Personal Injury FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury
by Matthew Taylor Wilkov, Esq.

1. How can I tell if I have a personal injury case?

Whether you have a right to recover in a personal injury lawsuit is based on three elements. First, someone has to do something wrong. For example, an act of negligence or a broken promise. Second, you must have suffered an injury, which was caused by that act of negligence, such as a broken leg in an auto accident. Finally, there has to be a fund, insurance, or financially viable defendant from which to collect those damages.

Stated another way, for you to have a claim worth pursuing, it is not enough that someone simply went through a red light and scared you. Someone has to have gone through a red light, collided with your car, and cause injury to you. That individual must have insurance or some other source of funds or else you must have previously purchased Uninsured Motorist coverage as part of your own automobile insurance policy in order to compensate you for your injury. All of these things are necessary to successfully pursue a personal injury case.

2. How much is my personal injury case worth?

A personal injury claim is evaluated based upon the seriousness of the damages sustained. If someone causes a collision and injures you, and as a result you miss relatively little time from work and only have a few weeks of physical therapy, then your personal injury case is worth relatively little. If on the other hand you are seriously injured, need surgery, have large medical bills, miss a great deal of time from work, or are unable to work again, your personal injury case is worth much more money.

The personal injury attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford, PC will not value your claim until we have had the opportunity to review all of your medical records, bills, and reports from your doctors. Also, the strength of your case must be factored into any valuation of a claim. The strength of your case involves the presence of 3 things: liability, insurance coverage, and damages. Liability refers to the fault of another, insurance coverage refers to the place from which funds can be collected, and damages are the extent of your injuries. Only at that time can our personal injury attorneys evaluate your case and attempt a settlement. Typically, our attorneys will not attempt to place a value on your case until you have completed all of your medical treatment and have reached maximum medical benefit from your treatment.

3. Do insurance companies treat injured people fairly?

Insurance companies are businesses that exist for one reason, to generate profits. Unfortunately, they have a long history of dealing unfairly with injured parties as well as their own customers. Insurance companies are heavily regulated by State Insurance Commissioners throughout the country, in part, because of their history of unfair dealings with consumers. Insurance companies are very sophisticated and have decades of experience in negotiating with consumers. It is very rare that an injured consumer can negotiate a fair resolution to a personal injury case with an insurance company.

4. Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?

No, there is no minimum or maximum settlement amount. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on a lot of factors, including: the nature and extent of the injury;

the amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills); and the amount of time the injury is expected to last.

5. Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?

The term "bodily injury claim" usually refers to a "personal injury claim."

"Economic damages" would include, but are not limited to: lost wages, medical bills, rental car expenses, etc. General damages are also available, and include compensation for: pain, suffering, humiliation, distress, disfigurement, loss of life pleasures, etc..

If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all the types of damages available to you, or you'll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.

6. Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the personal injury settlement check?

Yes. You have an absolute right to request a copy of your personal injury settlement check. Moreover, you are entitled to review a copy of the settlement breakdown sheet before the check is deposited. Usually, the insurance company check has both your name and your attorney's name on it, so you would typically have to endorse the check before it could be placed in an escrow account.

7. What is a contingent fee?

Attorneys earn their pay a variety of different ways, depending on the type of work that they do. Typically, in personal injury cases, the attorney receives payment through a contingent fee agreement. Plainly stated, injured people typically do not have the funds necessary to pay their attorney at an hourly rate. As such, the attorney works on behalf of their client for as long as the case is open. Once a settlement or verdict is reached, the attorney is paid out of a percentage of the settlement funds. At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford, PC, if we represent you in your personal injury case, we will not take a fee unless we recover a settlement or verdict for you.

8. Can my lawyer settle my personal injury case without my consent?

No. When you entrust Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford, PC to represent you in your personal injury case, we never lose sight of the fact that it is your case. You will be consulted whenever an offer is received from an opposing party. We will offer you our best advice, but the decision of whether to accept a settlement offer is exclusively yours.

9. Can a health care insurer be repaid from a personal injury settlement?

Yes, this is quite common. Most health insurance policies now have language that allows the insurance company to be repaid for the amount paid out on medical bills if the insured person gets a personal injury settlement. This is clearly one element that is factored into placing a value on your case.

10. Can I gain access to my child's personal injury settlement money?

Generally, no. A parent usually does not have access to a child's settlement funds. The reason for this is to protect children from parents who might use the money to benefit themselves, instead of the child. Where minors are involved, the case cannot even settle without Court Approval, in the form of a Minors Compromise. Courts in Pennsylvania require that a child's settlement money be deposited in a "blocked" bank account until the child turns 18. Furthermore, an affidavit must be filed with the Court certifying to the judge that the settlement funds have been placed in an appropriate, restricted account.

11. If I am injured, how long do I have to make a claim?

In Pennsylvania, the general rule for a personal injury case is that it must be started within 2 years of the date of the accident. If, however, the responsible party is a government agency or township, notice must be filed with that entity within 6 months. If a child is injured, they have a greater amount of time in which to take legal action. Children may bring claims up to 2 years after they turn the age of 18. Issues such as these are governed by the applicable statute of limitation, and these issue can be fairly complicated. Your best course of action is to immediately contact an attorney as soon as possible after you have been injured so that your situation can be fully investigated and a proper determination can be made as to what type of action should be taken to preserve your legal rights.

12. What happens if I wait too long to make a claim for my injuries?

If a lawsuit has not been properly commenced within the time required under the law, you will lose your rights to make a claim for compensation for your injuries.

13. If I suffer an injury what should I do first?

Seek medical attention! If you are injured, your health must be your initial concern. Obtain medical treatment as soon as possible. Do not take any unnecessary risks to your health after an accident. A police officer at the accident scene may inquire whether or not you wish to immediately obtain medical treatment by taking an ambulance to a local hospital. Once your condition has been stabilized, you can contact an attorney to investigate a claim on your behalf.

14. My medical insurance has paid my medical bills. My auto insurance has already paid the damage to my car. What other claim for compensation can I make?

Under Pennsylvania law, you may make a claim for the pain and suffering that you have experienced due to your injuries in an accident. You may also be entitled to recover for lost wages and other expenses directly arising from the accident. If the accident leaves you permanently injured, or disfigured, you may be able to obtain additional compensation.

15. I've been injured in an accident and don't have medical insurance to pay for my medical treatment. Who will pay for my medical bills caused by the accident?

Your attorney can seek to recover your medical expenses from the individual or company at fault in your accident along with the other types of compensation. In many instances, your attorney can recover from your own insurance policy at no additional premium increase to you. In automobile accident cases, for example, your automobile insurance coverage will pay for at least the first $5,000.00 of any medical bills you may incur.

16. I have been advised by my doctor that I may suffer permanent damage as a result of my accident. Is compensation available to me for this problem that I will have for the rest of my life?

Yes. Assuming there is a source from which funds may be obtained (insurance), a claim can be made for your lifelong impairment. The law dictates the methodology for appropriately placing a value on your injuries. For example, life expectancy tables can be used to calculate your probable life expectancy. Your attorney can then determine an appropriate amount of compensation to seek on your behalf.

17. I was hit from behind by a driver that had no insurance at the time of the accident. Can I still obtain compensation for my injuries?

Possibly. In Pennsylvania, in order to drive an automobile on a public roadway, one must have the mandatory minimum amount of automobile insurance. However, many people see the value in purchasing better coverage than the mandatory minimum coverage. If you have been the victim of an accident with an uninsured driver, we will examine your automobile insurance policy to determine whether you purchased Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. This is insurance you purchase as part of your own auto insurance, to protect yourself in the event you are injured by someone who is driving without insurance, or without enough insurance to compensate you for your injuries. If you do not know whether you have purchased UM/UIM coverage, find out immediately! You are foolish if you only purchase insurance to compensate other people you might accidently injure in an accident, without buying insurance to cover yourself from being the victim of an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

18. I was recently injured in an automobile accident by an unidentified car that left the scene. Is there any way I can make a claim for my injuries?

Yes. In such a situation, Under Pennsylvania law you may be able to make a claim under your own uninsured motorist coverage contained in your automobile insurance policy.

19. I've been hurt in an accident and I want to file a claim for my injuries. What's the first thing I should do?

There are a number of things you can do in the first few days and weeks after an accident to protect your right to compensation, such as: 1) write down as much as you can about the accident itself, your injuries and any other losses (such as wages) you've suffered as a result of the accident; 2) make notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim; 3) preserve evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs; 4) locate people who witnessed the accident and who might be able to help you prove your case; 5) notify anyone you think might be responsible for the accident of your intention to file a claim for your injuries, especially if a government agency or employee may be involved; and 6) contact a personal injury attorney to evaluate and pursue your claim.

20. What should I bring with me for my meeting with a lawyer?

You should provide a lawyer with any documents that might be relevant to your case. Police reports, for example, contain eyewitness information and details about the conditions surrounding auto accidents, fires, and assaults. Copies of medical reports and bills from doctors and hospitals will help demonstrate the extent and nature of your injuries. The declarations page of your automobile insurance policy should always be brought to the attorney in an auto accident case. Information about the insurer of the person who caused your injury is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident scene, your property damage and your injury. The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. If you haven't collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, however, don't worry; your lawyer will be able to obtain them in his/her investigation of your claim.

21. What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

It depends on whether the person died as a result of injuries from the accident, or from unrelated causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person's heirs may recover money through a lawsuit known as a wrongful death action. Also, even if a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the personal injury claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate.

22. Will the person who caused my injury be punished?

Not in the traditional sense of the word. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or criminal fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences and personal injury cases are civil actions. However, in some cases, criminal charges will be brought by the Commonwealth against the same person against whom you are bringing a civil action. Also, juries and courts can award what are called "punitive damages," which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly or intentionally against the public's interest. The goal in ordering the payment of punitive damages is to discourage such defendants from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.

23. What can I receive if my personal injury lawsuit is successful?

Usually, a person who is liable for an injury and therefore his or her liability insurance company must pay an injured person for: medical care and related expenses; income lost because of the accident; permanent physical disability or disfigurement; loss of family, social and educational experiences; emotional damages, such as stress, embarrassment, depression or strains on family relationships; and damaged property. You will be awarded "damages," which is money intended to restore you to the position you were in before your injury. This money is not considered income and is not taxable as income by the federal government or the states.

24. Is it a good idea to save money by purchasing Limited Tort automobile insurance?

No. While it is true you may save a tiny amount of money by electing limited tort rather than full tort, people never receive adequate compensation for injuries sustained in an automobile accident when they have elected limited tort. A person can recover non‑economic damages with limited tort if they are killed, sustain permanent serious disfigurement, or sustain serious impairment of body function. The problem is that the courts have construed the term "serious impairment of a body function" very narrowly so that it quite often would not cover broken bones, may not cover ruptured discs, concussions, contusions, abrasions, lacerations or any other of a number of physical injuries which might incapacitate a person for months and yet not result in a "serious impairment of bodily function." Additionally, if you have limited tort, this creates a jury issue and a bargaining point for the insurance adjuster who would be handling your claim, and in today's climate, when the public has been led to believe that there are too many lawsuits and too many claims, one does not want to give the insurance company any additional points to argue if that can be avoided.

If you have further questions, please contact the personal injury attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford, PC.