Insiders Guide: Preparing for a Personal Injury Case

Written By: John L. Ward, Esq.

What do I need to do if I get injured? The gathering of documentary evidence at the early stage of the case is very important.  A personal injury case can take several years to resolve and as time goes by memories get hazy and document are lost. Don’t delay, get organized right off the bat! Below is list of things we gather at the initial stages of the claim.

What Do I Need for Documents/Evidence?

  1. All medical and hospital records;
  2. Photographs (of scene of accident, of client showing injuries, braces, casts, etc., of damaged property);
  3. All hospital, medical and related bills, either paid or unpaid (physicians, surgeons, ambulance, hospitals, private nursing care, therapy, drugs/medication, crutches, braces, X‑rays, domestic help, car rental, clothing, etc.);
  4. Income tax returns for the last five years; (if lost wage claim is made)
  5. Your health and accident insurance policy or policies;
  6. Insurance policy that may require aid of attorney to notify and collect (income protection, hospitalization, etc.);
  7. Copies of any statements previously made to anyone (opposing side, your insurance carrier, etc.);
  8. Repair bill on any damaged property;
  9. Repair estimates on any damaged property;
  10. Purchase invoices and estimates of value of personal property damaged or lost in accident (including clothing, jewelry, cameras, and all other property damaged in accident);
  11. Correspondence with insurance company, insurance adjusters;
  12. Business cards from insurance company agents and adjusters, opposing driver, etc.;
  13. Copy of any accident reports, witness names/statements;
  14. Statement from employer regarding lost wages showing time and wages lost from work;
  15. Copies of check stubs and/or other records showing hourly rate of pay;
  16. Copies of any application for other insurance benefits;
  17. Copy of any application for unemployment benefits;
  18. A Copy of your social security card.
  19. A list of the names of any neighbors, friends, fellow employees or relatives who knew of your activities both before and after the accident including their names, addresses, phone numbers and what they may know or say about you.

General Instructions We Give to Clients:

  1. Do not talk to any insurance adjuster without an attorney present;
  2. Do not discuss the facts of the accident with anyone before having your first conference with the attorney;
  3. Do not sign anything without your attorney’s permission;
  4. Keep a diary of your trips to all doctors, hospitals, therapists and notes of your pain with times and dates;
  5. Keep all your medicine bottles and containers (as possible evidence at trial);
  6. Bring or send all medical bills to your attorney’s office;
  7. Have providers bill your health insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, BCBS, etc.);
  8. When you return to treating physicians for follow‑ up examinations, be sure to advise them at each examination the nature of all of your continuing problems resulting from the accident.
  9. Keep a record of all out‑of‑pocket expenses, including travel expenses for medical treatment;
  10. Report to your attorney any suspicious actions, such as someone taking pictures, movies, etc.
  11. Remember that insurance companies monitor Facebook and other social media sites. Don’t post anything that you don’t want seen in court.

What Happens Next?

The First Steps

Shortly after the first interview with you and when we have accepted the case, a file will be established and assigned to one of our claims administrator under the supervision of myself.  That person will then begin extensive investigation.  In most cases, he will interview you and obtain a statement from any of the witnesses that may exist.  He is expected to obtain photographs and to assemble all of the information that is available as to how the accident occurred and who is responsible. He will probably obtain pictures of the accident scene, and of your injuries before bruises, lacerations, etc., have had a chance to disappear.

While the claims administrator/attorney is conducting his investigation, our office will prepare a letter to each of your physicians and will request medical records.  However, in some cases, we may wish to personally interview the attending physician prior to the time we request a written report from him.

One of the first things the insurance company will wish to have from us is a list of special damages which are incurred by you.  By special damages, they mean out‑of‑pocket expenses such as doctor bills, hospital bills, medical bills, any loss of earnings or income that occurred as a result of the accident, and any property damages that may have resulted.

You should refrain from discussing the details of your accident or injuries with persons not entitled to that information.  Any inquiries from the person responsible for your injuries or their representatives should be referred to your attorney.  If the insurance company representative comes to you, inform him you are represented by our law firm and REFER HIM TO US for any information he seeks. DO NOT MAKE ANY STATEMENTS TO THAT PERSON WITHOUT SPECIFIC PERMISSION FROM YOUR ATTORNEY.

If you have already made statements to any insurance company representative, or anyone else, tell us immediately of these statements and the contents of the statements, and furnish us with a copy if you have one in your possession.

Your Doctor

It is our belief that you are entitled to the very best of medical care available in order to effect a cure or to minimize the permanent effects of your injury.  It is essential that you assist us in obtaining copies of all bills and receipts for all expenditures made by you. The pecuniary loss suffered by you is sometimes less important than the effects of the injury on your life.

We will need your assistance in keeping us informed of the effects of the accident on your life and in furnishing us with information as to where we can obtain credible and admissible testimony to prove the effects of the injury on your life.

As we have stated, you are entitled to the best of medical care for conditions caused by the accident, and certainly the person who is at fault should be compelled to pay for it. It is important that you continue to go to a doctor as long as your injuries continue to bother you.  You should cooperate with your doctor in every way and should relate to him truthfully and fully all symptoms that you have which arise from or were affected by the accident. You should, of course, answer fully all questions he puts to you. You should realize that medical treatment often takes time to obtain results, and often the possibility of a doctor’s diagnosis being accurate is improved by opportunities for improved examination. You cannot expect a doctor to give effective testimony as to your conditions at time of trial if several months elapsed since he last examined you, as obviously he would not be able to state what the condition was at the time of trial. Moreover, insurance companies will often treat the failure to obtain medical treatment as evidence of no injury on the part of the client or an early cure.

Naturally, we do not wish you to fake or exaggerate anything, but as long as there is anything legitimately wrong with you, in order to facilitate the doctors in making their diagnosis and to avoid a distortion of your medical picture by the insurance companies, we believe you should continue to obtain medical care.

We are particularly interested in your keeping us informed as to how rapidly you recover from the injuries which you received.  One of the nightmares that haunts every professional trial attorney is the possibility that he will at some time settle or try a case and then subsequently find out that there were additional injuries of which he had no knowledge, or conditions of which he had no knowledge, for which no recovery was made. Make your attorney aware of any prior health conditions and or injuries you may have had in the past.

Obviously, one of the most significant factors affecting the value of your lawsuit is whether or not we can establish by the testimony of a physician that you have suffered a permanent injury because of the accident.

Doctors know from experience that the full extent of a person’s injuries sometimes is not known for several months after an accident.  We will be in close communication with your doctors while they are in the process of treating you, and will be monitoring the medical aspect of your case until your doctors are able to give us an opinion concerning this important question.

Please do not talk about your case or your lawyers when you see your doctor.  If you do talk about your case with the doctor, the doctor may get the wrong idea, and think that you are more concerned about collecting money than you are about getting well.  In addition, most doctors are hesitant to treat clients of personal injury lawyers for fear of having to testify in court, so please do not volunteer any information that is not asked to you about the legal aspects of your medical problem.

What Is My Case Worth?

Some insurance companies, in cases where the liability is clear, relate the value of a case to the “special damages.” This is often an unrealistic manner of evaluation since your major damages might be factors such as physical pain and suffering, loss of capacity to lead a normal life, and other factors which do not cause actual bills to be incurred by you.

After we have assembled all of the information that is necessary, we will sit down and make the best and most intelligent estimate, of which we are capable, of the least jury verdict we could obtain, the highest jury verdict we could obtain, and the probable jury verdict. Once this is done, and then we evaluate all the evidence we have available to determine our chances of obtaining a judgment in your favor.

Automobile Accidents

If your case involves an automobile accident, there are special factors that influence the value of your case. These factors will also affect whether or not we will be able to file suit on your behalf.

As you may know, if you are involved in an automobile accident case, there are many situations where the driver of the other vehicle had no automobile insurance or had automobile insurance in the least amount that can be carried.

It is therefore necessary for us to know whether or not you have a policy of automobile liability insurance and whether you have purchased uninsured motorist coverage on that policy. Read one of our prior blogs for information about uninsured motorist coverage.

We wish that we had the opportunity to tell all of our clients before automobile accidents occur that uninsured motorist coverage is one of the most important automobile insurance coverage you can buy. It is only by this coverage that you can guarantee a source of recovery for yourself or your family for the negligence of another driver. You will also find that uninsured motorist coverage is relatively inexpensive.

We now recommend to all of our clients that, in the future, they should purchase a minimum of $100,000.00 in uninsured motorist coverage on each of the vehicles they own.

The Lawsuit

If it should become necessary to file suit, the procedure is somewhat as follows:

You are the Plaintiff.  A Complaint is filed on your behalf which states the reasons why we believe you have a cause of action against the Defendant, and it sets forth the various claims we are making.

The Defendant has thirty days from the time he is served with the suit papers in which to answer. Usually, the Defendant will answer and deny responsibility and deny that you were injured to the extent described in the Complaint.  Often, the Defendant will claim that you contributed to your own injuries.

How Can I Help and Participate in my Case?

We will do our best to represent you fairly and aggressively, and we will keep you informed of the developments in the case.

Casual and instant phone contact with professionals is sometimes difficult, but we try to maintain communication by offering scheduling of phone appointments and evening or weekend appointments.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us by either phone call or email.