As a general rule of thumb, personal injury victims may collect specific types of compensation after sustaining preventable injuries due to someone else’s negligent actions. Final accident injury settlements will depend on several factors, including the victim’s age, the severity of the injuries, and the long-term outlook for recovery.
Victims who wish to file a personal injury claim have up to two years under Pennsylvania law. While this may seem like a long time, you have to remember that the claims and settlement process takes time. More importantly, your lawyer will have to verify with your medical care team the extent of your injury, as well as the anticipated time to recover. Until you ascertain those facts, you may struggle to determine how much compensation you should pursue.
Liability Issues in Pennsylvania Accident Cases
When you have suffered an injury in an incident that someone else caused, you likely want to hold the at-fault party accountable. In most cases, this involves filing a claim with the at-fault’s insurance company to secure a financial settlement.
Often, claimants will retain an attorney to help. Claimants frequently ask about the percentage of their settlements that their attorneys will keep to cover their fees. The percentage of a settlement that will go toward attorney fees will depend on many factors, including which attorney you hire.
When you contact an attorney, he or she can address your questions regarding the percentage of the settlement that will constitute attorney’s fees if you successfully recover compensation in your claim. These include current losses, future losses, and fees associated with claims. Below, we take a look at some of the topics you will likely discuss with your lawyer regarding your settlement options.
No-Fault Insurance Complications in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania has unusual insurance requirements for automobiles. While the state generally follows the no-fault legal framework, which means that you can file a claim with your own insurance provider regardless of who caused the accident, some policies limit your right to sue.
Below, we take a closer look at the minimum auto insurance requirements for injuries:
- Medical coverage - your policy must have a minimum of $5,000 in medical coverage for the driver and any covered parties. This means your insurer will cover the first $5,000 of your medical bills regardless of who caused the accident.
- Bodily Injury Liability - you must have $15,000 of coverage if you bear liability for any injuries. This means that if you sustain injuries in an auto accident, the person who bears liability for your injuries will also have to have this amount of coverage.
- Full or Limited Tort - state law specifically states the following: “Limited tort coverage offers you savings on your premiums. You are still able to recover all out-of-pocket medical and other expenses; however, you are not able to recover certain damages—such as payments for pain and suffering - unless the injuries meet one of the exceptions to limited tort as defined in Act 6 of 1990, title 75, section 1705 (d). With full tort coverage selection, you retain unrestricted rights to bring suit against the negligent party.”
You should consult with a personal injury attorney regarding these important insurance matters, as they may result in limits on what you can recover. This matters if your injuries involved a roadway accident in Philadelphia, but should not apply to other personal injury claims.
Current Losses Included in Insurance Settlements
When calculating a settlement demand, your attorney will break the demand out into categories that include current losses and estimated future losses. Some of the current losses for which you can seek compensation include:
- Current Lost Wages - you should always include in your claim the wages you lose in the days, weeks, or months following any type of injury that another’s negligent behavior caused. Keep in mind, you may qualify to pursue compensation beyond just your hourly pay. You should also include other time, such as vacation, sick, or personal days that you would normally have when you return to work if you had not had to use them to cover the gap between the accident and your ability to receive disability payments.
- Current Lost Benefits - in addition to your wages and forced time off, you may also qualify to claim benefits you lost as a result of missing work. For example, if your company matches your 401(k) deposits, if you would normally receive funds in a profit-sharing account, or if you would normally qualify for bonuses, you should also include these items in the claim you file. Your personal injury lawyer can help you determine your eligibility for these claims.
- Current Medical Expenses - your medical expenses will vary depending on the severity of your injuries. If you have a broken bone, in addition to an emergency room visit following the accident, you may need additional X-rays, follow-up appointments with an orthopedic surgeon, and rehabilitation to regain your strength. If you suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you will likely face days or weeks in the hospital, specialized tests including MRIs and CAT scans, follow-up appointments with a neurologist, and more.
As a further note: Medical costs can quickly spiral out of control following an accident. If you have health care coverage, you have the right to have your medical bills paid through your insurance. Keep in mind that if your lawyer includes health care costs that you did not pay out of pocket, your insurance company will likely want to subrogate your settlement. Courts award accident compensation to cover victims’ out-of-pocket costs. If an insurance company already covered certain medical expenses, your compensation won’t cover those expenses.
Estimated Future Losses Following an Injury
Recovery from an injury often involves a long road. When someone acts negligently and causes you to suffer an injury, you risk your financial future. Holding the at-fault party responsible for his or her actions, or in some cases, the lack of action, means not only holding that party responsible for your current expenses and losses, but also for those you may lose in the future.
Keep in mind, future losses depend on your injury, age, and other factors. If you are only 30-years-old, and you suffer an injury that results in a life-long disability, you might expect to receive more compensation than if you are 70 years old and suffer the same disability.
Some of the future expenses your accident injury lawyer may have in your settlement demand include:
- Estimated Future Medical Expenses - if your injury will require additional medical care, you qualify to seek compensation to ensure that you do not have to absorb those costs on your own. An accident injury lawyer has experience handling these types of claims based on your injury. Your attorney can help you determine what, if any, future expenses you should include in medical costs.
- Estimated Future Lost Wages or Earning Power - some accident victims can work, but may struggle to resume their former jobs. In these cases, victims may have to accept another position that pays less. In these situations, the settlement demand can include estimated lost earning power. For those individuals who cannot work following their injuries, an accident injury attorney can help determine the lost income to include in a claim.
- Estimated Future Expenses - depending on the extent of the injury you have suffered in an accident, you may incur significant expenses to allow you to remain in your home, to function as close to normal as possible, or to ensure the completion of household chores you cannot do on your own. Talk to your personal injury attorney about these expenses, which may include home modifications and help with household tasks, like landscaping, etc.
You and your lawyer may discuss other factors that you may want to include in a settlement demand. Remember, every case involves unique facts and circumstances. Accident victims don’t often sustain identical injuries, so it makes sense that compensation amounts will also vary.
Lawyer Fees for Settlements Versus Trials
Keep in mind that in some instances, an insurance company simply digs in and refuses to meet the demands of a settlement, even if it appears fair. In these cases, you may have to take your case to court. Accident injury lawyers know the challenges involved in working with claims adjusters, as most attorneys have experience working with insurance companies. Experienced attorneys also understand that adjusters care more about protecting their companies’ bottom lines than the well-being of accident victims.
When parties can settle a case without the need to go to trial, the case will involve fewer expenses and less time. Remember, taking a case to court means having to depose witnesses, may require paid testimony from experts, and may require an attorney to file certain documents with the court—all of which cost money.
Should your case require a trial, this will also require your skilled and experienced attorney to prepare to present your case before a judge and jury versus working directly with an insurance company. You can talk to your lawyer more about the time involved in working on a case where an insurer negotiates in good faith and the time it would take to prepare for and serve as your advocate at trial.
Victims often wonder how much a lawyer makes on a personal injury case. As you can see, the answer involves many different factors, including whether the case ends in settlement with an insurer or whether it has to go to court.
The Cost of an Attorney Will Likely Prove Worth It
Unsurprisingly, one of the most common questions that potential clients ask their attorneys involves ascertaining the attorney’s cost and fee arrangement. This is a question that personal injury attorneys should anticipate and be prepared to answer. Victims should understand why hiring a lawyer strengthens their personal injury case.
- Lawyers take some of the stress off victims - victims of all accidents need time to recover. Stress slows down recovery times. Victims cannot focus on recovering if they receive constant contact from insurance adjusters.
- Lawyers know how the laws work—unsurprisingly, most laypeople do not have intimate knowledge of personal injury statutes. Lawyers who have experience recovering settlements for their clients understand personal injury law and how to build a successful case.
- Insurance companies may prey on victims - following an accident, an insurance company knows that you can’t work and that you face mounting expenses, and the insurer will take advantage of this and offer a quick, low settlement. The insurance company hopes that by doing this, you will accept the offer without first consulting an attorney. Once you accept a settlement offer, you waive your right to pursue additional compensation in the future if your injuries worsen. No matter how costly your care becomes, no matter how much money you lose due to your inability to work, you will have no legal recourse.
As you can see, retaining an experienced injury lawyer to handle your injury claim provides numerous benefits. You don’t want to undertake this process on your own, as you may find in the long run that you will wind up losing money because you don’t fully understand how to get the maximum settlement from an insurer.
Remember, an accident injury lawyer offers you two things: a free consultation and a contingency fee. This allows you to get answers to your legal questions, and if for any reason the accident injury firm does not secure a settlement on your behalf, then you will not have to pay a fee in the end.
No lawyer can guarantee an outcome in any civil case including accident injury cases. However, since you can schedule a free consultation with an accident injury attorney today, you should exercise that option. During your consultation, you can discuss fees, talk about the extent of your injuries, and gain a more thorough understanding of your legal rights and options.