People who are injured due to the neglect of someone else have suffered what is called a “personal injury”. If the injury is substantial, an injured person may want to be compensated for related expenses and the life interference the injury causes. Most of the time, it is necessary to hire a lawyer to get full compensation.
This letter has been developed to answer common questions regarding the manner in which personal injury cases are handled at Hawkes Law Firm. Each case is unique; however, all injury cases have many basic similarities. If you have any questions, please contact our office. Be aware that this document does not create a lawyer/client relationship with the reader. It is intended only for general education, not specific legal advice.
We offer a free consultation with an experienced lawyer to explain your rights and obligations and possible sources of recovery. During the consultation you will be encouraged to ask questions and gain understanding of issues that may be unfamiliar to you.
After consulting with one or more attorneys you may wish to hire an attorney to handle your case. Hopefully your decision will be made based on accurate information about the potential issues that could arise.
Most injured people who hire an attorney to pursue their claim(s) prefer a contingent fee arrangement. Contingent fee percentages can vary from 10% to 50% of the amounts collected, depending on the expected difficulty of the case and possible results; most contingent fee cases in Puget Sound area require a one-third contingency fee. All contingent fee agreements must be in writing. We do offer hourly fee agreements for injured folks who want to do most of the work themselves.
Privacy is pretty much a thing of the past when you use the internet.
Information located on the World Wide Web is increasingly being used for background checks and in investigations. Information located through search engines, social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and public records websites have been used to locate or verify information, supplement discovery, prosecute cases and, in some situations, posted content has been used as evidence in court. E-mails can be discoverable and potentially used as evidence in court. Even deleted information can often be recovered.
It is important that you be mindful of what you are communicating and/or posting through e-mails, social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook, personal websites or other electronic means.
Do not post anything that we tell you or you tell us. This could destroy the confidentiality of the Attorney-Client relationship and allow the opposing side access to confidential information.
Do not post anything you would not want a jury to hear or see.
Do not share documents we give you or you give to us with anyone.
If you use sites like MySpace or Facebook or if you use personal websites, we need to know that and we need to know what is there. You also need to know what is there. The opposing party may have access to your posts, including archived information. If your testimony differs from something you have written, that contradiction could be used against you.
If you do use MySpace or Facebook it is important to keep your personal settings set for “Private”. That does not guarantee privacy but it may protect your information.
If you blog or belong to a public listserve of some type, be aware that anything posted may be discovered by the other side and used against you.
If you use a computer at work for personal purposes you may expose your employer’s records to discovery.
Help us better handle your case by being careful what you put into the World Wide Web.
HANDLING THE PERSONAL INJURY CASE
We must have all the facts in order to properly represent you. Much of the information given to us by you is confidential and will only be disclosed if it is helpful to achieving a good result in your case. This responsibility of confidentiality applies to all staff members as well as your attorney. Please don’t withhold any information from us, even if it is embarrassing or if you think it might hurt your case.
While preparing your case it will be necessary for our office to assemble information about you. Typically, we will need information about your background, education, employment history, medical history and information relating to your injuries and losses. The paralegal and legal assistant will gather much of this information. It is often very helpful to get statements from your friends and co-workers who have knowledge of how the injuries have affected your life.
Electronic communications on MySpace, Facebook, or other similar websites, and emails are all discoverable by your opponents and can be used against you. Do not discuss your case or other related matter in any form of electronic media, whether using your own name or not. This does not apply to electronic communication with our office; such communications are not discoverable by your opponents and may not be used against you as long as you are communicating only with our office and not including others in the email.
The paralegal and legal assistant will be working closely with your attorney on your case. Your attorney is frequently required to be out of the office or engaged in other business in the office. Each member of this team provides vital support in the development of your case. If your attorney is unavailable and you have questions, please begin by talking with the paralegal or legal assistant.
You should keep a daily diary addressed to this firm. Record in your diary all details about your condition, your treatment, lost time at work or play, and any lost opportunities you have suffered, as well as recording all expenses caused by your injuries. Use your diary to provide information to this office about how your injuries have impacted your life and as your ‘memory’ of how your injury has impacted your life.
You may receive a questionnaire from us, referred to as an “interim report,” which requests that you furnish information about your medical condition and how you have been getting along; it should be completed and returned to us promptly. We may call you for a phone review of your claim. These are two means of keeping track of your progress. This information gathered from the report(s) and phone reviews is extremely helpful at the time of settlement negotiations.
Settlement negotiations usually begin after much time has passed and details are difficult to remember or trace down. Your diary, phone reviews and the “interim report” will record information while it is current and fresh in your mind.
There are different kinds of insurance coverage that may be available to compensate you for your injuries. WashingtonStatelaw requires that everyone who owns an operating automobile inWashingtonmust carry liability insurance. Not everyone complies with the law, and the minimum limit of liability insurance required ($25,000 per injured person, $50,000 total for two or more) may not be enough to fully compensate you. In such a case, your own automobile insurance policy will have uninsured or under insured motorist coverage, unless you or an authorized person has specifically rejected it. That coverage is in addition to the liability coverage available from the at-fault party’s insurance company.
Your auto policy will also have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, unless you or an authorized person has specifically rejected it. This is a form of no-fault insurance which is available to pay your medical bills, a portion of your lost income and to pay for household services which you cannot perform because of your injuries. In addition to PIP coverage, most people have some other form of health insurance coverage which may also be available to pay your medical bills.
Most homes and businesses are covered by either a homeowners’ policy or a premises liability policy. Such insurance is not legally required inWashingtonand there are many premises with no or limited coverage for persons injured on the premises.
The liability insurance companies of the parties at fault for an injury are not required to pay medical expenses, lost wages or general damages until there is a final settlement or award. You should not expect help from them, except your property damage repair costs, until final settlement. Many premises liability policies offer a small amount of medical coverage which will pay some medical expenses currently if you are injured on someone else’s premises.
People who are acting for someone else, like employees, at the time of an injury often have liability coverage provided by their employers as well as their own liability coverage. That can be useful if your injuries are very significant.
In order to prepare your case, an investigation of the facts is necessary. In most cases, this will be done by the paralegal and your attorney. In most cases we will contact witnesses, medical providers for your accident injuries, medical providers from before your accident, employers, take photographs, and otherwise gather information we need about the accident and your damages. In some instances, it might be necessary to hire accident analysts, economic evaluators, or other specialists specific to your case. We will usually discuss with you the need for such assistance before incurring those expenses.
Please advise your medical providers that you have hired us to handle your case. We may send letters to your medical providers notifying them that we represent you and requesting that they give no information to the insurance company or defense attorney without our permission. We may also mail to your medical providers the release form that you signed for us authorizing your providers to supply this firm with information and records that we will need.
Most cases cannot settle until the complete detailed investigation has been finished and all medical information, such as medical bills, medical reports and other evidence supporting your claim, has been gathered. One primary rule we follow is that your case should not be settled, arbitrated or go to trial until the prognosis for your medical condition has been determined by your doctor(s); that often requires the passage of substantial time. If we were to settle your case prematurely, you probably would not receive full value for your case. For that reason, settlement of your case might take from six months to eighteen months and, in some instances, even longer. One of the most difficult requests we make of our clients is to have patience. Taking the necessary time to develop your case ultimately will give us the best results. We are motivated to complete your case and will attempt to do so as rapidly as good judgment allows.
It is impossible for us to tell you in the beginning how much money, if any, you will receive in connection with your case. We feel it is our primary duty to obtain an amount which will fairly and justly compensate you for your injuries. We will not be in a position to discuss a settlement figure until we have gathered all of the information we need for such an evaluation.
When all the necessary information has been obtained, we will again confer with you and evaluate your case. We will usually also prepare a settlement document which you will review and which will be forwarded to the insurance company or the defense attorney. The insurance company or defense attorney normally requires several weeks to respond. Ordinarily they do not comply with the original demand and further negotiation is usually required. WE WILL NOT SETTLE YOUR CASE WITHOUT YOUR APPROVAL! When the case is settled, the insurance company draft will be issued. Normally, we will deposit any settlement drafts in our trust account. We will disburse money to you, your medical providers and other parties with subrogation claims. All of this will be done based on your review of the settlement accounting.
Costs will be incurred in the processing of your claim. The costs of the claim may include costs of taking photographs, hiring an investigator, preparation of diagrams, amounts charged by your physicians or other providers to prepare medical reports and to provide copies of records, payment for accident reports, fees to court reporters for taking depositions or preparing transcripts, copying costs, long distance charges, and such fees as may be charged by engineers or other experts. You will be sent a statement at least quarterly showing the costs that we have incurred. Payment of these costs by you is required unless you have made other arrangements with our office. All lawyers must charge these “litigation” costs to the client; it is a violation of the Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct to incur such costs unless the client is ultimately responsible for them. For clients who simply cannot afford to pay costs currently, we will advance the costs and be repaid out of settlement.
Most recoveries in a personal injury case will not be taxed by the federal government. These rules change, however, so consult your tax advisor if tax consequences are a concern.
The terms “subrogation” or “reimbursement” will be used in connection with your medical insurance, Medicare, the Welfare Department, your own automobile insurance if you have Personal Injury Protection Coverage, or, in some cases, the Department of Labor and Industries, if your injury was incurred as a result of your employment. When any of these agencies pay the medical expenses for treatment of your accident injuries and/or your lost wages they are usually substituting themselves for the parties that may be legally responsible for your injuries and these expenses. They are acting as a “subrogate”. They usually then have a right to be reimbursed all or a portion of those expenses when your settlement or judgment includes an amount for the costs of your treatment or lost wages which they have already paid. Also, your PIP carrier, health insurance carrier and sometimes other “subrogated” parties usually have to pay their pro rata share of attorney’s fees and costs.
Mediation is a process designed to avoid trial and in some cases to settle a case before filing suit. Parties to a lawsuit and their attorneys appear before a trained mediator, usually an attorney. Both sides tell the mediator about their side of the case. After that, the mediator meets separately with each party in an effort to reach a common ground acceptable to each side. The mediator acts as a negotiator. Mediation has proven to be a successful way to avoid trial. Neither side is bound to accept the recommendation of the mediator. It is strictly a voluntary procedure.
Arbitration is similar to a trial, but less formal. Typically, arbitrations are held in an attorney’s conference room. Witnesses are sworn, and evidence is presented, but there is no jury. Instead, one or more arbitrators act as the judge and jury. Arbitrations are generally much faster and less costly to present than jury trials. Personal injury claims under $50,000 and underinsured motorist and personal injury cases may be arbitrated. We will not submit the case to arbitration without first discussing that step with you.
In many cases, it is necessary to start a lawsuit before any settlement is achieved. Usually this is because the settlement negotiations which have been unsuccessful, or the doctor indicates that a long period of treatment may be necessary, or it is necessary to start a lawsuit in order to obtain information necessary for settlement purposes, or to preserve evidence which will be lost if a lawsuit is not started. In some situations it may be necessary to file the lawsuit prior to a certain date, which is determined by the statute of limitations, or the right to file suit will be lost. We will not start a lawsuit on your behalf without first discussing it with you and obtaining your permission.
A lawsuit is commenced by preparing a Summons and Complaint, which is filed with the court clerk, indicating the time, place and description of the accident, and the nature of the injuries sustained by you. These papers are served on the defendant(s). The papers are then sent to the insurance company for the defendant, which in turn, delivers them to its attorneys. The insurance company’s attorney then files an answer, which gives the reasons why the defendant claims he/she may not be responsible for your injuries.
Approximately 85% of all lawsuits are settled before trial. Even though a lawsuit may be started, a settlement prior to trial is still very probable. The time between filing the lawsuit and the time of actual trial depends upon the county where the lawsuit is filed. It usually takes between six months and two years.
If a lawsuit is filed or an arbitration demanded, the law allows both sides to “discover” evidence; this includes a wide range of facts and information regarding the injured party who is filing suit (the Plaintiff(s)) and the at fault party (the Defendant(s)), and how the injury occurred.
Discovery can include, and is not limited to, gathering evidence such as medical, employment, criminal, education records, etc., completing a comprehensive written set of questions for the other side which are referred to as interrogatories, and other forms of investigation and analysis. The burden of discovery usually falls most heavily on the injured party and his/her attorneys. That is because the case is really about the injury; most facts about the person who caused the injury are irrelevant.
Both sides will attempt to discover what the testimony of witnesses will be before the trial or arbitration; this is usually done by one or more “discovery depositions.” In this situation you or the defendant or some other witness is sworn to tell the truth; questions are asked by the attorneys and answered by the witness in the presence of a court reporter; the court reporter records all of the testimony on a transcription machine and audio tape. Your attorney or another member of this office will be present at all depositions. Depositions are extremely important because the testimony may be used at the time of trial or arbitration and because they can affect the amount of settlement to be offered in a case. Before a deposition is taken of you, your attorney will notify and discuss the process with you.
If a lawsuit or arbitration is started, the law usually authorizes the defendant to require you, the “plaintiff,” to go to a doctor of the defendant’s choice for a medical examination. This doctor will file a report with the defendant’s attorney(s) based upon his or her examination of you. If there is a trial; the doctor will usually appear at the time of trial to testify on behalf of the defendant. If the defendant requests a medical examination of you, it will be at the defendant’s expense. Prior to any such examination we will give you instructions on what to do or not do.
Hopefully the information on the previous pages has helped you to gain a better understanding of the way in which we handle personal injury cases. There are a number of things that you can do to assist us in building your case. The following is a list of suggestions:
You will periodically receive from us copies of correspondence and of most documents, pleadings, reports and other written matters pertaining to your case. You will also receive billing statements which will summarize what work is being done on your claim and what expenses have been incurred. When anything major happens, we will contact you promptly.
If at any time you have concerns or questions, do not hesitate to contact our office. If we do not respond immediately, please be patient. If any of your questions or concerns is time urgent, please make us aware of that the first time you call. We will respond promptly. There will be times when events in other cases will require our attention full time. In the same regard, there will be times in the proceedings of your case that will require us to ask other clients to be patient while we are expending full time and energy on your case.
This is your case and with your help our goal is to bring it to a good quality resolution in a timely fashion. We look forward to working with you.