Common Questions About Personal Injury
Injuries are like dominos. Once one falls, a whole series of legal issues and problems tends to follow.
The good news is that Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A., is here to deal with all those issues on your behalf. We are a comprehensive one-stop shop for injury cases. From advising you on what your case is worth to negotiating with the insurance companies to directing you to the right medical experts, you can count on us.
If you are facing the aftermath of a personal injury incident in Florida, you likely have many questions and uncertainties, such as:
- What should I put in a personal injury journal?
- What stalling tactics do insurance adjusters use?
- What is the most important thing for me to do after my injury?
- Can I pay my medical bills later?
- What happens to defendants?
- How does the negotiating process work?
- What are discovery requests in injury cases?
- What should I do about constant requests for documentation?
- How do medical bills and records affect the value of my case?
- How much is my personal injury claim worth?
- What techniques to insurance adjusters use to gain advantage?
- Can I receive damages for pain and suffering?
- How are personal injury claims evaluated?
What is the most important thing for me to do after my injury?
The most important thing for you to do, quite simply, is to receive appropriate treatment for your injury. The law requires injured people to “mitigate their damages.” In other words, the law requires you to do that which is necessary to improve your physical condition and attempt to recover from your injury.
For you this may mean some, or all, of the following steps:
- Do not miss appointments with your doctor. Stay in touch with your doctor and be certain to maintain your appointments. If you have to cancel, notify the doctor with as much notice as possible. The words “no show” on a doctor’s record sheet can be used against you at the time of settlement or trial.
- Attend physical therapy sessions as prescribed. Your physician or hospital may prescribe therapy to facilitate recovery from your injury. Such a procedure is often helpful in many types of injuries including strains, sprains and other so called “soft tissue” injuries. If physical therapy is prescribed, be sure to keep your appointments and participate actively in the process. Again, if you have to cancel an appointment, be sure to call, but try to avoid cancellation as much as possible.
- Do what your doctor tells you to do. If your physician prescribes certain medications, therapy exercises, or limitations on activities, be sure to follow your doctor’s orders. Failure to follow your doctor’s advice can be used against you when it comes time to settle your case, or can be used against you in court if your claim proceeds to litigation.
- Follow your doctor’s advice with respect to work and leisure activities. If your physician advises you to rest, stay home from work, or avoid certain activities, it is important that you follow such advice. If you resist your doctor’s advice and do activities that have been limited, it will not only prevent a speedy recovery, but could also affect the legal aspects of your case. Even though staying out of work may have an impact financially, it is important that you follow such advice so that your recovery will be enhanced. Your attorney will attempt to recover lost earnings.
Can I pay my medical bills later?
The challenge is that you need immediate medical care, but you can’t afford the operations, medications and other medical interventions that you need because the lawsuit that will cover those expenses is still pending. The good news is that many medial care providers will be willing to wait to be paid for their services until the personal injury case is resolved. Just make sure to inform your doctor or other care provider if you don’t have insurance or other means of paying for medical services.
Your Lawyer’s Role In Ensuring Your Medical Providers Get Paid
Our attorneys routinely set aside money from verdicts and settlements in order to pay the doctors and other medical care providers. In most cases, doctors require patients to sign a letter of protection that gives the attorney permission to pay them for their services. The money ultimately comes out of the insurance settlement or verdict money.
What happens to defendants?
After an accident, the insurance companies will conduct their investigations. In those investigations, they will contact the parties involved, who will give their respective reports.
In most injury cases, the defendant in the case who allegedly caused the accident will have very little contact with the insurance company, and no contact with the plaintiff. This is important to most plaintiffs who don’t want to be too personally involved with the person or entity they are suing.
Insurance companies and attorneys representing defendants are usually motivated to settle claims out of court to avoid the expenses and hassles involved with litigation. This means that in most cases, the plaintiff has very little to no contact with the defendant or the insurance company.
When cases don’t settle, they proceed to the courtroom trial, known as litigation. Although litigation is a much more intense and demanding procedure than settlement negotiation, there is still little to no contact between plaintiff and defendant. Once the lawyers are involved, usually the plaintiff attorney and the attorney for the insurance company will be fighting it out in court. As a plaintiff, you will probably be there in the courtroom, but you will not be engaged in most of the legal battle.
How does the negotiating process work?
There are a few important things you need to understand about how these negotiations work:
- Anchoring: The concept of anchoring is simple. In most cases, we negotiate by offering a high number, then the other party comes back and offers something much lower. The theory of anchoring is that we should make the initial settlement offer as high as possible. By putting the price high, it “anchors” the negotiations into that general region and thus gets us a higher settlement in the end.
- Building credibility and trust: At the other end of the spectrum from anchoring is a principle of building trust and goodwill. By making an initial offer that is not outlandishly high, we let the other party know that we are willing to negotiate a reasonable amount, which can be surprisingly efficient and effective in reaching favorable settlements.
- You make the decisions: When it comes to anchoring versus building trust, or any other negotiating principle, it is critical to understand that you are in charge. In general, we find that anchoring simply doesn’t work as it alienates the other party and creates contention right from the start. But when it comes to making decisions on how to proceed, that is up to you, the client. We are here to give you the benefits of our experience and knowledge and give you good counsel, but ultimately the decision of how to proceed is yours.
What are discovery requests in injury cases?
Not too many personal injury suits that are filed get a quick response to settle by the opposing party. Generally, the defendant will file an answer and then immediately send a discovery request. Your Lakeland injury lawyer will also prepare a discovery request on your behalf if he or she has not done so already.
An expert Lakeland injury lawyer will usually send you, the client, the discovery request prior to filing suit. This is important because the defense will send similar documents, and your attorney will need to know the answers prior to filing suit so that he or she can make an informed decision with regard to your case.
It is very common for those who are filing personal injury claims to either neglect or intentionally refuse to provide damaging information prior to their suits being filed. The insurance companies and defense attorneys are aware of this fact. As such, they will often offer only nominal settlement values in the hopes that, during discovery, their defense attorneys will uncover damaging information in their medical records as a result of a past injury or condition. Therefore, they will request all your medical records from every provider from which you received treatment within the past 10 years.
Such requests, however, are not only limited to medical records. Your Lakeland injury lawyer may also need to produce witnesses, pictures, theories of liability and other such information.
Overall, you can be sure that once the defense counsel requests discovery, your case will definitely be damaged in some way. Therefore, it is imperative for you to have hired an aggressive and experienced Lakeland injury lawyer who can expertly provide documents and information that will not damage your case and your ability to recover just compensation.
What should I do about constant requests for documentation?
A personal injury claim is often a long and stressful process. The insurance adjusters will use any tactic possible to delay settling or paying out a maximum claim. Your experienced and aggressive Lakeland injury lawyer can properly respond to stop these unnecessary delay tactics and get you the compensation that you deserve.
Common Tactics Used By Claims Adjusters
One of the delay tactics that adjusters will use is the constant request for additional documentation that is most likely not even necessary in settling your claim. If your Lakeland injury lawyer has already provided all the necessary medical bills, medical reports and lost wage information but the adjuster continues to make more document demands, your attorney may insist on an offer before providing such materials. If the adjuster refuses to answer, your Lakeland injury lawyer can reply that the information will be supplied during discovery after your suit has been filed.
It is also common for the insurance adjuster to request medical documents for either five or 10 years prior to your claim. This is obviously a delay tactic because it will take your Lakeland injury lawyer a long time to prepare such documents and provide it to the adjuster.
What To Do About These Constant Requests
There are certain steps your attorney can take to deal with such burdensome requests. If you do not have a substantial medical history or prior injuries to the area that is the subject of your claim, then it should not take long to provide such documents. This will leave the adjuster with no option but to settle.
However, if you have had prior injuries to the affected area, it will enhance your credibility for your Lakeland injury lawyer to provide this information upfront. This will also enable the insurance carrier to make an informed decision and stop playing delay tactic games in settling your claim.
How do medical bills and records affect the value of my case?
Insurance companies look to the total amount of medical bills as the primary factor in a settlement offer. To the company, those bills are the best indicator of your actual injuries. However, your Lakeland personal injury attorney will explain that the quality and source of those medical bills are an important factor.
What Insurance Companies Look for in Medical Bills
Has there been a hospital stay, medical or osteopathic treatment, physical therapy, diagnostic testing or prescriptions, orthopedic devices or over-the-counter medicine prescribed?
Medical bills that relate to actual injuries are better received. A Lakeland personal injury attorney can tell you that your case appears weak to the insurance company if you have racked up significant medical diagnostic bills to only show you have no injuries that can be documented.
The worst case scenario is if the bills are inflated or are for treatment you may have received that is unrelated to the case in question.
What Insurance Companies Look for in Medical Records
Narrative reports from well-respected physicians are the best, and descriptive and factual reports are preferable. Of course, any objective test results that support your injury are extremely helpful.
Reports that use equivocating terms like “maybe” or “possibly” don’t do much to help your case. Similarly, records that are based entirely on your self-reported symptoms do not lend much credence to your case. Objective injuries the doctor is able to observe firsthand are valued more highly by insurance adjusters.
How well-documented your injuries are and what treatment you received for them plays an essential role in your ability to achieve a positive settlement.
How much is my personal injury claim worth?
Every case is different, and there are many factors influencing the amount of the final compensation package you might receive in your case, including:
- Actual immediate damages: Medical bills, property damage and lost wages are the most immediate and concrete factors a court will consider when determining an award.
- Soft damages and long-term damages: In addition to the most concrete and immediate damages you could be awarded, there are also more speculative factors like diminished quality of life and long-term medical expenses like physical therapy, lifelong medications, adaptive technologies needed to help with long-term injuries and long-term loss of earning capacity.
- Shared liability: If you are also found to be partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, it could reduce your overall compensation.
- Unpredictable factors: The insurance companies involved and their attorneys, the particular judge and jury involved in your case, the quality of witnesses and evidence available and other related factors are extremely difficult to predict but could be highly influential to the outcome of your case.
With these cases, there is a lot that can change to impact your case. For this reason, we can usually give a range early on of what your case might be worth, but these numbers are never guaranteed. Our lawyers can help you through the entire process to make sure you know as much as possible how things are going and how everything is proceeding.
What techniques to insurance adjusters use to gain advantage?
Some insurance claims representatives will use every trick in the book to get claimants to act quickly, avoid the use of attorneys and settle for a much lower amount than they should. These are just a few of the common tactics that a claims representative might use.
Talking About Tax Benefits
One technique that is used by claims representatives is to inform the claimant that he or she is actually receiving a tax benefit because his or her claim is being reduced since the general damages that are being paid are tax-free. In this instance, the representative is taking credit for the percentage of taxes that the claimant would have normally had to pay when earning money.
Offering A Low Settlement
Another tactic that might be utilized by the claims representative is one that concerns the use of an attorney. If the representative learns that the claimant dislikes lawyers, then the representative will be able to offer a very low, unfair settlement, knowing that the claimant probably won’t turn to a Lakeland personal injury attorney for advice and will have no other choice but to accept the claims representative’s low offer.
Not Offering Full Benefits
Some claims representatives might not offer to pay for anything that’s not specifically asked for by the claimant. Nevertheless, an insurer might be acting in bad faith by not disclosing to the insured all his or her rights under the policy. In general, insurers have a duty to inform their policyholders of all coverage to which they are entitled after a claim has been brought. A policyholder should never be left wondering what benefits he or she may be entitled to after proper notice of the loss is given to the insurance company.
Offering A Structured Settlement
Another technique that some claims representatives might use is to try to force a structured settlement on the claimant in an effort to avoid a full cash payment of a claim. In a structured settlement, the claimant will be paid over time instead of in a lump sum. Structured settlements not only allow the insurance company to avoid payment of the lump sum, but they also allow it to be able to invest the savings for its own financial benefit.
Can I receive damages for pain and suffering?
Insurers are much more likely to compensate you in your personal injury claim for special damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, than they are for pain, suffering, inconvenience and mental anguish.
To maximize your personal injury recovery, your Lakeland personal injury attorney will advise you to gather thorough documentation of your concrete damages. Evidence of your pain, suffering and mental anguish is not sufficient on its own. Insurers rely on specific evidence and complete documentation, such as actual medical bills, in order to settle a case.
Damages For Pain And Suffering: An Example
For example, assume two automobile passengers suffer the same injuries in an accident. The first passenger visits a physician who orders eight weeks of physical therapy. This passenger takes approximately twelve weeks to recuperate from his serious injuries and misses 10 days of work. His medical and physical therapy bills are approximately $3,000 and his lost income is approximately $6,000. He doesn’t have much in the way of residual injuries, and he is almost completely improved in six months.
The other passenger goes to the local emergency room, where he is then referred to a specialist. However, he instead goes to a chiropractor six times. He doesn’t want to miss work, so he loses only three days of pay. However, he is in significant pain, is unable to socialize with his friends, has difficulty doing his job and cannot participate in his recreational activities for a year. His medical bills total approximately $600, and his lost wages are approximately $400. His friends, relatives and co-workers write letters to the insurance company about his severe pain and anguish.
The insurer will likely offer the first passenger about $14,000 or more. It will probably offer the second passenger about $3,000. So, the lesson learned here is that insurance companies will act on facts and figures much more than they will act on letters from friends and relatives about pain and suffering.
How are personal injury claims evaluated?
Insurance claims adjusters thoroughly analyze medical records. In particular, they will look for:
- References to any pre-existing ailments or injuries to the same body part
- Any indication of alcohol or drug use
- Any facts that stray from the version of events that you reported to the adjuster
- Medical reports verifying the period of disability
- Medical reports confirming any claim of permanent disability or disfigurement
- Comments regarding previous claims or injuries
For example, a claimant reported that she hurt her neck when she slipped off a massage table. She sued the manufacturer of the table, alleging that it was faulty and therefore caused her injury. The claimant’s lawyer sent her medical records to the claims adjuster. However, the records did not refer to the claimant falling off a massage table. Instead, they reflected that she had previously slipped and fallen on ice when skating on a pond. The adjuster likely lost trust in the claimant’s credibility after that.
Relationship Between Injury And Medical Expenses
When evaluating claims, claims adjusters focus intently on the relationship between the injuries that are reported to have been suffered and the degree of medical expenses that have allegedly been incurred. Through experience, adjusters develop intuitions about when medical bills are greatly out of sync with the claimed injuries. For example, claimants often “build up” medical bills regarding soft tissue injuries, which means they excessively exaggerate the medical costs in order to drive up the adjuster’s purported settlement evaluation of the case.
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The team at Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A., is solely dedicated to helping injured individuals and their families, not insurance companies. Doing the right thing for you is our mission and our passion. Learn how our family of lawyers can make a difference for yours by contacting our firm today. We serve clients in Lakeland, Orlando and statewide.
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