Answers to Your Most Common Questions About Personal Injury and Other Legal Issues
It’s natural to have many questions when facing any type of legal case, especially those related to accidents and personal injury. It can be difficult to know where to find the relevant, reliable answers to those questions. The lawyers at the Poole Law Group offer their thoughts on many of the most common questions to help you learn more about your rights and ensure that you and your loved ones achieve the best legal result possible.
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I think I have a concussion from my motor vehicle accident. What do I need to know?
The above Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) video on the mechanics of a concussion shows concussions are now taken far more seriously than they once were. In fact, concussions are now classified as “traumatic brain injuries” or TBIs by the major medical associations. Research and experience from sports (e.g., football, soccer, ice hockey, etc.) and from military combat actions now show that TBIs and concussions can really affect how injured people feel and function, and the effects can be long-term. TBIs range from mild (e.g., concussions) to severe (e.g., extended memory loss) in degree.
Blurred vision, headaches, ringing in the ears, problems with balance, memory loss, queasiness in the stomach, changes in mood (e.g., depression, anxiety), and changes in sleep patterns are some of the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury or concussion. If you develop any of these symptoms after a motor vehicle accident or any incident involving a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain1 , it is critical that you report this to your doctor or medical care provider right away. If you or your child develop any of the symptoms from the CDC's list of danger signs, head to the ER immediately.
Also, ask someone who has not been injured (e.g., family member, friend, or coworker) to observe you because they may be better able to determine whether you are showing signs of a TBI.
NOTE: It is not unusual for some of our clients to rule out a concussion or TBI simply because they didn’t get diagnosed with one at the emergency room. Studies show that TBIs and concussions are misdiagnosed as much as 60% of the time at the ER. Generally, this is because care providers at the ER are typically focused on addressing immediate traumas – broken bones, bleeding, shock, etc. – and also because it is not unusual for many of the symptoms of a TBI to become apparent in the days after the crash.
One of the reasons that it is important to get this diagnosis correct is that generally healthcare providers will tell people with concussions or TBIs to greatly curtail their activity. People with such injuries need to be extremely careful as to what type of physical activity they engage in (e.g., operating motor vehicles or heavy equipment, climbing ladders, etc.). They also have to be careful about how much visual and mental activity they ask their brain to engage in. A concussion or TBI is an injury to the brain. The brain needs less stimulation and less stress on it during the period of recovery so that it can mend.
If your injury is significant, it is really important to get a specialist in TBIs and concussions to help with your diagnosis and treatment. Neurologists, neuropsychologists, neurosurgeons, and ophthalmologists are some of the type of healthcare providers who may be able to help you. They will often have you referred to vocational rehab specialists, speech or language pathologists, occupational therapists, nurse specialists, and other experts.
The CDC has an excellent section on its website with further explanation and resources relative to concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Please check these pages for more information: Recovery, Responding to a Concussion and an Action Plan for Coaches, Potential Long-term Effects, Severe TBI, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and Prevention Tips for Children and Teens.
The good news is that most people will recover from a TBI within 3 months or so of the injury. Following the direction of competent healthcare providers is essential. Keeping track of your progress and your problems in a written diary is very important. Avoiding gaps in treatment (i.e., make sure to go to your therapy appointments) is also essential. Hopefully, the above ations will assist you in gaining a complete recovery.
On the other hand, for a significant part of the population, the recovery from a TBI will take a lot longer or may never be complete. In these instances, a great deal of work and planning needs to be done in order to make adaptations for the injured person and his or her family so that they can deal with these long-term consequences. It’s very important to have your attorney and medical team work with a qualified life care planner and get such an expert involved early in the case.
For these reasons, if you have a concussion or TBI, don’t wait to go find an attorney with experience in handling these types of cases. Ask him or her specifically as to how many of these types of cases he or she has handled, whether or not they’ve actually litigated the cases in court, what conferences or seminars they have attended recently on the subject matter of concussions and TBIs, and specifically how they would handle, prepare and present your case. If the attorney can’t answer these questions with real details, keep searching for the right lawyer. Most lawyers, including those of The Poole Law Group, will not charge you a fee for a personal injury consultation. This claim may be a very significant part of your future. You only get one chance to get it right.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_whatis.html. Accessed April 18, 2018.
I have to go to court as a witness. What do I need to know?
First, DO NOT be on time. Be there 30 minutes AHEAD of time. Court is stressful and you don’t need to worry of being late, going to the wrong courtroom, not being able to talk to the attorney in advance, etc. Also, make sure you know precisely the court you are headed to (e.g., the address, the particular court number or name, etc.) and clear this up before the day of your appearance. By the way, if your attorney is to go to court with you and that person has never taken the time to meet you before this - be wary. Our experience is that attorneys like this are not adequately prepared.
Second, be polite. Turn your phone off or it might get confiscated, and don’t use foul language. Dress like you are going to a job interview or a contemporary church service. (Tip from past experience: Witnesses testifying with pictures or words regarding illegal drugs or anarchy groups emblazoned on their T-shirts usually are not well-received by the judge or the jury.) Follow the directions of the bailiff - he or she is in charge of the court and is second only to the judge. Just about every bailiff will be good to you if you are good to him or her.
Third, take with you anything that you think might be relevant to the case. This can include pictures, drawings, memos, bills, and recordings. Obviously, if you have an attorney, all of this should be planned out in advance and each of these items should be identified and prepared. However, if the occasion is such that you do not have an attorney, just ask yourself in advance what it is that you have to tell or show the court that is relevant (e.g., would make a difference for the issue being decided).
Fourth, get to the point. If the judge asks you where you were when the car ran the red light and you find yourself telling her about the time in the third grade when you won the soap box derby, rein it in! Believe me, judges have heard it all but they don’t need to hear it ALL when you take the stand. As a general rule, I tell witnesses to give answers of no more than 3 sentence. Let the attorney or judge ask more questions if more information is needed. If you’ve really got something that hasn’t been covered which you think is vital to the case, make your point. If it’s good, most likely the judge won’t react, one attorney will smile and the other one will look like they just received an extra tax bill. If it’s a bomb, the judge will probably let you know quickly. Some are relatively polite but, be forewarned: if you see the carotid artery of your judge’s neck for the first time, it is time to reel it in and start listening more closely.
Fifth, if you’re not sure what happened, find out when court is over. You usually can learn from one of the lawyers or that bailiff you made friends with….
What is a wrongful death case? What is the difference between it and a survival action?
Wrongful death cases are filed to recover for the loss that people suffer when they have lost a family member. The loss is focused on the effect to the survivor, not the deceased. If the survivor was financially dependent upon the deceased, that is part of the claim. Also, the grief that people suffer when they lose someone they are truly close to is compensable. With the right facts, it can be a large part of the claim as well.
Wrongful death cases can be very complicated for a variety of reasons. They can be very significant but are easily mishandled. These cases are normally more difficult than typical injury claims because the person who might make the best witness is often the deceased. Many times as well insurance companies will try to argue that if older persons die, their death was inevitable anyway. For young people, we often hear that although they had their whole life ahead of them, there’s no indication as to what they were going to be or achieve and so compensation for their death is just speculative.
That’s why we found that early preparation and hard work are required to prove the true loss that the family has suffered. We often have to spend a considerable period of time with doctors in order to show how and why the defendant is the person responsible for death. We often have to get economists into the case to explain the deep financial loss that has occurred by no longer having this wage and benefit earner in the family and what that loss adds up to over the trajectory of an expected lifetime.
Survival actions are filed to compensate for the injuries suffered and losses felt before the person passed away. The medical bills can be quite large in a case where a person requires a lot of treatment but ultimately succumbs to injuries. It can be difficult to explain to a jury just how much discomfort a person experienced leading up to their death. This is why both expert testimony and testimony from laypersons who knew the decedent is so very important. It’s also why so much preparation work needs to be done at the start of a case.
These are cases that truly get worse with every passing day. Witnesses disappear, memories get hazy, and financial pressures increase. If you’ve had this type of loss in your family, you really need to see a competent trial attorney reasonably soon after the accident.
I just received notice that the person who hit me has a trial in court for the charges placed against him. Should I attend?
If you have received such a notice, read it carefully. It is probably from the court, issued at the request of the State's Attorney. You are probably being summonsed to court to appear as a witness. If you don’t appear, the case may be lost and you can get in trouble for failing to appear. If you have a truly serious scheduling conflict, call the office listed on the document and tell them about your conflict. If you are unable to resolve this and have an attorney, you should ask your attorney to get involved.
Don’t forget that when you do go to court, you should take with you anything that would be relevant as to prove what happened. For instance, any photographs you have of the scene of the crash or the vehicles would be helpful. Any notes that you took right after should be reviewed with the prosecutor as well.
I have a lot of medical bills. Am I going to be responsible for them?
The quick answer is “yes”. This is one reason why, if you’ve been hurt due to someone else’s fault and you have significant injuries, you really need to get in and see a competent trial lawyer immediately. If you have a small claim, that’s a different matter and we give tips on how to handle those elsewhere on this website.
If you do have large bills, however, a competent trial lawyer can help you in several ways. First, he or she can help you with a PIP (personal injury protection) claim. A PIP claim is against your own insurance policy and will provide quick money for payment of some of your medical bills or lost wages. The good news is, as well, that you don’t have to reimburse your insurer for the money received.
Second, your lawyer should explore whether or not a workers compensation claim applies.
Third, your lawyer can often work with the healthcare providers to withhold any type of collection action against you until a recovery is made by the attorney for you against the person who caused the injury. If you have health insurance, you should use it to pay your medical bills in the meantime and then your attorney can work with the insurer to settle any claim the insurer wants to make once you have received payment for your injuries. You should also ask your attorney to help with the settlement of any other medical or health care liens that might be asserted including, for instance, those with Medicare and Medicaid. They can usually be settled once you have funds, and many can be settled at a reduced rate. Again, your attorney should handle these services as part of your representation.
I've been feeling mentally “fuzzy” since the crash. The ER, however, did not diagnose me with a concussion or TBI. Do I need to worry about this?
This is a problem we confront all the time at The Poole Law Group. The answer is that at the start, you need to worry about this enough to make sure that there hasn’t been an oversight about your injuries. On the other hand, you don’t want to panic.
Just because a healthcare provider at the ER or urgent care didn’t diagnose you with a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Keep in mind that both onsite emergency rescue personnel and ER docs and nurses are trained to look for obvious trauma after a crash and treat it (e.g., broken bones, gashes, heavy bleeding, severe back injuries, etc.). Studies show that concussions and TBIs are frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed in these settings. Some studies indicate the misdiagnosis rate exceeds 50%. Oftentimes, too, concussion/TBI symptoms do not fully become apparent because of the body's adrenaline response to an accident. Once the adrenaline rush wears off, the symptoms become more apparent.
What symptoms are indicative of a TBI? Forgetfulness, gaps in your memory as to how the crash occurred or what happened immediately afterward, dizziness, ringing in your ears, any problems or sudden changes to your vision, queasiness in your stomach, difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep abnormally (e.g., too long or too little) are indicators that you may have a more serious problem. Also, get a family member or someone living with you to keep an eye on you as, frankly, you might not be in shape to properly assess yourself.
Keep a simple journal or mark on your calendar when you notice the symptoms.
The CDC site has an excellent section on TBI’s. It can be found here.
If you find that you do have some of the symptoms and you think that they were not diagnosed properly, do tell your doctor or healthcare provider immediately. Also tell your lawyer promptly. Hopefully your symptoms will heal quickly. However, we’ve had a significant number of clients every year who didn’t have attention paid to early TBI symptoms and they later found that those symptoms were the most difficult to overcome in the long-term. It’s really important to get the proper diagnosis and care early on and also to make sure that your lawyer knows that you’ve got this problem so that it can be a component of the claim made with the defendant's insurance company. Don’t forget that by law, when your case is settled or tried, the result has to deal with not only your past injuries but the effect they will have on your future. It's a one-time shot and there is no ”second chance” to get this right.
The police report about my crash is inaccurate. What do I do?
This can be vital. Review the report carefully and make sure the officer got all of the information that he or she needs in order to form an opinion. If not, and you are representing yourself, send this information on to the officer, along with any photographs and witness statements that support you. Some officers will even take the time to meet with you. Do not delay as modern-day police officers get high volumes of work and often will forget your case quickly as time moves on. Still, once an inaccurate report is put in final form, it can cause a lot of trouble.
If you choose to hire an attorney to represent you, you have to tell the attorney or his staff quickly when you see errors in the police report and attach a memorandum explaining why you think the opinion is inaccurate. Again, include photographs and witness statements. The attorney or his staff should promptly follow up with you and then intervene on your behalf with the police officer.
If the case is serious enough, the attorney will involve the services of an accident reconstructionist or similar expert. Again, the information that you know needs to be given to that expert before he or she prepares her report. Often we will get the expert to then talk directly to the police officer. Again, this needs to be done at an early stage of the case.
Finally, if charges have been filed, you should speak with the prosecutor’s office and give an explanation as to what you think is in error. Again, if you have an attorney, let the lawyer do that.
My car has been totaled and the insurance adjuster is not offering me fair money for a replacement. What do I do?
First, check your own insurance policy to see what its language says. If you don’t have a copy of the policy, get one from your insurance agent. You might be lucky enough to have language that says that you will get paid the value of a new car. This usually applies only in the case of a vehicle that has been recently purchased and has under 10,000 or 15,000 miles. If you’re fortunate enough to have this, your agent will see that you get paid and then it’s your company’s headache to collect against the insurer for the person who hit you.
If you don’t have this kind of coverage, be in touch with the defendant’s insurer and ask for a written explanation as to how they valued your car. Check it against “blue book” valuations that you can find on the Internet. Also, if your car was in exceptionally good shape, go talk to the dealership or service firm that regularly maintained it and see if they will put a memo together on their letterhead indicating why they think the car was worth more than just standard blue book value before the crash.
If you can’t settle at a reasonable amount, you can always file a claim in court. If the value is $30,000 or less, you can file in District Court. If it’s above that, you’ll have to file in Circuit Court. You can represent yourself in either but if you find you have to file in Circuit Court, we definitely recommend that you hire an attorney. If you do represent yourself, make sure that you take photos of the vehicle to the court and remember that if you’re going to have your dealership offer an opinion as to value, you generally need to get that person to appear at trial.
As a side note, at The Poole Law Group we do undertake representation of the vehicle damage claim if we also represent you for an injury or death case out of the same circumstances. This is at no additional charge.
Should I talk to others about my criminal case?
Absolutely not. The State can call anyone you talk to as a witness to testify against you at trial. While the person may be your friend or relative, your conversations about your criminal case can be used against you.
If I want The Poole Law Group to represent me, how do I retain the firm?
In most criminal cases, we charge a flat fee which is paid up front, prior to entering into the representation. The amount of the fee is determined on an individual case basis, considering the type of matter (felony or misdemeanor), the time and work required and the resources necessary to effectively represent you. We offer a variety of options for payment, which we can discuss at the time of your consultation.