by a Tampa Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal Injury Law Guide (2020)
What do you need to know if you have been injured in a car accident to prevent yourself from making a mistake that could potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars?
By understanding the legal process, the insurance process, and the medical process of a personal injury claim, you can avoid making costly mistakes.
Unfortunately there are more than 14,600 car crashes every day in America.
The average American will be involved in one serious car crash once every 17 years.
And by knowing your rights and the process, you will be able to protect yourself and your family from costly mistakes.
Why You Should Read This
My name is Matt Powell and I am a dual Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer by the Florida Bar and National Board of Advocacy.
I have learned over the past 30 years of helping personal injury victims that the more my client understands the process of a personal injury case, the better they will do.
By knowing when they are making a mistake and how to avoid them they can get their claim resolved quickly, efficiently, and in the way that is best for them.
And if they run into a difficult or unfair insurance company or a nasty claims adjuster, they know what to do to maximize their recovery.
I am a trial lawyer.
I started out representing numerous insurance companies.
But I soon realized that I lacked a certain callousness to allow me to represent at fault corporations and people, I could not take orders from insurance companies or their claims adjusters.
So I set off on my own after only 6 months of insurance defense work.
I am glad to say that I have never looked back. I have found my passion in helping people solve difficult problems caused by wrongdoers.
So I share my thoughts and observations with you in hopes that you can resolve your injury claim without having to hire a lawyer.
The 3 Elements of Every Injury Case
Where do we start?
The most basic thing that you need to know is that every personal injury case has three parts.
If any one of the parts is missing, you likely won’t be able to make any recovery for you losses.
The first key element to every injury case is LIABILITY.
In other words, what did the other person or corporation do wrong that was negligent.
In a car crash case the most common bad driving act is driving while distracted.
Causing a rear end crash, or turning in front of another vehicle.
There are literally hundreds of things bad drivers can do to cause a crash.
So, if you are injured, what you need to know about the liability part of your injury case is that you want to collect as much information as possible so that you can clearly explain and prove that the other driver was at fault.
For instance, if you have a hard time explaining why the other driver is at fault, then the defendant who will have a lawyer or claims adjuster on their side, will concoct a story to say why they were not at fault.
Yes, they may even deny any liability at all for causing the accident.
But if you know what you are doing you will be able to explain to anyone how and why the accident is not your fault and the fault of the other driver.
What evidence do you need?
There are a few things that will help you prove fault or liability in any accident.
Photographs and or videos are excellent evidence to help prove fault. Many people are using dash cameras in their vehicles.
This is a great way to preserve what happened.
And if you don’t have a video camera going all the time, well, you can use your cell phone to take photographs of the evidence.
Taking pictures of the scene of the accident, the property damages, the skid marks, the location of debris left on the road, traffic signs, traffic lights are all important items that if you can photograph them may make a big difference in your financial recovery.
Second types of evidence that is very valuable is eye witnesses.
If someone can say they saw the whole crash and explain what they saw, this too may make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.
Most of us expect that the police will talk to the eye witnesses, and share the names and addresses of each eye witness.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the police talk to witnesses, but don’t save the names of them.
So when a problem develops later, no one can find the eye witness.
So, if you are able to find any eye witnesses, ask them if they will tell you what they saw, give you their name and contact information.
Maybe ask them if they will give you a quick video statement of what they saw.
What other things should be saved for evidence?
Well, photographs of bruises and scars are also very important to preserve.
Unfortunately over time evidence disappears.
Memories fade, bruises heal.
So by preserving any and all evidence you can early may make a big difference in your case.
How can an attorney help you with the liability aspect of your case?
A good personal injury attorney has the resources available to fully investigate any claim.
At MattLaw we have investigators and professional photographers who will photograph the scene of the crash, the property damages, even the injuries.
We are able to obtain most crash reports within 24 hours.
We will reach out to witnesses and arrange a meeting to discuss with them what they saw.
We will ask them to give us a formal statement of what happened.
We send letters to companies requiring them to save any and all evidence, such as dash cam videos, trucker’s log books, we have experts who can download the electronic data saved in many cars.
We have experts who will examine the vehicle to see if the car it self was defective in some way, which made the injuries more severe than they would be if the car or airbags operated properly.
The Second major of every injury case is COLLECTABILITY.
What I mean by collectability is how much money is available to compensate you for your losses?
In many cases the at fault party may have little or no insurance.
Or they may be a wealthy person or corporation with significant assets or insurance to pay for your losses.
Collectability has a few important parts to consider.
First we always look at the person who was at fault.
What kind of insurance and assets do they have?
Then we next look and see if that person was working, or being an agent for another person or company?
If the at fault person was working at the time they hurt you , then their employer may be on the hook for your damages as well.
So, knowing if someone was working at the time of your injury is very important.
Because maybe the employee him or herself has little or no insurance or assets, but they might have been running an errand for their boss or company who has insurance.
Also, we want to consider in a car accident case, who owned the vehicle at the time of the crash?
This is important because in Florida the owner of a car is also responsible for any damages caused by the operation of the car.
Another very important aspect about collectability is what insurance does our client have to protect themselves?
For example, in a car crash case, many of our clients carry Uninsured or Under Insured Motorist coverage.
This is the most valuable insurance you can purchase to protect you and your family.
This type of insurance will pretend to represent the at fault driver and provides insurance that will pay you for your losses caused by the uninsured at fault driver.
But there is even more to collectability than just your own Uninsured Motorist coverage.
For example, if you were in someone else’s car, you may also be able to make a claim under the car owner’s Uninsured Motorists policy.
Or if the driver of the car had Uninsured Motorist insurance, then you may be able to make a recovery there as well.
And if you are driving or riding in a company car, then you need to know if the company provides Uninsured Motorist coverage?
If the car is a rental car you need to know if anyone purchased the extra Uninsured Motorist coverage.
The bottom line is that you need to know how much insurance coverage there is to make an informed decision about the value of your claim.
In some cases, let’s say you were involved in a motor vehicle crash involving a huge corporation, well, you can probably safely assume that the big corporation has significant insurance and or assets to pay you for any damages they caused to you.
But so often people are in accidents with reckless people who don’t carry any insurance at all.
This is why Uninsured Motorist insurance is so important to have.
Here is where the value of an experienced personal injury attorney comes into play.
At MattLaw we fully investigate any and all avenues of insurance and or collectability in every case.
And we aim to find out the insurance policy limits early in the case.
Usually within 35 days we know the extent of insurance available to compensate our clients.
We have the ability to force the insurance companies to tell us the policy limits.
They don’t like tell us, but they have to.
If you have an injury case and don’t know the extent of insurance in your case, you need to find out quickly.
What is the Third major part of any injury claim? It is DAMAGES.
Damages are the measurement of the losses caused by the at fault person.
For example, in some cases, a driver makes a mistake, is clearly at fault, and may have millions of dollars of insurance, but if there are not any injuries, or losses, then the value of the case is very small or none.
But if the at fault person caused catastrophic injuries or death, then the serious injuries would require very serious money to make up for all of the harms and losses.
So how are the damages measured in a personal injury case?
Well, the simple answer is that the damages are most easily measured by what the medical records say.
Compare the following examples and see how the values are different based upon the records:
Scenario one, there is a serious crash, the person takes an ambulance to the hospital.
The Emergency Department examines the injured person and finds they have a bad case of cervical sprain and strain.
They send the person home and tell them to follow up with their primary care physician.
The next day they go see their primary care physician, who sees their patient and in the chart says “whiplash” prescribes muscle relaxers and says come back in 6 weeks if you don’t feel better.
Scenario two, the same serious crash, the person goes to the Emergency Department in an ambulance, and is told the exact same thing.
But instead of going to their primary care doctor, they seek out a medical specialist.
They find a doctor who treats accident victims all the time.
Doctors such as Orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, chiropractors, physiatrists.
They are seen by the specialist.
The specialist orders physical therapy, requests an MRI of the neck and low back, they prescribe muscle relaxers.
They tell the patient to attend physical therapy 3 times a week for one month, then twice a week for a month then once a week for a month, then twice a month.
During that time the MRI shows two herniated discs in your neck and one in your lumbar spine.
After time the pain does not get better, and your doctor sends you to another specialists who performs spinal injections.
Maybe the injections don’t work, and your doctors suggest radio frequency ablations?
Or maybe even spinal surgery.
In these two scenarios, which one has a higher value?
Which injured person is going to be better off from a health standpoint?
Obviously the medical documentation in the second case makes it easy for an insurance company to justify paying much more than the first case.
And the person in the second scenario has the benefit of great medical care and treatments.
They have a much better chance of better spinal health due to the care provided by the medical providers.
When it comes time for an insurance company, or even a jury to evaluate your injury claim, your medical records will be so important for them to more easily understand your injuries and why you needed the care you received, as well as understanding the amount of expensive medical care you will need in the future to keep you as healthy as possible.
How can you find good medical specialists for your care and treatment?
Selecting the right doctors can have a big impact on the value of your case.
Unfortunately may primary care physicians are good doctors, but they just don’t document enough in your records to help fully explain your injuries.
Your records need to clearly explain how the crash caused or aggravated your injuries.
The medical records need to say what your future medical care needs will be.
Your medical records need to consider all of your injuries and how they will affect your ability to work and live your life, and to document any and all losses you have suffered from the negligence of another.
Without this key information, the insurance company won’t give you much value for your losses.
So the value of every personal injury case is really based upon the three elements, Liability, Collectability and Damages.
By knowing the collectability (all insurance available) and being able to prove the fault, and having good proof of your damages your case will have more value.
Say "NO" to Recorded Statements
What is the big deal with Recorded Statements?
Well, they can ruin your case.
They are designed to ruin your case. I
nsurance adjusters are trained to ask certain questions and in a certain way to get you to make admissions or mistakes that may cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
For example, their favorite question is, “What are your injuries?”
This sounds simple enough, but it is not simple at all.
This is a blatant trap. T
hey want to pin you down early as to what your injuries are.
For example, you say, “I have a sore neck, my back is stiff and I seem to have a constant headache.”
This seems simple enough, because these parts of your body really hurt badly.
But here is the problem, you start going to the doctor, your headaches improve, but it turns out that after a few weeks of treatment, you and your doctors realize that you injured your jaw (TMJ), you have herniated discs in your low back causing radiating pain and numbness into your legs, your knee has a torn meniscus, and you find out that your neck pain is really in your shoulder.
So, 6 months later, when it comes time to try and settle your case, the insurance company says:
“Hey, wait a minute, we are not paying for the jaw, knee, shoulder and herniated disc because when we asked you about your injuries just a day or two after the cash you never mentioned these injuries.”
“Therefore you must be either exaggerating your injuries, or you got them from something other than the accident.”
Here is the second way a Recorded Statement can kill your case.
The sophisticated trained insurance adjuster who’s only job is to reduce paying claims asks you “what happened?”
But they ask you in a way that makes it sound like you don’t know much.
For example, they ask “where did the other car come from?” “
How fast was the other car going?”
“What lane were they in before the collision?” And if and when you don’t know the answer to any one of these questions, you will either guess, and possibly guess wrong, or you will say you don’t know the answer. Either way, they will use this against you later. They will attack your version of the case by saying, well, you don’t know anything, so therefore we are going to believe our insured’s version that we coached them into saying, and now we don’t have to pay you for anything because you can’t prove it is our insured’s fault. Or, you made up stuff about the crash and should not be believed.