The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. We hope our readers enjoy the perspective offered. This month’s legal opinion is provided by Todd Middlebrooks of Middlebrooks & Middlebrooks P.A. in Fort Lauderdale. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ask Bill: What is meant by “personal injury?”
Todd Middlebrooks: A personal injury can involve many kinds of physical harm even death, but also emotional and economic harm to you or a loved one through someone else’s carelessness (negligence) or wrongdoing (intentional torts).
Kinds of cases our firm has represented, for example, include:
- Auto, truck and bicycle accidents
- Construction-related injuries
- Insurance disputes
- Aviation accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Negligence by security firms
- Nursing-home negligence
- Pharmaceutical litigation
- Liability for an accident on someone’s premises.
- Wrongful Death
Ask Bill: What if someone isn’t the kind of person to sue someone else, especially if they didn’t mean any harm?
Middlebrooks: In most cases of negligence, plaintiffs – the person suing – are actually suing the other party’s insurance carrier. If there is intentional wrongdoing involved, a lawsuit can be a way not only of fairly compensating plaintiffs but also of disciplining the other party. Typically, if someone acted intentionally, there will not be insurance coverage afforded to them.
In an automobile accident, many times here in south Florida drivers have insurance policies that offer little or no coverage for the injuries they cause. People should ask about Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage when they are shopping for their own auto insurance. This affords you coverage when injured and the person who caused the accident has a policy that does not provide or provides a small amount of coverage for bodily injury. In those instances, you are actually proceeding against your own insurance carrier for compensation.
Ask Bill: Then how serious an injury justifies a personal injury attorney? Can it be better to accept an insurance settlement offer?
Middlebrooks: An injury, especially a serious one, caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing is potentially a life-altering event. Injuries may prevent plaintiffs from working or living the life they want, and it is sometimes hard to tell right away if there are any long-term effects.
It is important to preserve evidence and to document the damages. This evidence can be physical (clothing, shoes, automobiles) or photographic (scene, vehicles, injuries, medical devices) or documentary (records, reports, diaries) evidence.
Moreover, an insurance company has one primary motivation: protect shareholders by limiting payouts. As a rule, those injured should at least consult an attorney with experience dealing with similar cases, and therefore a good idea of settlements or court judgments in such circumstances. Remember when talking to insurance companies their desire is to lessen the liability and the injuries. They will try and get you to minimize your complaints and medical needs. If the conversation is recorded, always request a copy of the recording or transcript.
Ask Bill: But how much will a personal injury attorney cost?
Middlebrooks: A personal injury attorney should be expected to work on a contingent-fee basis, with no up-front payment, even for a consultation, but rather a share of the settlement or damages awarded in litigation – traditionally [one-third] plus expenses incurred.
An attorney can often get a larger settlement based on his or her expertise, justifying the fee and expenses. Also, insurance companies are more likely to negotiate in good faith with experienced attorneys.
Ask Bill: What are “damages” and how does an attorney know what kind of damages to ask for?
Middlebrooks: “Damages” describe compensation received for direct economic costs – such as medical expenses and lost income – as well as more subjective impacts such as personal pain and suffering, or for family members, any loss of expected benefits from relationships. These subjective damages are largely determined by past jury awards insurance companies and plaintiffs’ lawyers alike take into account in deciding to settle or litigate a case.
Experienced attorneys will conduct thorough investigations to identify responsible parties and prove their liability, as well as closely monitor medical care and other impacts to prove damages. When necessary, attorneys will hire experts as part of the process.
Attorneys then discuss claims with insurers and file a lawsuit if they will not agree to fair compensation for injuries and other costs.
Ask Bill: You also hear that personal injury cases can be stressful due to harsh insurer tactics, especially confrontational depositions.
Middlebrooks: Insurance companies do have the right to question plaintiffs about incidents causing injuries and any harm or damages claimed, and those depositions, like all of the legal process, can be stressful. But a good attorney will skillfully prepare plaintiffs for questions likely to be asked and object if questioning crosses the line into improper subjects or bullying.
Ask Bill: What if people get hurt at work?
Middlebrooks: Often when injured on the job, the employer will have workers compensation immunity. However, the negligent person is still responsible. Furthermore there are exceptions to employer immunity, and a lawyer can investigate (at no cost to you) whether your case comes under one of those exceptions. Exceptions include, again, intentional wrongdoing by employers. Victims may need a specialist in workers compensation law if they think a workers compensation claim is wrongly denied.
Ask Bill: What if a family member suffers a fatal injury?
Middlebrooks: Such cases give rise to “wrongful death” suits. Those suits make claims for direct costs and pain and suffering the person would have experienced, but awards them to his or her heirs, and compensates family for lost income and other benefits expected from that person over his or her projected lifetime. The Florida Wrongful Death Statute controls who can make a wrongful death claim “survivor” and the damages that are allowed.
Ask Bill: Is there any other reason someone might have to engage a personal injury lawyer?
Middlebrooks: They might need a personal injury defense if they may be subject to damage claims not covered by insurance or face allegations of intentional wrongdoing. An attorney can help judge exposure to such claims.
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Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/
William “Bill” C. Davell, Esq., is a director with Tripp Scott, PA.