Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Asked Questions

First, seek medical attention if you are suffering from a personal injury to ensure you are treated promptly and competently. This should be your first priority, because everything you tell a healthcare provider will be written down and will later be read by everyone involved in any future personal injury claims arising from the accident. Therefore, remember these rules:

Be accurate.

Do not exaggerate.

Be thorough. That is, do not skip over symptoms and do not ignore pains. (Insurance companies looking at medical records often conclude that if it’s not written down, it does not exist.)

Follow-up with appointments. Appointments or missed appointments are often interpreted by an insurer as the patient being symptom-free.

Do not over-treat. Make sure you are progressing and feeling better, and double check with your family doctor about the need for treatment if you find that you are not getting better.

Second, make notes to yourself as to what happened with as much detail as you can recall. It is important to be very accurate, since it may be days or weeks before you are interviewed about the events, either by an insurer or an attorney.

Third, make contact with the party who you believe is at fault for the accident. Usually you will be referred to an insurance company. They will want details of the accident and all medical and lost income information in order to evaluate whether you have a personal injury claim, and, if so, what to offer in settlement. If you are uncomfortable doing this, it may be a good time to contact an attorney experienced in personal injury claims.

Fourth, wait until your doctor has accurately diagnosed your medical condition, provided his or her views about your condition, and prescribed a recommended treatment before you seriously discuss settling a claim. We recommend talking to a personal injury attorney if you have any concerns about the reasonableness of a settlement offer.

When you are injured and the person who may be at fault has insurance, it is common practice for the insurance company to do an investigation and to gather information with which to evaluate a personal injury claim. Taking statements is a routine part of that. Usually, these statements are recorded. You have nothing to be concerned about giving such a statement so long as you follow these rules:

First, before giving any statement, take time to think about what happened and recall the events in order. It is best to write down exactly what happened with as much detail as you can remember. Because you will be asked many months even years later exactly what happened, it is important that you prepare a record that will jog your memory.

Second, when you give your statement, answer only the questions that are asked. Answer truthfully, avoid guessing at things that you do not know, and do not guess at things. If you do not know or do not remember, say so. If you are taking medication that affects your ability to remember, say so.

Third, while you are being interviewed ask for a copy of the transcript of the interview, so that you can look at it again and make any changes. Sometimes questions will be asked that you have not thought of before and it takes a little reflection before you answer. If you can review your statement and make notes on it for clarification, you get the benefit of that reflection.

Do not use the product again. Keep others from using it and preserve it as best as you can.

Product failures present complex questions that usually require an inspection, and an evaluation by engineers and other experts in the field. It is critical that they are able to examine the product in the condition that it was at the time of the failure and/or injury occurred. On this type of claim, you will definitely need professional help from an attorney with products liability experience.

Maybe. For minor injuries that heal without any permanent or long-term effects, you may be able to reach a settlement that you believe is fair without hiring a personal injury lawyer. If an insurer admits that its policyholder is at fault, you can usually negotiate a fair settlement by yourself. However, it may be worthwhile for you to pay for an hour of an attorney’s time to get advice as to the reasonableness of a settlement offer.

If the insurer questions whether the other party is at fault or believes your injuries were either not caused by the event or are not as serious as you believe them to be, you will probably need a personal injury attorney.

For serious injuries or death, it is a good idea to hire a personal injury attorney soon after the event. Evidence will need to be preserved and an investigation conducted when the facts are fresh. This is particularly true if a truck was involved, there was an aviation accident or a product failure.

Most lawyers working for folks who are hurt do so on a contingency fee basis; that is, they will not be paid unless they can reach a settlement and then they will take a percentage of what is collected as fees. The percentage is something you can negotiate; it’s usually between 25-40 percent, depending on how complex the case is and what is at stake. In some matters, you may decide to negotiate for a fee based upon time worked at an hourly rate. However, you will have to pay that amount win or lose and probably on a monthly basis. In addition to fees, you will have to reimburse the attorney for out-of-pocket expenses, regardless of the outcome.

98 percent of all personal injury claims are settled without actually going into a courtroom and presenting evidence. Nevertheless, you will probably have to give testimony under oath before trial in order for the parties involved to understand the nature of the claim, as well as evaluate injuries and losses which happen because of the injury. Sometimes personal injury claims settle without ever even having to file suit, but even that requires giving a great deal of information to an insurance company, so that it can evaluate its risks and potential losses should the matter go to trial.

Advertising and the internet have changed the way in which we find professional services. A generation ago, word of mouth was the best way to find a skilled professional. A professional in one specialty will refer patients or clients to another who has the respect of his peers. That is still a good way to go. Ask an attorney you know about the reputation of another.

Ask about experience in personal injury, whether they’ve done work for both injured people and insurance companies, how many trials they have had, what fees they charge, what’s the most recent success they’ve had, what’s the most recent loss they’ve suffered, how available are they to answer questions and how long will it take. Any other question that makes you feel comfortable with the lawyer should be asked. It is important to ask questions, because the fact is once an attorney gets a license, he or she can practice in any area without any experience. Many learn on the job, some with experienced mentors, others by trial and error.

Anyone with an advertising budget and marketing skills can put themselves out to the public as one who is accepting clients in different areas of law – from divorce to criminal defense, workers compensation, employment issues, traffic offenses, business formation or tax advice. A slick ad doesn’t qualify an attorney in the field in which he or she advertises.

The State Bar of Arizona certifies specialists in personal injury litigation and has since 1992. The certification means they have passed a daylong speciality examination, they have been reviewed by the judges before whom they have appeared, they are vetted by other qualified attorneys, including their opponents in court, and have several trials under their belt. There are more than 24,000 licensed attorneys in Arizona, however perhaps 145 lawyers are certified as specialists in death and personal injury litigation.They know what they are doing.

Riggs, Ellsworth and Porter partner Robert L. Greer is certified as a specialist in personal injury and wrongful death litigation with decades of experience in the courtroom.

The client of any attorney can hire and fire at will. If you are not getting the service that you want, or are unhappy with the way things are being done, you can change counsel. It is wise to tell your concerns to your lawyer first. A face to face meeting is best, to make sure you understand each other. If after a meeting, you still believe you would be better served by another lawyer, that is your choice.

Be aware that the former lawyer will want to be paid. If you have a contingency fee agreement in place, and have received no offers to settle, you may not owe anything except to reimburse the old firm’s out of pocket costs. Usually, they will wait until you settle your claim before being paid. However, some fee agreements will require a client to pay the “reasonable value of services” to the former firm. That is something you can negotiate. A discharged lawyer can claim a lien for the value of services and out of pocket costs, which your new lawyer will have to acknowledge and negotiate a resolution. Generally, you won’t be expected to pay twice. Your new lawyer can generally work out a split of fees.

If that fails, the State Bar of Arizona has a fee dispute resolution program.

Insurers try to evaluate and settle cases quickly, but that can’t happen until they have all the important information: how did the injury occur, what caused it, who was at fault, are there conflicting versions of the facts, is expert opinion needed, what are the medical expenses, is there provable lost income, is the injury permanent, will there be future losses, are others at fault?  If there is disagreement on those points, the case may have to be litigated.

Timing of settlement depends upon a lot of things: how quickly doctors and hospitals get your records copied and sent, the amount of liability insurance available, whether fault is clear or contested, the nature and extent of injuries and whether there are ongoing and continuing damages.  Some injuries heal quickly; others are permanent. Generally, it is unwise to settle any injury case until your medical condition is stable and doctors can give a prognosis and treatment plan.

Broadly speaking, settlement rarely occurs in less than 90 days, unless liability is clear and damages easily are greater than the limits of applicable liability insurance. It will often takes months, but each claim is different and must be evaluated on a case by case basis.  Both parties have to have the same facts in order to evaluate and negotiate a settlement.

Continuing three generations of Legal Dedication in Arizona.
Robert L. Greer is a partner at Riggs, Ellsworth and Porter