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How Do Personal Injury Settlements Work?

Hi, guys. I'm Chris Parks. I'm a personal injury lawyer. And I work here in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, and I have been going over questions that people often ask on the internet, and comparing them with the questions that I often get asked, and believe it or not, a very simple and good question is, how do personal injury settlements work?

Paying medical bills with your own car insurance

People really have no idea what happens if you get in a wreck, and what's going to happen next. I'll give you an example. Yesterday, I was on the phone with somebody, and they had been in a very small car wreck, and their own insurance, what's called Med Pay in Colorado, it stands for just Medical Payment Benefits, their own insurance had been paying their medical bills for the last couple of months. Basically, she would go in, she would get care at either a chiropractor or massage therapist, maybe a physical therapist. She was paying for that out of pocket, and then she would take her receipt, and she would call up her Med Pay carrier, her own insurance, and say, "Hey, what do I do with this?" And the adjuster said, "Just send me the bill, and I'll reimburse you." And that had been working fine, but she had exhausted her Med Pay of about $5,000, and she wanted the other person's insurance, the person that hit her, their insurance, she wanted them to start paying her medical bills, and just continuing the way she'd been going.

Process of dealing with the other side's insurance

Well, the other insurance did not want to do that. And normally, in Texas, Colorado, and Louisiana, the three states where I'm licensed, an insurance company adjuster for the other side, the person that hit you, is not going to want to just start paying your medical bills. Instead, what they want to do is wait until you're fully finished treating, let you pay for it yourself, you submit to them all of your bills and all of your records, and then they will make you an offer, and say, "If you accept our offer, we'll give you one check, and that check will be the full settlement." And you will have to sign a release that releases their insured, again, the person that hit you is called their insured, it will release them totally from any and all claims that you could have made for the accident. That's the beginning of how a personal injury claim works.

Timeline of an injury claim

Let me give you an idea how long all this takes. Let's say that you get in an accident, and you come to my office right away. It's a pretty bad wreck, and you don't want to deal with insurance. You don't know how to do it, and you would rather just pay me to do it. Now, I usually only take a case if I truly believe at the outset that I can make more money for the client than they can make on their own. In other words, that it's actually worth your hiring an attorney because you're going to end up about the same or better than you would have been had you not had an attorney. But let's assume again, that someone comes to me, they've just had a car wreck. I sign up the case, and they start treating. It varies on what kind of accident you've had and what kind of injury you had obviously. But let's take the example of someone that has a really bad whiplash. They're hurting in their neck, maybe their back, they're having trouble turning their head. They might miss a week or two from work, and they start seeing a chiropractor. They see the chiropractor for a few weeks, they're doing great. They're back at work. They're still taking maybe some Advil or Tylenol every night. They see their general physician, a MD, MD sort of says grace over their condition, says that, you know, they're doing pretty good. Keep seeing the chiropractor, keep getting these treatments. I think you're doing the right thing. So, they go back they see the chiropractor for a few more weeks, and then after six weeks or so, they feel like, hey, you know, these treatments have helped, but I'm better now. I think I'm just going to go on with my life. And they say to me, "Chris, can you try to get this case resolved?"

Sending a Demand Letter

At that point, I would probably send out a demand letter to the insurance company that lays out all of the medical bills, all the medical records, because the insurance company needs everything documented. If there's lost wages, I would try to document that either through their employer or if they're self-employed, through past records, showing what the usually make in a week or a month. In every case, there's always complications, especially with self-employed people. So, I would say something in the demand letter about the specifics of my client and maybe their self-employment, and why they've lost some money. For instance, maybe they are a contractor that builds houses, and they had two houses that were in the middle of being built, and they weren't able to do the work, they had to give the contract to somebody else. Maybe they are a painter, and they were getting ready to paint a house, and they couldn't do that work. And it was a $2,000 or $3,000 job that they lost out on. It just depends on the situation, but we would do the demand letter to the insurance company, talk to the adjuster, give them all the information. And in that demand letter, we would also try to specifically tell the adjuster why this person's life changed from the moment just before the accident to the six weeks or six months that it's been since the accident. Things like, "I like to read. And for three weeks after the accident, I couldn't even hold a book up on a pillow in front of me without my neck starting to hurt or without my eyes starting to kind of get a little fuzzy." Whatever it is, we need to be specific, and we need to explain to an adjuster how this accident has actually affected you rather than just give them just the medical bills and the medical records. So, we do that.

Negotiations with insurance

Let's say the adjuster tells us to go pound sand, basically, that the adjuster is not interested at all in giving the $20,000 that we wanted. Instead, the adjuster thinks it's worth more like $5,000. In that case, we would likely file a lawsuit. When we file a lawsuit, it takes a while to have the other side served. What that means is filing a lawsuit, you take a document down to the courthouse, you pay some money, and you file it with the court. And that lawsuit says, "Hey, I'm Chris Parks. And on behalf of my client, I am saying that he has been injured by the person that hit him or her, and that he is entitled to recover damages." Usually, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, physical impairment, that type of thing. The other side after they're served has a certain amount of time to answer. By the time we have filed a lawsuit, waited for service, and gotten the answer, that's often a month, month and a half, maybe two months down the road. After the other side has answered, there are a number of things that happen with the court regarding discovery. And those timetables are probably more detailed than I need to go in here. But let's say it takes another six months to exchange information with the lawyers that are representing the other side. After that, it may take another six months to get a trial date.

So, from the date of your accident until we've filed a lawsuit, maybe we've spent up to six months. From filing a lawsuit until the time we have a trial date, it might be another year.When we have the trial, we're not necessarily finished.

Possibility of an appeal

Maybe we get a judgment, and the other side says, "You know what? We don't want to go any further. We're going to pay you the amount of the judgment," or maybe the other side says, "Nope, we disagree with the jury's verdict. We're going to appeal this judgment." In that case it could take much longer, maybe six months, maybe a year for an appeal to finish. After that, they even have the right to appeal again. Both sides do, have the right to appeal again. In Colorado, you go to the district court usually, there's other ways to do it. But often you go to the district court, then you go to the court of appeal, then you go to the supreme court if the supreme court agrees to listen to your case. So, cases can take years, if they're litigated.

Cases can also take weeks if you're able to make a settlement. Some of the largest cases I've worked on involve some catastrophic explosions and deaths. Those cases were settled for large amounts of money, less than six weeks after the accident. On the other hand, I've had small car wrecks where someone was at a stop sign and got hit from behind, liability was clear, I've had those cases go not just to trial, but go on appeal, and take literally years to resolve. My goal and your goal should be to get you better and to get full and fair compensation for your injuries. I don't really think you should leave a single dollar on the table, but at the same time, I think you should be compensated fairly. Fairly, usually involves what a jury would award in the jurisdiction where you been injured. The only way you can find out that answer is really talk to people that know, that's usually injury lawyers or defense lawyers that represent insurance companies.

Call our office for free evaluations

If you have any questions about how a personal injury case works, I urge you to give me a call, the number's on the screen. I'm happy to talk to you. I talk to people, sometimes many people, every week about what to do in a personal injury case, how to handle it, and what's going to happen to them. I don't mind doing it, in fact, I think it's one of my duties as a lawyer is to answer people's questions, and try to help them resolve things if they can without a lawyer. So, again, Chris Parks, I'm in Boulder, and I'd be happy to talk to you.

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