Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Injuries in San Diego

Answers Provided by San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Frederick M. Dudek

San Diego personal injury attorney for spinal cord injury cases

Is it necessary to hire an attorney? No. You can represent yourself and under certain circumstances it may be appropriate to handle a claim yourself. The other driver’s insurance company may encourage you to “handle it yourself” and hope you never talk to a personal injury attorney. However, this practice may be illegal, especially when it benefits the person who injured you.

In general, hiring an attorney is normally helpful for any injuries and for receiving maximum compensation. For major injuries or death cases, 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 react. Some insurance companies even use a “two tier” system to evaluate accidents. One group is for “unrepresented” accident victims (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. Because of this, it may be in your best interest to consult a San Diego personal injury lawyer to help you deal with insurance agencies.

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Does my own insurance company protect me? Is this a reason I pay premiums every year? Normally, no. Most people who buy automobile insurance policies receive liability protection, in case they injure someone else. (This is required 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. (Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist coverage is an exception and is discussed below.)

Many people also buy insurance to protect them in case of collisions, theft, etc. If your automobile is damaged, your insurance company may help you get it repaired or replaced. However, this is often handled by a “property damage” specialist, who will not be involved in your injury claim.

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If the accident was caused by someone else, will their insurance company pay my claim? They are supposed to pay your reasonable damages. However, it is critical to realize this other insurance company has no duty to treat you fairly and there is no penalty if they attempt to pay you less than the law requires. Unfortunately, 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 recently exposed in a television segment on CNN.

If you are concerned about dealing with the insurance company and making sure that your car accident claim is paid, you should seek the legal counsel of an attorney accident attorney in San Diego as soon as possible.

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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 hurt you has too little coverage to pay for all the damage they caused. Currently, the minimum insurance required in California is $15,000.00. Due to the high cost of medical care, this legal minimum is rarely enough coverage except for minor injuries.

If you are injured by an uninsured (or underinsured) driver, different legal rules apply. For example, you normally have only half the amount of time to begin legal action. You are not permitted to have a jury hear your case and must submit to special arbitration procedures. If this type of coverage applies, 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, etc., they have a vested interest to limit your payments.

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How much is my case worth? This is a frequent question and the answer depends on many different variables and facts 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:

  1. Past medical bills
  2. Future medical bills
  3. Past lost earnings
  4. Future lost earnings or loss of earning capacity
  5. 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. 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.

It is often very difficult to estimate claim/case values before medical treatment is completed. In addition, health care billing procedures, insurance policy contracts, Medicare, Medi-Cal and other government programs can all affect the amount of money you will receive. For the best results, contact an experienced San Diego accident attorney as soon as possible, save all evidence and do not sign documents or permit recorded statements before you get legal advice. You can receive a free, no-obligation consultation with the Dudek Law Firm APC by calling (858) 530-4800 or filling out an online case review form.

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If I know the medical bills, can I estimate how much an insurance company will pay me? 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. However, now, 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.” If the insurance claims adjuster does not receive the proper documentation to “feed the computer,” the claim value will be underestimated. In order to get the best result, it is necessary to know the data required (referred to as “value drivers” in the computer programs), obtain appropriate documentation that contains this data and present the information quickly and accurately to busy insurance adjusters, who handle many claims at the same time. An experienced San Diego car accident attorney who has knowledge of the procedures can help you maximize your recovery.

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How long does it take to complete the legal process? The time required varies based on many factors unique to each claim or case, as well as the San Diego car accident lawyer you are working with. In general, the time increases with the severity of 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. Some minor car accident injury claims can be resolved in less than six months. Other major injury cases will take years, especially if the case goes to trial. Post trial motions and appeals of verdicts can add many more years.

However, California courts utilize a “fast track” system, designed to get most cases ready for trial within 12 months of filing a lawsuit. Recent statistics indicate 97 percent of cases settle before trial. Many other cases can be resolved before filing a lawsuit. An experienced attorney may be able to determine whether or not a case can resolve before filing a lawsuit and take the necessary action to position a case for settlement. Similarly, an experienced San Diego car accident attorney can evaluate whether or not a settlement will succeed and take the action necessary to file a lawsuit and move it through the legal system to a speedy trial.

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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 (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 parities 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. Since this can be a complicated process, you will need a San Diego accident lawyer to guide you.

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How much will it cost to hire my own experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer? 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 could not afford these types of fees are able to hire attorneys 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. Many experienced attorneys will also “advance” the costs of litigation, which can be substantial.

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The 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, 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, please contact a San Diego personal injury lawyer at (858) 530-4800 or fill out our consultation form on the Contact page.