Our Experience and Knowledge Offer the Answers You Need Now
Many accident victims have little experience with the law. While trying to recover physically and emotionally from a car crash, it can feel overwhelming to consider a legal case and many important questions will naturally arise. In the FAQs provided, Attorney Bruce Poole addresses many of your most frequently shared questions and concerns. Don’t see your question? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our office by phone or through this website.
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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.
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.