Vehicle Accident Cases FAQ
Can you tell me how much my case will settle for or what a verdict would be?
A: With respect to most cases, the truthful answer is “no.” The reason for this is that many, many factors go into determining the value of a claim. The following are some of these factors: how much time you have missed from work, whether you are likely to miss work in the future or whether your injuries will require a change in your occupation, what future medical care you are reasonably certain to need and whether your injury is of a type that could likely get progressively worse over time. Once you are through your healing period, and many of these factors are known and your prognosis is known, an experienced personal injury attorney can give you a fairly accurate range into which your case will likely fall. Ahead of this time, however, when many of the factors are yet unknown, it is much more difficult to determine the range within which your case will likely settle. Some attorneys will suggest a rather large figure to you when they first meet with you. This is usually just an attempt to impress you and get you to hire the attorney. Be very wary if this ever happens to you.
How are attorneys paid in these kinds of cases?
A: Most personal injury claims are handled on what is known as a “contingency fee” basis. That means that you pay no attorney fees unless there is a settlement or verdict in your case. The fee is then taken from the settlement or verdict proceeds. A contingency fee of 33 1/3% is standard for vehicle collision cases. The contingency fees in medical malpractice and product liability cases are typically 40% to 45%. That is because those cases are extremely expensive to pursue, often difficult to prove and are very vigorously defended. With any contingency fee case, the client does remain responsible for file costs that are incurred in pursuing the claim. These typically include things such as the cost of obtaining a copy of your medical records, the accident report, filing fees if a lawsuit is commenced, the cost of depositions taken during the litigation and expert witness fees.
How long do I have to bring my claim?
A: If the collision in which you were injured occurred in the state of Minnesota, you will typically have six years within which to commence a lawsuit to recover for your injuries. There are, however, exceptions. One example is that if the collision resulted in death, the wrongful death claim must be brought within three years. Another example is that collisions that occur on Indian reservations can be subject to the statute of limitations under the applicable tribal code. And, in claims involving drunk drivers where there may be a liquor liability claim, that period within which a claim may be made against the offending liquor establishment is only two years.
How long will it take for my case to be completed?
A: In most personal injury cases, how long it will take for your case to be completed depends primarily on the type of injury you have suffered. Attempts to settle your case can be made immediately, but these are fraught with risk. Early settlements almost always mean a low settlement figure. Until your injury has healed to the point that it is going to heal (what is commonly referred to as reaching Maximum Medical Improvement), it is very difficult for your doctor to provide a prognosis for the injury and opine how it is likely to affect you in the future. This is something that is very frequently overlooked by people who attempt to handle their own claims. Most often, the nature of the injury, which dictates to some extent the length of the healing period, is the most significant factor in determining when the appropriate time will be to commence settlement negotiations. Again, you can always attempt to settle early, but this almost always means a settlement figure that is much lower than the fair value of your claim.
What if I miss time from work?
A: Another benefit under our no-fault system of automobile insurance is that you are entitled to be reimbursed, in part, for time you miss from work as a result of your accident-related injuries. The law provides that you are to be paid 85% of your lost earnings up to a maximum of $250 per week. This benefit is available if you are unable to return to work because of your injuries, can only work part time because of your injuries or miss work to get medical care for your accident-related injuries. The minimum required coverage under this category of benefits in Minnesota is $20,000. Other economic loss benefits, however, such as replacement services, which are discussed below, also serve to deplete this $20,000 in coverage.
What if I need help around the house because of my injuries?
A: One of your PIP benefits is known as replacement services. When injuries prevent you from being able to do some of the household and yard chores that you must engage in to maintain your place of residence and provide for the daily needs of yourselves and your family, it is often necessary to hire someone or rely on someone else to complete these tasks. The Replacement Services benefit is designed to reimburse you up to $200 per week for these costs. In some instances, it is not necessary that you actually pay somebody to do these tasks in order to receive this benefit.
What if the at-fault driver was drunk?
A: If the at-fault driver was intoxicated at the time of the collision, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately. This is because in addition to a claim against the at-fault driver, there may also be a liquor liability claim. To establish a liquor liability claim, it is necessary to show that an illegal sale of alcohol was made to the at-fault driver. Evidence to prove the illegal sale can very rapidly dissipate and with it the liquor liability claim. Further, the period within which you must bring a liquor liability claim (known as the statute of limitations) is only two years as opposed to the six years within which a claim against the at-fault driver can be made. Immediate action is, therefore, necessary.
What should I bring when I meet with an attorney?
A: It is not critical that you bring anything in particular with you to the first meeting with an attorney. Any of the following, however, that you have readily available to you will be helpful to the attorney: 1. Accident report; 2. Declarations page from your insurance policy; 3. Repair estimate for your vehicle; 4. Photographs of your vehicle in its damaged condition; 5. Photographs of your injuries, if applicable; 6. Policy information for any health insurance plan, whether private or governmental, under which you are insured.
What will hiring an attorney do for me?
A: An experienced personal injury attorney can do many things that will dramatically affect the success and value of your case. First, a personal injury attorney experienced in motor vehicle accident claims will know how to immediately investigate the collision so as to preserve information that can be critical in proving who was at fault in causing the collision. While it may seem obvious, and it may even be that admissions regarding fault were made at the scene, stories frequently change, often dramatically, once a claim is made. That is why it can be critical to investigate and secure evidence immediately. In addition, an experienced personal injury attorney will understand how to document all of your losses and how to present them on your behalf. In motor vehicle accident cases, our staff actually gathers your medical bills and information to prove your wage loss and replacement services claims and submits them for reimbursement so you do not have to bother with these tasks while you are attempting to heal from your injuries. One of the major roles of an attorney is to determine all theories of liability and sources of recovery that might be available to you. There are also things that need to be done in a procedurally proper manner to avoid jeopardizing additional rights that you may have. Finally, insurance companies know which attorneys will actually take cases to trial and which attorneys will cave in and take smaller settlements in order to avoid having to go to trial. This fact alone can be significant in what the insurance company is willing to pay you in settlement to avoid going to trial.
When can I expect to be paid for my medical expenses, wage loss and replacement services?
A: Under the no-fault law in Minnesota, the insurance carrier responsible to pay PIP benefits may accumulate benefit claims for 30 days and then pay those claims within the next 15 days. That means that it could be as long as 45 days before you receive payment for medical expenses, medical mileage, wage loss and replacement services benefits. Particularly with respect to wage loss benefits, this can create a hardship. Some insurance carriers are very understanding in this regard, but some are not.
When should I consider hiring an attorney?
A: Any time that your injuries are moderate to serious in nature and are, therefore, likely to leave you with some impairment on a permanent basis, I strongly advise you to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. These injuries will have a lifelong impact not only on your ability to make a living but also on your ability to engage in routine activities of daily living and generally enjoy life. Extensive workup of the claim is necessary for you to have any hope of being adequately compensated for losses. In addition, there are pitfalls into which you can fall if your claim is not procedurally handled properly.
Who pays for my medical bills?
A: Minnesota has a no-fault system for automobile insurance. This is often confusing if you have not been exposed to it before. No-fault system provides coverage benefits for several categories of losses. These categories of benefits are typically referred to as personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. Under “no-fault system,” your own automobile insurance carrier is responsible to PIP benefits even if you were not at fault in causing the accident. This is true even if you are occupying someone else’s vehicle at the time you were injured. There are exceptions depending upon the status of the vehicle you are occupying. The minimum required coverage in Minnesota for medical expense coverage is $20,000. Medical expense coverage will pay for medical, physical therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, prescription medication and many other forms of treatment. It was the desire of the legislature that the injured insured have the choice with regard to what type of care to pursue when injured. You are also entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable transportation expenses incurred in getting medical care. Typically, this is paid as mileage to and from the health care provider.
Who pays for the damage to my car, and when do they pay?
A: When a collision causes damage to your automobile, it is the responsibility of the insurance carrier of the at-fault driver to pay for the cost to repair your vehicle. This is covered under the property damage liability coverage of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. If you have collision coverage on your own insurance policy, you have the option of having your insurance carrier pay for the repairs, less your deductible, after which your insurance carrier will attempt to recover what it has paid, plus your deductible, up from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Will the at-fault driver’s insurance company pay for a rental car?
A: In addition to being responsible for the damage caused to your car, the at-fault driver is also responsible for the reasonable loss of use value of your car while it is being repaired. The reasonable loss of use value is typically considered the reasonable cost to rent a vehicle. The at fault driver’s insurance carrier should include this cost in any offer it makes to you.