Answering All Your Personal Injury and Social Security Disability
When a catastrophic event puts your future at risk, anxiety and uncertainty will cause you to have a million questions. What can you do? How can you provide for your family? Will you recover?
Allow the extensive experience and knowledge of the Packard Law Firm put your worries to rest. Come learn the answers to your questions and see how we can help pull you out of the depths of uncertainty.
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Is it moral to file suit when you are injured?
This can be a tricky question and many people have strong feelings about this. Some of the concerns come from the Bible such when Jesus said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...” Finally, Jesus said: “resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also.” (All these are from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.) Similar teachings are found in other sacred texts. These are hard sayings. While none of us ever entirely lives up to these lofty teachings, we at this firm are serious about doing our best. So where does that leave us when we have been wronged or injured? While we can never answer that question for anyone else, we do have the following thoughts:
First, Jesus did say one thing that directly relates to lawsuits when he said: “if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Matt 5: 40). In other words, if you do get sued, Jesus said that you should be generous to the plaintiff, and give even more than he asked.
More importantly, it seems to us that Jesus was very concerned about the rich exploiting the poor. He spoke of it often, calling the rich hypocrites for turning their backs on those that are poor, vulnerable, or needy. Jesus spent his time with the poor and with children, and he repeatedly made it a point to teach that anyone who follows His teachings will try to achieve some measure of social justice. In fact, after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus’ followers made sure that there was no poor among them, and took special care to make sure that the wealthy believers gave their money to the Church so that those who were less fortunate would have what they need.
So what about us? We live in a world where insurance companies are multi-billion dollar, for-profit organizations. They take advantage of individuals and families all the time. We believe that Jesus would want us to protect these vulnerable people, to represent them, and to make sure that they have food, clothing, and shelter (and other things they need).
It seems to us that Jesus was concerned with His family’s financial well-being. Early in His ministry, when his mother ran out of wine at a wedding, Jesus made sure she had it. Also, just before His death, he assigned to John the responsibility to take care of His mother. Likewise, many parents (and grandparents) feel the important moral obligation to care for, protect, and provide for their family. And, when you have your ability to work and provide taken, even in part, by someone else, your moral obligation to provide does not go away. So there is a good argument that your moral obligation to your family is to now do your best to recover compensation for that loss so your family can have the things they need.
In terms of the process of seeking compensation, Jesus said that we are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. This suggests that Jesus was OK with us using civil processes to achieve justice. Significantly, the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to have his day in court, and even appealed to Caesar himself.
To us, the particular process you use to seek compensation (filing a claim out of court or using the court system) is not the real issue. The real issue lies in your heart and in your actions -- the way you treat people. Perhaps you can ask the following questions before you decide whether to file a lawsuit:
Am I using this claim or lawsuit to get even or exact revenge?
Am I honest with everyone involved?
Do I treat others, even the people on the other side, with dignity and respect?
Do I wish evil on the people who caused my injury?
If I win my case, am I going to use the money to bless my loved ones or do something else worthy?
If you can answer these questions with a clear conscience, then we see no problem with seeking justice at the courthouse. In fact, as lawyers who represent real people with real problems, we feel that it is our sacred duty to protect individuals, including the poor and vulnerable, from wealthy forces that have so much power.
In short, we believe that you can love your enemies and bless them that curse you while, at the same time, seeking fair compensation for your injuries.
What happens if I am on the job and am injured by another driver?
Some delays are unavoidable. For example, you would ideally be done with your course of medical treatment before you settle because once you settle, then your claim is done forever and you cannot go back and get more money later. So if you settle and then discover that you need surgery, you are on your own. For that reason, you want to wait until you are done treating or at least until you are sure how much future medical care you need. If your medical treatment drags on, then your settlement will be delayed.
However, other delays can be avoidable. Most of these delays come from poor communication between a client and the lawyer. For example, suppose that you are done treating with the lawyer, but you don’t let your lawyer know. The staff at the office will not order the records if they do not know that it is time to start that process. Likewise, if the lawyer has a settlement offer but does not communicate it to the client, then that would delay the case.
Of course, the thing that delays a settlement the longest is litigation. We almost always try to settle the case without litigation, but if the insurance company will not make a fair offer, then we have to file suit. That takes time but the delay is better than taking a bad offer.
We try really hard not to delay the case unless there is a really good reason (such as filing a lawsuit). It takes long enough without any delay on our part and we are sensitive to the need to get fair compensation for you soon as possible.
What happens if the person who caused the accident has no insurance?
The law requires every driver to carry liability insurance, but more and more often, people drive and cause accidents when they are uninsured. It is a bigger problem than you might think. One study shows that 1 out of 5 drivers in Texas is uninsured. Some indications suggest that the number is even higher in San Antonio. If you are hit by an uninsured driver, you are going to be OK if you have uninsured motorist protection on your own auto policy. This is known as UIM, and if you have it on your own car insurance policy, then your insurance carrier steps into the place of the uninsured driver, and pays you what you would have received if the at-fault driver had carried insurance.
If you are hit by an uninsured driver and you don’t have UIM or related coverage, then you are left going after the uninsured driver personally, which is usually an exercise in futility.
The insurance adjuster said that I did not need to hire a lawyer. Is that true?
Of course the adjuster told you that! Why would the insurance adjuster want you to hire a lawyer? If you have counsel, then you will know to push back when they make a low offer. If you have counsel, then you will be advised on a whole host of issues that will protect and help your case. Taking advice from the adjuster about what is best for your case is like letting the foxes guard the chicken coupe. We try very hard not to take any case where we think that the client can do just as well on their own, and in all but the most simple cases, we believe that the clients will do better with counsel -- frequently much better.
What should I bring with me when I meet with a lawyer?
Bring all documents, police reports, photos, medical bills and witness information you have that relate to the case. Bring everything and we will decide what we need. It is better to take some information back home than to leave it home only to find out that it was important to the evaluation of the case. But at the same time, don’t delay talking to a lawyer because you don’t have or can’t find something listed above.
What are the deadlines for filing a lawsuit?
Texas law has created deadlines to file and serve your lawsuit in court. The deadline is called the “statute of limitations” or “limitations period”. Missing the statute of limitations is very serious and usually kills your case before it gets started. Thus, it is critical to know the deadline for your particular case and what you need to do to meet your deadline.
How can I know the statute of limitations for my case?
There are different deadlines for different kinds of cases. For example, a breach of contract case has a four year statute of limitations while an assault case has only a one year limitations period. Generally speaking, in Texas, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is two years from the date of the injury. While two years is a good starting point in the analysis, it would be a mistake to simply conclude that the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is always two years; there are other factors to consider. Below we have listed common cases with details on their statute of limitations. Our advice, seek legal assistance as soon as you can!
- Legal Deadlines For Cases Where Injuries Occur Over a Period of Time
- Legal Deadlines For Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Claims
- Legal Deadlines For Cases Involving Government Employees
- Legal Deadlines For Cases Where Negligence Causes Death
- Legal Deadlines For Cases When Malpractice Happens Over a Period of Time
- Legal Deadlines For Injuries to Minors and Children
How can anyone know what an injury case is worth?
This is probably the most frequently asked question we get, and the clients who do not ask, want to know. “What is my case worth?” The truth is, a lawyer can almost never know the true value of the case at the beginning because there are a number of factors, and some of them have to unfold over time. These factors include:
How clear is the other side’s fault?
In Texas, insurance companies pay based on the percentage of fault. Frequently, there is more than one cause to the accident. Perhaps you were speeding a little, and the other side pulled out in front of you because he thought he had time. In that case, the police may have put most of the fault on the driver that pulled out in front of you, but you would be at least partially at fault. If you were 10% at fault, then your case would be reduced by 10%. So the more clear it is that the accident was the other driver’s fault, the more your case is worth.
How serious are your injuries?
The more serious the injuries, the larger the value of the case, but this is only the starting point of the analysis. there are many questions that cannot be answered at the beginning stages of a case. How quickly will you recover? How large are your medical bills going to be? Does the doctor recommend surgery? Did you actually get surgery? Are the injuries objectively proven through an MRI or other medical study? Will you have ongoing medical care in the future? Do you have any permanent scars or disfigurement? Do you have any permanent physical limitations or impairment as a result of the car wreck? Did you suffer lost wages? Do you have any future lost wages? Is there a psychological component to your injuries (meaning that injuries caused depression or anxiety.) The answers to these questions will unfold during your course of treatment, and they will greatly impact the value of your case.
Is there enough insurance?
You can have a clear-cut case against the other driver and very serious injuries in the case, but if there is not enough insurance to pay, then the victim is left holding the bag. At our firm, we work hard to make sure that we uncover every possible insurance policy. The at-fault driver is legally obligated to have liability insurance, but this is just the starting point. Sometimes, you have insurance such as UIM and PIP. Sometimes, there is a corporate policy. Sometimes there is an umbrella policy. Sometimes the driver was on the job at the time, and his employer will be responsible for the damages.
Where did the accident happen?
The value of a case is ultimately determined by what a jury would likely decide if the case were to go to trial. Thus, an accident that happened in Bexar county will be worth somewhat more than the same accident in a more rural counties. This is because, typically, rural juries are more conservative than juries in more urban areas.
Do you have an attorney?
It sounds self serving, but it is most certainly true that insurance companies take notice if you are represented. The reason is simple: the only real leverage you have against an insurance company is the ability to file (and ultimately win) a lawsuit. Unless you think you can represent yourself in court, you have no practical ability to take your case to trial. So this means that there is little you can do if the insurance company makes a low offer. However, if you do have a lawyer -- particularly the right lawyer -- then you are a credible threat because you can go to court if it is necessary. Some time ago, Allstate wrote an internal training manual for its claims adjusters that captures the whole point, stating that when an injured person has a lawyer, Allstate pay 2-3 times the amount to settle the claim. Of course, these are only averages and there are exceptions, but it never hurts to have leverage on your side.
Do you have the right attorney?
Not all lawyers are right for your case. Insurance companies are fully aware of the lawyers who are willing to go to court and those who want to settle every case no matter what. And it makes a big difference. As already mentioned, when everything’s said and done, insurance companies calculate the value of the case by determining what a hypothetical jury would award if the case went to court. Thus, if the adjuster believes that your lawyer will never really go to court, then he will have little incentive to give you his best offer. One way to make sure that your lawyer is really willing to go to court is to see if he is board certified. You cannot get board certified in personal injury unless you have substantial experience actually trying injury cases to juries.
What are the subrogation (reimbursement) claims?
Subrogation is when your health insurance company seeks reimbursement for the medical bills that they paid that are related to the accident. (We know, some of you pay $800 a month for health insurance, and when your insurance pays your bills, it seems unfair that they have right to be reimbursed out of your share of the settlement.) Fair or not, the Texas Supreme Court has made a real point to protect the health insurance companies -- even at the expense of quadriplegic victims who have future medical bills to pay. However, not all subrogations claims are created equal. A few are invalid as a matter of law. Others are capped at ⅓ of the recovery, and others are, unfortunately, not capped. Some hospitals have a right to reimbursement and others do not. It all depends on the particulars of your situation. Please know that insurance companies often seek reimbursement even when they are not legally entitled to it. Other times, they are entitled to some reimbursement, but not all. An experienced attorney will be able to carefully evaluate these reimbursement claims and negotiate on your behalf so you maximize your take home recovery, and it makes a difference -- many times it makes all the difference.
Does it matter what doctor I go to?
It matters a lot. Of course, the most important thing after an injury is to make sure that you get the care you need from a qualified healthcare professional. But not all doctors are the same. Some doctors get paid a lot of money from insurance companies, and these doctors have a tendency to ignore or marginalize your injuries when writing reports and documenting in your medical records. Others doctors charge so much money that most of the settlement proceeds go to the doctors rather than to you. Still others will only take payment from certain health insurance companies that will seek a larger reimbursement at the end of the settlement. At our firm, we do not tell the doctor what to do, and we do not interfere with the doctor’s medical judgment. However, we can steer you to medical professionals who are honest and who are not in league with the insurance companies. We can also help you develop a payment strategy that can make thousands of dollars of difference in terms of the money you take home from your settlement.
Who is going to pay my medical bills?
Assuming that you are not at fault for the accident, the medical bills could be paid from a number of sources. You will want to coordinate with your lawyer on this because it could significantly impact your take home dollars.
1. The at-fault driver’s car insurance.
2. Your own health insurance.
3. PIP or Med-Pay.
4. Letter of Protection.
5. Indigent or Charity care.
Please see our article for a more in-depth discussion.
The at-fault driver’s car insurance. The other insurance company is supposed to pay all medical bills. However, there is a catch here. The insurance company usually pays a lump-sum final settlement, which occurs after all the medical bills have been incurred. Here is the catch, you don’t want to settle until all your accident-related medical treatment has been completed. But you can’t get the medical treatment unless you have a way to pay for the doctor. Bottom line: You need to find some other way to get medical care until it is time to settle your case. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Your own health insurance. If you are blessed to have private health insurance, it will pay for accident related medical care just like any other medical care. However, you need to know that almost every health insurance plan is “secondary” payor -- meaning that if the at-fault car insurance company pays a settlement, your health insurance company will seek reimbursement for the money they paid in accident-related medical care.
PIP or Med-Pay Sometimes, your own car insurance will pay for medical bills while the medical care is ongoing and before the final settlement, but you have to buy the right car insurance. It is called personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (Med. Pay). This allows you to pay cash for the medical bills as they incurred up to the limits of your policy. (Typically, a PIP policy is $2,500 or $5,000, but it sometimes is $10,000.)
Letter of Protection This is a way to get medical care for injuries that are specifically connected to the accident. A letter of protection is an agreement that your lawyer will pay the doctor out of the settlement (rather than give the money to you and let you pay the doctor.) This way, the doctor is “protected” from a client who takes the settlement money and spends it on household bills rather than pay the doctor. When the lawyer has a good reputation, the doctors will trust that the lawyer normally would not take the case unless it had merit, so they are willing to treat on a letter of protection. There are several qualified doctors, chiropractors and imaging (MRI, CT scan and X-Ray) companies that will take a letter of protection from our firm.
Indigent Care. In Bexar County (San Antonio and some of the surrounding area), Care Link is a program that helps people with no health insurance get medical care. You apply for the program, and you make a monthly payment that is based on your ability to pay. Everyone can apply, including undocumented people who need medical care. For people who have very little income, the monthly payments are really small -- sometimes less than $20 per month. People who are in the care-link system can get quality medical care in San Antonio, including access to the best hospitals, surgeons and therapists. If you get a settlement, you will need to pay a much larger share of your medical bills, but care link will allow you to receive the treatment you need and will keep you at the low monthly bill until your case is settled.
Who will pay for my car damage?
If the other driver has liability insurance, his or her insurance company is supposed to pay to repair your car and pay for the reasonable rental value while your car is in the shop. If the insurance company has admitted fault, then we typically suggest that you handle this negotiation yourself. The cost of the repairs are fairly straightforward and we don’t like taking a fee for doing something you can do for yourself. (The personal injury portion of your claim is very different.)
If the other side does not have insurance, then you can look to your own insurance if you have collision insurance. It is not ideal, but it is better than paying for the repairs out of your own pocket. Call your insurance agent to see if you have collision coverage.