Personal Injury Lawyers
Personal injury lawyers focus principally on vehicle accident claims whether they come in the form of motor vehicle collisions, truck accidents, bicycle accidents or pedestrian accidents.
Some personal injury lawyers expand the scope of their practice and go beyond the limits set forth above and also deal with medical malpractice claims, product liability claims and premises liability claims.
As such, the term personal injury law covers a wide gamut of types of claims.
Within the scope of personal injury law there are frequent issues that arise relating to insurance coverage since the scope of insurance coverage is frequently an issue in regards to these types of cases.
Complicated issues dealing with stacking of insurance policies, insurance policy limits, whether or not coverage even applies to particular claims are all issues that frequently need to be dealt with by any personal injury lawyer.
As such, personal injury law in Fairfax includes not only tort claims but also a broad range of contract issues dealing with insurance claims and also in regards to contract issues arising out of product liability claims and premises liability claims. In regards to a product liability claim, frequently contract issues arise in regards to warranty claims that may be asserted. A warranty may be either implied or expressed.
Likewise, in regards to premises liability claims, frequently there are contractural issues that are found relating to the lease for the premises where the injury occurred.
Any attorney who is handling personal injury claims must be experienced in terms of not just tort issues but also contract issues since all of those areas of the law frequently come to bear on these types of claims.
Choosing Your Personal Injury Lawyer
In choosing personal injury attorney either in the Fairfax, Virginia area or anywhere there are several factors that you should look at:
- The attorney’s experience. In particular, the more complex the claim is then in general the more experienced you would want your attorney to be. That experience, to some extent, can be identified by looking at the attorney’s website or other published information about the attorney. Many attorneys are also listed in a legal directory referred to as Martindale-Hubbell. Martindale-Hubbell is a very well respected legal publisher that publishes the premier attorney rating service. Attorneys are evaluated by Martindale-Hubbell as either A, B or C with A being the highest. There is then a further rating as to their ethical standing and in that regard they are either rated with a letter “V” or simply not rated at all in that regard. The letter “V” simply means “very ethical”.
- Results that the attorney has had with other cases may be indicative of competence of the attorney. Every case, however, is different and as such although the attorney may have had a very favorable result in one case that does not necessarily guarantee the outcome in your particular case.
- The attorney’s experience in terms of dealing with insurance companies. Many attorneys that represent plaintiffs also have some experience in terms of actually representing insurance companies. That two-sided experience frequently is a plus for any attorney that is involved in representing injured parties.
The Initial Meeting
In terms of preparing for your first meeting with your personal injury lawyer it’s probably worthwhile to do some homework. Checking out the attorney online may give you some idea at least as to how well established the attorney is. One indicator in that regard is whether or not the lawyer has an actual physical office. The absence of a physical office may suggest that the attorney is not well established.
If your contact with the injury lawyer is through a representative who tries to get you to sign a Retainer Agreement, that may well be a clue that the attorney is not someone that you want to deal with. You want to deal directly with the attorney.
In terms of the first appointment with the attorney there are several things that you need to bring with you:
- Everything that relates to the incident.
- Your own auto insurance policy if in fact this is an automobile collision.
- Any and all information you have about the other driver and/or that driver’s insurance carrier.
- A complete description of the incident.
- The police report.
- Any information card that you received from the police at the scene.
- Any bills or records relating to any healthcare treatment that you’ve received subsequent to the injury.
- Any and all health insurance coverage that you have. You need to be aware that under most health insurance policies that the health insurance carrier has a right to subrogate/recover any monies that they have paid out on your behalf. There may be some deducts from that.
- Any and all correspondence that you’ve had with the other driver’s insurance carrier.
- Any information that you have about any other injuries that may in any way be related to this injury.
- Any and all property damage estimates.
- Names and phone numbers of all witnesses.
- All pictures of the vehicle and of the scene.
- Any receipts for towing or storage of the vehicle.
The reason that your insurance information is important is because your auto insurance coverage may provide coverage for you. In particular if the other driver is uninsured then your uninsured motorist coverage may be your only source of recovery. Likewise if you have medical payments coverage, that may provide coverage for you up to the limits of that medical payments coverage. That type of coverage typically will reimburse you for any treatment that your insurance company deems to be reasonable and necessary.
Finally if there are any questions that you think of before the meeting with the attorney, be certain to write those down so that you don’t forget to ask them during the course of the meeting. A common question that is asked is “What is my case worth?”. Most attorneys will simply tell you that they don’t know. Evaluating a personal injury case is something that is going to be a product of the extent of your medical treatment, the extent of any lost time from work, the extent of your pain and suffering and the overall duration of the injury. Those are all factors that any realistic attorney is going to have to disclose to you and will not be able to give you a reliable estimate as to what your case is worth until you’ve made either a full recovery or achieve what is called “maximum medical improvement” i.e., you’ve gotten as well as you’re going to get.
Personal Injury Award Not Taxable
Personal injury recoveries are not taxable.
Although there are occasional attempts in the U. S. Congress to change the law in that regard as of June 2012 the law still remains that personal injury recoveries are not taxable. The logic behind these recoveries not being taxable is the fact that a personal injury settlement is compensation for the loss of a body part or body function. This is not income.
The failing in that argument is that within many personal injury settlements a substantial component of the recovery is for loss of income.
In most personal injury settlements or judgments the award, however, is not broken down as to how much is for loss of income and how much is for the actual injury component.
In any event, at present, recoveries of this nature whether they include loss of income or not, are simply not taxable at the federal level or at the state level.Repeated attempts by some members of Congress to change that may some day be successful but at present those attempts have not been well received by other members of Congress.
The fact that the award is not taxable means that the amount of recovery does not even need to be reported on the tax return.Any inquiry from the IRS as to the source of the funds should be met with the identity of the payor insurance company.
Discharging Your Personal Injury Attorney
That probably is not a happy day for your attorney but sometimes it does come to pass that it is necessary to simply part company. In the Fairfax, Virginia area if an attorney has been discharged prior to the case being settled then the attorney typically is paid on what is called a quantum meruit basis. The term quantum meruit are two Latin words that literally mean “how much is it worth”, i.e. how much is the attorney’s service worth. Those services, under the terms of a typical personal injury retainer agreement, are evaluated based upon a percentage of the recovery.
If in fact there has been no settlement and therefore no recovery, then a contingent fee basis is probably not appropriate to pay the attorney at this point. Quantum meruit compensation means that the attorney then is entitled to be paid based upon the usual hourly rate and and the number of hours devoted to the matter. If in fact the attorney’s usual hourly rate is $300 per hour and 20 hours have been devoted to the matter, then the total attorney’s fees would be fixed at approximately $6,000. That does not mean that the attorney necessarily gets that if, in fact, the case itself is not even worth $6,000. There has to be some rule of reason that is applied as to how much of the total value of the case the attorney may be entitled to in the event of being discharged.
Unhappy With Your Personal Injury Settlement-Look To The Lawyer
So you are unhappy with the personal injury settlement that you reached.
In Virginia there is a cooling off period after you have signed a Settlement Agreement with an insurance company provided you are not represented by counsel.
Assuming that you were represented by counsel and you decide after the fact that you are not happy with the amount of the personal injury settlement then your only recourse is to make some claim against the lawyer that represented you. That claim would be for legal malpractice.
Most attorneys have the client sign a document indicating that they have approved the settlement and that they are authorizing the disbursement of proceeds. Likewise, the insurance company has virtually every injured party sign a Release indicating that they understand that the settlement amount is being paid in full satisfaction of the entire claim. If in fact you have signed documents such as that, it is going to be difficult to make a claim against your former attorney alleging that attorney somehow committed legal malpractice in allowing you to settle the case.
Legal Malpractice Claims Are Difficult
That does not mean that pursuing a legal malpractice claim in that circumstance is impossible. It simply means that it is going to be difficult.
Other than pursuing a claim against your former attorney for allowing you to settle for an amount that you are now unhappy with you really have no other recourse. The insurance company that settled with you is not required to renegotiate the settlement after the deal has been done.
Settling a personal injury claim is really no different than entering into any type of an agreement. Assuming the agreement is binding and enforceable then you cannot simply seek to undo it unilaterally.