According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 31 million people are treated in hospital injury rooms each year due to accidental injuries. Many of those injuries occurred due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct. Some injuries are minor, and others are potentially debilitating injuries such as severe cuts and burns, muscle or tendon tears or fractures. The most serious injuries are catastrophic or life-threatening, such as brain and spinal cord injuries.
People suffer all kinds of injuries. Among the most common causes of injuries are:
- Car, truck, and motorcycle accidents;
- Bicycle and pedestrian accidents;
- Slip and fall accidents;
- Being struck by an object;
- Dog bites;
- Medical mistakes;
- Dangerous or defective products.
Of course, no one ever plans on being in an accident, so many people are unsure of what to do when it happens to them. If you have been injured in an accident, you may be wondering when you should contact a personal injury attorney. Perhaps you think that your case is open and shut. It is clear to you that the other party is at fault and owes you damages. But these matters can become very complicated, very quickly.
An experienced personal injury attorney understands that every incident is unique. Each accident requires a detailed analysis to discover what went wrong and who is potentially liable. Personal injury law differs from state to state. However, every claim, whether it arises from a negligent or intentional act, has two important elements: damages and liability.
The term “damages” refers to compensation paid to someone who has suffered a loss or harm because of the negligent or intentional act of another. Physical injuries are not the only kind of injuries for which you can receive compensation. You may also receive compensation as a result of mental or emotional harm, financial losses such as lost wages, and loss of companionship or quality of life.
If you have been in an accident, you probably want to consult with a lawyer for your peace of mind. But you should also obtain legal help in situations such as these:
When Your Injury Is Serious
Often, people downplay their injuries. They don’t want to “make a fuss,” so they don’t call a lawyer immediately. Sometimes they even delay obtaining medical care. It is important to seek medical care after an accident because in some cases, symptoms do not become apparent until later. Minor injuries may not necessarily require the help of a lawyer. However, if your injury is significant, such as an injury that causes ongoing pain or requires hospitalization, surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, or other long-term medical care, you need to have your case evaluated by an injury lawyer. Florida law has a “serious injury threshold.” That means that your injuries must meet certain qualifications in order to recover damages from the person who caused the injury. Your doctor will help you achieve the best possible physical recovery, but your lawyer will help you get the best possible settlement. If you have suffered catastrophic injuries, life may never be the same. The damages you receive will help you pay for the care you need.
When You Are Partially at Fault for the Accident
A person is negligent when they fail to act with reasonable care. In order to hold someone liable for your injury and recover damages, you would need to prove that your injury was the result of negligence. However, what if you are partly to blame for the accident? Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, so in Florida, an injured person who is partly at fault can still recover damages. However, the damages will be reduced according to the amount of his or her fault. Also, more than one person may be to blame for your injury. For example, in a multi-car collision in Florida where more than one person was at fault, each driver would only be liable for the percentage of fault they contributed to the accident.
When Your Injuries Are Caused by Medical Providers or by Defective Products
If your injuries were the result of medical malpractice or due to a dangerous or defective product, you may face a whole team of lawyers, aggressively defending their clients from any possible claims. They may question the truth of your claim, use legal maneuvers to withhold important information or to delay the settlement of your claim. You need someone who knows the law to protect your interests.
When the Insurance Company Is Calling
The primary job of insurance adjusters and claims representatives is to minimize the amount that the companies pay out in injury claims. If an insurance company representative contacts you asking for recorded statements, medical records, statements about the accident, releases, and other information, you should politely decline and tell them that you are contacting an attorney. They may try to discourage you from consulting an attorney, but remember that they are acting in the insurance company’s best interests, not yours. They want to obtain information that will help them minimize or deny your claim.
For example, signing a medical release may seem harmless. However, it can be used to gather information which may damage your claim. The insurance company may refuse to pay or offer an unacceptably low amount. They may use tactics such as delaying your claims process. Do not act in haste, or sign any agreements. A personal injury lawyer will recognize and put a stop to bad-faith negotiations in order to pursue a fair and reasonable recovery. Your attorney will deal with the insurance company for you, so you don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or agreeing to an unsatisfactory settlement.
When the Financial Losses Become a Reality
You may not immediately realize the enormous financial consequences of an accident. You may just assume that insurance will cover everything. But as the tsunami of bills arrives, you probably start to understand that you need help obtaining the compensation you deserve. Long-term economic losses may require the testimony of an expert.
Even with insurance, medical bills are incredibly expensive. If you have a high deductible, the out-of-pocket costs pile up. You may need treatment from a number of medical professionals, and the need for medical care can go on for months or years. Prescription drugs and medical equipment are expensive. You may need home health care or have to enter a nursing home. If you are incapacitated, you will need someone to provide daily care for you and someone to do the tasks you previously performed.
Even if you are the victim of a car accident, you may have to pay the repair bills or wait for a long time while the insurance company delays payment. Many people simply do not have enough readily available money to cover car repairs and the attendant costs of getting to work. Between your injuries and car repairs, you may be out of work for some time. Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may be unable to perform your job permanently. If your ability to earn money has been reduced by your injuries, you are entitled to recover lost earning capacity Your income has stopped, but the bills keep coming.
When You Feel Overwhelmed
Almost immediately after an accident, people are asking questions about what happened. There are reports to fill out and requests for a statement. You may be too shocked and shaken to be able to process the accident and respond to the questions. Later you must keep track of claim numbers and keep all of these people who have invaded your life, straight. After a traumatic event, people often do not think clearly.
Stress is a big part of dealing with a personal injury. There are phone calls, endless paperwork, appointments, and anxiety. Even if your injuries are not serious, it is a lot of pressure. One of the benefits of getting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible is that they can relieve a great deal of this stress. Trying to figure out what to say, what to sign, and whether the settlement offered is reasonable is part of your attorney’s job. Your legal representatives can also help organize bills and protect you from the demands of insurance companies.
When Should You Call a Lawyer?
Every accident is different. Not every personal injury case goes to trial; in fact, most of them settle at some point in the process. However, as soon as you realize that you might need a personal injury lawyer’s help with your case, you should act right away. You should consult an attorney if:
- Your accident is a motor vehicle crash, involving other motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists
- The accident happened in a construction zone, school zone, or another protected area
- The police or accident report is incomplete or unclear
- It is not clear who is at fault, there may be multiple parties at fault, or you may be partly at fault
- There are potential insurance problems, such as questionable insurance status, liability limits, or lack of insurance
- Your insurance company is pressuring or confusing you
Contacting a personal injury attorney to review your case can ensure that there is enough time to investigate the accident, identify those who may be at fault, and file a claim. All states have time limits for filing lawsuits. Waiting too long to get legal help may lead to missing the statute of limitations, which means you will be unable to file your case. There may also be time limits for other claims.
If you believe that your injury was caused by the negligence of another person, you must be prepared to prove that the other person was at fault for the accident and you must prove the nature and extent of your injuries. The evidence that proves your claim may not be available forever. Important photos or videos may disappear. Witnesses may forget or confuse the facts of an accident. Dangerous property conditions that caused a slip and fall may be repaired. Therefore, your attorney should begin investigating your case and gathering and preserving evidence as soon as possible.
If you chose to start the process off on your own, but are struggling to come to an agreement with the insurance company, an attorney can take over and handle the negotiations on your behalf. But, keep in mind it’s in your best interests to let an attorney handle it from the very beginning so you do not accidentally say something to the insurance company that can be against you later on.
Once you get in touch with an attorney, be prepared to provide him or her with all the information you have about the accident, such as accident reports, your memories of the accident, contact information for all parties, photos, and other documentation. Then, your attorney will evaluate your case and begin the negotiation process with the insurance company. If the parties cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, the case will have to go to trial.
Are You Comfortable With the Law and the Negotiation Process?
For an individual to obtain the best possible outcome, the person in charge of the case must thoroughly know the applicable statutes and the case law. But he or she should also be familiar with the court, the judges, and the insurance companies. In the event the case goes to trial, you will want someone who is experienced at negotiation and skilled at trial tactics to represent your interests. Some injury cases are extremely complex. Medical malpractice cases may require testimony from a qualified expert witness. Car accidents may involve accident reconstruction, testimony from witnesses, and more. Accurately valuing a claim for damages may mean interpreting medical records. Before proceeding without the help of a personal injury lawyer, ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I know the appropriate laws and how to apply them?
- Do I know and understand what statutes of limitations apply to my case?
- Do I understand the provisions of my car insurance and other insurance policies?
- Do I have sufficient financial resources to cover all my expenses until my case settles?
- What will I do if I cannot settle my case?
- Should I sign documents requested by the insurance companies?
- How and when do I proceed with settlement negotiations?
- Can I accurately assess my losses, including present and future medical expenses, loss of present and future income earning potential, and emotional pain and suffering?
If you or a loved one has been injured, it is always a good idea to consult an experienced attorney. For further information, contact a licensed personal injury attorney.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765