What types of personal injury cases do you handle?
At The Smith Law Firm we handle many types of personal injury cases including slip and fall premises liability; pedestrian accidents; car, truck, and motorcycle accidents; medical malpractice and nursing home neglect; dog bites; and product liability cases.
What common misconceptions and misunderstandings do you think people have about working with a personal injury attorney?
The phrase “ambulance chasers” comes to mind. Many people believe that personal injury attorneys make a living by taking advantage of people who have suffered injuries. There's still the big myth that an attorney is going to take half of a victim's recovery money in fees. Much of this misconception stems from certain advertising and solicitations. Often, an already overwhelmed accident victim will feel bombarded and targeted by personal injury advertising. But rest assured, state and local laws are in place to make sure that advertising is neither intrusive nor predatory.
What misconceptions do clients have about the personal injury recovery process?
The first, and most common misconceptions people have about recovery in personal injury cases is that they can handle their claim on their own. Many people mistakenly believe that they can file a simple claim with an insurance company and receive a full settlement. Remember, insurance companies have attorneys, investigators, and medical experts working for them. Their goal is to minimize the claim that the insurance company needs to pay.
Which leads to the second misconception, that they will be able to ask for additional monies later, if the original insurance settlement is not enough. That's why it's important to consult with an attorney before you make any claims or sign any insurance company documents immediately after your accident or injury.
When filing a claim, is it typically a relatively easy process or highly complex and should most people expect a fight against the insurance company?
Each case is different. Some of the issues that determine the complexity of a personal injury case include if there is a single or multiple victims, whether the person at-fault has insurance or not, and if the other party is disputing or filing a counter claim against you.
For example, making an auto accident claim against an uninsured motorist is not as simple as filing a claim form and receiving a lump sum check. Your settlement may involve court-ordered restitution payments and wage garnishments. You'll want to seek advice and assistance from an experienced personal injury and trial lawyer to help you navigate the process.
Even when you can file a simple claim with an insurance company, you'll still benefit from working with an attorney who knows the laws that insurance companies must follow in settling personal injury claims.
Do most personal injury cases reach a settlement before trial? Why or why not?
We first file a claim with the insurance company and ask for the amount you agree on for your injuries and losses. The insurance company, most often, will offer a settlement amount. If you agree to the settlement amount or the insurance company offers the maximum, you can accept the offer and avoid going to court. However if you decide to pursue the full amount of your claim, be prepared for a trial in court. At any time during the process, the insurance company can offer another out-of-court settlement amount. Ultimately, you decide if your case goes into a full trial and when or if you settle out of court.
If the other party's insurance adjuster or other employee contacts you as the claimant and wants a statement, what do you advise your clients to do?
Don't sign any forms that the other party's insurance adjuster or other representatives give you. You have the right to review the documents before signing. Even if they won't give you copies of a document you refuse to sign, you'll need to contact an attorney who can advise you when it's time to sign any documents. This is important because you don't want to sign away your recovery rights. If you have a slip and fall injury make sure you are not signing a waiver or release of liability, releasing the business from fault in your injuries and eliminating their obligation to compensate you.
What factors make a sound and viable personal injury claim vs. one that isn't going to get anywhere?
It's very important to understand that if you accept a settlement before contacting an attorney you most likely will not be able to file any additional claims or lawsuits. However, even if you have signed documents or started a claim through your own insurance company, you may still have a viable claim and qualified lawsuit.
Some people wrongly believe that because they only sustained minor injuries, that they don't have a viable personal injury claim. Even minor injuries can lead to major losses. If minor injuries prevent you from working, you'll want to be compensated for loss of income. You'll still be entitled to compensation for medical bills for your minor injuries. Any case where you have clearly sustained injuries and suffered any type of loss can be a viable claim.
How important is evidence in a personal injury claim? Witnesses?
Evidence is the most important aspect of every personal injury claim. With vehicle accidents, the police report is your first line of evidence. At the scene of the accident, police will gather witness statements and include them in the accident report.
In slip and fall injuries, you'll want to speak to any witnesses and get names and phone numbers if possible. It's also a good idea to take photos with your phone camera. You'll need to write down dates, times, and the exact location of your injury.
In case of dog bite injuries, you'll want to gather information from any witnesses. You'll need to provide an address where the dog was at or came from if you're injured in a residential area. You'll also want to have a description or photo of the dog.
Finally, seek medical care even for minor injuries. That way you'll have medical documentation of the type and extent of your injuries as well as for medications or therapy required.
Do you advise your clients to keep a diary or journal of what happened in the accident, what doctors I visit? Why or why not?
Keeping a diary or journal can help you and your attorney to organize and expedite your personal injury claim. In addition to documenting the immediate details of your accident, you'll also want to keep a running log of items in the weeks and months after the initial injury. Include a log of all doctor visits, medical treatments, therapy visits, and medication purchases. Keep receipts for pharmacy and office visit copays. Additionally, you'll want to document your symptoms and keep a log of work time and income lost due to your injuries.
How soon should someone seek medical treatment and what's the consequence of waiting "too long"? How long is too long?
You should seek medical attention immediately following an accident or injury, even if you don't feel like you're hurt. However, you can begin receiving medical treatment at any time following an accident. The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim in Iowa is generally 2 years from the injury. So, you'll want to get a medical evaluation, any diagnoses, and begin any therapy within that time in order for your treatments to be included in your claim. If you wait longer than 2 years or seek treatment or file a claim, you may lose your ability to receive the maximum compensation for your accident.
How long do personal injury cases typically take on average to be resolved?
In cases where there is only one victim, the process may move faster than situations that include multiple victims. However, this changes on a case-by-case basis. If you have not reached the point of maximum medical improvement, your case might take longer. You'll want to fully treat your injuries and give yourself and medical team time to determine if you can fully recover and how long it might take. When you make a full recovery or when it's clear that you're still injured but at the maximum level of recovery that your doctors expect you to achieve, we'll proceed with your claim.
Keep in mind that the defendant's attorney and insurance company will take time to review your medical documents and doctors reports. If your claim involves a large sum of money, the insurance company may spend extra time conducting due diligence and a thorough investigation of the case.
What are some things that people might unintentionally do that can hurt their ability to receive damages when they've been hurt?
One area that is becoming increasingly important in personal injury cases is social media. Insurance companies can look to social media to find evidence of discrepancies in your claim. Make sure that you don't post photos of your accident or injuries on social media. Also, don't discuss the details of your claim on social media, even with family members or in private messaging features.
Make sure you don't dispose of important evidence like medication bottles, braces, casts, and therapeutic devices. Even if you've finished a course of medication, keep the bottles to show the dates that were on medication. Keep braces and other devices as evidence of the type and extent of injuries you needed to be treated for.
Can I even afford an experienced attorney?
Request an initial consultation with The Smith Law Firm. We'll review your case to help you determine the best way to recover damages in your personal injury claim. We'll assess your claim to help you determine the potential recovery limits and possible time to settle your case. As a full service injury law firm, we can help you with every aspect of your case from filing the initial claim filing to accepting your settlement.