Have Personal Injury Questions?
San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer, Frederick M. Dudek, Provides Answers
Being injured is a stressful time in a person’s life regardless of how the injury happened. You are likely unable to work due to your injury — which means you are losing much-needed wages — and are perhaps rendered unable to work in the long-term. What then? Additionally, if you have children and are perhaps a single parent who has been injured, then you have to contend with finding consistent (and perhaps long-term) childcare assistance. This is expensive, however, and only adds to the stress of an injured person. You likely feel confused and overwhelmed — and rightly so. Take heart in knowing that there are those who will fight for justice by your side and have your best interests at heart.
Founder and principal personal injury attorney, Frederick Dudek, has been answering personal injury questions for over two decades. He has dedicated his career to helping the wrongfully injured seek recovery while ensuring that those who need help the most receive it at a cost they can afford. When Dudek Law Firm APC is on the case, our clients receive all the benefits that large personal injury law firms offer while receiving the personal and individualized care that a small family-owned law firm offers. Since opening the doors to his personal injury law firm, Frederick has successfully represented several wrongfully injured Californians in San Diego. He will do everything in his power to ensure that his clients receive rightful compensation for past, present and future damages.
What Are Some Frequently Asked Personal Injury Questions?
In an attempt to help alleviate any pressure that a recently injured reader of this page might be feeling, we have put together a comprehensive list of all the personal injury questions Frederick has been asked or has seen over the years.
- Is it necessary to hire an attorney?
- Does my own insurance company protect me?
- If the accident was caused by someone else, will their insurance company pay my claim?
- What is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Protection and how does it work?
- How much is my case worth?
- If I know the medical bills, can I estimate how much an insurance company will pay me?
- How long does it take to complete the legal process?
- What happens if the case does not settle?
- How much will it cost to hire my own experienced San Diego auto accident lawyer?
Is it necessary to hire an attorney?
No. You can represent yourself and, under certain circumstances, it may even be appropriate to handle a claim yourself. However, it is still in your best interest to at least consult with a personal injury attorney because it is extremely easy to get taken advantage of, especially when insurance companies are involved. For example, some insurance companies use a “two-tier” system to evaluate accidents. One group is for “unrepresented” accident victims (a case where the insurance companies have a huge advantage) which will receive lower settlement offers. The other group is for “attorney represented” victims, which the insurance companies assume will eventually receive higher settlement offers or jury verdicts. Due to these and other facts, it is in your best interest to consult a San Diego personal injury lawyer to help you deal with insurance agencies.
In general, hiring an attorney is normally helpful if you sustain any injuries in an accident caused by a negligent party (or parties); he or she will be able to fight on your behalf to help you receive maximum compensation for damages. For major injuries — such as a traumatic brain injury — or wrongful death, hiring an attorney quickly is extremely important because corporations and insurance companies will frequently investigate immediately and attempt to control critical evidence before the victim — or their families — can even react.
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Does my own insurance company protect me?
Normally, no. Most people who buy automobile insurance policies receive liability protection, in case they injure someone else — which is a requirement for all California drivers. When someone else causes an auto accident and you were not at fault, your insurance company is not required to help you. (Note that Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist coverage is an exception and is discussed below.)
Many people buy additional insurance to protect them in case of collisions, theft and “acts of God”. If your automobile is damaged for one of these reasons, then your insurance company may help you get it repaired, or even replaced. However, this is often handled by a “property damage” specialist who will not be involved in your personal injury claim.
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If the accident was caused by someone else, will their insurance company pay my claim?
The opposing party’s insurance company is supposed to pay your reasonable damages. However, it is critical to realize that the other party’s insurance company has no duty to treat you fairly and they face no penalty if they attempt to pay you less than the law requires. Unfortunately, this is often the case. Some insurance carriers attempt to profit from this situation at the expense of the injured victim who was not at fault. This practice, sometimes referred to as “DENY, DELAY and DEFEND”, was exposed in a segment on Anderson Cooper 360 back in 2007.
An experienced personal injury attorney, like Frederick, is skilled at negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf. He will help ensure that you are treated fairly by all involved parties.
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What is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Protection and how does it work?
This type of insurance (frequently referred to as “UIM Coverage”) protects you if the driver who hurt you violated California law and does not have liability coverage. It also may protect you if the driver who injured you has too little coverage to pay for all the damage they caused. Currently, the minimum insurance that every driver is required to carry in the state of California is $15,000.00. Due to the high cost of medical care, this legal minimum is rarely enough coverage for more serious injuries.
It is important to note that if you are injured by an uninsured (or underinsured) driver, then different legal rules apply. For example, you normally only have half the amount of time to start pursuing legal action. You are not permitted to have a jury hear your case and you must submit to special arbitration procedures. If this type of coverage applies to your situation, it is important to understand that “your” insurance company (to whom you may have paid premiums for many years, without ever having a claim) is now not “on your side”. Since your own insurance company may be liable to pay your medical bills, lost earnings, and other damages, they have a vested interest to limit your payments.
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How much is my case worth?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions and the answer depends on what state you reside in as well as many different variables and facts that are specific to each claim or case. However, in general, California law provides for compensation in five different areas for most vehicle injury claims/cases.
These areas include:
- Past medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Past lost earnings
- Future lost earnings, or loss of earning capacity
- Non-economic damages (including pain and suffering caused by the injury)
You may also be entitled to “loss of use” damages, which may include the cost of a rental vehicle during the time your vehicle is repaired or evaluated. Additionally, an extremely small percentage of claims may be eligible for “punitive damages”. However, punitive damages — which are based on reckless or intentional conduct and designed to punish the person who hurt you — are extremely rare in California.
Further, it is often very difficult to estimate claim/case values before medical treatment is completed. In addition, healthcare billing procedures, insurance policy contracts, Medicare, Medi-Cal and other government programs can all affect the amount of money you will receive. If you are intent on pursuing legal action for a serious injury, then it is in your best interest to contact an experienced San Diego accident attorney as soon as possible. It is also important to save all the evidence you can, to not sign any documents or permit recorded statements before you receive legal advice from a trusted attorney.
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Can I estimate how much an insurance company will pay me?
To many people’s frustration, not anymore. In the past, insurance carriers and car accident attorneys frequently estimated the total claim/case value based on the amount of medical bills. These days many insurance companies use sophisticated software programs to maximize their profits by minimizing the amount of each claim they pay. The software programs require huge amounts of detailed documentation in order to generate an “expected value” of a claim. If the insurance claims adjuster does not receive the proper documentation, then the claim value will be underestimated. In order to get the best result, it is necessary to know the data required, obtain appropriate documentation that contains this data and present the information quickly and accurately to insurance adjusters.
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How long does it take to complete the legal process?
The time required to see a case through to completion will vary based on many factors unique to each claim or case. It will also depend on the San Diego car accident lawyer you are working with. In general, the time increases with the severity of the injury and/or dollar value of the claim/case. Often, it will be necessary to complete medical treatment or at least know the extent of future medical treatment — including rehabilitation. Some minor car accident injury claims can be resolved in less than six months. Other major injury cases can take years, especially if the case goes to trial. Additionally, post-trial motions and appeals of verdicts can add many more years to court proceedings. However, California courts utilize a “fast track” system, designed to get most cases ready for trial within 12 months of filing a lawsuit.
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What happens if the case does not settle?
If a claim cannot be resolved before litigation, a “complaint” can be filed with the court to begin a lawsuit. This is followed by the “Discovery” phase, where each side obtains evidence. This includes written responses to questions (called “Interrogatories”), sworn testimony (“Depositions”), gathering documents, hiring experts etc. Normally, a judge will review the case with the attorneys approximately six months after the lawsuit is filed. Often, the court will send the parties to “Mediation.” This process often involves a neutral judge or attorney who will evaluate the evidence and encourage the parties to reach a settlement. If this process does not work, a case will be set for trial — ideally within 12 months of filing the complaint.
Depending on the complexity, most trials may last for a few days to several weeks. After trial, one side may receive a court order (“Judgment”) which indicates who won (and the amount of money a plaintiff is entitled to receive). The losing side may file motions after the trial and/or appeal the decision to a reviewing court (“Court of Appeal”). This process may take an additional two years or more. In extremely rare situations, a losing party may successfully petition the Supreme Court to hear a case.
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How much will it cost to hire my own experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer?
This answer will vary depending on which attorney you end up working with. Many attorneys charge hundreds of dollars per hour. Corporations and insurance carriers are often the best clients of large defense law firms, which bill them on a monthly basis. Many individuals and families who can otherwise not afford these types of lawyers are able to hire attorneys like Frederick on a “contingency basis”. This allows the individuals and families to hire an experienced attorney with no out of pocket costs. The attorney is paid a percentage of the amount he or she obtains for the client. Some attorneys will even “advance” the costs of litigation, which can be substantial.
Have More Personal Injury Questions? Schedule a Free Consultation Today
Suffering an injury at the hands of a negligent party is not only painful, it is infuriating. Now, on top of the life stressors you were already dealing with, you have to contend with a whole new mess of problems related to your injury. These problems include lost wages (and future loss of earning potential), childcare and what probably seems like a never-ending pile of medical bills. If this sounds like the situation you are in, then know that you have affordable legal rights and options available to you.
Dudek Law Firm APC primarily represents individuals and families on a contingency basis. The legal fee percentage varies based on numerous factors including the client’s age, degree of difficulty of the case, expected time frames, type of case etc. Some percentages are governed by California or federal law, including claims of minors and cases involving certain government defendants. For an estimate of expected costs and fees — and to discuss your case in further detail — please contact our San Diego personal injury law firm at (858) 530-4800 or contact us online today.