I have an “open and shut” case. Why do a I need a lawyer?
The issue of who is at fault may be very clear. But that is only half of the claim. The issue then becomes “what is the value of the claim?” Insurance companies make money by taking in premiums and paying small amounts for claims. It is the job of the personal injury lawyer to maximize the value of the claim. This is done in many ways. Photographs of the vehicles involved and the injuries are critical to the value of the claim. Documentation from employers add value. And letters from treating doctors explaining a diagnosis or the cause of the injury are often necessary. Further, the lawyer knows the value of the claim because he tries cases before juries and learns about other jury verdicts. A lawyer will make sure you are paid every penny that is reasonable given the facts of the claim.
Do I have to pay the lawyer anything up front?
Absolutely not. Our first conference is free. And if we take your case, we represent you on a contingent fee basis. That means we are never paid a fee until we recover damages for you. We have a written agreement with all our clients that provides that the fee will be a percentage of the amount recovered. All clients have a copy of that agreement and there are no surprises. The contingent fee arrangement has been called the “keys to the courthouse” because it allows anyone with a valid claim to obtain a lawyer.
I am not able to come to your office. Will you come to me?
Yes. We want to see you as soon as possible after an accident. That may mean that you have no transportation or that you can not physically come to our offices. In those cases, we come to your home or hospital room.
How is the value of my claim determined?
The ultimate answer to this question is the amount that a jury in your county would be likely to award when presented with your claim. Obviously, that amount would vary depending on the makeup of the jury, your ability to explain your damages when you are a witness, and the skill of your lawyer.
But there can be at least four elements of a claim:
-physical pain and mental suffering
The first two elements are usually fairly easy to calculate but the value to assign to the latter two is obviously more difficult. An experienced personal injury lawyer can maximize the value of the latter two. We never guess about the value of claim when we first meet with a prospective client. There is no way to know the ultimate value of the claim while a client is still treating with a doctor and the long range prognosis is not known. When a client has been released by the doctors or has reached maximum medical improvement, we give that client our candid assessment of the value of the claim.
What is the value of my personal injury claim?
There is no precise formula for placing a value on a personal injury claim. Each case is unique. But ultimately, a claim is worth what a jury would say in the county where the claim is presented. There is no reliable method of valuing a claim until all medical treatment has been completed and there is a determination of whether there will be any permanent problems. Clients often ask us the value of their claims while they are still receiving medical treatment and we routinely defer answering the question until we know all the facts.
At some point, we assign a value to the claim based upon the medical bills, pain & suffering, lost income, and permanent injuries. We try to predict what a jury would do if the claim resulted in a lawsuit and trial. Obviously, this can vary greatly depending on the people who happen to be on the jury, the skill of the lawyers, and the ability of the client to explain his or her claim in a courtroom.
Our opinion is based upon our knowledge of jury verdicts. We have tried hundreds of jury trials and use that experience to make an educated guess about what a jury would do with a particular claim. We share that opinion with our client. If an insurance company offers to settle a claim for an amount equal to what we believe a jury would award, the claim needs to be settled. Otherwise, we file a lawsuit and let a jury decide the value of the claim.
What is underinsured coverage?
Underinsured coverage is automobile insurance that you buy from your own insurance company. It pays a portion of your damage when the liability insurance policy for the person who injures you has limits that are inadequate to pay your claim. In North Carolina, drivers are only required to have liability insurance coverage of $30,000 per person and $60,000 total for all claims arising out of an accident. These amounts of coverage are grossly inadequate to pay many personal injury claims.
Examples might be helpful to understand this coverage. Let’'s assume an automobile accident where the party at fault has the minimum coverage. The person injured had underinsured coverage of $100,000 person and $300,000 per accident. In the first example, let’'s assume that the personal injury claim is worth $75,000. In this situation, the insurance company for the driver at fault will pay $30,000, the limits of the policy. The insurance company for the injured person will pay $45,000 from the underinsured coverage.
In a second example, let'’s assume that the claim is worth $125,000. Again, the liability insurance company for the party at fault will pay $30,000. The insurance company for the inured party will pay $70,000 from the underinsured coverage. Many of our clients are initially hesitant to use the underinsured coverage. They say to us, "“Why should my company have to pay anything?"”. Once they understand why they purchased the coverage in the first place and that they paid an extra premium for the coverage, they are less reluctant to use it. And they are also relieved that their automobile insurance rate will not increase if an underinsured claim is filed.
We strongly recommend the purchase of underinsured coverage of at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. We believe that even higher limits would be a wise decision. This coverage is surprisingly inexpensive and your agent should be ready to give you quotes for various amounts of coverage.