WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Dealing With The Aftermath Of An Accident
Should I contact the police after an auto accident?
Yes. Generally speaking, if you’ve been involved in an automobile accident in which you were hurt as a result of negligence on the part of another driver, it’s a good idea to let the police know about it. You can do this by contacting the police department directly, or by dialing 911 and mentioning to emergency personnel that you’ve been hurt in an accident. While 911 telephone dispatchers do not automatically notify law enforcement about reports of automobile accidents in every single situation, they will generally take such action where the 911 caller specifically mentions that one or more persons have been injured as a result of the accident.
Why is it important to contact the police after an auto accident?
It is important to get the police involved so that the responding officer will use the information he or she gathers at the accident scene to fill out an official document known as a police accident report (sometimes referred to as a "traffic collision report" or “motor vehicle accident report”). The police report will contain valuable information such as: the date, time, and exact location of the accident, the identities of the parties involved, detailed information regarding all vehicles involved in the collision (including license plate, year, make, model, color, sedan/SUV/coupe, etc., and information as to whether parts of any vehicle were malfunctioning or defective prior to the accident), a summary of any and all injuries claimed to have been sustained, a description of any alleged property damage, weather and road conditions at the time of the incident, names and/or contact information for any witnesses (as well as any statements those witnesses may have provided at the scene), and a subjective account from the officer himself detailing what appears to have transpired and why and how it happened (including who may have been at fault).
The police report can be a crucial tool relied upon by your personal injury lawyer to prove the defendant was legally responsible for an accident and your resulting injuries.
I'm not sure if I'm hurt, do I still need to contact the police after an accident?
Even if it is not clear immediately following an accident whether you’ve suffered injuries that are serious enough to warrant an insurance claim or a lawsuit, your best bet is to request that the police respond to the scene anyway so that the responding officer ends up generating a police report. If it later turns out that your injuries are in fact actionable, that report will go a long way towards corroborating your claims during the investigation and discovery phase of your case. And even if it turns out that you are not seriously hurt, the report may still come in handy (for instance in the event that the insurance company tries to pin the blame on you). Simply put, the mere existence of an official police report concerning your auto accident affords you peace of mind because it reduces the likelihood of you being blamed for a car wreck that was someone else’s fault.
Should I go to the doctor after an accident?
Yes. If you believe you’ve been injured following an automobile accident, your best bet is to seek medical attention right away. Always err on the side of caution unless you’re absolutely sure you’re okay. This is a rule that has already been learned firsthand by anyone who’s ever suffered delayed injuries after a collision. A latent onset of symptoms (i.e. a situation where you don’t “feel” your injury until several days or weeks following the underlying trauma that prompted it) may sometimes lead you to believe that you’re not hurt when you actually are.
What if I delay going to the doctor after an accident?
From a legal perspective, your failure to seek medical attention immediately following your accident may end up having a negative impact on your future personal injury case. For one, the initial delay may allow the insurance company to question the credibility concerning the seriousness of your injuries. Fair or not, they will say you were not badly hurt if you didn’t even need to go to the hospital or see a doctor right away.
Secondly, the delay may allow the insurance company to raise questions as to the true cause of your injuries. For example, if a period of three months elapsed from the time of the accident until the time you first sought treatment, fair or not, the insurance company may argue, and a jury might find, that it was possible your injuries could have resulted from a different accident or circumstance occurring somewhere during that three-month period.
Third, the insurance company will often argue that the delay might give rise to an inference that you pursued medical treatment not because you were hurt but because you were persuaded to do so by your lawyer.
Finally, the delay may be argued and viewed as a failure to mitigate damages on your part because you could have acted sooner to begin the healing and recovery process for your injuries.
The insurance company said I don't need to hire a lawyer, is this true?
It depends but if you were seriously injured, you will likely benefit from being represented by our lawyers who specialize in auto accident injury cases. Once an accident has taken place, the interests of an injured victim can be and more often than not are very different from the interests of the offending party’s insurance company. The best course of action is for you to take advantage of the free consultation we offer and talk to a personal injury lawyer before talking to any insurance company. During your free case review, you will get an accurate assessment of your case and your rights and be in a position to decide if you can handle the insurance claim on your own or if you will benefit from legal help.
What are the different stages of a personal injury case?
Personal injury cases involve four basic stages: pleadings, discovery, pre-trial motions, and trial.
What happens during the pleadings stage of the case?
The pleadings stage begins with the filing and service of the summons and complaint. The summons provides all named defendants with notice of the lawsuit. It tells all the parties where and when the case will be heard. It also sets out the time limit within which the defendant must respond to your allegations. The complaint provides an outline of your case against the defendant. It outlines whom you are suing, why you are suing them, and what you are seeking in terms of damages. Once the summons and complaint are filed, copies must be delivered to all parties to the lawsuit. This is known as the service of process. Once the defendant is served, he or she typically responds by filing and serving a responsive document called an answer. The answer addresses every allegation made by the plaintiff in the complaint. It may also set forth various defenses to the allegations. These defenses, often referred to as “affirmative defenses”, are legal reasons stated by the defendant(s) as to why the defendant(s) should not be held liable for your injuries.
What happens during the discovery stage of the case?
Discovery refers to the pre-trial process where you and the defendant exchange information each of you plans to use in support of your claims and defenses at trial. Broadly speaking, discovery in personal injury cases can take one of four forms: (1) interrogatories, (2) requests for admission, (3) requests for documents production, and (4) depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions intended to extract information from a party about the case. Each party’s answers to the interrogatories are provided in a written response given under oath.
Requests for admission are requests for a party to acknowledge or deny certain facts pertaining to the case. They carry with them penalties for not answering, for answering falsely or even answering late. Requests for admission are generally only used to establish basic facts. Once a party responds, it eliminates the need for any further discovery on that issue.
Requests for production are demands for copies of documents and other items that the parties to a lawsuit intend to rely on to support their respective claims. For you, as the injured plaintiff, this may include producing records such as a traffic collision report, medical reports, bills, receipts, employment records, repair estimates, photographs, or anything else relevant to the case.
Finally, depositions are in-person question and answer sessions involving the attorney for one party and a witness for the other party. The transcript from the session is usually recorded by a court reporter who is present at the deposition table. Depending on the complexity of the case (as well as other factors such as the attorney’s questioning style, the witness’ temperament, language barriers, etc.), depositions may be very short in duration or take several days to complete. Sometimes the attorneys may agree to conduct the depositions of all parties on the same day, while in other situations the sessions may be broken up into parts. Regardless of their particular format, depositions are usually the most important part of the discovery process because of how profoundly they can impact the relative strength of one’s case. For instance, if a personal injury plaintiff presents himself or herself very well during a deposition and comes across as a strong, convincing witness with legitimate bodily injury claims, the defense attorney may be more inclined to settle rather than proceed to trial. On the other hand, if a witness's testimony is riddled with inconsistencies, vagueness, and unclear responses, it may signify weakness in a case.
What happens during the pre-trial motions stage of the case?
During this stage of the case, the attorneys for each side request the judge to decide which information and documents disclosed during the discovery stage should be admitted as evidence at trial. For example, the judge may decide that some information is irrelevant or that some photographs are too gruesome and may prejudice the jury. Other housekeeping matters are also addressed during this stage such as what jury instructions will be given for a particular case.
What happens during the trial stage of the case?
In a trial, a jury or judge examines the evidence to decide whether the defendant should be held legally responsible for the injuries you've suffered. The trial provides you the opportunity to present your case in the hopes of obtaining a judgment against the defendant. The trial also gives the defendant a chance to refute your case. A full personal injury trial consists of several phases, including jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberations, and the verdict. The majority of personal injury and auto accident cases are settled long before trial.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a non-binding informal proceeding in an effort to settle a case. The parties that mediate employ a neutral third party or “mediator” to assist them in resolving their legal dispute and their attorneys to attempt to negotiate a settlement. The mediator’s role is to keep the parties communicating and exploring settlement options to avoid the expense and uncertainty of going to trial. Mediation may be a voluntary process or it may be court-ordered. The mediator has no authority to make any party settle the case. Any settlement must be agreed upon by all parties.
What is arbitration?
Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution proceeding. Arbitration is a private dispute resolution proceeding in which the parties to a dispute resolve their differences by going before a privately hired “arbitrator” or panel of “arbitrators,” to present their case and let the arbitrator decide the result for them. It is typically less formal and more cost-effective than a lawsuit. The parameters are typically agreed upon in advance or set forth by a contract that controls the parties’ relationship. The arbitration process may or may not allow some form of limited discovery, including issuing subpoenas for records, depositions, and/or live testimony. The arbitration “award” is typically binding but may be subject to an appeal.
Will the information I share with you remain private?
Yes. As lawyers, we are obligated to keep your information private in accordance with rules governing confidentiality and privilege. Our firm's practice is to uphold the highest ethical and professional standards. A duty of confidentiality arises on the part of a lawyer whenever you reveal intimate details about yourself or your circumstances in order to obtain legal advice. The duty prevents us from sharing your information with anyone else. It obligates us to keep private nearly everything relating to your case -- even information not obtained from you directly.
A separate but related concept is "privilege". The attorney-client privilege preserves the secrecy of communications between lawyers and clients. As with the duty of confidentiality, the purpose behind the privilege is to encourage candor. Notably, the privilege stays in effect after the end of the attorney-client relationship. It even survives a client's death.
What should I have with me when meeting with a lawyer for the first time?
Although every case is unique, the following items will almost always be helpful to us:
Copies of documents that may be relevant to your case, including medical records and bills, receipts, employment documents, photos, and correspondence.
Copy of a valid photo ID for our file, bearing the current, full version of your legal name as this is the name that will be used on all legal documents prepared in connection with your case.
A short written statement summarizing your accident, including information such as dates and times, street and/or intersection, names, and contact information for any witnesses.
A detailed medical chronology of your treatment from all the providers. The chronology can be extremely helpful to us, especially if your case involves extensive treatment from multiple medical providers over a long period of time.
Documents supporting your claim for lost wages (if applicable). Consider reviewing your available records in advance of meeting with your attorney so as to get a rough estimate of the total time missed from work as a result of your injuries (but do not worry if this number is not exact).
Try to provide as many of the above items as possible during your initial meeting with us. If you have time, consider organizing everything together into a folder or file. This will save us a great deal of time and help expedite the information-gathering process.
How will a lawyer determine the value of my case?
The value of your case depends on several factors. First, is the evidence clear regarding the issue of liability? Was it the defendant’s fault entirely, or did you contribute to the happening of the accident through your own conduct?
Secondly, how serious are your injuries? Were you diagnosed with a condition that can be verified from an objective medical standpoint? Objective injury cases tend to be more valuable than cases where the plaintiff has only subjective complaints. With more subjective injuries, such as soft tissue injuries, medical experts may disagree significantly as to the “severity” of the condition because the level of pain and suffering may vary considerably from person to person.
A third factor is the nature and extent of your medical treatment for the injuries in question. For instance, have you been put on a regimen of prescription medication to address pain or inflammation from the injury (and if so, did you experience unpleasant side effects as a result of the medication)? Was the pain so severe that you elected to undergo epidural steroid injections on one or more occasions? Did you undergo back surgery or is such surgery scheduled for the future? Is the procedure in question a mere discectomy or laminectomy (as opposed to a vertebrae fusion, for example, which involves placing hardware inside the body permanently)? Were you forced to travel to physical therapy sessions on a weekly basis for the past two years following the accident?
Another factor is the plaintiff’s potential strength as a witness at trial. Do you have a history of filing personal injury lawsuits for similar claims? How did you perform as a witness during depositions? Would a jury perceive you as credible if the case went to trial?
Finally, another factor is the dollar amount of recent verdicts and/or settlements for similar injury cases in the jurisdiction. Before jumping into the negotiation process with an adversary, attorneys and insurance companies will often consult databases containing information on past settlements and verdicts to gauge the value of your case.
What is medical payments insurance coverage?
Medical payments coverage or “med pay” covers medical expenses up to the specified maximum limit of coverage, which is typically very low. In California, medical payments coverage has a right of subrogation. This means that if a recovery is made from the negligent party who caused the accident, the insurance company paying med pay benefits has a right to be reimbursed out of the recovery.
What is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage?
In California, it is very important to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Drivers do not always follow the law by carrying insurance. Additionally, the minimum limits are often not enough to cover a serious accident. Uninsured motorist coverage protects you when the other driver causes the accident but has no insurance or runs away. Under-insured motorist coverage protects you when the negligent driver has insurance but it is not enough to pay for all of the damages caused by the collision.
Can I sue a county or a city for negligence?
Yes, in certain circumstances, assuming all requirements have been met. For the most part, local governments can be named as defendants in civil actions just like private individuals. However, do not make the mistake of assuming that this means the procedure for bringing the lawsuit is the same. In California, there are additional procedural requirements that operate as prerequisites to filing suit against the government.
An example is the requirement of notice. “Notice” refers to the act of disclosing in advance that you plan to assert a claim against a governmental entity. In other words, you don’t even have permission to start a lawsuit against the government unless and until the government decides that you’ve provided sufficient advanced warning of your litigation plans.
The notice requirement includes the filing of something called a Notice of Claim. This is a document outlining the claim or claims you wish to bring against the government. It includes detailed information as to the facts of the incident and what parties were involved. The Notice of Claim must be separately addressed and sent via certified mail to each and every governmental entity alleged to have caused your injuries.
Can a lawyer settle my case without my consent?
No. As a client, the decision of whether to settle is yours and yours alone. We are not allowed to accept a settlement offer without your prior approval. Moreover, we have a professional and ethical obligation to notify you of all settlement offers that are made in your case.
What is a deposition?
It is sworn testimony obtained from a party or witness in a legal proceeding. Attorneys for each party, the witness, and the court reporter will all be present. Parties to the case also have the right to sit in during the deposition of any other witness and listen. At the outset, the court reporter will “swear in” the witness. Then, the attorney who “noticed” the deposition will start by asking questions of the witness. When he or she is done, the attorneys for the other parties will each have a turn. The court reporter will record everything said and type it all up into a question and answer booklet format called a “deposition transcript.” The deposition transcript can then be shown or read to the court during various stages of the legal proceeding as well as read to the jury during the trial.
What questions will be asked during my deposition?
Your deposition typically will focus on four areas: (1) your background, (2) the circumstances of the accident for which you are suing, (3) your alleged injuries and medical treatment as a result of the accident, and (4) the claimed impact of such injuries on your daily life, habits, and routines. Below is a non-exhaustive list of common questions from each category that you can expect during your deposition:
1. Your Background
Residential address history.
Criminal background (if any).
Prior civil litigation (as a plaintiff or defendant).
2. Circumstances of the Accident
Where the accident happened.
When the incident took place (i.e. date and time, what day of the week, etc.).
The physical appearance/layout of the scene (at the time of the accident and currently).
Weather and lighting conditions.
The sequence of how the accident unfolded.
What you were doing in the moments immediately before and after the accident.
Whether you sought medical attention following the accident.
Whether you spoke with anyone regarding the accident, at the scene, or otherwise.
Whether you are aware of any witnesses to the accident.
Whether police and/or medical personnel responded.
3. Your Injuries and Treatment
What injury or injuries you claim to have suffered as a result of the accident in question.
Any pre-existing health conditions that you contend were aggravated as a result of the accident.
Information regarding all doctors and other medical providers who treated you specifically for the injuries you claimed to have sustained in the case in question.
The timeline of your symptoms (i.e. whether the symptoms were felt immediately or developed over a period of time, the duration of each symptom, whether the symptoms have improved/worsened/remained the same over time, whether you are experiencing any symptoms currently, etc.).
The amount of time that elapsed between the happening of the accident and the time you first sought medical attention.
Any gaps in your medical care (and if so, the reasons for such gaps and how long they lasted).
Total costs of medical care (and whether out-of-pocket vs. covered by insurance, etc.).
4. Impact the Accident Had on You
Whether you missed any time from work as a result of the incident and/or injuries (and if so, (1) the length of time and the total amount of any lost wages you may be claiming for that period, and (2) whether you anticipate missing additional time from work in the future).
Whether you missed any time from school (if applicable).
The manner in which your day-to-day activities have been affected.
Whether there are certain things you do less frequently now (or with less skill or intensity, etc.).
Whether there are things you can no longer do at all.
Whether family and/or personal relationships have been affected.
How long will my personal injury case take?
Every situation is different. But generally speaking, cases typically take anywhere from six months to two years before they are resolved. The speed with which cases move through the court system is different in every part of California. Some venues are known for relatively fast-moving dockets, while others are bogged down with overloaded judges and case calendars.
Do I have to be present for court appearances?
Usually not. Unlike criminal cases, where a client’s presence in court is usually required, personal injury accident cases usually don’t require personal appearances from the parties. The majority of the scheduled court appearances in your case will be discovery-related hearings for which only the attorneys for the respective parties must be present. Keep in mind, however, that your presence may be necessary for other matters, such as depositions, medical examinations, pre-trial hearings, or the trial.
What is a medical lien on the financial recovery?
A medical lien is a tool by which a personal injury attorney enables his client to obtain medical care without having to pay upfront for the services rendered. The attorney sends a letter to the medical provider that promises to “protect” or pay the medical provider’s bills out of any money recovered in the case by way of settlement or judgment. This creates a lien in favor of the medical provider against any future recovery by the plaintiff. Once the money is recovered, the attorney then pays the medical provider directly. In the event no recovery is made, the client remains fully responsible for the outstanding medical bill, though the attorney may attempt to negotiate a waiver of the medical costs owed. Upon recovery, the attorney may attempt to negotiate a discount before making a payment.
What is contributory negligence?
It is a complete defense to recovery on a negligence cause of action allowed in some jurisdictions that bars a plaintiff from making any recovery if his or her own actions contributed to causing the injury. However, it is not a valid defense in California.
What is comparative negligence?
It is a partial defense to recovery on a negligence cause of action allowed in California. It permits a jury to weigh the negligence of the plaintiff and the defendant by assigning percentages to each party’s fault. The damage award is then reduced by the corresponding percentage.
What is the assumption of risk?
Assumption of risk is a defense to a negligence cause of action allowed in California. It bars or reduces a plaintiff’s recovery when the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was aware of inherent risk in a particular course of conduct but voluntarily continued with that course of conduct in spite of the risk.
What are the elements of a negligence case?
Duty, breach, damages, and causation are the necessary elements for proving a negligence case. You will need to establish: (1) there was a duty to act with care on the part of one towards another; (2) the defendant breached the duty of care; (3) there was an injury or “damages” that resulted, and; (4) the breach of the duty proximately caused the damages (proximate cause means that an event was a “cause in fact” of the damages and that the damages were a foreseeable result of the event in question).
Will I have to pay a fee in order for you to handle my case?
We do not charge you any upfront retainer fees or costs. Our personal injury accident cases are handled on a contingency fee basis. This means that we receive a fixed percentage (usually 33% or one-third) of any monetary damages awarded to you. If our firm is unsuccessful (i.e. no damages are awarded), the client does not owe us any legal fee.
As to the various costs and expenses associated with handling the case (i.e. court filing fees, expenses associated with scheduling and taking depositions, fees for obtaining medical records and/or physician reports, fees for experts and other witnesses, postage, etc.), we will advance such costs on your behalf and will require reimbursement only if we win your case.
Will I be able to get punitive damages for my injuries in an auto negligence case?
Probably not because it is unusual for punitive damages to be awarded on top of compensatory damages in a negligence case. The purpose behind punitive damages is to punish the defendant for some outrageous conduct like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is very different from the purpose of damages awarded in a car accident case not involving aggravating circumstances, which is to make the plaintiff whole or “compensate” him or her for pain and suffering that he or she endured as a result of the injuries.
If a loved family member is killed in an accident, can I sue the negligent party?
Most likely, yes. In California (as well as most other states), you may file a wrongful death action on behalf of a deceased family member. However, the specific requirements for such lawsuits vary from state to state. If you’re considering bringing such action, an important threshold issue will be whether you are deemed an authorized party who can bring suit. In some states, the only authorized parties are the deceased’s surviving spouse and children. In California (and some other states), additional family members are permitted to assert the claim, such as the decedent's parents, grandparents, or siblings.
What is a worker's compensation third-party claim?
It is a claim with employer's insurance when you are injured in an accident while at work. When an employee is injured on the job and receives worker’s compensation benefits, he or she is barred from bringing an injury claim against the employer. However, if the injuries were caused by the negligence of someone other than the employer, you have the right to pursue a claim for damages against that “third party” and then reimburse any paid-out worker's compensation benefits.
What services do injury lawyers provide?
Ultimately, we help injured people recover financial compensation for economic and human losses sustained in an accident or another catastrophic event. We offer a variety of legal services based on our clients’ specific needs. These include case evaluation & consultation; insurance claims handling; investigation and evidence gathering; settlement negotiation & alternative dispute resolution; litigation, trial, and appeals.
How much does it cost to hire you to help me with my accident?
Our attorneys' fee is a negotiated, contingent percentage of the recovered amount of compensation. We base our fees on the reasonable, customary, and competitive price structure for personal injury lawyers in California. When determining the fees, we take into account our clients' particular recovery goals and structure our fees that make the most sense specifically to your situation so that we do better when you do better.
How many accident victims have you helped in the past get paid for the injuries they endured?
We’ve helped over 1,500 accident victims get paid for their injuries without the stress of dealing with the insurance company.
You can find our 5.0 Star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Google Reviews here.
What makes your service better than the others?
Our 110+ 5.0 Star Google Reviews repeatedly mention that our clients love our extremely personal and helpful service. We’re always responsive and pride ourselves on being accessible to our clients 24/7 via a secure client app and portal. Our practice is limited to helping injured accident victims. Unlike lawyers in other practice areas, we will never charge you anything up-front. Our success depends on yours. Once you become our client, we will walk you through the entire process and make ourselves available to you for any questions you may have along the way.
What should I do next?
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