Let’s say you’ve just been in an auto accident. Confused, shaken, and still in shock, you find your way out of the car. Your car is visibly damaged, but you may or may not feel sore. What do you do next?
Call the police to get a report out. Whether or not you call the police, document everything before leaving the scene. Get a picture of the other driver’s insurance card, their license, and the damage done to both vehicles. Record everything you can because even if you don’t feel hurt at that moment, there is a possibility that you’re going to feel hurt in the coming hours. And at that point, without the necessary information, you jeopardize your chances for a claim.
However, if you feel any immediate onset of soreness, pain, or even a minor headache, you should see a doctor immediately. The emergency room is an obvious option because you want to be as careful as possible. However, if it is not a severe and emergent care need, you should consider urgent care clinics because they are faster and cheaper.
It is crucial to get care as quickly as possible after the accident because not getting care speedily or a gap in treatment can undermine your potential personal injury case. After getting treatment, the next thing to do is call a personal injury attorney. But what type of attorney do you call, and what value do they bring?
You want to hire an attorney or law firm that has trial experience. They can help figure out a fair value for your case based on the average jury verdict in that jurisdiction. Also, the insurance companies have records of attorneys and law firms that litigate cases judiciously and will try to underpay you if your lawyer avoids taking cases to trial.
That said, what should you not do after an accident? Who pays for your treatment after an accident? And you may be thinking, “I can’t afford an attorney. What do I do? How long does the litigation process take?”
Learn more in this episode of the David vs. Goliath podcast with elite personal injury lawyers Matt Dolman and Of Counsel, Alex Knapp. They discuss everything about what to do when involved in a car accident, including getting treatment, choosing a lawyer, what not to do after a car accident, the impact of social media on a personal injury case, and much more.
In this episode:
- [00:49] Matt Dolman introduces his guest, Alex Knapp
- [01:18] Topic of the day: what to do (and not do) after a car accident
- [01:32] What to do after a car accident
- [07:42] Mistakes to avoid after a car accident
- [11:14] Getting medical treatment after an accident
- [15:07] Why you should seek medical treatment quickly after an accident and avoid gaps in treatment
- [18:28] When to call an attorney and the type to call
- [20:05] The value an attorney brings to your personal injury case
- [22:59] Why do you need a lawyer with trial experience or a reputation for litigating cases?
- [28:29] Who bears the cost of going to trial?
- [30:01] Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and the no-fault process of Florida.
- [35:04] “I can’t afford an attorney. What do I do? What can I do?”
- [38:04] What are the kinks of litigation, and how long does the process take?
- [44:10] How much is a personal injury case worth?
- [46:27] Dealing with the causation argument
- [50:11] Comparing cases: my friend got X dollars on a case. Why is my case being valued at Y?
- [56:35] The impact of social media on a personal injury case
This is the initial episode of the Dolman Law Group podcast. I’m here with Alex Knapp, my partner here at Dolman Law Group. Alex Knapp’s a director of operations. I’m a managing partner of Dolman Law Group. We are a Clearwater, Florida based personal injury law firm with offices in St. Petersburg and New Port Richey as well, although we handle personal injury claims statewide. How you doing today, Alex?
Doing pretty good. I just appreciate everybody joining us today to listen to our initial episode of the podcast.
Yeah, those few listeners, welcome aboard. This is exciting. So today we’re going to discuss what are the initial questions that a personal injury victim has? And what can they expect after they get into a car accident and things that they can avoid doing?
Usually the first question I get is exactly that: What do I do after a car accident? First thing, most important thing you can do immediately in the aftermath of a car accident is probably called the police, even if you don’t necessarily feel hurt right away.
Even if no one’s hurt.
Exactly. It goes a long way towards getting the facts of the accident written down and documented on paper. You can oftentimes exchange information. And later on, you could run into a situation where the other person, the person that caused your accident, they hit you, tells their insurance company, “No, I was never involved in the accident” or “I wasn’t at fault. That person backed into me.” Any number of things can happen. At least if you have a police officer come out, document the report, document your story and document their story immediately, you get it on paper.
Yeah. As a trial attorney, I can tell you that police reports generally do not make it into evidence. They are considered inadmissible as they’re hearsay. There’s a police report exception, and we can get into that later on. But the importance of having a police report and the importance of having law enforcement come out to the accident scene cannot be understated. The most important thing is having a third party who’s neutral coming out and documenting the actual accident itself. That prevents an individual, maybe a few days later, a week later deciding, “Hey, my insurance rates are about to get jacked up, and I’m going to change my story and say that maybe he was rolling backwards at the time of the accident. Maybe he wasn’t at a proper stop. Maybe he just cut me off.” Rather get it documented at that point in time while the memory’s fresh, and they can also get a recordation of who else may have seen the accident, any other witnesses that are available?
That’s right. I didn’t even mention that, but witness statements are huge in our line of work. More and more, every day, we’re running into liability disputes. And when you have a third party, a person that was not involved in the crash, they can give a statement about what happened. It goes a long way.
Exactly. If you do nothing else after a car accident, the most important tip I can give you is getting an exchange of information, at a minimum. All right? This enables you to know which insurance companies are the players in this accident, who to contact after the accident. You’ll be able to get the other party, hopefully it’s the at-fault party, but the adverse party’s insurance coverage. And obviously you’re going to exchange your insurance coverage with them and vice versa. That allows you to contact the insurance company and begin the claim process.
Sure, because absent that, absent that exchange, if all you have is a name of an individual, when you hire an attorney down the road, there’s no database that has that person’s insurance information listed in it. There are venues and avenues that you can go down to try and get that information, but those oftentimes are fruitless. If you send a letter to the person, they can just ignore it and throw it in the paper. And the only recourse you’re left with is to file a lawsuit, yeah, which can be expensive and take long periods of time, only to find out down the road that there’s not enough coverage or there’s no coverage. So you can really put yourself behind the eight ball by not exchanging that information, by not getting that information down on paper immediately.
In this day and age, and the advent of cell phones and how they’re basically attached to our hip and we always have them on us, I strongly recommend taking a photo of the other party’s insurance card. All right? Therefore you get any information down accurately. You have an actual picture of the card. You’re not relying on their information. You actually have it. I recommend walking around your vehicle and their vehicle and taking photos of the actual property damage. Pictures are worth a thousand words. When a client tells me that there was substantial property damage, but the car has been fixed, and I’ll get hired a few weeks after the accident and after the property damage has already been apportioned and the car has already been repaired, it doesn’t do the same justice as actually getting photos of the accident scene of the actual property damage.
Yeah. I was actually just about to say, it’s amazing, smartphones have really changed the game in this regard. Back before I did this, before I was a personal injury attorney, when smartphones didn’t exist, people would get in car accidents and you wouldn’t have photographs of even your own property damage. All you would have is what you could tell your attorney or what your insurance company could tell you about what the crash kind of looked like after the fact or after the repair. You could go by the repair estimate, but if a person didn’t get their vehicle repaired or it got totaled, you’d have a really hard time kind of documenting just how bad the accident was.
So smartphones have changed the game in that regard.
Yeah. Not only just take photos; take information down of the witnesses who were there as well.
You know, a recordation of every individual that was there, what they saw, and their contact information goes a long way towards getting this claim worked up.
It certainly does. We oftentimes will employ an investigator that will reach out and get witness statements done so that we can use those things later on when, inevitably, the story of the person that caused the accident changes.
And this avoids the whole “he said, she said” scenario, which we often get into, we often encounter. The way to avoid that is to actually have independent witnesses who have no financial incentive, no financial stake in the actual accident or the claim process.
Absolutely. I mean, the big problem that you have is absent those witness statements and the “he said, she said” type of situation that Matt’s just described. The problem you run into is the only way that claim is viable is by putting it into litigation because the insurance company’s going to take the word of their insured. So, at some point along the way, you are going to have to probably file a suit on that case and go down a long winding litigious road to get to the point where someone makes a compromise offer that no one’s going to be happy about down the road.
You got to keep in mind: Insurance companies are there to not spend money. Okay? Their job is to not pay out claims. Even when it’s your own insurance company, you’ll find a lot of clients are reticent to criticize their insurance company, not realizing that the insurance company’s not there for them. The insurance company is there to protect their own money. And in cases where we are going after the at-fault party or there’s disputed liability, it’ll often accept a self-serving statement of their insured, which the only way to get around that, again, is an independent witness.
Yep. So I think that kind of covers the immediate aftermath of the accident. Call the police, get a report out, even if you don’t feel like you’re hurt. If you want to do that, if you have somewhere you have to be in the next 40 minutes, document everything. Get a picture of their insurance card. Get a picture of their license. Get a picture of their vehicle, the damage that was caused to their vehicle. Get a picture of your vehicle, the damage that was caused your vehicle. Document everything you can, because even if you feel like you’re not hurt now, there is a possibility in the coming hours you’re going to feel hurt. And at that point, absent that information, you are going to be in trouble.
Yeah. You can’t state this enough; this is another very important tip, no different than the exchange of information. This is what you should not do after an accident: Avoid giving a recorded statement. It’s okay to call the insurance company and start the claim process, but if they ask a recorded statement, avoid that at all means necessary. Wait until you retain counsel, until you retain a personal injury attorney, who’s licensed in your jurisdiction. And I can’t state how important that is. What you want to do is to avoid giving statements that 1) could be incriminating. 2) They’re going to ask you questions that are often not even related to the accident, more related to your medical treatment. They’re going to find out that information a later date. That’s not pertinent to them discovering who was at fault in the accident or the actual facts relating to the accident itself. The only purpose of a recorded statement is to decipher what occurred at the accident? How did the accident occur? Where were you headed to? Were you familiar with the road? And kind of apportioning the fault or liability.
Yeah. This is something we run into quite a bit. And I will say, with some of the more well known insurance companies, it’s less of a common tactic. But oftentimes we’ll have insurance adjusters that come to us and say, “We did your statement of your client right after the accident, and they told us they weren’t hurt. So what gives now? How are they now saying they’re hurt?” And they’ll even present a transcript of the recorded statement where my client is saying, “Yes, I don’t feel pain. I’m not hurt.” What that fails to address is the fact that oftentimes injuries can present themselves hours or even days after the crash. But now you’re locked in. You’ve said it and it’s recorded, and they’ve got a record of you saying, “I’m not hurt.”
And who’s to say, when you were asked that question, “Are you injured?” there’s many different contexts to being injured. Some individuals are salt of the earth, like my father, for instance. He’s reluctant to ever see a doctor, no matter what his medical problems are. You’re going to look at an individual and say… Or let me rephrase. You’re asked the question, “Am I hurt?” You might think, “Does that mean am I hurt significantly? Do I need to go to a hospital? I’m sore. I have a little bit of ache and pain.” But you might think that’s normal, and you’re probably going to avoid medical treatment at least for a few days to if it goes away. So when you’re asked whether you’re hurt or not, that question can mean a number of different things to many different individuals.
Yeah. It’s a problem of defining your terms. I mean, to someone, hurt might mean, “I’m not bleeding. Nothing’s broken. So no, I’m not hurt.” Because they might understand the question to mean, “Do I need to send an ambulance to you?” So, “No, I’m not hurt.” But to someone else, you might wake up hurt every day. You could have soreness, back pain. Those things are considered hurt. But if you say, “No, I’m not hurt,” now it’s in black and white, and it’s written down on a transcript.
You’re locked in. You know, a statement made in the heat of the moment, right after an accident, when you’re stressed out of your mind, you’re trying to deal with significant property damage, figuring out who’s going to fix your car, how you’re going to get transportation to and from the accident scene, what’s next, the question of whether you’re hurt or not, when you’re not bleeding and you’re not having serious imminent injuries that threaten your life, that might be the last thing that’s furthest from your mind that you want to discuss your actual injuries with the insurance company.
Yeah. In that situation, it’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “No, I’m not hurt. I’ll be okay,” because you have a million other things that are sitting in front of you that you want to solve. So, soreness or back pain or neck pain, if it doesn’t feel emergent, is not going to be something you’re going to concern yourself with very much. So it’s very simple to say, “No, I’m not hurt,” and then later on realize that, “Actually, yeah, I am.”
We’re kind of talking about being hurt a lot. I think the next most important thing that we can discuss is getting medical treatment. If you do feel soreness, if you do feel pain, getting evaluated by a medical professional is probably… It’s important in that the longer you wait, the worse you of a situation you put yourself in.
If you feel any immediate onset of soreness, pain, anything down to even a minor headache, I would still get checked out. Better be safe than sorry, one. Two, if you have a potential personal injury claim, again, this is so vital to your case that you get seen immediately. The less of a timespan that goes on between the accident itself and the commencement, the onset of medical treatment, the better off you are. That takes away their argument that there’s a certain amount of time has elapsed; how badly injured could this individual have been?
Again, many individuals that I represent, many of my clients are the salt of the earth type that do not rush, not the knee-jerk reaction to run right to the physician or the emergency room. At the same point though, the insurance company’s always going to argue that the individual is not very injured. That’s always going to be their default. You are guilty until proven innocent with an insurance carrier. They are always going to take the position that the adverse party, meaning my client, the individual who was not at fault in the accident, could not be that badly injured, because their goal is to save money and not pay out claims. If insurance companies did the right thing, if they were honest and fair in their assessment of injury claims, one would not need me. My profession would not exist. There would be no need for personal injury lawyers. There would need be no need for trial lawyers to hold insurance companies accountable for their misdeeds, their misactions. So, in this case, if you feel anything at all, go get checked out.
And you know what? What I often hear is, “I don’t want to sit and wait in the emergency room for two, three, four hours.” You don’t have to. Go to an urgent care clinic. There’s plenty of them, usually staffed by individuals who formally worked at emergency rooms or still do. And urgent care clinic, absent you having a significant, serious injury, you can get the same treatment at an urgent care clinic, where they can do x-rays, do an entire workup, and refer you out to a physician for aftercare that you can get at an emergency room.
Yeah. I was just going to hop in on kind of what your options are if you are feeling hurt, because that’s oftentimes the next question I get is: “I’m hurt after the accident. Where do I go?” The emergency room is an obvious option that many of my clients take because they want to be as careful as they possibly can. Urgent cares are a phenomenal resource in that regard because they are much faster and they are much cheaper. ERs, emergency rooms are off prohibitively expensive because they practice what we often refer to as scared medicine. Meaning you come in talking about something in your abdomen hurts; rather than necessarily just performing a normal, typical examination on you and sending you on your way, they might perform one or two CTS on you, which is…
CT scan, yeah.
Yeah, which is a diagnostic test that is incredibly expensive. Despite the fact that it’s not state of the art, hospitals bill it out at an incredibly high rate and get reimbursed at an incredibly high rate. So, urgent care can oftentimes, if you’re feeling what I would refer to as non-emergent pain soreness, kind of tightness, stuff like that, an urgent care can go a long way to helping you out.
Another option is your primary care physician. Now, oftentimes, if you’re in an automobile accident, they will turn you away. But at least reach out to your primary care physician to see if they will see you because that’s another good resource, a way to go that’s not the emergency room, which like I said, can be prohibitively expensive at times.
And generally they will evaluate you. What they won’t do is handle the aftercare. A lot of primary care physicians are not equipped to build personal injury protection, and we’re going to get into what PIP is. Florida is a no-fault state. So, no matter who’s at fault in the accident, regardless of liability, regardless of fault, this allows you to treat very quickly with a physician, without a court of law making a determination of, again, who’s at fault. That’s the system we have. Many physicians are not equipped to build PIP. So, what they’ll do is send you on your way, but they’ll at least see you that initial time. Get in with a physician as quickly as you possibly can.
Absolutely. We can’t stress that enough. On top of the fact that it prevents the insurance company from saying that you aren’t hurt because you didn’t get to the doctor that day, if you wait too long, your benefits could be cut off entirely. So Matt mentioned personal injury protection. We often refer to it as PIP. Every Florida insurance policy has to have it. It gives you $10,000 worth of coverage for your medical bills. If you don’t treat within 14 days of your accident, that coverage does not exist for you. It won’t be there to pay your medical bills. So, not only will you have damaged your claim against the individual that hurt you, that caused the accident, but you’ll have eliminated $10,000 in benefits that exist just to help you treat and feel better.
Yep. And that’s as a creature of our legislature that occurred four years ago. Now they changed it to the point where you have to treat within the first 14 days. And again, if you’re not treating within the first 14 days, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a case. Not necessarily does it make it very difficult for us to do our job though. Yes, I mean, it gives the insurance company all the ammunition they need to defend the claim and state how badly injured could you be if you did not see a physician for the first two weeks following a car accident, following an auto accident.
Absolutely, yeah. It comes up, not frequently because oftentimes we don’t find that we have a lot of clients that have those types of cases. More often than not, people have been evaluated. But when it has occurred, it creates an issue.
The other issue that you run into is you could treat an initially, see someone at the urgent care, and then not get back in to see anyone for quite some time. That creates a gap in treatment. And if you treat early and you see someone initially, but then you don’t get in to see anyone else, that’s almost just as bad as not seeing someone early on. A gap in treatment or not treating consistently can do all kinds of damage to your potential personal injury case because it raises the same exact question: How injured could you be if you went to the hospital and then didn’t see anyone for X number of weeks?
And gaps in treatment can occur at any point. You could be treating with a physical therapist or a chiropractor, what have you. And it could be six to eight weeks, maybe even three months after the car accident, suddenly you disappear off the face of the earth for three weeks or a month; and then you’re back into seeing a physician. Again, the insurance company’s always going to argue about the timeline. And whenever there’s a gap in treatment, it kind of undermines the case. It draws some red flags. And immediately they’re going to scrutinize the claim that much further, which is the last thing you want as a claimant. They’re going to, again, argue how badly injured can John Doe be if John Doe is sitting at home and not going into treatment? And granted, we all have important things going on in our lives, and treatment might come second to your job, familial responsibilities, other things you may have going on. But in the spectrum of your personal injury case, you’re in a vacuum, and all they’re looking at is the medical treatment and the objective medical documentation that is generated as a result of such treatment. If you’re not going in consistently, that will always undermine the case.
There’s no exceptions to that.
It’s absolutely true. I often find myself describing what we do as this: At the end of the day, we’re telling a story: car accident, injury, treatment. If there’s a large period of time in there where there’s an injury and no treatment, it gets harder to sell the injury, to tell the insurance company that there’s an injury, to prove up the injury. It becomes almost we’re climbing a steep hill in that situation.
After the medical, getting medical attention and documenting the accident and getting a police officer out there, the next thing that I would say, I tell any client, call an attorney. And that sounds self-serving. There’s no way for it to not sound self-serving as an attorney. But we serve an important need if you are, in fact, hurt and are going to be pursuing a personal injury claim.
You know, personal injury lawyers, it has a very pejorative tone. Sounds like ambulance chasers. We hear those terms all the time, and we’re going to get into the different classification, different classes of personal injury lawyers that are out there. There are guys that simply handle claims, work them up, and try to get whatever money they can possibly get, and leave a lot of money on the table. And there’s trial lawyers like ourselves, lawyers that take cases or the firm regularly cases to trial and holds the insurance companies accountable. You could be the world’s worst trial attorney and you’re still better than the guy down the block who never litigates or never tries a case.
Remember, and keep this in mind: What insurance companies hate to do is spend money. When you’re litigating cases and fine lawsuits and pushing through the discovery process, setting depositions, pushing the case to mediation, and then saying the case for trial, the insurance carriers have to retain counsel. They have to defend the claim. They need to spend money. This is what they do not like to do. That’s what adds value to a case. You’re holding the insurance company accountable. There’s an actual bite behind the bark. Look at bark all day long, but there’s no bite. All you’re doing is you’re just puffing. And that’s the difference between the classifications of lawyers out there.
But you made an important point. Why does one need to retain an attorney? And let’s talk about these studies that are out there and how it adds value to a case.
So there’s a lot of different studies on the issue, but basically they have, more often not, found that a claimant is likely to net three to six times more money in their pocket when pursuing a case with a personal injury attorney versus pursuing a case without a personal injury attorney.
That’s net, not gross, not gross settlement. That’s net in their pocket.
Sure. The difference being, of course, the gross settlement is what gets spent… It’s the total amount; then you pay attorney’s fees, then you pay your medical bills. The net is what’s left after attorney’s fees, medical bills and costs are all taken out. So, for your net to be three to six times greater when you have an attorney, that’s no number to sneeze at. And the reason for that is, again, not to trample on Matt’s words, but there’s a bite behind the bark. If you make a personal injury claim on your own behalf to an insurance company without an attorney, and they look at you, your demand, and they respond back, “No,” or, “Here’s 10% of what you’ve asked for.” What is your next move? What is your retaliation to that? How do you…
What is their incentive?
Exactly. There’s no response that you have, absent at that point hiring an attorney to proceed with a lawsuit on your behalf against their insured.
Yeah. They have no incentive to pay. What’s the threat? What is the repercussions if they don’t pay? Who’s to hold their feet to the fire? So John Doe sends a claim and the insurance company does not value it appropriately. What’s next? What is the insurance company worried about? Nothing is going to happen after that. Most individuals are not equipped to file their own lawsuit or know how to do such properly, know how to handle discovery in a proper manner, and so on and so forth.
Yeah, absolutely. Most individuals will just, in that situation, they’ll end up in the kind of vicious cycle that insurance companies set up, or they’ll tell them, “Well, we’ll get you an offer, but we’ve got to go and collect your medical records. Please give us some medical authorization.” Then they’ll get their medical authorization and go through your medical history. They’ll tell you it takes them six weeks. It takes them 90 days to figure out your claim, at the end of which you’ll feel how it is you feel. Maybe you’ll feel better, maybe you’ll feel worse. And they’ll more often than not come to you with an offer that’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 or $3,000. The idea being that’s enough to pay your PIP copays, something that we can get into a little bit more in depth at another time. But your PIP copays and a small amount for what they would refer to as pain and suffering, which I think most of my clients that have ever been in that situation and hired us after that’s happened, would tell you that doesn’t come close to covering the inconvenience at the minimum, not even considering their future injuries and their future treatment that they’re going to have from this injury.
Let’s discuss what’s the importance of hiring a lawyer or a law firm that has trial experience or has a reputation of regularly taking cases to the mat and trying cases before juries here, whether it’s a Pinellas county, Manatee, Sarasota, Pasco, Polk, Hillsborough, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. These are counties where we regular litigate cases. And what is the importance of hiring a firm that regularly litigates cases and tries them?
So, like you said earlier, it’s similar to the why hire an attorney discussion at all. The benefit of having an attorney that will try cases and then will litigate cases is insurance companies know that. In fact, they keep databases, they keep lists. They know which attorneys will settle cases for less than medical bills. They know which attorneys don’t try cases. They know which law firms don’t put cases into litigation. They also know which law firms put cases into litigation and don’t really push them hard. They keep all this data. They track it all. Because they’re humongous corporations, they can do that. So, when they know that someone’s represented by an attorney that has never filed a lawsuit, has never tried a case, they know that their pre-suit offer is more likely than not going to be the offer that gets accepted.
So, what benefit is there for them to value the claim fairly? They’re in a better position to make an offer that they think they can get the attorney to accept rather than an offer that will fairly compensate the injured party.
And that brings the term up as known as a personal injury settlement mill. That’s a lot of the… And I don’t want to make the generalization all television law firms or firms that advertise on TV are like that. There are some very good ones, including a certain law firm that has a slogan, “For the people.” They have a number of great trial lawyers. But there’s a number of law firms also to advertise heavily that do not try cases, that do not regularly appear in courtrooms, that are not known for litigating their claims. These are law firms that more often not, and it’s the rule, not the exception, that they leave a significant amount of money on the table.
And clients, unwary consumers, unsophisticated consumers, do not know any better. They think that these guys are on TV. They’re big shots. They’re big trial lawyers. They’re throwing their business cards when they’re walking out of the courtroom. And there’s all these people taking photos of them in their commercial. In the commercial they’ll see they’re walking out of the courtroom and all these journalists are writing down stuff, which never occurs in a personal injury lawsuit anyway. Then you find out those guys don’t try cases or whatever. It’s a rarity. In fact, one of these law firms recently was… There was a whole article about it in the Tampa Tribune, how they tried one case over a four or five-year period.
And I’m not here to demean other lawyers or rather just talk about ourselves and why it’s important to hire trial lawyers. But keep in mind, these are law firms that are leaving significant amounts of money on the table. Consumers do not know any better, and they think they’re in the right hands when they couldn’t have done a bigger disservice to themselves.
Yeah. Frankly, there’s a math calculation that can kind of go into this from the perspective of the attorney that has the case if they don’t litigate files themselves. If you get to a point where you have an offer on the table, you know what your fee would be from that offer, and you know that your fee from that offer would be greater than if you referred the case out and it got litigated to fair value. Insurance companies know that as well, so they’ll oftentimes put an offer on the table that’s, call it, 60% of fair value. And they will tell the attorney that, “This is my top offer.” Well, the attorney will then do the math and realize that, “If I refer this out and take a portion of the fee, my fee’s actually less than my fee if I get this case settled here now.” And clients are done a disservice because of it.
And they don’t know any better.
How would they?
The clients are none the wiser, and the lawyer’s making a decision based on their own best interests, not the client’s best interest, not in the best interest of the claim itself. And that’s sad, but that’s often the reality in our industry.
It’s true. It’s true. Frankly, at the end of the day, it is a business and a lot of people treat it that way. And you can do very well by not honing your craft and just kind of getting cases in and getting them out. And sometimes you’ll get policy limits and you do a great job, but other times you will be doing your clients a great disservice.
And it’s not to speak ill of those who do not try cases. Every law firm has their own reasons of why they do or do not litigate. And some lawyers, it’s not whether they’re capable or not. Some aren’t, but others lack the financial means or wherewithal. They might not have a big enough credit line, which we obviously do here, to handle claims against any insurance carrier, to be able to retain the proper experts, not litigate a case on a shoestring budget. You know, you get what you spend. You have to hire the best experts to kind of level the playing field against the insurance company who has unlimited resources, who is a publicly traded company, who really will defend the case to the limits.
Absolutely. I mean, we have cases here that are in suit right now that you wouldn’t consider to be high value cases, that the literal best experts that are known in the field for the defense perspective are on them. Why else would an insurance company spend tens of thousands of dollars on a case where they know their ultimate exposure is less than $100,000, if it’s not just because that’s how they treat every case? They defend every case to the hilt, and they go down swinging because they can. They can afford to. It’s setting a precedent oftentimes. If they just rolled over on one case, they’d be afraid that people would expect them to roll over on every case.
You know, the insurance carriers, their motive is to make this process as cost prohibitive to plaintiff counsel as possible, to make it almost like a war of attrition, to wear you down. Hopefully if they litigate the case and deny, delay and defend it to death, they’re hoping that over that one and a half, two-year process of litigation, that eventually you’re going to cave and give in, and want your money, and settle it for a lot less than what the case truly and ultimately is worth. That’s why you need experienced counsel who has litigated or tried numerous cases in your local jurisdiction to tell you what is the case ultimately worth or what is a fair value and what is the average jury verdict in this jurisdiction, or obviously the applicable jurisdiction for the same like-kind injuries and what you can expect going down the road. So you know whether you’re leaving money on the table or not. You know whether it’s a fair offer or not.
Sure. And another thing is, and I actually meant to jump in on this earlier when Matt was discussing costs and being able to afford them: Litigation is a bit of an investment. And by that, I mean you don’t put a case in a litigation, then settle it within three weeks. That doesn’t happen very often. More often than not, that means that you are going to go through discovery. You’re going to get a deposition. You’re probably going to make it to a mediation. And there’s a chance that case won’t settle at mediation and you will be going to trial possibly, and that could take two years, longer. I see cases oftentimes that we’ve picked up from other lawyers that have been in litigation for some time and they’re not set for trial, and we’re almost two years out.
And we do them as quickly as possible. It’s only an incentive to get done as quickly. We don’t get paid till the case gets done. But go on.
Sure. So the problem that you have is, if you’re an attorney, if you’re a small office, that’s a lot of money to lay out: the cost of experts, the cost of filing. I mean, you’ve not realized any value on this case. You’re basically working, because we work on contingency fees, you’re working for free until the case gets done. You’ve invested in this and there’s been no return for some time. So, if you can’t handle that investment or you don’t have a credit line that allows you to be able to take those costs from elsewhere and not necessarily take them out of your operating account, you are at a disadvantage. So, in a situation where you have a small office, even if you are a great litigator, even if you do know everything there is know, even if you can properly value a case, that doesn’t mean that you can necessarily litigate a case because you just simply can’t afford to, depending on the situation.
Give you an explanation of what PIP is, personal injury protection, and the whole no-fault process of the state of Florida.
Yeah. I think it’s important we go back to this because we discussed it a little bit earlier. So, personal injury protection exists in Florida, exists in Michigan, exists in New York and some other states. But personal injury protection is insurance coverage that every individual in the state of Florida carries on their policy, mandated by the state legislature currently that every individual has to carry $10,000 worth of personal injury protection coverage on their policy at a minimum. I believe you can purchase more, but I mean that’s like great white buffalo. You never see that. What that does is it ensures that at the time there’s a crash, there is someone ready, willing and able to pay your medical bills, so long as you meet certain guidelines. Meaning you are in a car accident, you treat within 14 days, and you treat with a physician that bills PIP. That insurance coverage provides you with, like I said, $10,000 worth of coverage.
However, they don’t just simply pay $10,000 worth of your medical bills. They pay 80% of a reasonable charge, and it’s based on a fee schedule that’s dictated within the statute. But essentially they pay 80% of two times Medicare. So you go to the hospital, you go to the urgent care, you go to a chiropractor, you go to your primary care doctor, whomever. When they bill PIP, PIP pays them 80% of whatever is a reasonable charge. Now, the rules for hospitals are a little bit different, but typically speaking, based on the codes that are billed for the treatment that you receive, they then take that code, plug it into the Medicare fee schedule, multiply it by two, and then pay 80% of whatever that bill is. So, an MRI company gets paid a certain amount on an MRI, and a chiropractor gets paid a certain amount on an adjustment, and a medical doctor gets paid a certain amount on an injection. And it’s all dictated by Medicare and the statute.
What’s an emergency medical condition? How does that play in?
So Matt, actually it’s funny; you talked about the statute changing not that long ago, when the legislature added the 14 days, because prior to that, you could treat it any time and your PIP would kick in. There would just be a question of whether or not the insurance company bought it, and they would get you sent out for what’s known as an independent medical examination, which we can talk about later. But when the law changed, they added in a statute or a portion of the statute that required you be determined to have an emergency medical condition. Now, there’s no timeline upon which this has to occur, but following your treatment, you only actually have $2,500 worth of benefits available to you.
Yeah, not $10,000.
No. If no one declares that you have an emergency medical condition, which is a term that is actually not defined within the statute and not actually defined with any known medical literature that I’ve ever seen…
Doctors are not trained this. It’s a creature of the legislature.
Yeah. It’s actually, if I understand correctly, it’s a creature of workers compensation law that kind of made its way over to PIP somehow. If you’re declared to have an emergency medical condition by a medical doctor, so an MD, dentist… Nurse practitioners can declare them.
Yeah, exactly. Anyone other than a chiropractor can declare that you have an emergency medical condition. Once that happens, your full $10,000 worth of PIP is triggered and you can then continue to treat or your bills start getting paid. The reason the legislature did this, as I understand it, was that there was a time back before this particular provision occurred where certain doctors would treat you in the beginning of your accident, get paid the full $10,000 worth of your personal injury protection before they would let anyone else see you. And it would kind of put a lot of injured individuals behind the eight ball that had gotten a lot of care that didn’t really help them, and then they incurred a lot of unnecessary bills. So the idea was to make sure that another person saw you and declared an emergency medical condition. It’s created some perverse incentives. I actually had a client, not that long ago, that was in the hospital for three days, incurred $83,000 worth of medical bills, had a diagnosed brain injury; but because no one in the emergency room, because this is not something that any doctor would commonly say in any of their reports, but no one in the emergency room said she had an emergency medical condition. That is a term that you specifically have to include in your report.
Which many doctors are not even aware to do that yet.
Absolutely. If you don’t do personal injury, why would you know it? Because no one in the emergency room, no one in the hospital, for the three days she was there, none of her admitting doctors, not the neurologist who saw her and said on their report she had an emergency medical condition. They would not declare that she got the full $10,000 worth of her personal injury protection. Instead they wanted to allow her to have $2,500, and they wanted to tell us to have a nice day.
There’s clearly such BS, but this is what we normally deal with.
Yeah, this is what we ran into. She actually had to go in, see a doctor again, outside of the office or outside of the hospital for another appointment, simply to get this opinion, this determination that she had an emergency medical condition months prior so that they would turn on the faucet, so to speak, and give her the full $10,000 worth of personal injury protection. It doesn’t really seem fair. It doesn’t really seem right. I understand. I understand the idea. But the way insurance companies have twisted the language and the requirement has made it such that it’s a perverse little game where, in the beginning of a case, oftentimes chiropractors will involve a medical doctor for no other reason other than to get this opinion.
Exactly. So a common question we’re often asked is: “I can’t afford an attorney. What do I do? What can I do?” And I’ll take that one, which is we are a contingency fee law firm, and we’re not unique in this. Pretty much every personal injury lawyer handles a case on what’s known as a contingency fee. The word ‘contingent’ means an event has to occur. The event is either a settlement or a jury verdict. So, absent us settling the case or getting a jury verdict, we are taking the risk as a personal injury lawyer; we’re investing in this claim, hoping that there’s a fruitful outcome. If we do not have a recovery, we do not obtain a fee. It’s as simple as that. We do not charge our clients any costs. The costs come out of the settlement.
So, if we advance costs and let’s say we retain an expert, but for some reason the case dies in the vine, whether it turns out that there’s a liability dispute and the experts believe that you are clearly at fault, or I mean, I can think of a whole host of reasons of why a case could go south; you are not stuck on the hook for that. I mean, it’s the exception, not the reality. Most cases are very fruitful and they wind up with a nice decent recovery. But in the absence of a settlement or a jury verdict, you are not responsible. You’re not on the hook for any fees or costs. That’s how we work. So we only get paid if a contingency occurs. The contingency, again, is an event. That event is either a settlement or a jury verdict. Alex?
Yeah, there’s no retainer. There’s no situation where you have to walk in and we give you a billable hour sheet, or you receive a bill at the end of every month, which is how defense attorneys bill their insurance companies. That doesn’t occur. Our fee is based entirely on our ability to get you a settlement or obtain a verdict and get paid on that verdict. So, in that situation where you can’t afford an attorney, which is a good portion of our client roster and most client rosters, I think, in personal injury firms, especially today with the way the economy is and everything like that, we go forward without getting paid until the end.
Yeah. We front all the costs; we take all the risks. So the whole purpose of the contingency fee system is to kind of level of playing field. Otherwise it’s almost like denying access to the court, especially to individuals who do not have the financial means or wherewithal. They would not be able to obtain or retain counsel to represent them and represent their interest in a personal injury claim as you do not have, obviously, the financial wherewithal.
Certainly. I mean, imagine a scenario where you have a case that goes to trial. And if you were receiving monthly bills from your attorney, those bills would be exorbitant. Even a well-to-do individual would be hard pressed to be able to pay, let’s say, $100,000, $150,000, which could often be the cost if you were to take the man hours that are put into a case. Who would be able to pay that before getting a verdict? It would be cost prohibitive. The only entities that can really afford those kinds of bills are large corporations like, I don’t know, insurance companies, which is why their system is set up that way. Whereas normal individuals that are hurt in car accidents, especially those that have been put out of work, certainly aren’t going to be able to afford paying medical bills, paying lawyers bills every month. It’s just simply not reasonable. It’s not feasible.
I think we said it.
Absolutely. So Matt, how long does the process take? That’s always something they ask.
Tough question. And for me to answer that, I’m going to be very honest. But anyone who tells you a specific timeline of how long the case is going to take from the moment they sign up the case, if they’re telling you this, it’s a sign that they’re lying to you. They’re feeding your head with a lot of BS in the hopes that you will sign a contract with the firm, and then they’re setting expectations that oftentimes will never be met. And reality is, at my firm, at Dolman Law Group, our goal is to get a case done within four to six months from the inception of the case; otherwise we are filing suit. I think the longer that we keep a case in the pre-suit process, absent the individual being pregnant or some other unforeseen circumstance of why the case has to last a bit longer in pre-litigation, we like to get the cases either resolved or in suit within four to six months, generally close to four months. It’s almost like a depreciating asset. The longer it sits there, the more your clients are incurring costs. You’re not building value without filing a lawsuit if you cannot get the case done in that time period.
So, from there, no one can guarantee, there’s no crystal ball, “I can tell you a case is going to resolve in four to six months.” There are certain cases are obvious. You know, it’s a small policy limits of $25,000 or $50,000 or even $10,000, and the injuries are exorbitant, and it’s clear that they’re going to pay. Almost certainly we can tell you the case will get resolved. Even then, we’ve been shocked. There’s a whole bevy of cases in the state case law on a subject of bad faith where the insurance company was obvious to them that they should have paid or obvious to any third party, and the insurance company failed to act reasonably. Having said that though, usually the case will get done in four to six months; otherwise we file a lawsuit.
At that point, we’re at the mercy of the court system and the rules of civil procedure that govern us. And I think we’re as quick as any law firm, if not quicker, in getting cases resolved in litigation. But again, you’re at the mercy… We’re not delaying it by any means, and there’s a lot of great firms out there, clearly. But it takes time and usually takes a good six to eight months to get a case to mediation. All right? Because first you got to go through depositions. Then you mediate the case. And if you can’t get the case resolved in mediation, you set it for trial. And usually a trial date will be six to eight months after mediation. Sometimes sooner, depending on what county you’re in and how backlogged they are with other cases, because it’s not just personal injury cases that are on the docket. A lot of them are regular civil cases involving…
issues, business issues, real estate. So these cases are… You know, the dockets are often jammed up, especially here in Pinellas, in Hillsborough county. So it could take a year and a half before you get the case actually to trial, or maybe even a year after mediation. And then it depends on where you are on the docket. So we’ve had two recent cases that we were set for trial and that got delayed because we were second or third on the docket, meaning there was a case set for the same week that was older than our case. So the judge took the oldest case, which they have to, and then kicked our case to six months later. And it’s out of our controls. Is it frustrating? Yes. Do we want to try the case yesterday? Of course. We don’t get paid till the case resolves. But it’s the risk we take as personal injury lawyers. And the reality is that we could never tell somebody when the case is going to be done. Anyone that does is lying to you.
Yeah. I mean, in the situation you just referenced, we were ready to try the case on Friday morning. They went and heard a motion to continue, and now the case isn’t being tried until August. So a seven-month delay got built in because of the insurance company raising issue with the insurance, well, with the judge, the merits of which I won’t dive into right here. But our case got pushed back seven months. So that just adds an extra seven months to the timetable that our client’s going to wait to get that case resolved one way or the other.
One thing I was going to say when Matt first started getting into it is the process itself builds in time structures and just time that goes on, that’s going to pass by, without your case getting resolved. If you file a lawsuit, you get 20 days from the date of service to respond to, for the opposing party to respond to your complaint. That’s 20 days. That’s almost an entire month before that you hear anything. There’s discovery. There’s 30 days to respond to discovery. Oftentimes defense counsels will file motions for extension of time that until you can get that motion heard or an agreed order on it, just sits out there. It’s holding the time before they are late on their discovery responses. Depositions, you have to coordinate a time that your client is available at the same time as the opposing counsel, the attorney for the insurance company, is ready to attend and take that deposition. Mediation, once again, you have to coordinate our, this office’s schedule, as well as the defense attorney’s schedule, the mediator’s schedule. And you see how these time frames can kind of build up. And before you know it, we can file a lawsuit, and it could be 12 months or 24 months. And we are still fighting to try and get this case in front of a judge.
And most insurance companies work very well if our law firm, but there are again exceptions to that rule. And some insurance companies like to drag out the process as much as possible and make us go to hearing after hearing in order to get things scheduled, especially mediations. And again, you’re going around the defense counsel’s calendar, the mediator’s calendar. So you’re working with other third parties, and it’s not just us that holds the process up, because we have a number of trial lawyers here that are available, ready, willing and able to attend mediation or take a case through trial. We have to work at the mercy of the mediator, the defense counsel. And if we can’t get things scheduled, we have to bring it before a judge to force it to be scheduled.
Yeah. You mentioned earlier that there most insurance companies work really well with us, and almost all of them do. There are some that they work really well with everyone, and they just delay and defend on every case anyways. One of my friends practices down in south Florida; it’s completely different. I will say, up here, people are a lot more cordial. There’s a lot more courtesy and there’s a lot more respect that goes back and forth. Down in south Florida, it’s guerilla warfare at all times.
It’s like the wild west.
Yeah. I have friends that have had to have attorneys restrained from attacking them because they fought them on a motion to continue. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that goes on down there. So I’m happy that we practice up here in a district where it’s a little bit nicer and a little more cordial.
And we do practice in south Florida and statewide, but the majority of our practice is here on the west coast of Florida, and it’s a lot different here than it is in Broward, Dayton, and Palm Beach county. I’ll tell you that much.
Last thing: How much is a case worth, Alex?
You know, this is my favorite answer. It depends, and it depends on a lot of different things.
A lot of variables.
Yes. Who are you as an individual? Are you an 18-year-old with no prior medical history? Your case is probably going to be fundamentally different from a 75-year-old retiree who has prior back surgeries. Right? I mean, that makes sense. An insurance company’s not necessarily going to just accept that an individual who’s older, that has prior issues in the same area, is as hurt as a young person who has no prior issues in that area.
I mean, not even as hurt, but how do you apportion which accident or is the injury acute and related to this recent accident, or is it a process of time and degeneration of the spine over the many years? Let’s say it’s a back or neck injury. How do we relate it? How do we… You can’t timestamp when the injury occurred. It’s very difficult. We retain experts for that very process. But again, the older the individual is, and everyone’s a spring chicken, it makes cases a bit more difficult.
Absolutely. I mean, we’ll have young… I mean, we even have young individuals, people that are between the ages of 18 and 30, where an insurance company will say that their pathology, their findings and their MRIs look degenerative in nature. So imagine how they treat an individual who’s over the age of 40. That comes up in many, many cases. It’s like page one of the defense playbook. “This person’s injuries aren’t related to this crash; they’re related to prior degeneration.” Or if there is a prior accident with complaints in the similar area, well, then they’re definitely going to say it’s related to that crash.
Which we see all too often. And in those cases, not everyone comes out of central booking as the 18-year-old that got hit by a Pepsi bottling truck. I have yet to see that case. So, more often not, we’re dealing with cases where individuals do have prior accidents, prior injuries. And what we do is we retain radiologists to compare prior MRI studies versus the recent one, if there is a prior MRI study and we have that luxury. In the absence of such a prior diagnostic study, it’s the radiologist and also if there’s a spine surgeon involved, they will take a look and see how acute those injuries are. Or is there a degenerative process involved in the spine that one can relate those injuries to? How much is related to generation? How much is related to it being acute, acutely related to the accident in question? So, that’s the normal workup of our cases where an individual’s not a spring chicken or they’ve had prior accidents or a combination of both.
Yeah. So, and then that kind of just ties right into the next thing I wanted to talk about, was causation. Did this accident cause these injuries? That tends to be what a lot of these cases turn on. Is this injury that’s claimed today, was this caused by this crash? And one of the biggest things that they don’t teach you in law school, that people will fight you on, is what does the accident look like? How bad was the hit between these two or three or four, how many vehicles? If it’s a minor impact where you can’t perceive any property damage, an insurance company’s going to go balls to the wall, for lack of a better expression, to defend that case. Meanwhile, if you have a case where a trunk has been completely smashed in to the point you can’t open it, it’s easy to tell that story. Once again, storytelling. It’s easy to tell that story of this individual was stopped at a red light, got hit by a vehicle that totaled their car, and smashed in their trunk, and now has back pain and neck pain.
Exactly. I mean, there’s numerous studies that will show that one can be injured and suffer substantial injuries, suffer permanent injuries, from a five-mile-an-hour accident. The problem is convincing a jury. So, when the defense lawyer blows up that photo, that picture of the accident, and it depicts very minor property damage, that begs the question: Did this accident cause the injuries that the claimant is complaining of? That’s what’s called a causation argument, and it’s very difficult to overcome those arguments. Juries are generally reluctant to give away money.
We’re in a conservative jurisdiction here where Palm Beach, Broward, Dayton is a little bit more liberal. Hillsborough, Pinellas county, Pasco county, Sarasota, Manatee on the west coast of Florida is a bit more conservative. In this conservative jurisdiction, it’s very difficult to minor impact soft tissue injury cases. They’re just inherently very difficult. More often than not, there are defense verdicts. So you have the playing field that’s stacked against you to begin with. And we do a lot to overcome these, and we’ve had many successful results on such cases, but a client should know going in that when there’s low property damage involved, when the pictures depict minor to no property damage at all, maybe scratches, a little bit of scuffing, maybe a tiny little dent, those are very difficult cases because again, the defense lawyer will blow up that photo at trial, if it ever gets that far, and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here, we’re stuck here, over this. This individual’s claiming they were very badly injured because of this.” And it’s just tough to overcome.
Yeah, I mean, because then on a jury you have a bunch of individuals that probably haven’t read this particular medical literature. And even if you brought it up at trial, they may not believe it because it doesn’t fit with their worldview, with their experiences in life. There’s a very logical argument that can be made; that this accident, where this car looks the same after it as it did before it, couldn’t possibly cause the injuries claimed. Now, we might have seen the actual effects. I have a client who I even knew before the crash, who was in a minor impact accident, who after the fact was in lots of pain and actually had injuries that were demonstrated in objective findings and MRIs. It doesn’t really… I can’t testify to that, and it won’t matter to a jury that’s going to say, “Well, that looks like a minor accident. I was in an accident similar to that not that ago. I wasn’t hurt. How could this possibly be legitimate?”
And that’s a very, very difficult argument to overcome. If you don’t see it at trial, it’ll probably happen at mediation where they’ll blow up the picture, and they’ll show it to your client, and they’ll explain to you very, very fervently that your chances of succeeding, if we go forward from this, are not great. And any attorney who’s seen that, who’s had that case, a case like that, knows how hard that road is to hoe.
Yeah. And touching off… There’s a little bit of a transition here, but touching off what you just said about when you’re comparing accidents, let’s talk about the scenario where, and I often see this, a client will come in and say, “My friend got X amount of dollars on a case. Why is my case being valued at Y? Why did my friend get $40,000 in a very similar accident where they weren’t very badly injured, but I was…” You know, they say their injuries are worse, “And I’m getting an offer of $20,000.” Let’s discuss that for a moment, and I’ll start by saying that no two insurance companies are created equal. I don’t know what insurance carriers were involved in your friend’s case. I don’t know what the property damage photos look like. I don’t have access to all the medical records that were available to the lawyer who obviously prosecuted that case. Without seeing such, it’s impossible to compare apples to oranges, in this case like apples to potatoes. You know, we’ll have a case against one insurance company. I’m not going to name names now because I don’t want them to put me on a list. But some insurance companies are very easy to deal with, and I wouldn’t call them pushovers, but…
Yeah, sure. They’re fair. A case with probably, one would say, moderate soft-tissue injuries, they’ll value at being $60,000, where Allstate, State Farm, Geico will value the same case at being $15,000. That’s a vast difference. A case where a client had surgery, State Farm, Allstate might offer me $175,000 to $250,000 where this insurance company will offer me $350,000 to $500,000. That’s a big difference. So it all depends on what insurance company was involved. That’s the first variable.
What attorney was involved? How good are they? Some cases just resolve themselves. How much property damage was there? What did the medical records show? Did they have any priors?
Sorry, yeah, what was their pathology versus your pathology? What were her priors versus your priors? Are there priors you have that you’re not telling me in this off-the-cuff kind of conversation we’re having right now?
Yes. So, when a client comes in and says, “Johnny down the block got $60,000, and my case is only getting offered $25,000. What is wrong with you guys? Are you guys not a very good law firm? Or what’s the story here?” Or often they’ll come in and they’ll compare what someone else got, and they’re trying to hire me as a lawyer, and then they’re bad mouthing their prior lawyer. And I’m reluctant to talk badly about another lawyer to begin with. I think what goes around comes around. And generally it’s not the lawyer’s fault, okay? Because you can’t compare apples to oranges, and I don’t know what the other case looked like. I can’t say.
I even had… I certainly don’t want to put a client out there, but I had a client that signed up with us long after her companion case had settled. So they were in the same car accident. So property damage is the same. Liability questions are the same. The impact is the same. He, the person that we’d represented previously and settled his case, had a prior accident, had a prior treatment at the same area, and we were able to get him the full policy limits that were available. And actually we’re going to have a discussion about policy limits in a minute too, because we’ve kind of talked about that, but it’s something that’s important to this conversation about what your case is worth.
So this other individual, she’d hired another attorney. She was unhappy with how it was going, hired us, retained us. We took over her case, and down the road, she got upset. You know, “Why is my offer less than his offer?” And the explanation is, “At this moment, I can’t really tell you, but there’s a difference in your case. Your case is not his case, period. His treatment’s different than your treatment. I understand that you have had X, Y, and Z treatments done to you, and he had A, B and C treatments done to him. But his pathology is different than your pathology. I realize you were in the same accident. I realize…”
It’s tough. It’s arbitrary. The whole system’s arbitrary. In that case, there were many reasons why we didn’t go forward on and which she agreed to get the case resolved. I remember the exact case was also easier to delineate his injuries because he had a prior accident. We could compare and contrast the MRI results of our expert, where her case, she just had this accident, didn’t have any priors, and they were relating a lot of it to just a degenerative process. We didn’t have a prior accident, which is like a timestamp. It’s just a shot in time where we can tell what was there at that point versus what’s there now. It’s much easier to delineate the injuries, which we couldn’t do on her case. But again, it’s so arbitrary. I mean, I’ll deal with insurance adjusters that one day will give me one offer on a case, and two weeks later on a very similar case will give me a completely substantially different offer.
Yeah, it’s arbitrary. That’s the best way to put it. We will see State Farm, who’s one of the most well known and largest insurance companies in the country, especially in the state of Florida, and for the longest time they were known for low-balling pre-suit offers. Then somewhere out of nowhere, in response to a demand we sent over, they make a huge, very fair, compensable offer. And we were able to settle that case in pre-suit without the need for litigation. It’s arbitrary and oftentimes it’s based on some algorithm that they’re using, and it can be affected by the weather at the time of the month.
The last thing I wanted to talk about with, “What is my case worth?” is insurance coverage. That it shouldn’t play a role, I understand that. You are as hurt as you are based on the person that caused your accident’s malfeasance. I get that. But the problem that we have is most individuals don’t have some huge pot of money behind them that they can pay for damages that they cause. So, how much insurance coverage they carry… Bodily injury coverage is what it’s referred to. And how much uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage you have as an individual, meaning you’ve bought extra insurance that covers you in the event that the person that causes your pain, causes your injury, doesn’t have bodily injury coverage or doesn’t have adequate bodily coverage. How much uninsured or underinsured motors coverage you have will play a role in the value of your claim.
If you’re struck in a bad, serious accident that causes you to be bay flighted to the hospital, by an individual that has a $10,000 bodily injury insurance policy, that doesn’t have any assets, and you don’t have underinsured motorist coverage, $10,000 is likely going to be all that they can ever give you. Absent some kind of mistake on the part of the insurance company or bad faith claim, which is incredibly difficult to prove, $10,000 will be the limit. And it’s a really unfortunate situation that I’ve had people in, individuals run into, but there’s no way around that. So, while insurance, the amount of insurance coverage available, shouldn’t in our ideal world affect the value of your claim, it does. It plays a very, very large role.
The last thing I think we wanted to talk about today was not necessarily a question, but it’s something we’ve actually been forced to bring up with people, and it actually played a role in that case that we kind of talked about 45 seconds ago: the impact to social media on a personal injury case. So…
Social media is the wheel of our time. It has changed the world. Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest; these are all places where people can get together, share ideas at the touch of a button. The problem that we have, that we run into as personal injury attorneys… And I’m sure Matt will be able to expound upon this quite a bit; is when you share things about your life, everyone can see them. And that’s kind of the benefit, but it’s also the negative. So, an individual that gets in a car accident and then two days later says that they’re going to go mountain climbing, creates a problem where it’s hard for us to say that you’re hurt and you climb a mountain.
Yeah. I mean, in a, well, I guess a less drastic scenario, you’ll see the individual goes on a nice vacation with their family. And of course, one can still enjoy life. One can still hang out with their family. One can still go on with the normal daily activities when they’ve been in a car accident. But a picture again is worth a thousand words. And what the jury will see is when they show this photo of the individual timestamped three weeks after the car accident, maybe snowboarding or doing something, you don’t know that they’re in pain when they’re doing this activity. All you see is a smile on their face, their thumbs up, and smiling for the camera. And what the defense lawyer will always say is, “How badly injured could this person be?” Those photos never help. They only hurt, right?
First of all, never discuss your case on social media. That will always come back to impact you. Don’t discuss what you think the case is worth, why you want to hire a lawyer, how much pound of flesh you want to get out of the individual who caused the accident. Avoid those type of comments. But also avoid taking pictures. You know, we always tend to overshare about our lives as if people do care about it, and maybe your friends do. Avoid oversharing, avoid sharing after the accident. Just putting your account on private means nothing. They can subpoena your entire social media history with Facebook, with Twitter. LinkedIn, generally, people do not share that kind of stuff on. It’s more of business to business. But there’s a number of social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat. Avoid them. After a car accident, do not discuss your accident. Avoid taking photos of yourself. It’s only going to come back and haunt you in a case.
It can only hurt you, because if the insurance company finds something that helps your case, they’re certainly not going to bring it up. And we will never be able to go to your Facebook account and say, “Hey, look, this is where my client said how hurt they were. This should be evidence.” That’ll only seem self-serving. So it’ll never come in.
Yeah, it’s just one more thing. If we have to try a case, you kind of want to stay on the offensive, not the defensive. So, the more time we spend discussing minutia such as, “This picture was taken three months after the accident, and this person’s in their swimming pool, holding their kid, and having fun with a big smile on their face, or showing how they’re grilling out by the pool with some hamburgers and hotdogs,” no one knows whether you’re in pain or not. And likelihood is you are in pain, and likelihood is that you’re doing nothing any different than what any other individuals in a car accident would do. It’s not completely debilitating. Just your quality of life has suffered. But no one can see that from the photo, and now we have to argue about that during trial. It takes away valuable time that we could spend pushing your case forward, where we’re spending defending a photograph that actually serves no purpose but to harm your case.
Yeah. The reality of life is you’re not going to sit in a dark room for the next six months until your injury feels completely better. You’re going to live your life. So, like Matt said, that picture doesn’t… Like there’s not an arrow above your head that says, “This guy’s actually in pain.”
Yes. No different than surveillance. Don’t be worried about surveillance. Try to avoid doing things that an individual who is claiming the injuries you’re complaining of would not do. So, if they take a video of you shopping, unless somebody says you cannot carry a shopping bag, there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re going to show you doing the normal things you do in life, which one cannot… And also, it can play both ways. You know, they take surveillance; it often looks very intrusive. Juries often hate looking at surveillance. They’ll often take that against the insurance company. It just seems like an invasion of privacy. Unless it’s shocking and egregious, like you’re doing a cannonball off the diving board, jumping off your roof into a pool, or snowboarding or skiing, it’s not anything that’s unusual like you went to work or that you’re carrying shopping bags in the grocery store. They can’t tell whether you’re in pain or not.
Or if you’ve testified that you can’t lift weights due to this accident, and then there’s a photograph or a video of you doing dead lifts and squats. That’s problematic. But generally speaking, yeah, we usually instruct our clients, “Live your life, just don’t lie, and don’t worry about surveillance too much.”
That wraps up our initial podcast here at Dolman Law Group. It’s been a pleasure. I had a lot of fun, Alex.
Yeah, I really did enjoy this.
💡 Meet Your Host 💡
Title: Partner at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
Specialty: Matt is a nationally recognized insurance and personal injury attorney and focuses much of his practice on the litigation of catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida.
💡 Featured Guest 💡
Name Alex Knapp, Esq.
Title: Of Counsel, Personal Injury Attorney at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
Specialty: Alex represents victims of negligence in their pursuit of justice and compensation for their injuries from a vehicle, motorcycle, pedestrian, and rideshare accident. He was formerly the Director of Operations at Dolman Law Group.
🔑 Relevant Resources 🔑
- What’s the first things we should do after a car accident?
- The importance of having a police report
- What Is a No-Fault State
- “I’m hurt after the accident. Where do I go?”
- Pursuing a personal injury claim
- Why does one need to retain an attorney
- How much is a case worth
- Personal injury protection
The insights and views presented in “David vs. Goliath” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information presented is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Any case result information provided on any portion of this podcast should not be understood as a promise of any particular result in a future case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers: Big firm results, small firm personal attention.