The Ultimate Guide to Winning Your Personal Injury Case Table of Contents

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2 Table of Contents Introduction 3 Why Not Settle With the Insurance Companies 4 What to do First 7 Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer 11 How Much is My Claim Worth? 14 What if I have a Pre-Existing Condition? 17 What Kind of Fees are Associated with Hiring a Lawyer? 19 Interview with Bobby Saadian Wilshire Law Firm 21 What You Need to Know About a Personal Injury Case in Los Angeles 21 2

3 Have you or a loved one been injured as a direct result of a person or business? If so, you are probably feeling sad, angry, and depressed I understand what you re going through. You probably have many questions racing through your mind: Am I going to get compensated for the damages to my property? How am I going to pay my medical bills? Should I take what the insurance company is offering me? Or do I need an attorney? Most of all, do you feel that you lost a lot of money due to your injury? We wrote this book to provide you with some guidance during this difficult time. If you d like to talk more with an experienced personal injury attorney, I invite you to call on us 365 days a year at (213) In this book, we are going to cover some general information about the court along with some specific actions that you should take as quickly as possible, to protect your legal interests. California is unique in its size and diversity. Court practices vary from county to county and even from courthouse to courthouse. You can never know what to expect. To explain how to handle the unique structure of California s court practices would take more than a small guide like this, so again, we encourage you to call us to talk specifics. 3

4 Why Not Settle With the Insurance Companies When you file a personal injury claim you will be dealing with an insurance company and an insurance adjuster. While it is the job of the insurance adjuster to help you with your claim, it is also their job to save the insurance company as much money as possible. Sometimes, you will run into an insurance adjuster who uses certain negotiating tactics to try and trick you out of your coverage. Generally, an insurance company will try to get you to settle with an amount that is lower than the amount that you deserve. Insurance companies do this with the hopes that you are so upset, confused, and distraught that you will take the money under the fear that you might not get anything at all. Insurance Companies also know that it can sometimes take years for a jury to award you a bigger settlement they will try to get you to make a decision on an impulse. There are some other specific tactics that insurance companies will train their adjusters to use. One tactic that an insurance adjuster usually uses is to try to convince you 4

5 to settle with another insurance company. It is important for you to know that until an insurance company commits itself as the primary insurance carrier (in writing), the law entitles you to go forward. Another tactic that an insurance adjuster may use against you is to tell you that you waited too long to file a claim. If there is a gap in between the time of your accident and the time when you notify the insurance company, the insurance adjuster may try to tell you that your claim may be disqualified due to a time limit. If you are using your own insurance company, there may be a time limit on how long you have to file a claim. However, unless the time gap was so long that it impacted the insurance company s ability to investigate the claim, they have to accept your claim. Finally, an insurance adjuster may try to tell you that you weren t outof-pocket. The adjuster will try to use any sick or vacation days that you used against you or any bills paid by your health insurance. However, 5

6 in California, the law allows insurance adjusters to ask you about this information. The insurance adjuster may ask you for copies of your medical records. He or she uses this information to determine the worth of your claim but keep in mind that sometimes, the insurance adjusters like to see copies of your medical records as a way to look into your past to find something to use against you. If they request for any medical documents that are not related to your injury, it might be a red flag that they are snooping. Sometimes the insurance adjusters will tell you that your policy or the responsible party s policy does not cover your accident due to a policy lapse, the location of the accident, or that you don t qualify to make a third-party claim under a no-fault vehicle law. Experienced lawyers are familiar with these insurance company tactics and they have been dealing with them for years. A lawyer will have a better chance at intimidating the insurance company and will be persistent on your behalf. Being represented by a lawyer will save you from experiencing the pressure that insurance adjusters will try to overpower you with haven t you already been through enough? 6

7 What to do First If another person or business did something to cause an injury to you or your loved one, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the medical bills and traumatic experiences that accident caused. As a victim, you have the right to file a claim for compensation, whether for medical treatment, traumatic experience, or to see the responsible party punished. To protect your right and improve your chances at getting a full and fair settlement, there are a few steps that you should take on your own within 72 hours of your injury to protect your rights. The first thing that you should do as soon as possible after your accident is to write a detailed account of what happened. It is normal to feel angry or upset right after your injury. Give yourself some time (but not too much) to let your head clear out and your mind to settle down and then begin to take notes. Include details such as the events that led up to the accident, the time and place it occurred, the people who you were with, and how it happened. Also include anything that you felt or heard, whether it be your bones breaking or if someone said something. Try to think of anyone who you can use as a witness in your future case. 7

8 If you do have a witness or several witnesses, be sure to keep track of any information you exchange with them. If you have a conversation with them concerning the accident, take note of the time and date you talked to them. You might even consider formally documenting the conversation in the form of a letter so that you have it for future reference. Take down their contact information so you can send them copies of any important documents or letters of confirmation. One of the best methods to protect your rights through a written account is to keep a journal. This way, you can add notes as you go along. You might remember a detail a few days after you write your first account. By keeping a journal, you can easily go back and add any notes that will be helpful for fighting your case. You should also keep daily notes on how the injury is affecting your ability to go on with your daily activities. Keep notes on your physical pain, if it worsens, and if you develop any other pains after the event. It is also worth to note how the injury is affecting your work and social life. Keep track of any lost work hours, social losses, and financial losses. By keeping a journal or at least an organized folder of written notes, you will have a very 8

9 helpful resource when your case comes up. Your written notes will help stimulate your memory a few months later and you will know that all of the information is accurate and factual. The second step you should take within 72 hours of your accident is to tell your insurance company. Even if you do not plan on filing a claim with your own insurance company, you should contact them anyway, just as a way to protect yourself from any future circumstances and so that they are aware of your condition. The third step you should take within 72 hours of your accident is to look for physical evidence that you can use to prove your injury and your case. Go back to the scene of the accident and look for anything that you can document. For example, if you had a falling accident, you can look for mats with curled edges that may have caused your fall. If you sustained an injury from a car accident, you can look for physical evidence of a collision on both your car and the at-fault party s car. The best way to prove physical evidence is to take pictures as soon as possible. For example, if your accident happened because of curled mats, the responsible party can easily replace the mats to try to cover themselves. A picture of the curled mats with a time stamp can help you prove when and where the curled mats were. The best way to take pictures is to use a high-resolution camera that can show details. Be sure to take pictures of the same evidence from different angles. You should send the pictures to your insurance company. 9

10 Note that if your accident occurred in a public area, you have the right to go back and take pictures. If your accident occurred in a private setting you will have to get permission to go back and take pictures, otherwise the property owners may consider you a trespasser. When you have your camera out to document physical evidence, you should document your injuries as well. While the best way to document your injuries is to see a physician, you can take another step by photographing visual evidence, like scratches or bruises, and bandages such as casts or splints. Also take pictures of any medicines you are taking due to the injury. Seeing a doctor as soon as possible is crucial. Do not let the high costs of medical aid defer you because if you have enough evidence to prove that another party is at fault, you can get reimbursed. Also, if you do not seek medical treatment right away, insurance companies will use it against your case when you are negotiating a settlement. The final step you should take within 72 hours of your accident is to make a list of people who you think are responsible for your accident. For example, if you sustain an injury from a car accident, try to figure out who might be responsible there might be more involved parties than just the driver. Find out who owns the car (whether an individual or a company owns it) or if someone outside of the car caused the accident (such as a jaywalker). If your injury occurred on a property, find out who owns, rents, or was at the property at the time of the accident. 10

11 Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer Some people may turn to hiring a lawyer as a last-result option because they cost money but most of the time, a lawyer is worth the money. Not only will a lawyer use his or her invaluable skills to help you but they also pose as a threat to insurance companies. 54% of lawyers provide claim and lawsuit filing services. 35% of lawyers will negotiate your settlement with the responsible party and/or insurance company on your behalf. 18% of lawyers provide medical treatment advising services and can point you to specific doctors or clinics. Research 11

12 shows that if you have you personal injury case represented by a lawyer, your chances of winning a higher settlement is 40% more than if a lawyer does not represent your case. All in all, a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate your case, deal with insurance companies, and get you the settlement that you deserve. A lawyer can also help you handle your case when the responsible party has no insurance. There are five general situations where a lawyer can best help you. If you have (or think you have) sustained any long-term or permanent damage from your injury, an experienced lawyer will help you get the most money, which will cover your ongoing and future medical bills. If you have suffered a severe injury that requires you to undergo extensive medical treatment and takes a long time to heal, an experienced lawyer will help you make sure that you get a fair amount of money to compensate your bills and pain. If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice, an experienced lawyer will help you navigate the complex laws and questions surrounding medical care. If you believe you are a victim of toxic exposure, an experienced lawyer will help you prove it by obtaining the necessary scientific data and dealing 12

13 with large chemical companies who know how to make it hard for outsiders to get their hands on the proof. Finally, when you file a personal injury claim, there is a chance that you will end up dealing with an uncooperative insurance company that refuses to pay you. Often times, insurance companies and insurance adjusters refuse to agree on a fair settlement with you under the hopes that you will stop pursuing your claim. An experienced lawyer knows how to handle uncooperative insurance companies and will deal with them for you. 6 13

14 How Much is My Claim Worth? An important part of a personal injury claim is figuring out how much your claim is worth. In others words, figuring out how much your claim is worth determines how much money you will receive for the accident. No two personal injury claims are alike; they all differ depending on the circumstances of your accident. Research shows that when a lawyer represents a victim in a personal injury case, the settlement payout is 3.5 times higher than it would have been without a lawyer. As of 1999, the average settlement difference when represented without a lawyer was $8,677 today, the dollar rate would be higher due to inflation but overall, that can be more money in your pocket. 14

15 The insurance company (whether it is your own insurance company or the company that covers the responsible party/business) looks at several factors to determine how much your claim is worth. Those who are liable for the accident must generally compensate the injured for medical expenses, such as a hospital business and medical treatment. They must also compensate for lost income as a result of the accident, any permanent disabilities or disfigurement caused by the accident, and any lost social time with family or lost time on recreational activities. If the accident caused any property damage, such as damage to your vehicle or house, the responsible part must also pay for that, too. The job of the insurance company is to add up the total cost of your lost or spent money. However, they must also figure out a way to put a dollar value on it. Since there is no solid way to do this, insurance companies generally use a damage formula to determine the worth of your claim. It is harder for insurance companies to put a dollar value on traumatic and shocking, emotional experiences since they do not come with an average price tag. If you fight for compensation for emotional suffering, the insurance company can compensate the you for any suffering that the you received during, immediately after, and for any emotional stress that you may experience in the future. The best way to put a dollar value on emotional distress is to see a doctor who specializes in therapy. This way, your doctor can document your visits and your claims will be easier to prove. 15

16 You also have a say in determining the worth of your claim. Putting a value on your personal injury claim is almost like an art. If you request monetary compensation that is too low, you are shorting yourself money that you deserve. If your request for monetary compensation is too high, an insurance company will probably refuse to pay. Your lawyer can help you come up with a figure to start out at when the time comes to negotiate with the insurance company. With a personal injury lawyer, you can rest easy knowing that he or she is can help you get a full and fair settlement. 16

17 What if I have a Pre-Existing Condition? When the neglect of another person or business causes your injury, you have a right to compensation for any new conditions that the accident caused. However, if your medical records indicate that you have a preexisting condition, sometimes the responsible party will try to use that as a defense. On another interesting note, if the accident made your preexisting conditions worse, you can still collect compensation. The best way to handle a personal injury claim if you have a pre-existing condition is to disclose your medical history to your doctor or the doctor who is treating you. Be sure to tell the doctor about any prior injuries that you sustained, no matter how small or significant they are. Not disclosing your previous injuries can damage your credibility and will be harder for you to prove, especially if you have a pre-existing condition in the same area as your new injury. 13 Also be certain to seek medical treatment right away. Otherwise, your case will look bad to the insurance company and they will be suspicious of its validity. The insurance company will have the mindset of, since you didn t seek medical treatment immediately, the injury couldn t have affected you that badly. 17

18 Immediate medical attention can also give you x-rays of your fresh injury that will be helpful to your case. Also make it a priority to go to all of your follow-up doctor visits. If you don t, your medical record will begin to lose credibility and validity and the insurance companies will try to argue that you did not care enough about your injury to receive ongoing treatment. If you believe that your new injury made a pre-existing condition worse, an experienced lawyer can compare your past medical records with your new ones to determine if the accident worsened your pre-existing condition. If your medical records show that you were feeling pain from a pre-existing condition at the time of your accident, the insurance company can get away with giving you less money. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate this process and help you win more money, even if the insurance company tries to use your pre-existing condition against you. 18

19 What Kind of Fees are Associated with Hiring a Lawyer? If a person or business caused an accident that injured you or your loved one, it is normal to feel upset, hurt, and angry. An accident where somebody gets injured is never a pleasant experience. Adding on the costs of a lawyer can seem like an extra piece of stress. However, hiring a personal injury lawyer can actually save you a lot of stress. Handling a personal injury claim on your own is a difficult task. You will have to deal with the responsible party (who is not going to jump up at the opportunity to take responsibility for the accident), the responsible party s lawyers, different doctors, and, worst of all, sneaky insurance companies who use special tactics to try to trick you out of a full settlement. An experienced person injury lawyer is familiar with the personal injury claims and negotiation process as well as how to handle the uncooperative counterparts. Also, a lawyer will help you and support you if your case ends up going to trial. 19

20 If you don t have a lot of money at the time of the accident, there is no need to worry. Many initial consultations with personal injury lawyers are free. During an initial consultation, you and your lawyer can ask each other questions and discuss your case. An initial consultation allows you to get a feel for your lawyer and allows your lawyer to get a feel for your case. If you still don t have a lot of money after your initial consultation, a lawyer can still represent you. Many personal injury lawyers accept cases under a contingency fee basis. In other words, if you win, they get part of your settlement as a means of payment. If you lose, they don t get a fee. Note that even if you don t win a settlement, you will still have to pay additional fees. When a lawyer accepts your case by agreeing to a contingency fee, you and your lawyer will sign a contract that outlines the details of the agreement. The most common type of contingency fee that personal injury lawyers charge is between 33% and 40% of your settlement. Another way to have a lawyer represent you is to pay a retainer fee. A retainer fee is a down payment in the sense that your lawyer cannot move on with your case until you pay some of the money. Once you have paid a retainer fee, your lawyer will provide with a retainer agreement that outlines to details of the agreement. 20

21 Interview with Bobby Saadian Wilshire Law Firm What You Need to Know About a Personal Injury Case in Los Angeles Many aspects of personal injury law are the same. However, some states have different rules and regulations that can affect the outcome of your case. There are a few things that you should know about filing a personal injury claim in California. California has a statute of limitations on lawsuits, meaning that there is a deadline for filing a lawsuit. For personal injuries, the statute of limitation in California is 2 years from the injury or 1 year from when you discover the injury. For property damage, you have three years from the event to file a lawsuit. If a government agency caused your injury, you only have 6 months to file a claim with the agency. You must file a claim with the agency before you can file a claim in court. Determining the statute of limitations for your injury can be hard but an experienced lawyer can help you with that. 21

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