Before responding to the above title of this article, we should mention that you shouldn’t be asking these questions to determine whether or not you should call a lawyer; you should still call. A good personal injury attorney has the experience to know the variables you might not consider. Most injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation to help you determine your best course.
However, if you are going to second-guess your situation before calling, here are five questions to consider.
1. How serious is my injury?
Let’s look at a common injury case. You are walking through the grocery store and slip and fall on some spilled detergent. You have a severe sprained ankle that hurts so bad it feels broken along with a few other minor bruises. The store knows the familiar drill. They will document the incident. You should do the same. You should then go to the doctor for a full exam, x-rays, the whole bit. The doctor may very well come back with his diagnosis that you are going to be sore for a while but should be fine in the long run. He may prescribe physical therapy and pain medication. Your initial doctor visit plus x-rays may be under $1000. The insurance company may seek to quickly settle your claim for $1500 – $2000. Is that fair? A good personal injury attorney will let you know if it is.
2. Am I partially at fault?
Illinois has modified comparative fault laws that dictate who can receive monetary damages in an accident. The only way you can receive damages in an accident is when the other party is more than 50% at fault. If fault is deemed a 50/50 wash, then neither party has cause to seek damages from the other. However, if the other party was 60% at fault, you can seek damages. However, the insurance company will only pay 60% of your medical expenses and other losses. For instance, let’s say the full value of your case is $1,000. If the insurance company thinks you are 40% at fault, they will evaluate the full value of your case at $600. Insurance companies tend to put too much blame on the injured victim to protect their bottom line, i.e., their money. Your attorney can fight these percentages if they are not fair; but knowing the possibility of having your settlement reduced by comparative negligence laws can help you prepare for that inevitable argument.
3. Who is paying my medical bills?
If you are injured in car accident where you weren’t at fault, you will have claim against the other driver’s insurance to cover your medical bills. Until your case is settled, the doctors and hospital will expect payment from your resources. Your health insurance or medical payment insurance (med pay) under your own automobile insurance policy may pay most of your medical bills. You may be required to pay certain deductibles out of your own pocket as well. When you receive compensation for your medical bills, you will find that your health insurance and med pay under your own automobile policy, if you have any, will have a right to reimbursement on your settlement for the amount they paid on your medical bills. This is information you will want to know up front. Many people, including many lawyers improperly refer to these contractual rights of reimbursement (or subrogation) as “liens” though technically they are not.
4. What are my damages?
What has your accident really cost you? It is more than your medical bills? Did you miss work? Lose your job? Miss your promotion? Need to remodel your house to accommodate your injuries? Did your injuries disrupt your relationship with your spouse and children? How much did you suffer from an emotional standpoint? How would you describe your physical pain? What activities can you no longer do since the accident? Which activities can you do still, but now with discomfort? Are you disfigured? Assessing your real losses will help you understand the importance of your case before you start the process.
5. Have I received an offer yet?
If you have already received an offer, compare it to your damages above. If you feel it is too low, it probably is. Your attorney will let you know if it is or not.
By asking yourself these questions before contacting an attorney for your initial FREE consultation, you will be able to show up with the information necessary to determine your best course of action. It will help you prepare for your case and make plans accordingly.