Frequently Asked Questions
01 How Do I File My Claim?
If you or your loved one have been involved in a car accident, it is important to know what steps to take in order to get reimbursed for your property damage and bodily injuries. California is a leading state in the number of registered drivers in the entire country with over 24.5 million reported registered drivers in 2013. So if you are one of these drivers, chances are great that you or your loved one will be involved in some form of a motor vehicle accident.
If involved in a motor vehicle accident in Woodland Hills or California follow these steps:
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible after a motor vehicle accident. The telephone number of your insurance provider is located on the front of your insurance card.
- Tell your insurance company that you were involved in a motor vehicle accident and that you would like to open up a new claim.
- Once you get in touch with your insurance company you will need to provide them with all the information that is on your insurance card, such as your name, policy number, duration of your coverage, time and date of the accident, ;names of all people involved in an accident, your driver’s license number and your license plate number. NOTE: Insurance company will most likely ask you to give a statement regarding the facts and surrounding circumstances of the accident. DO NOT give any statements to your insurance company before your retain your Woodland Hills Accident Lawyer. Leave this part to us, as we know how to properly deal with insurance companies and protect your rights.
02 Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?
Very few personal injury cases end up going to trial. In fact, only 4% to 5% of all personal injury cases in US end up going to trial. This means that 95% to 96% of all personal injury cases are settled before trial. So if your question is “Do I have to file a lawsuit if I was involved in an accident?” the simple answer is – most likely not. When you are involved in an accident in California, you have 2 years to file a personal injury claim pursuant to California’s Statute of Limitations, or you will lose any claim to compensation. Meaning, if you do not settle your case with the insurance company within the 2 years from the time of the accident and at the same time you do not file a lawsuit, your rights to compensation will be forfeited. However, the reason why vast majority of cases in the United States do not go to trial is because they get settled within the two years from the day of the accident.
03 How Much Is My Case Worth?
Every single personal injury case is unique and special. Thus, in order to determine the true value of a particular case it is extremely important to know the exact facts of that particular case. The facts to consider are determining who was at fault for the accident. After conducting a complete investigation of the accident, it will be determined which party caused the accident and also which damages were caused by that party.
Statistically, most car accident settlements are kept confidential, so the exact number of an average settlement was not reported. However, some studies showed that an average settlement stemming from a car accident in the United States is $24,000.Settlements differ for other personal injury cases, such as slip and fall cases and medial malpractice cases.
For example, statistics show that an average settlement for a slip and fall case is $2,000, while an average settlement for a medical malpractice case is about $300,000.The formula that many personal injury attorneys use in order to obtain the highest amount of compensation for their clients is multiplying the special damages (e.g. loss of earnings, property damage and medical expenses) by four when preparing a personal injury claim. Meaning, if a person involved in a car accident suffers $1,000 in medical expenses and has to take 3 days off work, which causes the person to lose $300, the Woodland Hills Accident Lawyer would add $1,000 + $300 = $1,300 x 3 = $3,900 and thus use $3,900 as the starting number for negotiating your claim with the insurance company.
The fact that there are sick days offered by the employer of the injured person which compensated the injured party is irrelevant and it will not offset the amount the injured party is entitled to. Thus, in the previous example, if the injured party gets compensated by her employer for taking time off from work by getting the $300 from the employer, the insurance company is legally obligated to compensate the injured party for those same days and give the $300 to the injured party.
04 What Is Negligence?
Most personal injury cases such as car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, pedestrian accidents, boat accidents, bus accidents give rise to a legal theory called negligence, which personal injury attorneys use to prove fault and win a case.
Negligence occurs when a person acts or fails to act in a way that a reasonable person would under the circumstances, which results in harm to another. Negligence has four elements, and they are: duty, breach, causation and damages. In order to prove negligence, all four of these elements must be established. Thus in order to obtain compensation for their clients, personal injury attorneys must prove all of these elements.
- Duty – There must be a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances. In a motor vehicle case scenario this means that a person has a duty to operate a motor vehicle and to follow California law.
- Breach – There must be a breach of the duty, which occurs when a person acts below the standard of care of a reasonable prudent person under the circumstances. In a motor vehicle accident case this means that a person was speeding, made an improper turn, made an improper lane change, was following too closely, or any other violations of the California Vehicle Code.
- Causation – In order to prove causation it must be proven that the breach of the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, in a car accident case, if a defendant is speeding and causes a rear end accident which results in physical injuries to the plaintiff, it would be easy to establish that it was the speeding of the defendant that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Damages – Damages are the last element of a negligence cause of action, but in no way less important. A plaintiff can prove duty, breach, causation, but without damages there is no negligence. Damages are usually satisfied through monetary compensation. In a personal injury case there are usually two types of damages, general and special. General damages are pain and suffering caused by the accident, while special damages include loss of earnings, property damage and medical expenses. Thus, plaintiffs are entitled to pain and suffering as well as loss of earnings, property, damages and medical expenses.
05 How Long Will My Case Take?
Being involved in a motor vehicle accident or suffering any other kind of personal injury is difficult enough by itself. These accidents can lead to serious bodily injuries that can limit our lives physically and mentally for a long time or even permanently. Not to also mention the financial hardship personal injury matters can produce. The last thing the injured party wants to do is wait a few years to get compensated for the injuries which resulted from an accident that they did not cause. So many clients ask, How Long Will My Case Take? The simple answer is – it depends. Usually, it depends on three major things: (1) Liability (2) Policy Limits, and (3) Your Injuries.
- Liability – Sometimes the settlement process in personal injury cases will be delayed because the insurance companies are either disputing liability or only accepting partial liability for the accident. For example, you were involved in a car accident in which you “t-boned” another vehicle. Your were going straight on a green circular light while the other party was making a left turn, also on a green circular light. However, there are witnesses that claim that you were speeding. In this case, the other party’s insurance may dispute liability and say that you were partially at fault for speeding, even though the other party failed to yield a right-of-way to you. Thus, the other party’s insurance company may only accept 50% of fault for the accident and claim that you are responsible for other 50%. This dispute of liability can cause the case settlement to be delayed, but only because your attorney will (hopefully) try to have the other insurance company accept 100% of the liability for the accident. If on the other hand, you accept 50% of fault and want the case to move forward, then the delay will not be caused. But if you want your attorney to try and get you the best result possible, this may take longer time.
- Policy Limits – Dealing with insurance companies whose insured has a higher than usual policy limits can cause the case to be delayed. The reason for this is simple, insurance companies do not want to give you any more money than they can get away with. For example, if you were involved in a rear-end accident with a semi-truck who failed to apply his brakes on time and ended up rear-ending you and causing you serious bodily injuries, you may be entitled to $750,000 or more for your injuries. The reason for a potentially higher reward is because all commercial vehicles are required by California law to have at least a $750,000 insurance policy. Thus, if you suffered injuries as a result of an accident caused by a truck driver, you are potentially entitled to $750,000 or more for your injuries. In this case, the insurance companies are not simply going to write you a $750,000 dollar check. Rather, they will conduct an investigation and determine the proper amount of money you should be compensated for as a result of the accident. This process can take a long time as personal injury lawyers and insurance companies do not always agree on the amount of compensation that should be rewarded for the injuries.
- Your Injuries – Another main reason why some Personal Injury cases take a long time is the nature of your injuries. If you were involved in, for example, a car accident and you suffered serious bodily injuries, your case will most likely not settle before you are done treatment for these injuries. The reason is simple, you want to get compensated for all of your medical treatment as well as pain and suffering caused by the car accident. However, as mentioned above, you as an injured party and a client may most of the time speed up the process of settlement by agreeing to take a lesser amount of compensation for your injuries and not go through the process of obtaining the highest possible settlement or verdict that you are entitled to. But if you want the highest amount of compensation that you are entitled to by law, then you may have to wait a little bit longer.
06 What Is the Contingency Fee of a Personal Injury Lawyer?
While there are still some personal injury attorneys who charge by the hour, a vast majority of them work on contingency fee basis, meaning they receive compensation for their work by obtaining a percentage of the settlement of a verdict from the case. This also means that if the settlement or a verdict is nothing, the personal injury attorneys receive nothing.
Most personal injury attorneys charge at least 1/3 for their services, which means that if a case settles for $3,000, the attorney will receive $1,000 for his services This percentage is sometimes negotiable, but most of the time it is spelled out in the attorney-client retainer agreement, which usually states whether the contingency fee is calculated before or after the expenses. Meaning, many retainer agreements state that the attorney is entitled to 1/3 of the settlement or verdict plus any attorney’s fees that were accrued in the process, which is obviously more than 1/3.
Some retainer agreements, especially at big law firms have a caveat that provides for a higher percentage the attorney will receive if the case does not settle in the first 45 days, or if the case goes to trial. These conditions provide for 40% and sometimes 45% the attorney receive if the case does not settle in the first 45 days or if the case goes to trial in addition to the attorney’s fees. This could amount to attorney taking about 50% of the entire settlement or verdict, while the client is left to share 50% with medical providers. This is why it is very important to closely read your Retainer Agreement before signing it.
07 Do I Have to Pay Taxes on My Personal Injury Settlement?
Many people wonder if they have to pay taxes on their personal injury damage recovery. The simple answer is – it depends. Below we provided you with the list of the personal injury settlements which are taxable and those which are not taxable.
- Personal physical injuries or physical sickness – Personal injury damages which are compensating you for your physical injuries or physical sickness are not taxable.
- Emotional distress or mental anguish – Personal injury damages which are compensating you for your emotional distress or mental anguish that resulted from a person injury or sickness, are not taxable. If however, the emotional distress or mental anguish did not result from physical injury or sickness (employment law violations or employment discrimination) then the settlement or verdict would be taxable, unless even the slightest physical injury can be proven.
- Lost wages or lost profits – Personal injury damages which are compensating you for your lost wages and lost profits (money you would have earned but for the injuries) which resulted from a personal injury or personal sickness, are not taxable.
In short, personal injury damages which result form physical personal injury or physical sickness that compensate for general (pain and suffering) and special damages (medical bills, loss of wages, emotional distress, loss of consortium) are not taxable. On the other hand, general and special damages that result from something other than physical injury or physical sickness (such as a breach of contract) are usually taxable.
08 What Happens If the Other Driver Is Not Insured?
Under California law, every person who has a registered vehicle must also have that vehicle insured or otherwise face penalties. There is a minimum requirement in California to carry a liability insurance, which would compensate the party other than the policy holder for the personal and property damage caused by the accident. This minimum requirement is usually referred to as the “15/30 policy,” which means that a private passenger vehicles in California must have at least a policy that would compensate $15,000 for an injury or death to one person, $30,000 for an injury or death to more than one person, and also at least $5,000 for damage to property. For example, if you are involved in an accident with someone who only has a minimal “15/30 policy” and that person causes the accident, you may only ask for up to $15,000 from the insurance company if you were the only person injured in your vehicle, and up to $30,000 if there was at least another passenger in the car with you that was also injured. In addition, you may claim up to $5,000 for damages to your vehicle. This limitation stays regardless of how severe your injuries are. Meaning, you may only ask for $15,000 or $30,000 for your injuries and $5,000 for the property damage.
Despite this requirement, however, Insurance Information Institute conducted a study which showed that there are approximately 14.7% of uninsured motorists in California. This creates a problem for all of us, because if you are involved in a car accident with a motorist who is not insured, you obviously cannot be compensated by his/her insurance company. So the question is raised again, What Happens if the Other Driver is Not Insured?
There are a few options that you can choose from if you were involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist. They are the following:
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage – Having this coverage is not a requirement in California, but it is an excellent idea to spend a few dollars a month just in case you get into a car accident with an uninsured motorist. Uninsured Motorist Coverage works as a substitute for the other party’s lack of insurance coverage, and thus steps in to compensate for your damages. Uninsured Motorist Coverage will cover your general and special damages and sometimes will have a separate clause for Property Damages, which will pay for the damages to your car without your deductible being charged. In most cases, Uninsured Motorist coverage is identical to your liability coverage, so if you have a $100,000/$300,000 policy limits for your liability coverage, in many cases that will be your Uninsured Motorist Coverage, but your should check your policy to be sure. Thus, as in the example above, if you were involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist, you would be able to claim up to $100,000 for your damages from your own insurance company, or up to $300,000 if there was at least another injured/dead passenger in the car with you at the time of the accident. It is important to keep in mind the fact that while claiming an Uninsured Motorist claim under your policy, you will be dealing with your own insurance company and thus your will have to negotiate all of your claims with them.
- Suing the Uninsured Motorist Personally – If involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist you may sue that person for his/her personal assets. However, many people avoid doing this, simply because, although you will most likely prevail in the lawsuit, the chances are very small that you will be able to recover any compensation as the person who cannot afford at least liability insurance usually does not have any assets for you to take. So in many cases even if you prevail in a lawsuit, you will only have a judgment against the uninsured motorist and will most likely not be able to collect any money on it.
- Medical Expenses Coverage – It is also a good idea to have Medical Expenses Coverage if you can afford it, as it will cover medical expenses for you and your passengers in a case of an accident. When getting this coverage, you will be able to choose the limit, which will be the maximum amount you or your passenger will be able to get paid in case of an accident. For example, if you choose a $5,000 Medical Expense Limit, each passenger will have up to $5,000 coverage for medical expenses which resulted from the accident.
- Collision Coverage – This coverage is not required in California, but it is a good idea to have it. If your car has collision coverage and you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, your own insurance will cover for the damages to your car. If your decide to have collision coverage you will also have to decide how large a deductible to take. Deductibles usually range from $250 to $1,000. The rule of thumb is the more expensive the car the higher your deductible should be and vice versa.
- Health Insurance – If involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist and you have a personal health insurance you will be able to treat for any injuries caused by the accident and not have to pay these expenses out of pocket. It is always a good idea to have health insurance in case you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist.
09 Should I Talk to My Insurance Company After an Accident?
If you or your loved one have been involved in a motor vehicle accident it is important to know your rights regarding communication with your own insurance company or the other party’s insurance company. As stated above, you may choose to file a claim with your insurance company right after the accident by contacting the number on your insurance policy card and providing them with information such as your name, policy number, duration of your coverage, time and date of the accident, names of all people involved in an accident, driver’s license number and your license plate number. We however, recommend that you first contact your Woodland Hills Accident Lawyer and have us handle the case for you from the beginning, including opening up your claim. However, you opening up a claim by yourself is usually harmless, so long as you do not give any statements regarding the circumstances of the accident.
In California, you are legally required to give a statement about the accident to your insurance company, but you should not do so without first consulting with your attorney. California law allows for your attorney to be on a three-way-call with you and your insurance company while you are giving a statement to make sure your interests are fully protected.
In addition, never give a statement to the other party’s insurance company as you are not required to do so under California law. Giving a statement to the other insurance company will most certainly be used against you, because they are your opponent and their interests are adverse to your interests.
Insurance companies represent their own interests, while your attorney represents you interests. Do not think that because it is your insurance company that they will do what is best for you. Insurance companies are obligated to protect the interests of their shareholders and they will do that by paying the least amount of money that they can get away with. Giving a statement to your insurance company without an attorney can be misquoted and taken out of context thereby placing you at fault for something you did not do, or at the very least limiting the amount of compensation you are entitled to.
In short, if you were involved in a car accident you may open up a claim with your insurance company, but do not give a statement regarding the facts of the accident, without first consulting with your Woodland Hills Accident Lawyer. We recommend that you do not even open up a claim yourself, but to instead leave that to your Woodland Hills Accident Attorney. In addition, do not under any circumstances give a statement to the other party’s insurance company as you are not legally obligated to do so.
10 What Should I Do After Getting Into a Car Accident?
Getting into a car accident can be a very frightening experience. Car accidents can produce severe injuries and at times cause death. This is why it is extremely important to know what steps to take after being involved in a car accident. Taking these steps will help you preserve your rights and get the most amount of compensation for your personal and property injuries. The list is the following:
- Stop the car and determine what happened – Under California law, every time you are involved in a motor vehicle accident of any kind, you must stop your vehicle and assess the situation. If you fail to do so, you can be later criminally charged with a hit and run charge, which is a felony if it results in injury or death. This law applies even if you are involved in a car accident with small property damage or an accident with a parked car. In those situations, if you cannot locate an owner of the car, you are required to leave a note informing the owner of the accident. Assessing the situation simply means checking for property damage on the vehicle(s) and determining whether you or someone else has been injured.
- Call 9-1-1 – After you have assessed the situation call 9-1-1. If anyone is injured report it to the dispatcher and do not hang up the phone until the dispatcher makes it okay for you to do so. If no one is injured, simply report the traffic collision accident.
- If No One Is Injured – If after assessing the situation you determine that no one is injured, ask the other driver if they are willing to move the cars off the road (this only applies if the cars are in drive-able condition).
- Take Pictures – Almost everyone today has a smart phone. This is one of those times when smart phones come in very handy. Take pictures of your vehicle as well as the other vehicles before and after you move them. Also take pictures of any injuries that you or anyone else have sustained.
- Obtain Information from Other Driver(s) – After being involved in a car accident you need to obtain the following information from all persons involved in the car accident: Names of drivers, addresses of drivers, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, and passengers’ names, numbers and addresses.
- Obtain Information from Any Witnesses – Look around, many times there are witnesses who saw the accident happen. Take their information so they can later give a statement as to how the accident occurred. Witness statements are very important and can turn the case around for you, allowing you to obtain the compensation you are entitled to.
- Do Not Take Blame for the Accident – Avoid making statements which could be used against you, such as “Sorry that I ran the red light and slammed into you,” as this statement can be used against you and place you at fault for accident.
- Call Your Woodland Hills Accident Attorney – After following the above mentioned steps, the next thing you should do is contact us at (310) 975-7319. We will file the SR-10 for your, open up a claim, make sure you get the proper medical treatment if you suffered an injury and take care of you every step of the way.
11 How Will I Pay My Medical Bills?
When involved in a motor vehicle accident, there are many unpleasant things to deal with aside from the shock caused by the accident itself. If injured in a motor vehicle accident, it is crucial to get proper medical care. But you may ask, who will pay for all of my medical treatment? The answer to that question is threefold, medical treatment can be paid for by you directly (out of pocket), your health insurance, or by the proceeds of your settlement if you were treated on lien basis.
- Out of Pocket – A motor vehicle accident that involved injuries to you or your loved one many times requires medical treatment. If you do not have health insurance, or if you are not receiving medical treatment on lien basis, then another option is to pay for your own medical treatment directly – out of pocket. One of the benefits of paying for your own medical treatment out of pocket is that many medical providers will give you a lower rate then if you were receiving medical treatment on lien basis. In addition, if following the accident you are found not to be at fault for that accident, you will be reimbursed for any expenses you incurred, which includes your out of pocket expenses for medical treatment. On the other, most people do not have adequate funds to pay for their medical treatment out of their own pocket as it is occurring, especially when the medical treatment required is extensive and costly.
- Heath Insurance – If you have a health insurance you may rely on it to pay for your medical expenses incurred as a result of a motor vehicle accident or any personal injury matter. Depending on which type of coverage you have, you will most of the time receive a quick coverage for your injuries. If you are involved in a lawsuit, or even if you are pursuing a claim against the other party’s insurance or your own insurance, you will most likely have to reimburse your health insurance for the coverage it provided to you. So in that case, if you receive a settlement from the other party’s insurance or your own insurance, you will have to pay your insurance back for the provided coverage. In many situations, however, the coverage provided by your insurance can be negotiated and thus you would end up paying less than what the insurance bill is showing, but there are no guarantees.
- Medical Lien – In many personal injury cases, clients are treated on lien basis, which allows the client to obtain the best medical treatment in the quickest manner possible and often for the lowest price. Depending on your health insurance coverage, the approval for particular treatment may take days, weeks and sometimes even months. When involved in a personal injury matter, clients usually do not have time to wait for their health insurance carriers to approve treatment because of the urgency of the medical treatment needed. Moreover, many personal injury clients do not have any health insurance, which makes it difficult if not impossible for them to obtain adequate medical treatment. In both of those scenarios, personal injury attorneys will provide their clients with a list of doctors who work on lien basis and discuss with them the need for a particular doctor based on their injuries. The doctors who provide medical care on lien basis will then place a lien on the settlement of the case and receive compensation after the matter is resolved.
12 Can I Still Pursue Compensation Even If I Was Partially at Fault?
Short answer is Yes. California is a comparative negligence state which means that you as a plaintiff can sue to other party, the defendant, for percentage of damages it caused you. In other words, if the other party was 80% at fault for the accident and you were 20% at fault, in California, you will be able to recover 80% of damages from the other party’s insurance company or the other party directly. By the same token you will be responsible for the 20% of the damages.
In addition to being a comparative negligence state, California is a pure negligence state, which allows a plaintiff to recover for the amount of damages caused by the defendant even if the percentage of those damages is 50% or less. This was decided in 1975 in a case called Li v. Yellow Cab Co (532 P.2d 1226). In other words, if you were involved in a car accident and placed 80% at fault for the damages and the other party is placed 20% at fault, you will be able to recover 20% of damages caused by the other party. By the same token, the other party will be able to recover contribution for 80% of the damages you have caused, from you directly or your insurance company.
Keep in mind however, insurance companies in California are allowed to increase your premiums if you were involved in an accident and placed at fault for over 50% for the damages caused. However, they are not allowed to increase your premiums if you were placed at fault for 50% of the damages or less.
13 Who Will Cover My Lost Wages?
Lost wages are damages that fall under special damages in tort. Other special damages also include medical expenses, loss of consortium, property damages and others. Many times when involved in a personal injury matter, such as a car accident , truck accident , or even a motorcycle accident , people suffer injuries that prevent them from going to work and also from performing certain tasks in the future as a result of the injuries suffered. Lost wages thus do not only include wages or money lost as a result of you being injured, but also wages or money lost at any time in the future that was directly caused by the accident. For example, if you were involved in a motor vehicle accident that caused you severe injuries which required hospitalization for a month, you will be entitled for the money you would have earned at your job during that month, if you were not injured. In addition, if after you come out of the hospital you are unable to perform your work at the same pace or sufficiency as before you were injured, you will be able to recover compensation for any monetary loss suffered by such limitation.
It is also important to keep in mind if you use your PTO hours, sick pay or vacation pay to recover from the injuries you suffered, you will be compensated for the use of those hours, and thus PTO hours, sick pay or vacation pay are considered the same as lost wages.
Now in order to determine who will be responsible for your lost wages, it must first be determined who was at fault for your injuries. As California is a pure-comparative negligence state, you as the plaintiff will be able to recover a percentage of damages (including lost wages) caused by the other party, from the other party directly or from the other party’s insurance. So if the other party is 80% at fault and you are 20% at fault, you will be able to recover 80% of lost wages from the other party. At the same time, the other party will be able to recover 20% from you or your insurance for the lost wages. Obviously, if the other party is 100% at fault for the accident, you will be able to recover 100% of lost wages from the other party directly or the other party’s insurance.
However, if the other party is not insured, then you will be able to recover for lost wages from your own insurance company if you have Uninsured Motorist coverage. At the same time, if the other party’s insurance coverage is not enough to cover for your damages, then you will be able to use your own insurance company to pay, but only if you have Underinsured Motorist coverage.