth, do not move vehicles before the police arrive unless the vehicles are creating a safety hazard.
Fifth, if you are injured make sure that you seek appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible and tell the police about the nature of your injuries.
Sixth, get names and contact information of any witnesses at the scene of the accident. Often investigating officer will not get all the pertinent information about witnesses to a traffic accident.
Seventh, file an accident report with the Washington Department of Transportation if required by law. If police respond to your accident and create a report, you are not required (but may) file your own report within 4 days of the accident. If the police do not respond and investigate your accident, you are only required to file your own accident report if someone was injured or there was over $750 in property damage. If you are required to file a police report, you are required to submit it within 4 days of the accident. But submitting a late report is better than not submitting a required report at all.
Eighth, do contact your insurance company and notify them of the claim, but do not give a statement about the facts of the accident to anyone other than YOUR insurance company and/or the police. You are not required to give a statement to the other party’s insurance, and they do not have a legal duty to protect you. Their legal duty is to the other driver. Also do not post about the accident or your injuries on any internet or social media websites.
Ninth, do not sign medical record or employment releases for the other driver’s insurance. These records are your private records and you are not required to sign anything requested by the other driver’s insurance. Remember, the other driver’s insurance has a legal duty to protect the other driver, not you.
Tenth, do not try to settle your case quickly by yourself before you know the true extend of your injuries. In Washington, you have three years from the date of an accident to settle your negligence claim or file suit. However, if you enter in a settlement agreement you have “released” the other party from your claim and cannot later file suit, even if you determine that your injuries were more severe than you first thought. Therefore, we do not recommend settling any personal injury claim until you have been thoroughly examined by a doctor and are sure that you know the true nature of your injuries and your prognosis.
Social Media and Your Injury Case
Today, many people feel the need to post on social media about the most mundane aspects of their lives, from where they are having dinner to recreational activities in which they participate. Such posting has become a normal part of life in this country. However, we advise new clients to not post anything about the accident or their claim on the internet. It is now commonplace for insurance adjusters and defense attorneys to scour a client’s publicly available social media for information that may help the insurance company to deny liability for the claim or de-value our client’s injuries. In addition, if the claim results in a lawsuit, the insurance company may be able to legally force the claimant to provide details of his or her social media accounts and possibly get information from those accounts that may be relevant to the lawsuit. Therefore, do not post anything about your accident or your injuries on social media.
In this video, I will give you a very general overview of the litigation process. As a disclaimer, it is important to realize that this is not intended to be legal advice on any specific claim or issue. If you have specific questions or would like a free case evaluation, feel free to contact my office or submit your case for review through our website. Our team will be happy to speak with you.
Generally, all lawsuits are started by filing a complaint and summons with the appropriate court and personally serving these documents on the defendant. Just a quick note about the defendant. In a car accident cases, I often hear clients say that they don’t want to sue the other driver, but only his or her insurance. This is not how the law works. The injured party must sue the responsible party. Now, his or her insurance company most likely will have to pay any judgement or settlement up to the policy limits and hire an attorney to represent the defendant in the suit, but the responsible party is the defendant, not the insurance company. If you want more information on this issue, you can contact our firm or view my video on determining coverage.
One important aspect of filing a lawsuit in a personal injury case, is that it operates as a limited waiver of the claimant’s medical privacy. This means that the defense can obtain the claimant’s medical records to the extent that they may be relevant to their defense of the claim. One of the most common defenses in a personal injury case is that the defendant’s pain and suffering are caused by pre-existing injuries. Therefore, insurance companies will often try to get our client’s past medical records to look for some prior injury on which it can blame the claimant’ pain and suffering. It is important to remember that the defense does not just automatically get to obtain a complete copy of our client’s medical history. We can limit what records they may obtain and force them to agree to a protective order that requires that they keep the records secure and only use the records for conducting their defense of the claim. If a client has something in his or her records that he or she is concerned about, it is important to let us know so we can try to prevent access to that information.
Once the summons and complaint are served on the defendant, the defendant has a time limit to answer the complaint and with admit or deny the allegations in the complaint. In this way, the court can determine what issues are disputed and may need to be resolved through a trial or arbitration. After the defendant answers the complaint, the case then goes into the discovery phase. During this phase, the parties may use court authorized procedures to find out what evident the other side intends to present at the arbitration or trial. These procedures include requiring the other party to answer written questions under oath (interrogatories), produce documents or other physical items (requests for production) and to answer questions orally under oath (depositions). It may also involve submitting for a medical examination by a doctor hired by the insurance company (Defense Medical Exam). Although there are many other specific discovery procedures, these are the most common. Most courts have a time limit on the discovery phase so that it can be completed well before trial or arbitration. In addition, many courts now have a requirement that the parties to a lawsuit participate in some type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) prior to trial. The parties typically comply with this requirement by participating in a mediation. In a mediation, an experienced lawyer is typically selected by agreement of the parties to act as a mediator. The mediator has no power to decide anything or to force either party to agree to a settlement. Rather, the mediator’s role is to discuss the strengths and weaknesses or each party’s case privately with that party to try to reach a settlement. For more information on mediation, please see my video on the difference between mediation and arbitration or contact our office for a free case evaluation or consultation.
Once the discovery phase is completed and the parties have complied with the ADR requirement (if any), then the case is ready for trial or arbitration. Although there are many details associated with lining up witnesses and exhibits and witness preparation, these details are mostly handled by the lawyers.
At the trial or arbitration each side gets to make an opening statement outlining their client’s theory of the case and what the evidence will show. Then both sides can call witnesses and introduce documents and other types of physical evidence. Once all of the evidence is introduced, the judge will give the jury (in a jury trial) final instructions and then the parties will be allowed to make final arguments to the jury to persuade the jury to rule in their party’s favor. After final argument, the jury is excused to begin deliberating on the case. Once the jury reaches a verdict, they are brought back to court to announce the verdict and if accepted by the court, it becomes a legal judgement. In most cases, involving adequate insurance coverage, the judgement is then paid, and the case is either dismissed by agreement or a document called a Satisfaction of Judgement is filed. Once the judgement is paid, the settlement process proceeds as outlined on my video on settlements.
Case Intake Process
This video is intended to give clients and potential clients and little deeper view into our client intake process. The steps in this video cover what happens from the time we accept the case for representation until the client is fully onboarded into our firm. For the sake of simplicity, I will talk mainly about intake involving an injury caused in a car or truck accident. Most of the information in this video will apply equally to any type of injury claim. As always, if you have specific questions that are not answered in this video, you are welcome to contact me directly or look for another video that may address your question.
The first step after you decide to hire our firm is that we will send you a written fee agreement. We almost always provide representation on injury claims based upon a contingent fee agreement. Simply put, a contingent fee agreement provides that we get paid only if we are successful in getting compensation for a client’s injuries. If we do not get any compensation for our client, then we don’t get paid. Having a written fee agreement is not only a good business practice, but in a contingent fee case, it is required under the Washington State Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. As result, we won’t be able to take any official action on your case as your attorneys until we have received the signed fee agreement.
After a new client has signed the fee agreement, then our staff will start the client rest of the intake process. We will send the client an engagement letter outlining the scope of our representation giving an overview of the claims process. We will also get all the information that we need to successfully pursue the claim. This includes general biographical and contact information as well as detailed information about the facts of the injury, possible witnesses, medical, insurance, and employment information. We have several options to gather this information. We can send clients link to a web-based form where they can enter the information at a convenient time, or we can call the client and gather the information by phone. We can even mail a paper form for the client to fill out and send back to us. Our goal is to make the process as simply and easy for the client so the client can focus on recovering from his or her injuries and not dealing with paperwork. Once an injured client hires our team, their problems become our problems and we will do whatever it takes to make the process as easy and pain free as possible.
Once we have gathered all the necessary information during the intake process, we will investigate the case to make sure we have the best possible chance of recovering a financial judgement for our client. We will also notify insurance adjusters where applicable. Usually, our clients are still recovering from their injuries when we complete the intake, so at that point, we move the client to the monitoring phase of our representation. During this phase, we contact the client monthly to check on the status of their injuries and to make sure the medical bills are being paid if there is insurance involved if paying for his or her treatment. For more information on the next steps or for a free consultation, just contact us through our website and we would be happy to answer any of your questions.
I've Been Injured in a Car Accident, Who Will Pay My Medical bills.
Most of the people that come to see me after they are injured in a car accident assume that the at fault driver or his or her insurance company will pay their medical bills. In the abstract this is correct. However, in practice, there is no acceptable legal mechanism to accomplish this in the short term. Let me explain. When the at fault party causes an accident that injures another person, the injured person has a potential claim against the at fault party. If the at fault party had liability insurance at the time of the accident and the insurance company determines that the loss is covered, then the at fault person’s insurance policy will typically provide that they will do two things for its insured: Defend and Indemnify. To defend, means that the insurance company will provide an attorney to represent the at fault party if a lawsuit is filed. To indemnify, means that the insurance company will pay the damages for injuries caused by the accident UP TO THE LIMITS of the policy. However, compensation for the injuries includes different categories of damages that make up one claim. For example, a person may have past medical bills, future medical bills, past lost wages, future lost wages, past pain and suffering and future pain and suffering….you get the idea. However, all these items of damage make up ONE claim. When the claim is ultimately settled, the at fault party is going to want the victim to sign a “Release of all claims”. This is a contractual document saying that the injured party has settled the claim and is releasing the at fault party from any future claims or lawsuits. That is why insurance adjusters will typically try to contact the victim soon after the accident and make an attempt to settle the claim….They are hoping to get a releasee for their insured.
The problem this system presents for the accident victim is how are they going to pay their medical bills while they are recovering and trying to put their life back together? This dilemma lead to the creating of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage in auto insurance policies. PIP policies provide that the victim’s own insurance will pay for reasonable and necessary medical expense for injuries that were caused in a covered accident. For purposes of PIP coverage, fault or who caused the injury is irrelevant. The only limitations are that the medical care must be reasonable and necessary treatment for injuries caused during a covered accident and that the insurance company will pay no more than the policy limit. Most PIP policies we see have a maximum policy benefit of $10,000. However, they are offered at the 35,000 level as well.
If a person client does not have personal injury protection coverage (PIP), then the next best option is to submit the medical bills to his or her own health insurance company. The company will, of course, try to determine if there is an automobile policy that will pay the bills in the first place, but ultimately it will pay the bills in accordance with the plan rules of the health plan. Usually these rules require the victim to pay back the health insurance company for medical bill it has paid on the victim’s behalf, out of the proceeds of the settlement with the at fault party’s insurance. However, an experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to reduce or eliminate this reimbursement requirement completely, thus increasing the amount the injured victim receives for his or her injuries. Finally, when things get complicated when the accident victim does not either PIP or health insurance. Sometimes, in cases such as these, we can work with the medical provider and get them to agree to hold off on collecting the medical bills until final settlement is reached. Each of these situations are very fact specific and must carefully reviewed individually to make sure that the accident victim receives adequate compensation for his or her injuries.
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