The decisions you make after a personal injury accident can either increase or decrease the value of your injury claim. You want to present the best claim to the insurance company that will get you a fair result for all that you’ve been through. This guide gives you some simple ideas to increase the value of your personal injury case.
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Once you are diagnosed and out of the ER or past your visit with the first doctor, don’t expect for your symptoms to just go away. In most cases, you will need to follow up on your treatment. This may seem obvious for more serious injuries, such as burn injuries, broken bones, and open skull fractures. However, for soft tissue injuries and mild traumatic brain injuries, it may not be so obvious that you need to return to see a medical provider. If you continue to have headaches, soreness, pain, aching, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain, you need to continue to see the right doctor.
Even for more serious injuries, it is important to continue treating until there is nothing else the doctors can do to help or until your symptoms resolve. “Treatment fatigue” is common for serious injuries. Treatment fatigue is where a patient slows down or stops treatment after several weeks or months of regular visits to doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, therapist, counselors, and more. The patient accepts that he is permanently disabled or impaired, and rather than go on with constant treatment, the patient decides to live with the injuries as is. While this is completely understandable, and I don’t envy anyone in this position, stopping treatment before you are well will not help your personal injury claim.
Getting the best treatment is also critical. For example, for stitching up lacerations, don’t just rely on a nurse practitioner, especially for facial scars. Request a specialist, a plastic surgeon, to stitch up lacerations. If your neck pain and nerve pain from a disc injury persists for months despite medication and physical therapy, set up a consult with an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. Don’t rely on general practitioners, chiropractors, and therapist alone to address your injuries. Use all available resources to get the best results.
You may be thinking: “But how can I afford all of this treatment?” And this is a great question. Obviously, before you can go on treating, you need a way to pay for the treatment. If you have health insurance, then health insurance is the obvious answer. Although you will have a patient responsibility amount to pay after your health insurer has made payments, the patient responsibility amount will be only a fraction of the bill, usually 20% of the bill. Additionally, payment of the patient responsibility portion can often be placed on hold until you receive your settlement from the responsible party.
If you do not have health insurance paying your medical costs, then you need to figure out what other insurance money is available to you. If you were injured on the job, you will likely have workers compensation insurance available to pay for your treatment. If you are uninsured and do not have workers compensation available, then you will have to figure out how much liability insurance the responsible party has before receiving extensive medical treatment. Most commonly, liability insurance will come from an automobile, homeowners, or commercial general policy. Once you’ve determined how to pay for bills, seek the best treatment possible.
Unless you tell the doctor something is bothering you, he or she will not be able to fix the problem. Don’t feel bad for complaining about all your aches and pains. During visits is not the time to act tough. Report everything that is bothering you when you fill out intake forms and when you speak with all medical staff. Don’t assume that they will know what hurts. Be as descriptive and detailed as possible, but do not exaggerate symptoms. Be honest about the presence and levels of pain and symptoms.
Keep in mind that everything you say at the doctor’s office or hospital will be recorded in the patient notes. This includes facts about the accident. Therefore, don’t guess about what happened in the accident because this could come back to haunt you if you guess wrong. On the other hand, be as comprehensive as you can when describing your injuries and symptoms.
Lastly, make sure the doctor includes in the medical notes your need for future treatment. If the doctor tells you that you will likely need surgery in the future to address your knee pain, for example, ask him to include that in his notes. Oftentimes, the client tells that the doctor mentioned at the appointment that the client would need surgery, but the medical note says nothing about it. We have to then call the doctor, ask him or her to amend the note, then get the updated note. This can take weeks to complete depending on the doctor. You can save time and money by making sure the doctor includes his recommendations and important highlights about your treatment in the notes.
Whenever possible, bring a family member with you to medical appointments. The family member you choose to bring with you should be someone you trust and who brings calmness, not stress, into your life. This can benefit you in a few ways. First, a family member can help explain how the injury is impacting your life. For many of us, it’s uncomfortable to complain to a doctor about our health problems. If this is true for you, bring a family member who has seen you struggle getting out of bed, suffer through headaches, or grimacing in pain while climbing up the stairs and who can complain for you.
Second, a family member can help remember what was discussed during the visit between you and the medical staff. It is difficult to remember everything that goes on and is said during a visit. It can sometimes be useful to have another person to witness the events that go on during medical visits. While much of the visit is documented in office notes, some aspects of the visit are not documented. In these instances, it is useful to have a family member that can support your version of events, including the important recommendations the doctor gives for future treatment.
Third, a family member can give you emotional support. Visiting a doctor’s office or hospital can be scary and stressful. The more stressed and anxious you are, the less effective you will be in communicating with the doctor and remembering your conversations with the doctor. Having a trustworthy family member with you can help alleviate the fear and stress, thereby improving the overall visit.
This can be a game-changer. Some of the best support for your side of the story will come from your early conversations with the at-fault party/company, insurance adjusters, police officers, witnesses, and anyone else with knowledge of your accident. Once attorneys get involved, people get nervous to talk to you and will start ignoring your calls. The earlier you can get them on the phone or in person to record your conversations, the more likely you are to get helpful nuggets of information.
No, it is not illegal to record your conversations in Utah. Our clients often don’t record their conversations because they are afraid of breaking the law. Utah is considered a “single-party consent” state, which means that only one person the conversation needs to consent to the recording. That one person is you. The great thing is you don’t have to tell the other person that you are recording the conversation. In fact, never tell the other person that you are recording them. Some people won’t talk to you or aren’t honest when they know they are being recorded.
How do you record? If you are using a cell phone, you’ll need to download an app on your phone or use an external recording device. You can purchase an app on your iPhone or Android phone for $10 or less, which is money well spent considering the great evidence you can get from your recorded calls. These apps include nonotes.com, Tapeacall Pro, or Call Recorder.
Using an external audio recorder is another great way of recording calls. You can purchase a decent recorder on Amazon.com for $20 or less. If you have another cell phone nearby, which you probably do since nearly everyone has a cell phone these days, just start the recorder and hold it up to the phone. For best audio, put the phone on speaker as you record.
Once you have finished recording, make sure you download a second copy of the recording onto a computer, a CD, or anywhere else you can access it in case the original recording is lost. I’ve had clients lose their recordings then try to get the other person to repeat what he said during the first conversation; however, it’s difficult to replicate the first conversation, and people become suspicious if you are asking them to repeat the same conversation. It will save you a big headache if you backup your first recording.
Those closest to you are often the best people to talk to when it comes to understanding your injuries. Especially with brain injuries, you, the injured person, is not always the best person to describe the impact of the injury on your life. The people you spent a lot of time with before the accident are in the best position to describe how you’ve changed after the accident. The changes may be subtle, so you’ll need someone that really knew you well before the accident. For example, family members might tell you that you seem depressed, more emotional, less fun, quieter, and just “off.” Casual acquaintances might not notice these subtle changes, so you’ll need to rely on family members and close friends.
Co-workers can also be a great source of information for your before v. after life. Many of us are at work more than we are at home. In many cases, your doctor requires you to take time off of work or cut back your hours. Then, once you return to full-time, your job performance may take a hit. Co-workers always take notice whenever another co-worker isn’t performing. The co-workers you consider friends will be sympathetic and have helpful information about your time at work.
Stories are what we want from these people. Telling a story with details about a time you couldn’t take a road trip to Yellowstone because of your hurt back or how you couldn’t remember how to work the remote because of your concussion is much more impactful than simply describing your back pain or concussion symptoms. Stories help the audience understand you better and make your injuries more memorable to them. They help draw sympathy from your audience, who might be a jury, judge, mediator, insurance adjuster, or defense attorney.
Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee. This means that you don’t owe your attorney anything unless you win your case. If you do win or get money from your claim, you pay your attorney out of the settlement. If you lose, and your attorney has spent $20,000 on your case, you owe that attorney nothing; the attorney eats those costs. You have nothing to lose by hiring a personal injury attorney who works for you on a contingency basis.
Keep in mind that not all attorneys are created equally. Consider the attorney’s experience, approachability, responsiveness to your calls and emails, and the contingency fee. You want to hire an attorney that does only personal injury law. Many attorneys throw up “personal injury” as one of their practice areas on their website, but be sure to quiz them on this in more detail. If their practice isn’t at least 80% devoted to personal injury, stay away. Also, you need a personal injury attorney that has litigation experience. If the insurance company doesn’t settle, you need an attorney that can fight them all the way to court, if necessary. Many attorneys don’t offer this service or have the experience to effectively litigate.
Be sure to hire an attorney that has excellent customer service. Check their client reviews on avvo.com and lawyers.com, the two main attorney review websites. You can also check reviews on Yelp.com and Facebook. Lastly, call the local state bar association for any disciplinary action that’s been taken against the attorney. If the attorney has been disciplined by the bar, stay away. This should put you on notice that the attorney will be less than honest with you. In Utah, you can contact the Utah State Bar by calling 801-531-9077 or visiting www.utahbar.org.
Lastly, make sure the attorney charges you a reasonable fee. With very few exceptions, the fee you pay your attorney should never exceed 33% if your case is settled pre-litigation (before filing a lawsuit) and 40% post-litigation (after filing a lawsuit). Fees, however, should be negotiated depending on the claim. If your attorney is not flexible on the fee, particularly if your case settles pre-litigation, you may be overpaying on fees. At Parker & McConkie, we have flexible fee program, which means, we set your fee only after we’ve heard the facts of your case. This works out better for you. If your case is one that will settle more quickly with less costs, we take less fee. Other firms will charge you a flat fee that is determined before you tell them one thing about your case. In our opinion, this is an unfair approach and could costs you thousands of dollars.
For more information about how to find the best personal injury lawyer, check out our post titled, How To Find and Hire The Best Car Accident Lawyer.