Why Should I Hire A Personal Injury Attorney?

Would I be better off trying to handle this myself?

I hear these questions frequently as some folks mistakenly think handling a personal injury case is not complicated. (I never get these questions on medical malpractice or products liability cases). I am delighted to meet with you and answer all the questions you have at no charge nor obligation. However, if you keep reading, I have tried to comment on some of the most common issues below.

1. Lawyers usually get a larger sum of money for a client than a person can get for themselves.
2. You have better things to do with your time.
3. There are many pitfalls for the unwary.
4. There is a lot to know about handling medical liens and insurance reimbursement claims.
5. There is a lot to know about policy limits and which coverages apply.

Lawyers usually get a larger sum of money for a client than a person can get for themselves.

While no ethical lawyer can ever guarantee a specific result on any given case, insurer’s own statistics confirm that they pay out considerably more money on average on attorney represented cases than on cases where persons try to represent themselves. There are many reasons for this. Most people will not know what to do or will not be willing to do all of the work required to present the case well. A lay person also usually does not know the value of a claim.

An experienced attorney is just that, experienced. If you have a claim, it is likely your first or second in your life. You won’t know what the true value of the case is and thus will have a much more challenging time insisting upon a fair settlement. I feel this way if I go to buy a rug from a rug merchant. The merchant tells me that the price is a terrific one. I have no idea as I don’t know as much about rugs as the merchant does. I know the merchant is going to come out ahead. I just don’t know by how much.

The same is true for most people trying to deal with an insurance company without a lawyer. The insurers assign different adjusters to attorney represented cases and to those who are not represented. The non attorney represented adjusters are trained to negotiate with people who do not know their rights. They will, for example, deduct from the amount of your medical expenses what your health insurance paid and say you are only entitled to your deductible back. To most folks, this seems like a reasonable position. However, it is nonsense! You are entitled to claim all of your bills whether paid by your insurance or not! This is just one way they may take advantage of people. Hiring a capable attorney will enable you to rest assured that you will not be taken advantage of by the insurance company.

Return to top.You have better things to do with your time.

There are often a myriad of things that need to be done in order to document your claim, even assuming that it is a straightforward matter. You generally want to find out the policy limits of the other person’s insurance company, notify your own insurance company in writing in case your uninsured motorist coverage needs to be involved. There is medical record gathering, getting reports from doctors, lost wage documentation, etc. Of course, you need to make the visits to your medical providers and make decisions about your course of treatment and decide which medical providers are reputable and helpful and will accept your kind of health insurance (or lack thereof).

After treatment, you will need to put all the materials together into a comprehensive package and make a demand upon the insurance company. Then, you will need to get the adjuster on the phone typically several times, which can be quite a challenge as they seem to be always on the phone or away from their desk. Then, you may go through all of this and be unsuccessful getting a fair settlement and then will need help to file a lawsuit in order to get a fair result on your case. Does this sound like fun? We do this everyday and know what needs to be done.

Much of the benefit of hiring an attorney comes from getting one involved early. We can give you advice as to whether a given medical provider has a good reputation or otherwise. If you don’t have insurance, some medical providers will work on a lien basis and we know which doctors will do that. We can save you all the headaches and hassles of gathering up your records, figuring out applicable insurance coverage, talking with the adjuster, etc. That way, you can concentrate on getting your medical treatment while still trying to manage the everyday demands of your life without the added stress of trying to play lawyer. As you will see below, some of the issues that come up in these cases are not simple and you may lose some or all of your ability to recover without ever knowing it.

Return to top.There are many pitfalls for the unwary.

There are all sorts of deadlines that exist in the world of personal injury claims. While most in Georgia will easily learn that there is a two year statute of limitations for filing suit on a personal injury claim, that is not the only deadline. If your case happens to be against a City Government, you have six months in which to file an ante litem notice. If you don’t do it, or you do it incorrectly, you may well lose all of your rights. County, State, and Federal Government claims also have ante litem requirements that have different deadlines and procedures for perfecting the claim. If you have uninsured motorist coverage (and everyone who drives should!), then you may well have a contractual written notice provision that may be as short as 30 days after the collision! If you don’t satisfy this requirement, your insurance company may deny you coverage resulting in no recovery.

If you have a lawyer, hopefully that attorney will be on top of all these requirements. We certainly are. In 2008, I lectured to the Georgia Trial Lawyer’s Association members about how to handle Uninsured Motorist Claims. I was surprised to see how many were not fully aware of some of the pitfalls involving limited liability releases (when you are settling for policy limits from the other person’s insurer but then making a claim for additional money from your insurer), contractual notice provisions, and the like.

Return to top.There is a lot to know about handling medical liens and insurance reimbursement claims.

An area that has become increasingly contentious and complex is the area of hospital and medical provider liens as well as reimbursement claims. In other words, if you settle the case, who do you have to pay back and how much? If your health insurance company paid your bills, there is a good chance that you will get letters from them (sooner or later) saying they want their money back after the case is over pursuant to your contract with them.

Do you have to pay them? It depends. What kind of insurance? Is it an ERISA (Employer Retirement Income Security Act) plan or a regular health insurer? If ERISA, is the plan entirely self funded? What does the ERISA plan language say exactly?

All of these factors may profoundly influence the answer. The rules are constantly changing in this area and many situations are still unclear in the law. Getting it wrong can be perilous. Medicaid, Medicare, Med Pay Coverage, Worker’s Compensation, Tricare, Champus, Federal Worker’s Comp, etc. each have different sets of rules regarding your obligations for reimbursement. Some are subject to State Insurance Law, some are not. Most often, even those who you have to pay, can be negotiated.

I routinely handle these matters and will advise and negotiate for all of my clients in order to maximize my client’s net recovery. Most non lawyers will have no idea of these issues nor how to handle them even if they do. I have had great success in resolving these matters and can even shield money from hospital liens that my clients cannot without an attorney who knows how.

Return to top.There is a lot to know about policy limits and which coverages apply.

In order to obtain the other person’s liability insurance coverage, you have send a letter citing a specific code section by certified mail requesting same. Even then, they may not send it. If you have uninsured motorist coverage, how does this factor in? It depends.

If, for example, you have $50,000 in UM and the person who caused the collision has $25,000, if you have a serious claim, now much can you recover? $25,000? $50,000? $75,000? Well, it depends. You should certainly have access to $50,000, but you may be able to get more depending upon who paid your medical expenses or if there are medical liens filed or if the collision occurred after January 1, 2009 and you did not opt out of the new and improved “stacking” UM coverage.

Yes, the law is changing on this issue beginning in January as there will now be two different kinds of UM coverage. What if you have multiple vehicles? Can you stack the UM policies? What if you live in a household with a relative who has a different policy of insurance? Can you get access to that policy too? Which coverages are primary? What if the other person was doing a mission for his or her employer at the time of the collision. Does this matter? (Yes, a lot!). If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you may well be leaving money on the table, and potentially a lot of money and have no idea that you are.

I recently resolved a case for a client where the liable party had $25,000 in coverage and we thought that was all he had as he was driving my client’s car and he did not own a car himself. However, he lived with his mother and even though I asked, she would not provide the coverage information. I filed suit and found out the coverage information which led to an additional $100,000 in liability coverage and $50,000 in medical payments coverage. My client got the benefit of an additional $150,000 on top of the $25,000 we knew about initially. That made a big difference to my client and his gratitude made my day.

If you have read through all of the above, you may have come to the conclusion that it may be a good idea to consult an attorney regarding your case. If you want to know more about what distinguishes our practice from that of other lawyers, please see the answers to, “Why Should I hire Stephen Ozcomert” and I will tell you!

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Feel free to call or visit our firm should you have a case for which you need expert advice.

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I have really enjoyed the way that Steve and his one person staff Anne handled my case. They turned a bad situation into a very favorable outcome. They went the extra mile. I can highly recommend Steve to anyone that is in need of an attorney. Glenn