Frequently Asked Questions

 

How does "fault" matter in an accident?

Fault may affect your ability to recover damages, your liability for damages to others and your insurance rates. In automobile accident cases, no-fault insurance guarantees compensation by your insurance company regardless of fault for certain medical expenses and income losses up to the limit of your coverage. In any claim against the responsible driver, even if you are at fault for an accident, comparative negligence laws may enable you to recover some damages. Under Pennsylvania law, if you are negligent, you may only be able to collect a certain percentage - or none at all - if you are at fault. Sometimes more than one person may be at fault for an accident. In this case, a percentage of liability is assigned to each negligent party before damages (if any) are awarded.

Negligence is carelessness or the failure to use due care. Most personal injury lawsuits, including auto accidents fall into this category. A person is considered negligent if she or he acts carelessly or fails to act (negligent omission). Individual state laws regarding negligence may affect your ability to collect damages. In Pennsylvania, you are barred from collecting any damages from the defendants if it is determined that you are more than 50% negligent. Otherwise, if found negligent to a percentage less than 51%, your ultimate verdict is reduced by the assigned percentage. 

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How much auto insurance coverage do I really need?

Most states require motorists to have auto insurance or show proof of their financial ability to pay if they are found at fault in an accident. Nevertheless, it is estimated one-half to two-thirds of all drivers are either underinsured or uninsured. Please keep the following in mind when you consider purchasing auto insurance in order to protect yourself and your passengers:

  1. When purchasing automobile insurance, you will be presented with a choice of the "limited tort" option or the "full tort" option. Although the limited tort option will save you some money on the premium, think long and hard before choosing it. Selecting the limited tort option will preclude you from bringing a claim for personal injuries unless you suffer a serious injury. A serious injury is defined as a significant impairment of a body function. Experience shows us that many injuries can be painful, restricting and long lasting or permanent even though they may not classify as a serious injury. To preserve your right to seek compensation for an injury, regardless of its nature, select the full tort option on your insurance policy.  

  2. Insurance companies are required by law to offer uninsured motorist insurance to you at the time you purchase insurance. This coverage compensates you for bodily injuries caused by either a hit-and-run driver or an uninsured driver. Uninsured motorist coverage may also compensate passengers in your car for any injuries. It is a good idea to have as much uninsured motorist coverage as you can afford.  

  3. Underinsured motorist coverage will also be offered to you. This coverage pays you for damages caused by a motorist who doesn't have enough liability insurance to compensate you for your injuries. After receiving the limits of liability coverage from the responsible driver's insurance company, you can submit a claim to your own insurance company for the excess. For this reason, it is a good idea to have as much underinsured coverage as you can afford. Both uninsured (UM) and underinsured (UIM) coverage work directly to your benefit. The limit of coverage that you select will be the limitation on the amount that you may recover on your claim.  

  4. If you have more than one vehicle in your household, you should consider "stacking" the UM/UIM coverage. By stacking the coverage you increase the amount of UM/UIM coverage by the number of vehicles covered under your policy. For example, if you own three vehicles and you have UM/UIM of $100,000 per person/$300,000 aggregate, by stacking your coverages, you can increase your UM/UIM coverage to $300,000 per person/$900,000 aggregate. This stacked coverage can provide added protection to you and your family if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

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How do I know if I have a case?

If you have suffered personal injuries as a result of an accident caused by someone else's carelessness, you may have a case. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the legal maze and help you determine if you have a case and whether you can recover any compensation.

There are several types of injuries for which an individual can collect damages. The most common type is physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. Mental and emotional injuries can also be compensable. The law also provides for recovery of economic damages for lost wages, medical bills and other expenses related to the injury, as well as the effect on your future earning capacity. Compensation can also be collected for property damages, including damages to cars, houses or other personal property.

Personal injury law is based on the concept that if a person is injured or killed due to another person's negligence, that person or his or her heirs has the right to be compensated in money damages. It strives to determine who is at fault for an accident, then how much the plaintiff is entitled to receive from the insurance company for the responsible party.

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What is a civil lawsuit? Is it different from a criminal proceeding?

Civil lawsuits differ from criminal proceedings in several ways. In criminal proceedings, the government tries to prove the defendant has committed a crime and should be punished for the action. Punishment can include jail time and fines. A lawsuit is a civil action in which one party sues the responsible party for compensatory damages. The plaintiff hopes to recover damages caused by the responsible party as a result of injuries from an accident. While in most lawsuits the plaintiff seeks monetary damages, some try to stop, or enjoin, an individual from doing a specific action. 

There are several types of civil lawsuits. Negligence and contract actions are two of the most common. Negligence lawsuits strive to collect damages caused by another person. Typically these involve automobile accidents, fall down accidents, construction site accidents, product liability claims and malpractice. In contract actions, individuals try to collect damages for breach of contract obligations.

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What kinds of damages can I collect?

Damages include compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the injured person for losses. They include medical bills, lost wages (past, present and future), pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium. At times, legal costs and interest will also be included in actual damages. In wrongful death survival cases, family members may also seek compensation for any financial losses the surviving members must now endure.

Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again.

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Will I have to go to court? What court will my case be heard in?

Ninety-five percent of all legitimate personal injury cases settle before going to trial. In most legitimate claims the chances are good that you will not have to go to court. 

Your case and the amount of money you are seeking will determine the court in which your case will be heard. Federal district courts deal with matters involving federal law and controversies between people from different states who are seeking specified amounts of damages.

Most state courts are divided into several tiers. Pennsylvania has a small claims court before District Justices and a county Court of Common Pleas. Where your case will be heard depends on your claim and the amount of money damages that you are seeking. There are also several appellate courts to hear appeals from the trial court level.

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What factors will you use to determine the worth of my case?

There is no set formula for determining what a person's injuries or a loss of life is worth. Lawyers consider a variety of factors when evaluating a case. Pennsylvania law states that awards should be fair and adequate. Lawyers consider the nature of the injuries, the client's recovery from those injuries, any permanent restrictions, pain and suffering, past economic losses, future economic losses and future medical and other life-care issues. 

Future losses are hard to determine and often medical and occupational experts are called in to help determine the extent of these losses. Often considered in this analysis is the difference between what you were capable of earning over your lifetime before the accident and what you will be able to earn after the accident. The analysis considers your current job, education, experience and even the cost of retraining if you are unable to continue your current position.

Evaluating the value of a case often depends on the jurisdiction of the case and the anticipated jury verdict range. Since there are no guarantees with the success of a jury trial, it is important to retain an experienced personal injury trial lawyer to provide his or her experience in the evaluation of your claim and the level of expertise necessary if the case must be tried.

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Is there a limit on the amount of time I have to file a claim?

There is a time limit, or statute of limitations, on how long an individual has to file a lawsuit after an incident occurs in all personal injury cases. This limit exists to ensure the prompt pursuit of claims and fairness for both the defendant and the plaintiff pursuing a claim. 

The standard statute of limitations in a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania is two years from the date of the incident causing the harm. In some cases, the statute of limitations begins on the date the accident occurs, while in others the clock may not start ticking until the plaintiff discovers his or her injuries. This is known as the "Discovery Rule." Under the "Discovery Rule" the statute of limitations begins as soon as the victim has discovered or should have discovered the injury. Since this rule is often difficult to apply, it is recommended that you consult with a lawyer promptly upon discovery of your injuries.

A minor may have until two years after he or she reaches the age of 18 to file a case regardless of how many years ago the injury occurred. This extended time limit may also apply to mentally impaired individuals or those who are out of the state due to military service or other reasons.

Since time limits vary from state to state, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an accident to ensure that your rights aren't affected. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim you may be unable to receive compensation for an accident if you are late in filing. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney as promptly as possible after the injury in order to protect your rights.

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What should I expect from my lawyer?

Any lawyer you hire should devote his or her practice exclusively to personal injury law. Lawyers who focus on personal injury law have handled cases similar to yours and will know how the law applies to your situation. They may even know your doctor through past dealings with him or her. Though the majority of personal injury cases settle before trial, your lawyer should be an experienced trial lawyer. This communicates that the lawyer is able and willing to take a case to trial if an agreeable settlement can't be reached with the adverse party.

You should feel comfortable discussing issues with your lawyer. Your lawyer should be willing to spend the necessary time with you and clearly answer your questions. To ensure you have chosen the right lawyer, consider asking about costs, who other than your lawyer will be working on your case, your lawyer's record, your fee options, and the expected duration of your claim. Your lawyer should be able to give you a timetable of when you can expect things to occur. If you are not happy with any of the responses the lawyer gives you, keep looking. You don't just need a lawyer, you need the right lawyer. You deserve to have a qualified attorney with whom you feel comfortable.

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What factors does a lawyer consider before taking a case?

When deciding whether to take a case, lawyers look at several factors:

  • The nature of the claim itself
  • The issue of fault
  • The nature of the injuries suffered
  • Your objective for filing the case
  • Evidence available to prove your claim
  • Cost of gathering evidence, preparing for trial and conducting the trial
  • The identity of the adverse party
  • The ability to collect damages from the other party or insurance company if your case is successful
  • The possibility for settlement or resolution through alternative dispute methods including arbitration, negotiation and mediation

Generally, a lawyer will not want to accept your case on a contingent fee basis unless he or she believes there is a good chance the case can be won.

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I think I have a case. What should I do before I consult a lawyer?

After an accident or injury occurs, there are several steps you should take to protect your rights in the event of a lawsuit.

  1. Preserve the evidence. Evidence is the strongest link to winning personal injury cases. Take photos or videos from all angles at the accident scene and of the damages suffered. If injured, consider taking photographs periodically of the injuries. If the case involves a product, don't throw away the product literature or the product itself, and keep all warranties, product manuals and other written materials. They may someday be used as evidence.  

  2. Report the accident. If the accident is a motor vehicle accident, immediately call the police. If another type of accident occurs, report the accident to the responsible person and get his or her name and address. If you are contacted by the insurance company which insures the responsible person, remember that it is best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.  

  3. Keep a journal and calendar. Write down all injuries received and your doctor's orders. Follow all orders your doctor gives you to prove to the judge or jury that you are doing all that you can to improve your situation. Use a calendar to keep track of dates for medical appointments and days of work missed due to your injuries.  

  4. Gather the necessary information. Keep all medical bills, explanations of benefits, correspondence from insurance companies and insurance policies. Obtain police reports and the identity of any witnesses as well as the identity of the responsible person (name, address, phone number).

This information will help your lawyer assess the strength of your claim and the amount of damages that may be recovered. Fact gathering at the scene will also save you time in the future and ensure your lawyer has the information needed to help you settle or win your case in a timely manner.

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After my lawyer accepts my case what can I expect?

Depending on the complexity of the case, personal injury cases can take anywhere from a few months to several years and can involve numerous steps.

Initially a lawyer will gather the necessary information and medical documentation to evaluate your claim. The lawyer's ability to evaluate your case depends, to some extent, on obtaining an accurate diagnosis and prognosis of your medical condition from your physician. After receiving the necessary information, you and your lawyer will discuss the case and the projected value of the claim. A settlement demand is then made to the insurance carrier for the responsible party. During this time negotiation, arbitration or mediation may occur in an effort to settle the case. If an agreement can't be reached after these discussions, lawsuit proceedings will begin. Sometimes the lawsuit may be filed earlier if beneficial to your case.

A lawsuit begins by the plaintiff filing a Writ of Summons or Complaint in court. The court then serves the defendant with the Summons or Complaint and the defendant has time to respond.

The next step is called "discovery." A variety of things occur during discovery to determine the evidence. Interrogatories (written questions) and Requests to Produce evidence are usually submitted by both parties under oath. These require a written response to inquiries about the accident, injuries and expenses resulting from the incident. Depositions of the plaintiff, defendant and witnesses may be taken by both lawyers with a court reporter present. During depositions, involved parties get the opportunity to hear the testimony of the other side. The defense also has the opportunity to have the plaintiff examined by a doctor of their choice. After all discovery is complete, the case can be listed for trial. The length of discovery varies depending on the nature of the case and the number of parties involved.

A settlement may be made at any time during this process or even during trial. Approximately 5% of personal injury cases actually go to trial.

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The insurance company has offered to settle. Should I talk to a lawyer first?

It is best to get an experienced personal injury lawyer involved as soon as possible. If the insurance company has contacted you prior to your retention of a lawyer, your best bet is just to listen closely. At the end of your conversation let them know you need more time to think about their offer. It is best not to provide a written or oral statement to the insurance company for the responsible party without your lawyer present. Get in touch with a personal injury lawyer who can tell you if the amount they are offering is adequate and fair to compensate you and cover any future expenses you may face. Lawyers are skilled professionals and know how to negotiate with insurance companies. They can help you avoid costly mistakes. Many times the threat of legal action is enough to bring both parties to the table to find a reasonable settlement.

It is strongly recommended that you do not settle your claim without consulting an attorney. You will be asked by the insurance company to sign a Release at the time the case is settled and that Release will bar all future claims. You need to make sure that the amount of the offer completely compensates your injuries. You cannot pursue another claim after settlement.

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What fees do you charge?

Generally, your initial consultation with us is free. We are always happy to meet with you in any of our offices to discuss your case and answer any questions. In personal injury matters we generally charge a contingent fee, which means we do not get a fee unless you settle or win a recovery. A contingent fee agreement offers a unique advantage over hourly rates, which must be paid whether your case is won or lost. Our normal contingent fee is 1/3 of the amount recovered, which is less than most personal injury lawyers in the Philadelphia region. All personal injury claims require the payment of certain costs to gather the necessary information for the claim and to prosecute the case. In most instances we are willing to advance costs for those clients wanting to pursue a case. In this way a client does not need to pay the costs up front in order to proceed with a claim. Our office is then reimbursed these advanced costs from the settlement proceeds or verdict at the end of the case. After the case is settled or won, if the amount of your compensatory damages warrants it, we can refer you to a financial advisor who can help you choose how to invest your money and to estate planners who can help you plan for the future.

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