A: It depends on what kind of “personal injury” claim you have. For most claims that are based upon “negligence” (a lack of required care as compared to an intentional act), the law allows you two years from the date of injury to get your lawsuit filed. This is called the “statute of limitations” and you must file a lawsuit within that time or you may be unable to collect damages for your losses and/or injuries. For a claim against a “medical care provider” (for example, a doctor, hospital, physical therapist, etc.) the statute of limitations is only one year. There are other factors that may be considered in determining if you have presented your claim in the time allowed by law, and they are too numerous to list here. In some cases, the statute of limitations is longer, based upon specific facts of a case. It is important to consult with an experienced, licensed lawyer to review the facts of your case and what statute of limitations applies to those facts.
Q: How long will it take to get my case finished?
A: The amount of time it takes to start and finish a personal injury claim depends on whether the case has to be decided by a trial. In the great majority of all of the cases handled by lawyers in most counties, a lawsuit never has to be filed because the lawyer can resolve the case by getting the client a settlement. This means the “guilty party” or the person who caused an injury or damages agrees to settle the case by paying money to the injured client.
When an out of court settlement is not made by the “other party” a lawsuit has to be filed. In our overburdened court system in most of the Southern California counties, it takes time to get a judge or jury to hear the case. Between the time a lawsuit is filed and when a trial is held, our office takes steps to get the “other party” to settle the case before a trial. There is no exact formula for how or when the court sets a date for trial, so no one can promise you an exact date when you will receive payment for your injuries and damages.
Q: I’m injured, but I don’t have a doctor I can see. Is there some way I can get the medical treatment I need for my injuries?
A: For some of our clients who don’t have a regular doctor they can visit for medical care, we can refer them to a doctor who will agree to treat them now and wait until their case is settled or finished before payment is required. This is called treating a patient “on a lien” and it means that the doctor has a “lien” or claim for his or her services on the final settlement of a patient’s legal case. That way, the patient without resources can still receive needed medical treatment for his or her injuries.
Q: If my car is “totaled” in an accident, why do I get so little money for the damage?
A: Under California law, the party who causes a collision is only required to pay you for the “current value” of your vehicle. Typically, that means that the “guilty party” gets credit for your car’s depreciation, and any mechanical problems or body damage your car had at the time of the accident. This results in you getting less money from your insurance company or the other party’s insurance company, than it costs you to go out and buy a substitute (new or used) car to replace the one that was “totaled.” This may not seem fair, since you had a car that provided you with working transportation, but the law does not require the “other party” to buy you a new car.
Q: What happens if I am forced to miss work due to the injuries I received in the auto accident?
A: Your loss of wages or earnings are part of the “damages” you are entitled to be reimbursed with a “negligence” claim that you might bring or file after an auto collision. If the other party is found “at fault” (negligent) for causing the accident, he or she would be required to pay you for any time you lose from work because of your injuries. While the other party is not required to pay you these “damages” until your case is settled or you get a judgment in your favor after a trial, lost wages or earnings are part of the “damages” you are entitled to receive if the other party is determined to be responsible for the collision.
Q: Can I still recover damages if I already suffered a permanent injury from an accident or illness that happened before my current auto collision?
A: Some of our clients have been involved in an earlier accident that left them with a permanent injury (such as a herniated back disc, a nerve problem, a broken bone, etc.). If they are involved in a later accident, they can recover damages, but only for that part of their original injury that was made worse by the new accident. In other words, the latest negligent driver is only responsible for how he or she made the original injury worse. As an example, if the client suffered a sprain in the back in an earlier accident, and a new auto collision caused that same area of the back to either be injured after it healed or now shows a herniated disc, the other driver in the new accident would be responsible (“liable” in legal terms) for the medical treatment for the herniated disc.
Q: What kind of “legal costs” have to be paid for a personal injury claim?
A: If a claim can be settled before a lawsuit must be filed, the “legal costs” are much smaller than what is required for a lawsuit. Even after a lawsuit is filed, “legal costs” can include the same type of expenses that must be paid when a case is settled before a court case is filed. Before a lawsuit is filed, usually there are expenses for photocopies (for a client’s medical records, correspondence, etc.), investigation charges (when we must get information from the D.M.V. about the other driver, or hire an investigator to locate a necessary witness, etc.), postage, and other costs related to presenting a client’s claim to the other party’s insurance company. In a case that has to be resolved in a court case, there are filing fees (for the complaint, motions to protect a client’s rights, etc.), jury fees (if the case is presented to a jury), court reporter fees (to make a record of a trial), and fees to have an expert witness testify at trial (a client’s doctor, an expert to show how an accident happened, etc.). In most cases, the other (losing) party is required to pay some of the “court case” fees as part of the judgment against him or her. In most personal injury cases, the losing party is not required to pay the winning party’s attorney’s fees. For our successful clients, our legal fees are paid as part of the client’s total settlement, recovery, or judgment. For most of our personal injury clients, we are only paid a legal fee if the client gets a settlement, recovery, or judgment.
Q: If my medical bills were paid by my health insurance, why do I have to pay back my insurer for these bills if I settle my case?
A: Most (if not all) health insurance policies have a provision that requires you to pay the insurer back from money you receive from a “third party” (the person who caused your injuries in an accident). If you settle your case against the “other party” causing an accident, you may receive money to compensate you for pain and suffering, medical expenses, property damage, loss of earnings, etc. If your settlement includes reimbursement for medical expenses that were paid by your insurer, that part of your settlement is used to pay back the insurer that paid them at the time you were treated by doctors, hospitals, chiropractors, therapists, etc.