Personal Injury Cases: Frequently Asked Questions Part #1

by : Christopher Davis

In my practice I frequently get the same basic questions from potential new clients.

Question: Do I have a case?

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer without knowing all of the facts and circumstances involved. The success of a case will depend on the specific facts involved and the laws of the jurisdiction or region where the incident occurred. Generally, if you can show that the party responsible for your injuries violated some duty of care (e.g., causing a collision or making a dangerous product), then you probably have a claim against that party for the amount of damages you have sustained. If you think you have a claim in the state of Washington and want some feedback, you can send me an email directly by filling in the Case Feedback form. Due to the large volume of messages, it may take a few days to respond.

Question: How much is my case worth?

Answer: There is no magic formula or process by which an attorney can predict with certainty the amount of money a person is entitled to receive, especially where damages are awarded for subjective elements called 'pain and suffering' and 'loss of enjoyment of life.' However, our office will usually have a pretty good idea of a reasonable settlement range after your medical condition has stabilized. We rely on such factors as the extent and permanency of your injuries, the effect your injuries have had on your life, the amount and duration of your medical treatment, prior jury verdicts and/or arbitration awards received for similar injuries and my experience. Ultimately, the value of any given case is determined by the jury's verdict after a trial on the merits.

Question: How much do you charge?

Answer: Our fee is contingent on the outcome of your case. That is, if a recovery is obtained for you, our fee is a percentage (usually one-third) of the amount collected. No attorney fees will be paid if there is no recovery. However, the law requires that a client is ultimately responsible for the costs incurred. In most cases, our office will advance all costs necessary to pursue your claim so you will not have to pay any money up front. Costs are then paid out of the recovery at the conclusion of your case.

Question: What if I wasn't injured but I sustained damage to my car or other personal property?

Answer: As a personal injury law office, we only accept cases where the individual has sustained injury. This is because our fee is a percentage of the recovery obtained on behalf of the injured claimant. Most property damage claims cannot be pursued economically by an attorney where he or she is forced to charge you an hourly rate, which is often at least $150 per hour. Most insurance companies are reasonable when it comes to settling property damage claims which means you probably can settle your claim by yourself.

Question: I'm confused about the different types of coverage listed on my automobile insurance policy -- what exactly is BI, UM and PIP coverage?

Answer: BI stands for 'bodily injury .' This type of coverage will pay claims for injury you negligently cause to another as a result of the use of your vehicle. Washington state law requires that every driver carry insurance for bodily injury with policy limits of at least $25,000. UM stands for 'uninsured motorist' or 'underinsured motorist .' If you are injured by a negligent driver who does not have liability insurance (or inadequate liability insurance), you may make a claim with your own insurance carrier if you have UM coverage. When you make a UM claim, your insurance carrier "stands in the shoes" of the negligent driver and is permitted to assert all defenses that this driver may have had against you (e.g., comparative fault, excessive medical treatment, etc.).

PIP stands for 'personal injury protection .' PIP pays for your reasonable and necessary medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault for the collision. Although the law does not require that you carry UM and PIP coverage, insurance companies must offer these types of coverages to you. If you choose to reject UM and PIP coverage, your insurance company must record your rejection in writing. An insurance company's failure to obtain your written rejection of UM or PIP coverage prevents the carrier from denying the claim, even if you didn't specifically pay for this type of coverage.

Question: What happens if I was injured in a collision caused by an uninsured driver?

Answer: You may have a claim for UM benefits under your own policy. If you make a UM claim, your own carrier has the right to use all defenses that the other driver may have had against you. A UM claim essentially creates an adversarial relationship between you and your own insurance carrier. Thus, it may be wise to retain experienced counsel when asserting a UM claim. As can be expected, your own carrier will NOT be looking out for your interests (even though you are its own insured!). Instead, your carrier will be looking for ways to pay out as little money as possible. In the event you do not have UM coverage, you may have no other practical means of obtaining compensation for your injuries. This is why you should always carry UM coverage, preferably with limits of at least $100,000.