Personal Injury Cases: Frequently Asked Questions Part #2

by : Christopher Davis

More common questions that are frequently asked by potential clients.

Question: I was injured in a rear-end collision where little damage was caused to my vehicle. The other driver's insurance company is denying my claim, saying that I could not possibly have been injured when the damage to my car was so small. What do I do now?

Answer: Unfortunately, more and more insurance companies are implementing a policy of denying bodily injury claims outright, or only offering a nominal sum to settle, when the property damage is below a certain monetary amount, like $1,000. The first thing you should know is that there is no credible scientific support for the proposition that injury potential can be determined based on the extent of property damage caused to the vehicle. However, these "low damage" cases may be difficult to prove in court because jurors often believe that injuries cannot occur in low speed crashes.

Insurance companies will often hire self-proclaimed "experts" to help them spread the myth that low damage means little or no injury. If you find yourself in this position, here are a few suggestions. First, take your car to another reliable automotive shop to determine the full extent of damage. Quite often, most of the damage will be hidden and an expert will need to dissemble the rear bumper and check the vehicle for all possible signs of impact. Second, you must adequately document all damage and all evidence that a collision occurred. This means taking photographs and compiling a thorough repair estimate. Third, do not repair the vehicle or accept a property settlement until you have spoken to an attorney. Finally, you need to hire experienced counsel because a lawsuit is probably inevitable. My office has successfully handled many claims involving "low damage" collisions. Please email me directly or contact my office if you wish to discuss your claim further.

Question: I've been receiving medical treatment for injuries I received in a car crash 6 mos. ago and my insurance company has been paying the bills as required under my PIP coverage. Just recently, I attended a medical exam requested by my insurance company and now the medical examiner says that I am "fixed and stable" and no further treatment is necessary. Now my own insurance company is refusing to pay for any more of my treatment even though I still hurt and am no where near "maximum medical improvement" according to my own doctors. Is this legal!!?

Answer: Unfortunately, and in most cases, yes. Your insurance company has the contractual right to have you examined and to have your treatment reviewed by another medical professional. Insurance companies like to call these one-time examinations "Independent Medical Exams" or "IME's." This is a gross misnomer however-- they should really be titled "Insurance Medical Exams" because insurance companies use these one-time exams (or in some cases, a one-time medical records review) as a way to terminate benefits regardless of whether you are still benefiting from additional treatment. Insurance companies use "IME's" to save them money and their medical examiners are often "hired guns" willing to offer the right medical opinion to justify this goal. As one doctor friend of mine aptly states -- opinions are commodities like everything else and you can always buy the right one you are looking for. If you find yourself being requested to submit to an "Insurance Medical Exam," here are a few suggestions. First, before submitting to an exam, read your policy! The insurance company's right to request an exam is contained within the insurance contract. Review it to make sure the company is not violating any of the policy provisions. Second, you really should consider hiring an attorney. Recent case law has suggested that the "IME" report may be discoverable by the third party tortfeasor, providing additional ammunition for the defense attorney. Attorneys can often insist that the exam be delayed and insist that an impartial observer be present during the exam. Third, make sure you give the examiner an accurate description of your prior health problems, current complaints, and the facts of the crash. Any discrepancies will be used against you. Lastly, recognize that the examiner will be looking for all signs that you are not injured -- how you walk into the examination room, how you sit, how long you sit, facial expressions, etc. In one case I handled, the examiner wrote in his report how he watched my client drive into the parking lot, "jump" out of his car with no "apparent difficulty" and "ran" into the building entrance! Need I say more?

Question: Can I settle my case on my own without an attorney?

Answer: If most people could settle claims on their own for fair value, we wouldn't need lawyers. Lawyers are necessary because there is no formula for determining the value of a given claim. Representing a person's rights is complex--to do it successfully takes formal training, experience, guts, and some hard-earned intuition. Think about it, insurance companies make a lot of money settling claims for far less then what they are worth. If you don't settle claims for a living, how are you to know whether the insurance company's offer is fair and reasonable?

However, some claims do not require the assistance of an attorney. Each case is different and depends on its own set of facts. If we believe we can't recover a higher settlement than the insurance company's last offer, or that the attorney fee will leave little money left over for you, we usually will decline to take the case and advise you to settle on your own. We always decline to accept a case if the client is likely to recover as much money without the assistance of an attorney. On the other hand, if we accept your case, we guarantee that you will recover as much as you would have received based on the insurance company's last offer before our office was retained. In most cases, you should retain experienced and competent counsel. Without an experienced attorney, a person can seriously damage the value of his or her case.