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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013 the U.S. crash death rate was more than twice the average of other high-income countries. For the most part, these are preventable occurrences. There are laws in place to help keep us safe: wear seatbelts, follow speed limits, keep a safe distance behind other vehicles, place infants and young children in car seats, bikers and motorcyclists wear helmets, and so on.
Despite this, some people choose to violate the rules. They betray the trust of other travelers, causing great pain and harm. If you’ve been wronged by someone whose actions have caused a motor vehicle crash, Advocates United can help.
People killed every day in the U.S. by distracted drivers
People die each day in the U.S. from motor vehicle crashes
Medical and work loss costs caused by crash deaths nationally in 2013
When involved in a motor vehicle case, whether it involves a car, truck, motorcycle or even bicycle, the client often believes it is the sole responsibility of the trial lawyer to “make the case happen.” And while the trial attorney certainly is expected to do his or her part (being knowledgeable in the law and being able to provide expert guidance to the client throughout the process), there are important tasks the client needs to take responsibility for to make the case “all it can be.” So, yes, it’s true. You must help your trial attorney prepare your case.
Here are the 7 things you can do to help your motor vehicle case:
You will want to make a list of the names, phone numbers, and addresses of physicians, physical therapists, and other medical practitioners who have treated you since your injury. Also, include the names of hospitals, MRI centers, and any other medical facility where you have received treatment or care for your injury.
Make another list of your doctors’ appointments, treatments, and diagnostic tests to ensure that your attorney has all the medical information that relates to your injury. Maintaining an up-to-date list is very important. Giving your attorney “oops I forgot” medical information late in the development of the case can present numerous problems.
It can result in the need to change a part of the case already developed for presentation at trial; it may even change the outcome of the case, including the potential for the case to be dismissed.
You should keep a record of the problems and difficulties you are experiencing or have experienced since your injury, and how the injury has changed your life.
Keep a record of the dates, times, and places of your appointments with doctors and other health care professionals; the medications you take on a daily or weekly basis; and the amount of time these types of activities take you away from work, family, and leisure.
This record may be written in a notebook or a diary, or even noted on a calendar.
All billing related to the medical treatment of your injury should initially be handled through your own insurance company. The attorney will contact your insurance company to determine if “subrogation” (the attempt to recoup expenses for a claim or a portion of a claim) is applicable to the case. Using Florida just as an example, you need to talk to your attorney to understand the rules for your state, here are a few of the important reasons you should follow your attorney’s advice to use your insurance company first.
In Florida, for example, the automobile insurance PIP (personal injury protection) carrier is the starting point for the payment of all medical bills associated with a personal injury case. It is not uncommon for an injured person to think that he or she must first make claims against the other party’s insurance company. However, it is too early at the initial stage of treatment—and even six months into treatment—to consider getting the other party’s insurance company to pay.
Under Florida law, again as an example, the first $10,000 of medical bills should be paid by the client’s own PIP carrier. If the client’s medical bills exceed the auto insurance’s PIP coverage, the client’s secondary medical insurance (e.g., Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, TRICARE, etc.) should be billed next, not the other party’s insurance company.
There are valid reasons for this required sequence of billing. If the client has additional coverage, this insurance should be billed first so that the client can receive the benefit of any reductions or write- offs that are offered, thereby receiving the benefits of insurance coverage the client has already paid for. This billing process helps make sure the client’s out-of-pocket expenses are kept as low as possible.
When the injured party’s health insurance is not used first, the injured person may have a difficult time obtaining needed medical treatment and receiving proper care without incurring large upfront expenses that he or she may not be able to pay.
I would recommend that you make a list of the names of people, including their contact information, who can confirm how you and your life have changed since your injury. These individuals can be critical to being able to fully explain the many different ways that the injury has significantly impacted your life, other than just the obvious and immediate physical injuries.
You should provide your trial attorney with a list of the doctors and other health care professionals who provided you medical care before your injury. Again, sticking with Florida, as an example, standard interrogatories (written questions that must be answered when litigation begins) ask for the names of doctors the client has seen as a patient over the past ten years. While this ten-year medical history must be made available if litigation is required, at least five years of records will provide the attorney and the insurance company with a good overview of the client’s medical history for purposes of pre-litigation claim discussions.
Your medical condition prior to your personal injury case is of utmost importance. Any medical treatment you have previously received that involves the same area of injury or the same problem as your current injury plays a pivotal role in your personal injury case.
Plaintiffs are sometimes hesitant to disclose pre-existing conditions because they think the attorney will not want to help them. Having a pre-existing condition is not a problem; not disclosing a pre-existing condition, however, is a problem. Not disclosing can be a “land mine” to a case. Whether the facts of a pre-existing condition are favorable or unfavorable for the case, not disclosing this information prevents the attorney from being able to assess the impact these facts can have on your case.
There are current cases in Florida where plaintiffs have not been forthright about their prior injuries. In these cases, defense lawyers have either been successful for their clients, or they have been able to do a great deal of damage to the plaintiffs’ positions in front of the court by arguing that the plaintiffs failed to fully and accurately disclose their prior medical history. A client does not want this to happen; therefore, an accurate and complete medical history must be disclosed to your attorney.
It is helpful to know that under Florida law, as an example, if the jury cannot tell what part of the current medical condition is related to an old, or pre-existing, condition and what part is related to the new injury, the jury is allowed and should apportion all the damages to the new injury. As you can see, not disclosing information about an old injury or a previous medical condition is never going to be helpful to the case.
Always keep in mind that the trial attorney is your partner in your personal injury case. You have an injury, and the trial attorney has the knowledge and skills to present your injury in the manner that is best for your particular case.
Sometimes the simplest thing that the attorney asks you to do can be helpful to your case. For example, if you have an injury involving a lower extremity— leg, knee, ankle or foot—your attorney may ask you to wear a pedometer, an inexpensive device that tracks movement.
Research shows that the average person walks between 7,000 and 9,000 steps per day; and a pedometer can provide a reliable, exact measurement of the number of steps walked during the day. Thus, wearing a pedometer for a month can be a simple and effective means for a person with a lower extremity injury to document loss or restriction of movement and, therefore, the loss of enjoyment in daily living.
Another way to assist your attorney is to provide him or her with all requested documentation. I have had clients who have provided the records required to establish proof of lost wages by bringing in paycheck stubs and summaries of hours worked and days not worked. This kind of assistance can be a tremendous time saver for the attorney and the attorney’s staff. This and similar kinds of client assistance make it possible for your legal team to focus their time and attention on the bigger issues of your case, such as researching law and statutes, and consulting with physicians or other experts needed to complete your case.
Again, it is very important that you assist your trial attorney by doing even the simplest things requested. To do otherwise can delay the development and progress of the case; it can even possibly decrease the monetary value of your case.
Your attorney needs to know about your life before the injury. One way to do this is to provide the attorney with photos, videos, awards, and certificates of achievement. These kinds of “visuals” can help identify what was important to you prior to your injury—family, friends, job/career, church, sports, hobbies, community service, etc.
If, for example, you are a soccer coach, soccer is obviously your passion. If your children play soccer, the sport is a vital part of your family’s life. Show your trial attorney pictures of you coaching a soccer team, or pictures of your child playing soccer or receiving awards. Explain your involvement in and love of the game to your trial attorney; explain how soccer contributes to the quality of life for you and your family. Your trial attorney needs to know these kinds of things about you, as they are critical in building your case and portraying your life before your injury.
Obviously, a lower extremity injury to someone involved in soccer would be devastating and would certainly sideline that person, even if only briefly. Such an injury would involve not only the injured person, but also the family and their activities together. If you were the injured party, you might have to forego participating in school activities, or cancel a scheduled family trip to Disney World. Therefore, be sure to let your attorney know about any opportunities you have missed and any sacrifices you have had to make because of the injury. Information of this nature helps demonstrate the loss of enjoyment of life, which can be very important to a personal injury case.
It is equally important that you make your trial attorney aware of any hopes, dreams, and goals that you have had to “put on hold,” or that have been destroyed, because of your injury. If, as an example, you played football in middle school and high school with the goal of playing college football on an athletic scholarship, you would have to put this goal “on hold” after suffering a broken knee from a fall just two months before college football tryouts. This situation would result in a large, significant damage, as this goal—now postponed or lost completely— was something you had worked for and dreamed about for years. Pictures of your playing football, records of athletic accolades, and documentation of lost opportunities for college football tryouts would provide further evidence and foundation for the argument of loss of a lifetime goal because of injury.
In summary, your role in the client-attorney working partnership is to help your trial attorney become thoroughly acquainted with you, your life, and your dreams and goals both before and after the injury. You will want your trial attorney to have vivid descriptions and compelling information about “who you are, or were” so members of the jury “see” you as a vital member of the community.
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