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Personal Injury Law - The Basics
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Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury

Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?
A: No, there is no minimum or maximum settlement amount. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on lots of factors, including:

  • The nature and extent of the injury,
  • The amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills)
  • The amount of time the injury is expected to last

If you're trying to put a value on a specific case, it would be a good idea to check with a lawyer near you.

Q: Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?
A: The term "bodily injury claim" usually refers to a "personal injury claim". "Economic damages" would include, but aren't limited to:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Rental car expenses, etc.

General damages include:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Humiliation
  • Distress

If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all the types of damages available to you, or you'll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.

Q: How do I collect my personal injury award?
A: If the person against whom you have the judgment has insurance, the easiest thing to do is simply to notify the insurance company of your judgment (if they're not already aware of it). The insurance company will usually just write a check for the damages up to the limit of the insurance policy. If the person against whom you have the judgment is uninsured, collecting won't be as easy. You must have the judgment "entered" with the court and then seek to "enforce" the judgment. There are actually attorneys who specialize in collecting judgments, and it would be a good idea to consult with one.

Q: Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the personal injury settlement check?
A: Yes, and you should. As a client you have an absolute right to see a copy of the settlement check, as well as to review a copy of the settlement breakdown sheet before the check is deposited. Usually, the insurance company check has both your name and your attorney's name on it, so you would typically have to endorse the check before it could be placed in your lawyer's trust account. Ask your lawyer to provide you with a copy of the actual settlement check forwarded to him by the insurance company, as well as a copy of all checks written by him (which should total the full amount of the settlement).

Q: What is a proper contingency fee?
A: An attorney's fee is usually negotiated, and depends on the complexity of the case, the time at which it settles, and the anticipated costs that may be invested. In California, 40% is the fee that is typically charged as the maximum fee if the matter is litigated through trial or arbitration. The only way to know if your attorney is willing to consider a lower fee is to ask. If there isn't much of a fault ("liability") issue, you may be able to find a less expensive lawyer. The skill and reputation of your lawyer is very important, though. A 40% fee to a highly skilled, well-respected lawyer will in all probability yield a higher overall recovery to you than a 33 1/3% fee with less experienced counsel.

Q: Do lawyers receive their fee percent before or after the medical expenses are paid?
A: The attorney's fees paid will be based on the retainer agreement between you and your lawyer. Read the contract carefully. Some retainer agreements provide that attorney's fees are calculated on the gross settlement (before the medical bills are paid) and some provide for payment of fees after medical expenses are paid (the "net" amount).