We've provided answers to some of the more commonly asked questions in our office. If you have a question for one of our lawyers, please send it to us using the contact form on our website, and we will get back to you with an answer.
How do I know if I have a personal injury claim?
There are several things to consider when determining if you have a personal injury claim.
1.) There has to be an injury. Physically, you might suffer a back injury, head trauma, whiplash or broken bones. Economically, you might suffer increased medical expenses or loss of income. And mentally, you might experience pain and suffering or emotional distress.
2.) You have to prove that your injuries or harm were caused by the other party's negligent actions. Reasons you were injured might be because of a traffic accident, the malfunction of a product, or falling on someone else's property.
3.) You have to file your claim within the statute of limitations. In Georgia, you have a certain amount of time to file a personal injury claim. The amount of time you have depends on the type of claim you're filing. For example, if you're in a car accident, you have 2 years from the date of your injury to file a claim.
If you've been injured through no fault of your own and think that you're eligible for damages because of your injuries, it's important to get representation from a lawyer as quickly as possible. If you contact a lawyer after the Statute of Limitations has expired then there is no recourse for collecting damages for your injuries.
If you've been injured and want to talk to a lawyer call our office at 478-238-9758 for a free consultation.
How much is my case worth?
In the language of personal injury cases, the money you receive for your injuries are called damages. The goal is to obtain an amount of money that compensates you for your entire loss. There are three types of damages to consider when determining the worth of a personal injury claim:
1) Economic damages – Economic damages include items that have a precise measurement. Examples of economic damages include medical treatment and bills, lost wages, loss of future earnings, and property damage.
2) Pain and Suffering - Separate from economic damages are damages for pain and suffering. This includes the mental and physical pain and suffering associated with your injury.
3) The other, and more rare, type of damages that can be received in a personal injury case is punitive damages – these are meant to punish a person or organization for their wrongdoing. They are awarded when a person or company's actions are found to be so bad that they need to be punished so as to prevent them from doing it again. Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases, but they can be received in cases where the conduct is so bad that punitive damages are appropriate.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when determining the worth of a personal injury case. How much your case is worth depends on your type of injury and all of the factors listed above.
Who pays my medical bills while my case is ongoing?
It depends on the type of accident you've been in and the type of insurance coverage available. Every case is different, but here are some guidelines.
1) If You're Injured in a Motor Vehicle Accident (auto, trucking, motorcycle)
- Normally, the at-fault driver's insurance company does not have to pay for your medical bills. But your bills play a crucial role in determining the value of your claim when it comes time to try to settle your claim;
- If you have medical coverage under your auto insurance policy, your auto policy will usually pay for your treatment related to the wreck;
- If you don't have auto med-pay but you have health insurance, your healthcare coverage will likely pay your medical bills, but keep in mind that the health insurance company may want to be reimbursed from your settlement for the amounts it paid;
- If you do not have any type of health insurance or med pay coverage then you can contact the at-fault driver's insurance company and ask them to pay, but they will likely want to pay you far less than the overall costs of your medical care. In addition, once they pay to settle the claim, they will not be responsible for paying for any additional medical treatment resulting from the accident. Sometimes, insurance companies will offer to settle the claim quickly, for less than it may be worth, so that they will not have to pay for any ongoing medical expenses.
2) If You Slip or Fall on Someone's Else's Property
- Health insurance coverage will normally pay any medical expenses
- The property owner (individual or company) may have an insurance policy that will pay for the medical expenses incurred as a result of your slip and fall injury on the property
- The insurance company will possibly offer to settle in order to avoid any future medical expenses that may arise as a result of your injury
3) If You're Injured by a Defective Product
- Health insurance coverage will normally pay for your medical expenses
- You will likely need a lawyer to prove that a product was defective before you are able to collect damages that result from a defective product
4) If You're Injured due to a Medical Procedure
- Health insurance will normally pay for any injuries that result from the negligent actions of a healthcare professional;
- It is difficult to prove medical negligence. You will definitely need the help of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to prove that a doctor or other healthcare professional has committed a medical error and should pay for your injuries.
Does my case have to go to court?
Not every case goes to trial. In fact, it's usually the case that both parties' try to come to a settlement agreement before an actual lawsuit is filed or before the case goes all the way to a jury trial. The settlement process goes something like this:
- A notification letter is sent from the injured party to any at-fault parties to notify them of and explain an injured party's claims.
- A response is received from the at-fault parties that acknowledges receipt of the notification and agrees to discuss the claim, but it does not admit fault.
- Both parties will investigate the claim. The investigation process, which can be time consuming, can include, but is not limited to, interviewing witnesses, obtaining medical records and taking depositions.
- Once all medical treatment is complete and the claim has been thoroughly investigated, the injured party will usually submit an offer to settle the claim for a certain amount of money. The amount demanded will include damages for such things as past and future medical treatment, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and pain and suffering.
- The at-fault parties will either accept the settlement offer or counteroffer with a different amount that they're willing to pay.
- The negotiation process will continue back-and-forth until a settlement can be reached, or until it is apparent that neither party can come to an agreement. If it is determined that the case cannot be settled, your lawyer will likely prepare to take your case to a jury trial.
If you hire the lawyers at Gautreaux & Sizemore, we will fight to get you the full and fair compensation you deserve. We will keep you informed and up-to-date with what is happening in your case, and will not encourage you to settle your claim if we think that you are not getting fully compensated for your injuries. We are experienced trial lawyers who, when necessary, are willing and ready to take your case to trial.
What questions should I ask my personal injury lawyer?
1) How much do you charge? Gautreaux & Sizemore works on a contingency fee basis, which means you don't pay anything unless we recover monetary damages in your case. When you are considering hiring a lawyer make sure you find out if they work on a contingency basis or charge an hourly fee.
2) Are there any upfront costs? Ask about any upfront costs. Some lawyers require a retainer, or money upfront, for the expenses of investigating the case. Make sure how much that will be and what the expenses are used for.
3) Who pays the expenses of handling the case? At Gautreaux & Sizemore, we pay the expenses associated with handling of your case. When money is obtained for you, those expenses are repaid. Make sure you understand how expenses are to be handled for your case.
****Most importantly, when you hire a lawyer, make sure to get a contract upfront stating what fees or expenses you will be responsible for.
4) How many cases like mine have you handled? If you're seeking help because of a trucking accident, find out how many trucking cases the lawyer has handled and the results of those cases. If you need help with a medical negligence case, find out how many medical malpractice cases the lawyer has handled and the results of those cases.
5) Is the lawyer quick to settle a case, or are they willing to go to trial with the case? If a lawyer says he is willing to go to trial with a case, find out how many cases the lawyer has tried to verdict, and the results of those cases. Which lawyer do you think the insurance companies are worried about – the one who will take a case all the way to trial or the one who pushes for a quick settlement?
6) Who is going to be working on your particular case? Will it be the lawyer you're speaking with, or will it be a paralegal or assistant? Some lawyers accept a huge number of cases, making it very hard to give your case the personal attention it deserves. The lawyers at Gautreaux & Sizemore never take so many cases that they can't personally work on your case.
Is my personal injury settlement taxed?
In most cases, money received from a personal injury lawsuit or settlement that is received because of physical injuries or physical sickness is not subject to being taxed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, there are some exceptions.
1) If you claimed on a prior year's taxes a medical deduction for the injuries you are now getting a settlement for, then you will need to pay taxes on the amount claimed.
2) You must pay taxes on settlements received due to emotional distress or mental anguish, if they are not part of the physical injury or sickness from your personal injury settlement.
3) Interest received due to a settlement is usually taxed.
4) Punitive damages are always taxable.
I advise all of my clients to consult a tax attorney to determine what part of their settlement, if any, is subject to being taxed by the IRS. As a service to our clients, we often retain a qualified and experienced C.P.A. to analyze a client's settlement and give the clients an opinion letter that addresses the non-taxability of the personal injury proceeds.
You can read a more detailed explanation of how settlements are taxed on the IRS's website at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4345.pdf