If you've been hurt because of someone else's fault you may deserve to be compensated. Your medical bills should be paid. You should also receive reasonable compensation for your pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of income, and for any damage to your property. If you have been injured at work, regardless of anyone's fault, you may also deserve compensation.
Our compensation system is an adversarial system. The insurance company will use a skilled, trained insurance adjuster whose job is to pay you the least for your injures. Your attorney's job is to get you the most compensation.
Insurance companies' claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in using every psychological technique to maneuver a claimant into settling for the lowest possible dollar, including discouraging people from using the professional services of a lawyer.
Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone and they are extremely well trained by company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. Claims adjusters also know that if they can keep a claimant negotiating with the adjuster then there is a high probability of a successful settlement in favor of the insurance company. While this sounds like an ad for lawyers, the truth is that an experienced lawyer can always negotiate a settlement that is substantially more than an individual claimant can negotiate for themself.
It is always best to promptly contact an attorney to learn of the rules and procedures of injury cases. By contacting or hiring an attorney you will not necessarily be filing a suit against anyone; however, you will be advised of your rights in personal injury, negligence, job injury, and many other types of cases. The time to be informed of your rights is at the very beginning.
If you mishandle your own case due to a lack of knowledge or lack of skill, it is likely that a competent lawyer will not be able to undo the mistakes that you have made and may not be able to accept your case at that time.
Do you have to take your case to trial? No, but if you do not act as if you are willing to go to trial your claim will be worth dramatically less. The best recoveries are obtained with a thoughtful, aggressive lawyer pushing your case towards trial.
If you decide to hire an attorney, we work on a contingent fee basis and will receive a percentage of the final settlement. If we fail to win you a settlement or judgment, you owe us nothing.
How the Injury Claim Process Works ...
The purpose of this page is to familiarize you with the way your case will be handled and to give you information so you can help us gain the best result for you. Never hesitate to call us. We will always do the best we can to answer any questions which you may have.
THE FIRST STEPS
Shortly after you have retained us, a file will be established and the investigation will begin. We will interview or obtain a statement from any important witnesses. We will assemble all of the information which is available as to how the accident occurred and who is responsible. We will take pictures of the vehicles involved and of your injuries before bruises, lacerations, etc., have had a chance to disappear.
We will request medical records from all of your health care providers. In some cases, we may need to personally interview the physicians. One of the first things the insurance company will wish to have from us is a list of monetary damages you have sustained such as doctor bills, hospital bills, medical bills, any loss of earnings or income that occurred as a result of the accident, and any property damage which may have resulted.
You should refrain from discussing the details of your accident or injuries with anyone other than our office. If the insurance company representative contacts you, obtain his or her name and telephone number and inform the adjuster that you are represented by our law firm. Refer the adjuster to us, and then call us with his/her name and telephone number. Never give a statement to the insurance company. If you have already given a statement to an insurance adjuster or anyone else, tell us immediately of the statement and furnish us with a copy if you have one in your possession. We can request a copy of the statement from the insurance company if they did not give you one.
You are entitled to the very best medical care available in order to obtain a cure or to minimize the permanent effects of your injury. Do not hesitate to discuss with us the qualifications of credentials of your current physician or ask us for referrals if you are not satisfied with the medical progress you are achieving under your current physician's care. We do ask that you assist us in obtaining copies of all bills and receipts for all expenditures made by you. The financial loss suffered by you is just as important as the impact of the injury on your life. Part of the role you will play in our representation of you includes your informing us of the manner in which your life has been changed by your injuries. You also need to help us with information as to where we can obtain credible and admissible testimony to prove the effects of the injury on your life.
It is important that you continue to go to your doctor as long as your injuries continue to bother you. Usually, your doctor knows best as to the treatment that will help you.
You should cooperate with your doctor fully and should tell him truthfully and fully all symptoms you have which arise from or were caused by the accident. If you do not tell the doctor about all of your problems and complaints they will not be entered in your medical records, making it more difficult to substantiate your injuries. You should, of course, answer fully all questions your physician asks you.
Medical treatment often takes time to obtain results and the physician has a better opportunity of making an accurate diagnosis and rendering appropriate treatment if you keep all scheduled visits. Insurance companies and defense attorneys will often argue that unless you have followed the physician's course of treatment and have informed the doctor of your problems, you cannot be injured too badly.
A significant factor affecting the value of your lawsuit is whether or not we can establish by the testimony of a physician that you have suffered a permanent injury due to the accident. Doctors know from experience that the full extent of a person's injuries are sometimes not known for several months after an accident. We will be receiving and monitoring your medical records and reports as we receive them from your doctors, but not all doctors state in their medical records when you have finished treatment. If your doctor tells you that you have finished treatment, please call us and inform us of this fact.
WHAT IS MY CASE WORTH?
Some insurance companies in cases where fault is clear attempt to place a value on the case by economic loss alone. This is an unfair method of evolution for you because it fails to take into account your physical pain and suffering, loss of capacity to lead a normal life, disability, mental anguish, and other factors beyond simple bills.
After we have assembled all pertinent information, we will attempt to fully evaluate the potential probable jury verdict range for your claim. We evaluate cases based upon your injuries, financial losses and what juries in our area are awarding for similar cases. In those cases where there is some question as to whether or not we can win, we must necessarily adjust our evaluation of the damage aspect of your claim to reflect the probability we believe we have of winning. For example, if we estimate that a jury may find your injuries to be worth $100,000.00 but we believe we would only win the case 75% of the time, then the sum of $75,000.00 might be a reasonable settlement.
AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT CASES
If your case involves an automobile accident, there are special factors that influence the value of your case. These factors will also affect whether or not we will be able to file suit on your behalf. Since the passage of Florida's No Fault Law, the State Legislature has greatly limited the right of people to recover for injuries sustained in automobile accidents. The theory of the No Fault Law is that it will permit the recovery of 80% of your medical bills and 60% of your lost wages from your own insurance company, regardless of who is at fault in causing the accident. However, before you can recover from the party who was at fault you must have been either permanently injured or scarred in the accident.
As a service to you, we will help you process your claim for no-fault benefits against your insurance company while we are monitoring the medical aspect of your case. For that reason, it is important that we be kept up to date on your medical bills and expenses. If you get an Application for Personal Injury Protection benefits from your insurance carrier, please consult with us before completing it. As you may know, if you are involved in an automobile accident, there are many situations where the driver of the other vehicle had no automobile insurance or had automobile insurance in the least amount that can be carried ($10,000). It is, therefore, necessary for us to know whether or not you have a policy of automobile liability insurance and whether you have purchased Uninsured Motorist coverage on that policy. Uninsured Motorist coverage guarantees a source of recovery for yourself or your family for the negligence of another driver who is uninsured or who doesn't carry enough insurance. Please discuss purchasing this insurance with your insurer after consulting with us.
If it should become necessary to file suit, the process can be lengthy and is as follows. You are the plaintiff, as is your spouse if you were married on the date of the accident. After consulting with you, a lawsuit is filed on your behalf which states the reasons why we believe you have a cause of action against the defendant, and it sets forth the various claims we are making. The defendant has twenty days from the time he is served with the suit papers in which to answer. Usually, the defendant will answer and deny responsibility and deny that you were injured to the extent described in the lawsuit. Often, the defendant will claim that you contributed to your own injuries or deny that their negligence caused your injury. These are standard allegations which virtually all defendants make. The burden will be on them to prove these allegations; the burden will be on us to prove they were at fault and the extent of your injuries.
During the course of the lawsuit, we will be permitted to take testimony during depositions, under oath, from all witnesses and doctors who may be involved in the case. The attorney for the defendant will send us written questions known as interrogatories, which must be answered under oath and in writing. The attorney for the defendant will probably also take your deposition. Before either of these occur we will make sure that you are thoroughly prepared. There are certain damages you are entitled to recover if your doctor renders an opinion that you have suffered a permanent injury. These include past and future pain and suffering, as well as future loss of income or loss of earning capacity. Even without a permanent injury, you can still recover all out-of-pocket expenses, such as the 20% of your medical bills and 40% of your lost wages which your insurance did not pay.
In attempting to evaluate your case, there are many important factors involved, and two of the most important are (1) how certain are we that we can win for you and make the other side pay for the damages they have caused, and (2) the extent of the damages you have actually suffered. Naturally, a person who has received a serious and crippling injury is entitled to recover more money than an individual who had received only minor injuries, assuming that we have the same chance of winning on the issue of fault, otherwise known as liability. However, in every instance, the chances of winning must be one of the several factors which are considered in evaluating your claim.
We will not settle your claim without your knowledge and consent. At some future date when we know all of the factors we can possibly ascertain concerning the value of your case, we will advise you as to that value so that you may make an informed decision concerning whether you wish to settle your case or go to trial. Please do not hesitate to ask us any questions which may occur to you or call us should you care to do so at any time. We will do our best to represent you fairly and aggressively and will keep you informed of pertinent developments. What follows is a list of a number of things you can do to help us. This list is important and it should be reviewed frequently so that you can keep us up to date on these matters.
This list is designed to furnish us with information that is of great importance in the preparation of your case, for both trial and settlement purposes. We can do our best only when we know ALL of the facts in your case, so it is essential that you complete the list and review it from time to time, keeping us informed of any change.
Keep a journal of restrictions in your activities caused by your injuries, specific pains and the frequency of the pain, what kind and how often you take your medication, etc... A journal such as this could be useful to you at trial to refresh your memory as to occurrences that otherwise may have been forgotten.
Be sure to keep all damaged physical objects such as shoes, clothing, etc... which you had on at the time of the accident. We may need them as evidence at the trial.
Forward to our office itemized receipts of all bills related to your accident including hospital, doctor, ambulance, nursing and pharmacy bills. As well, please keep a record of the following:
1) Travel to and from the doctors, offices and hospital. Keep a notebook record of these expenses.
2) Additional expenses for help around home and/or business, including baby sitters, domestic or yard help, etc.
Please tell your pharmacist from whom you purchase prescriptions to be certain that the bills are only for medicines that are related to the accident. In the event your pharmacist inadvertently includes on your bill some medicine unrelated to the accident, the inclusion of the item could be used by the defense attorney to embarrass you at trial to make it appear that you are taking something to which you are not entitled.
We are pleased that you have chosen our office to represent you in your claim for your injuries. Please keep in mind that we work for you; it is our job to represent you to the best of our abilities, but you are the injured party and it is your case and not ours. While we will give you the best advice we can render, nevertheless, the resolution of your claim will be your decision after consulting with us. We look forward to representing you!
Progress Of A Claim
Understandably, the personal injury claim process is a mystery to many. Here at Sublette Law we strive to make the claims process as understandable and simple as possible for our clients.
Investigation of the Claim
Once we are retained to represent an individual or family we place the potential defendant, and the defendant's insurer if known, on notice of our representation. We then set about gathering the necessary facts, documents and data surrounding our client's claim. We call this the "investigation" phase of a claim.
In the "investigation" phase of a claim, we request and obtain medical records and bills, interview witnesses and obtain any necessary statements, take photographs of the accident scene or of the automobile or product involved, and generally ensure that the claim is well documented and that all necessary evidence is preserved. We also make sure our client's injuries are being treated and that their medical needs are being met. This phase of a claim can take anywhere from one month to, in severe cases, a year depending on the complexity of the claim and the nature of our client's injuries and damages.
The Pre-Suit Demand
The progress of a client's personal injury claim is commonly driven by the progress of the client's medical treatment. This is because the next step in the pre-suit phase of a claim is the "demand" phase. In the "demand" phase we prepare a demand package consisting of a demand letter, medical bills and records, and the favorable results of our previous investigation. Typically, the demand package cannot, or should not, be sent out until our client has reached a point in their medical treatment known as "Maximum Medical Improvement." This is the point in their treatment where our client's doctor tells them that they either are finished treating or, if additional treatment is necessary, that they have nevertheless reached the point in their treatment where further improvement in their condition will not occur. Often, there is a one month to one year wait between the conclusion of our "investigation" phase of a claim and our sending out a demand package as we wait for our client to finish treating.
Approximately 85% of our cases settle without the need for a lawsuit. This is for a number of reasons. Most clients and defendants desire certainty in the result of a claim. A pre-suit settlement gives certainty through a defined, known amount being paid by a defendant to our client without the risk of a trial. In our firm, the decision whether to settle is always left to the client, although we will offer advice based upon our experience and our knowledge of the claim as to what is, and is not, a fair settlement offer.
In approximately 15% of our cases, a lawsuit is necessary. A lawsuit is typically necessary because either:
1. The liability, or fault, aspect of our client's claim is weak and the defendant's insurer is unwilling to pay fair value for our client's injuries; or,
2. The damages, or injury, aspect of our client's claim is greater in our opinion, or our client's opinion, than the defendant's insurer believes it to be.
Occasionally, we will file a lawsuit notwithstanding what we believe is a fair offer to settle because our client is not satisfied with the offer. This is because our firm's philosophy is that our client is in charge and it is our client's right to refuse a settlement, even if against our advice, and to pursue their rights in court. This philosophy is different from many other personal injury firms which often will refuse to file a lawsuit, or will withdraw from representation if a client does not take what is being offered in settlement.
Approximately 90% of our cases placed into suit settle before trial at mediation. "Mediation" is a court ordered negotiation which occurs on the eve of trial. Settlement at mediation is voluntary and cannot be forced by the court or mediator. Again, most clients and defendants desire an outcome with certainty, and a trial of a claim is anything but certain, which is why so many cases settle at mediation. Typically, we receive more at mediation than was offered pre-suit but that increased amount is often offset by the increased cost incurred by the client in bringing the case through the lawsuit phase.
When claims do not settle through the pre-suit or litigation phase of the process we take them to trial. Our firm is committed to trying cases when our client is not being treated fairly by the defendant's insurer or when our client desires a trial. Any trial is fraught with uncertainty and potential cost to a client, yet some firms tout their desire to try cases without telling their clients that a trial may not in their best financial interest. Conversely, some firms shy away from trials because of the cost and uncertainty involved. Our firm will willingly try a case where our client is being treated unfairly, but will also advise a client to settle when the settlement offer is fair. Ultimately, however, that decision is always left to the client.
At least once or twice a month our firm must advise a prospective client that although they were faultless in the accident which injured them or a loved one, the other driver failed to possess insurance coverage for their injuries. Because our client in such cases failed to purchase insurance coverage for the full scope of their injuries we have no choice but to turn down the case. Frequently, our prospective client protests, "But my insurance agent told me I was purchasing 'full coverage'."
"Full coverage" as used by insurance agents is a misleading, meaningless term. As typically used by agents the phrase means no more than the insured has purchased the minimum insurance required by law. In Florida, the law requires nothing more than what is commonly referred to as "PIP", or Personal Injury Protection, coverage.
PIP coverage pays nothing more than 80-90% of your medical bills and 60% of your lost wages, up to a limit of $10,000 in total payments. PIP coverage pays nothing to the insured for the first 10-20% of their medical bills, for their future medical needs, for the 40% of lost wages not covered by PIP, for medical bills beyond the typical $10,000 PIP limit, for our client's pain and suffering; all of which comprise the real value of a personal injury claim.
Various studies have established that more than 25% of all Florida drivers either carry no insurance or only carry PIP coverage. A person injured in an automobile accident by an uninsured driver, or by a driver insured with only PIP coverage, has no insurance coverage against which to make a claim or file a lawsuit. Ninety-nine percent of all Americans have no assets beyond insurance which are collectible after obtaining a judgment, so in the overwhelming majority of cases if there is not insurance to pursue we must inform our clients that they have no case, no matter how extensive their injuries.
All drivers in Florida should elect to carry some level of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, otherwise known as "UM"coverage, to protect themselves against the 25% of Florida's drivers who do not carry insurance for another person's injuries, or carry inadequate insurance. UM coverage covers your medical bills and lost wages not covered by PIP, and will pay for your pain and suffering and future medical bills up to the limit of the coverage. If affordable, you should also carry Medical Payments coverage, to cover the 10-20% of your own medical bills not covered by the PIP deductible and to cover any medical bills above the PIP coverage.
An Automobile Insurance Coverage Primer
Personal Injury Protection "PIP" Coverage
No-fault insurance which pays for your medical bills and lost wages, or the bills and wages of your passengers, regardless of fault for an accident. PIP covers only 80% of your medical bills and 60% of your lost wages. It does not cover pain and suffering, future medical expenses, or the 20% of your medical bills and 40% of wages not covered by PIP. PIP benefits do not have to be repaid, but will be set off against any later jury verdict for damages. PIP is the only insurance required by Florida law of all licensed drivers for injury, yet approximately 5% of all drivers do not have any insurance at all, including PIP, and another 15% only have minimal PIP coverage which covers only their own injuries, not your injuries. PIP Is required of all vehicle owners by Florida law.
Pays for damage to another's automobile caused by your negligence in an accident. Is required of all vehicle owners by Florida law.
Bodily Injury Liability Coverage
Pays for the bodily injuries of the drivers or passengers of other vehicles harmed by your negligence. Bodily Injury Liability insurance protects you from personal liability for another's injuries resulting from an accident caused by you up to the limits of your coverage. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Pays for your injuries, or for the injuries of your passengers, caused by the negligence of an uninsured, or underinsured, driver. Protects you from the 25% of drivers who have no insurance or only PIP coverage. Can be stacked or unstacked. If stacked, the amount of coverage for each vehicle on your policy is multiplied by the number of vehicles insured by you. Not available unless Bodily Injury Liability coverage is purchased by you and usually equals Bodily Injury coverage amounts. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Medical Payments Coverage
Pays for your own medical bills, or the medical bills of your
passengers, up to the limit of coverage. Is supplemental to PIP coverage and will cover the PIP deductible as well as any medical bills above the PIP limit to the extent of coverage. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Pays for the damage to your vehicle caused by a collision, regardless of fault. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Pays for damage to your vehicle or vehicle contents caused by everything other than a collision, e.g., hail, vandalism, theft, etc..., regardless of fault. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Rental Reimbursement Coverage
Pays a portion of the cost of a rental car while your automobile is being repaired or replaced as a result of an accident. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.
Towing and Labor Coverage
Pays towing and labor charges for such services arising from a collision. Optional coverage not required by Florida law.