I am going to provide an overview of the life of a personal injury case that we typically handle at Goldberg, Finnegan & Mester, LLC. First of all, we handle all types of accident cases---car crashes, premises liability cases, slip and fall cases, medical malpractice cases, social security disability cases and workman's compensation cases. Basically if someone is injured we will try to help them (but we do not take all cases). We never charge a fee up front and we only get paid if the client recovers money.
1. Date of Accident. When someone is injured in an accident, it is important to get prompt high quality medical care. One option is to go to the emergency room. Another option is to get an appointment with a doctor or chiropractor within a couple of days of the accident. The longer you wait to obtain medical care after the accident, the better the insurance company's argument will be that you were not injured as a result of the accident. (How many times have I heard an adjuster say "If your client was really hurt he would have sought medical treatment the same day or the next day"). A problem we often see is that people choose not to go to the hospital and instead schedule an appointment with the health insurance provided primary care doctors----unfortunately sometimes clients have to wait up to a month for this initial appointment. This kind of delay in treatment can ruin an otherwise good case. Bottom line---if you are hurt in an accident, get medical treatment as soon as practicable. If you have trouble getting the treatment you need, a good peronal injury lawyer should be able to arrange for you to get the appropriate treatment on short notice.
2. Gathering Evidence. If possible, you should take photos of the accident scene and if it is a car accident, get photos of the damage to both vehicles. If there are witnesses, get their names and numbers. Also, if there are skid marks, photograph them. Maryland accident victims should not count on the police to do a complete and accurate investigation. We have found that police reports are --way too often--wrong, incomplete and full of errors (rarely do they list all of the witnesses). Once you hire a law firm such as Goldberg, Finnegan & Mester, the lawyer will likely take on the task of gathering evidenec to establish liability against whoever was at fault for the accident. The law firm hired typically advances the cost of this investigation, and would be reimbursed when the case concludes if the case is successful (every firm is different in this regard). I believe that it is really important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after an accident. Trust me----in any significant case involving serious injuries---the insurance companies are engaging lawyers of their own and investigators of their own in order to minimize your chance of bringing a successful personal injury claim.
3. Medical Treatment. Every case is different. In order to maximize your chance of having a successful personal injury case, you should follow your doctor's instructions. If you are sent to physical therapy be sure to attend your appointments. If you are sent for an MRI, be sure to get the MRI. If the insurance company sees that a claimant is not following medical advice, it will use that as a reason to make a low settlement offer. In my opinion, the key to having a good personal injury case is two-fold: (i) you need to get excellent medical care so that you can get better quickly; and (ii) you need to have your medical care documented properly in a way that insurance companies (and defense lawyers) understand. There are many good doctors out there who do a very poor job of documenting injury cases. It is important to have the proper diagnostic codes in the bills/reports. A good personal injury lawyer will know which doctors provide good medical care and also know how to properly treat accident related injuries. It is important that you do not overtreat. NEVER GO TO A DOCTOR FOR TREATMENT IF YOU ARE NOT INJURED. THIS CAN BE CONSTRUED AS INSURANCE FRAUD AND YOU CAN GET IN A LOT OF TROUBLE FOR THIS. In a Maryland car accident case, medical bills get paid through a variety of sources: (i) Personal Injury Protection Payments (PIP Payments), (ii) Health Insurance Payments, (iii) Payments from liability carrier at the time of settlement, (iv) Workman's Compensation Payments, (Medicaid/Medicare Payments. If you have health insurance, you should use it. Many hospitals will try to urge you not to use it and bill your PIP. When possible (and it is not always possible) I prefer to have my clients use their health insurance.
4. Demand/Settlement Negotiations: Once you are done treating for your injuries, the lawyer will put together a demand package to send to the liability insurance carrier (In Maryland this would typically be State Farm, Allstate, MAIF, GEICO, Travelers). Once hte insurance company has the demand package, the ball is basically in their court. It takes anywhere from 2 weeks to several months in order for a insurance company to review and demand package and make a settlement offer. A lawyer can be very helpful in this negotiation stage and, in my opinion, can get the insurance company to basically its highest offer that it is willing to go to pre-suit. If there is additional medical treatment after a demand package is sent, its important to supplement the demand package.
5. Litigation: If the case does not settle during the settlement negotiation stage, the next step would be for your lawyer to file a lawsuit. In Maryland a strategic decsiion needs to be made whether to file in District Court or Circuit Court. LItigating a case in District Court certainly has its benefits----a faster trial date and very limited discovery. The most you can sue for in District Court is $30,000.00. If you sue for over $15,000.00 then the Defendant can (and insurance companies often will) remove the case to Circuit Court. In this day and age, insurance companies often make low ball offers and some cases just need to be litigated in order to get proper compensation.
I hope this information has been helpful. If you have additional questions about your Maryland injury case call us at 888-213-8140 for a free telephone consultation.