Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Injury Cases

1. What should I do if I get in a wreck? Here are some of the things you should think about.

a) Stop your car no matter how minor the collision. Generally you should bring your car to a stop in an area that will neither endanger anyone nor obstruct traffic. If you do not stop, you may be subject to criminal prosecution even if the accident was not your fault.

b) If anyone has been hurt, call for medical assistance. Provide assistance only to the extent that you know what you are doing. You do not want to make an injured person’s condition worse.

c) Notify the police.

d) Try to get the names and addresses of all witnesses. Make a mental note of the accident scene including the resting point of the vehicles and the location of any skid marks. You may want to make a sketch of what you have observed.

e) If you were driving one of the vehicles, exchange information with the other driver. The information exchanged should include names, addresses, drivers’ license numbers, vehicle registration numbers, and the names of the insurance companies.

f) Cooperate with the police in providing factual information about what you observed. A good investigating officer is interested only in your personal observations and not in your assumptions or opinions about what happened.

g) Don’t comment on the accident. Not even an investigating police officer has the right to make you give an opinion as to the cause of the accident. Do not admit fault even if you think you were in the wrong. Do not say you are sorry, as a person hearing your statement may assume that you have agreed that the wreck was your fault.

h) Fill out the state required accident reports. In Nebraska, reports are required anytime there is a personal injury and anytime the property damage is $500 or more.

i) Be careful about stating that you were not injured or that you are feeling fine. Such statements may be held against you later.

j) If an investigating officer asks a driver to take a test to check for the presence of alcohol and if the driver refuses, Nebraska law allows the officer to take away the driver’s license even if the driver was not intoxicated. The license will also be taken away if the driver is legally intoxicated.

2. What should I do if I am injured in an accident? One answer cannot cover all situations. But here are some steps you may want to consider.

a) Your health is most important. If you think you have been injured seriously enough to require treatment at an emergency room, you should ask for a rescue squad. Otherwise, you will want to make an appointment with your family physician or an appropriate specialist. Make sure that the history you give to each doctor is complete and accurate. Your doctor may prescribe medication or physical therapy or refer you to a specialist.

b) Keep on going to the doctors as long as you are having symptoms. The doctors can only help you if they know how you are getting along. If you decide to present a claim against the other guy’s insurance company, your doctor’s notes will provide documentation of your injuries.

c) Submit the bills for payment to your insurance companies. If you were hurt in a motor vehicle accident, the bills should go first to your auto insurance company and then to your health insurance company. If it was a work injury, then the bills go to your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company. Keep a copy of all bills and explanation of benefit documents.

d) If you are considering making a claim against the other guy’s insurance company:

  • Decide whether you want to hire an attorney to help you.
  • If you decide to hire an attorney, delay giving a statement to the other guy’s insurance company until after you have talked with your attorney.
  • Keep a diary in which you write down how your injuries are affecting your life.
  • If you were injured in a motor vehicle wreck, take photographs of the damage to your vehicle. You may also want to have someone take photographs of your injuries.
  • Keep any casts or assistive devices that you have used to get around.

3. What should I do if the other guy’s insurance company offers to pay my medical bills? Some insurance adjusters will offer to pay your bills in the hope that this will keep you from going to a lawyer who may be able to get you more money than the adjuster would like to pay out on your claim. Remember the insurance company makes more money if it can reduce the amount of money that it has to pay out on its claims.

Do not sign any document that releases or gives up your right to sue the other guy until you are sure about the full extent of your injuries. As a general rule most doctors and personal injury attorneys believe that cases should not be settled during the first six months after the injury because it takes at least that long to know the extent of your injuries. You may want to visit with a personal injury lawyer about your injuries before settling. Most lawyers do not charge for the initial consultation.

4. What is the statute of limitations on my claim? A statute of limitations is a law that limits the period of time in which you to have to file a lawsuit. The laws are different in each state, and the periods vary depending on the type of claim that you have. In Nebraska, the statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits generally run from less than a year up to about four years. If you have a specific question about your case, you should seek the advice of a lawyer.

5. Can I just bring the lawsuit against the other person’s insurance company? Your claim normally is presented to the other guy’s insurance company. Most claims settle without the necessity of filing suit.

In most states including Nebraska, the laws allow you to bring suit only against the person who injured you and not against the insurance company. The insurance company provides the other person with a lawyer. In most respects the case will be handled as if it is against the insurance company. But if your case goes to trial, the jury will not get to know that the Defendant has an insurance company that is responsible for the damages it awards.

6. What if the other guy does not have insurance? Most people carry uninsured motorist coverage as part of their car insurance policy. If you have this coverage, you should make a claim against your own insurance company.

7. What if the other guy does not have enough insurance? Most people carry underinsured motorist coverage as part of their car insurance policy. If you have this coverage, you should make a claim against your own insurance company. You probably will need to contact an attorney because there are special procedures that you need to follow in order to preserve your claim against your insurance company. An attorney may also be able to find additional sources for payment of your damages.

8. When do I need a lawyer? Here are some of the situations in which you should consider hiring a lawyer.

a. If you do not want to negotiate with the insurance company, then you will need a lawyer.

b. Most people do not have a very good idea about the settlement value of their case. If you want to get some idea of its value, you probably should at least visit with a lawyer about its value. After visiting with the lawyer, you should be in a better position to decide whether to handle the case on your own.

c. You may need a lawyer to deal with issues about paying back your insurance companies for the bills that they have paid on your behalf. Most insurance policies (auto and health) include subrogation language in their insurance policies that requires you to pay your insurance company back if you settle with the other guy’s insurance company.

d. If the other insurance company offers you the limits of its coverage and if you have underinsured motorist coverage through your automobile policy, you should contact an attorney to learn how to preserve your claim against the underinsured motorist coverage.

e. If your injuries are serious (as in all cases of brain injury), you are likely to benefit from the help of a competent attorney.

9. If I hire a lawyer, how much will the lawyer charge? This is between you and your lawyer. Lawyers who handle personal injury and workers’ compensation cases almost always charge contingent fees. This means that the lawyer gets paid only if he or she succeeds in getting you some money. Personal injury lawyers generally do not charge for an initial consultation. The fees charged vary depending on the type case. One-third fees are common for personal injury cases. Higher fees are common for product liability and medical malpractice cases, while fees are generally lower in FELA (railroad) cases. Workers’ compensation cases are often handled for a 25% contingent fee.

Contact Steve Gerdes