Answering All Your Questions about Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Complex Litigation, Special Needs Planning, and Probate
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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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.
Ways To Pay Your Medical Bills After An Accident
- The at-fault driver’s car insurance
- Your own health insurance
- PIP or Med-Pay
- Letter of Protection
- Indigent or Charity care
Using the At-Fault Driver's 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.
Using 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.
Using 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.)
Using a 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.
Using Indigent or Charity 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.
Should I give the insurance adjuster a recorded statement about my accident?
Absolutely not. The adjuster for the other driver usually has various sources of information about the accident before he or she calls you. (Police report, his insured’s account, witness statements and private investigators.) Thus, the main reason they want to talk to you is to see if you will say something that will hurt your case.
Of course, if you plan to settle your case without an attorney, then you will have to talk to the adjuster—he or she will be the one who negotiates the settlement.
Can I still file a claim if the accident was partially my fault?
Yes, unless you are mostly at fault. Frequently, there is more than one factor contributing to an accident. Thus, the law allows a person who is partially the cause of his or her own accident to file suit against the person or company who is primarily at fault. However, your damages will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. For example, if your damages are $100,000 and you are 30% at fault, then your claim will be reduced to $70,000 to account for your own fault. If the case is settled, then the reduction is a matter of negotiation. If a jury decides the case, then they determine the percentage of fault for each party.
What happens if I don’t want to take the insurance company’s settlement offer? Do I have to file suit?
If the insurance company makes a reasonable settlement offer in response to your demand package, then the case settles and you are done. However, if you are not satisfied with the offer, then you can file a lawsuit and ultimately let a jury decide the value of your case. It usually takes more than a year to finally get to trial -- sometimes several years. However, the parties are free to settle at any time during the course of a lawsuit, and they usually do.
How long will it take to negotiate with the insurance company?
Ideally, the negotiation will take a few weeks, but sometimes, it takes a few months. Negotiation is an art, not a science, and each one has its own rhythm. You don’t want to appear too anxious to settle, but you do not want to let it drag on either.