In order to answer questions you might have about your case, I would like to acquaint you with the general manner of handling injury cases in our office. Of course, each case is unique and handled in its own way, but, in general, all injury cases will be treated in the same basic manner.
- CLIENT PERSONAL INJURY REPORT
We may ask you to provide us with a Client Personal Injury Report. In many cases, we will obtain this information in our initial interview with you. This provides our office with detailed information about you and your case. It is important that you be as thorough as possible when you provide us with this information. Please do not hesitate to call or write me if you think of anything later to add to or to correct the information you provide us.
In order to prepare your case, an investigation of the facts is necessary. In most cases, we will contact witnesses, take photographs, and otherwise gather information we need about the accident. It may be necessary to obtain information from your employer to obtain information concerning lost income.
- MEDICAL INVESTIGATION
Letters will be sent to all physicians and hospitals you may have had contact with notifying them that I am your attorney. We will also send them copies of the medical waiver which authorizes them to give us information about your medical condition.
- DELAY IN FINISHING YOUR CASE
No settlement can be made until a complete and detailed investigation has been finished, including a thorough review of your medical records. We may employ the services of a registered nurse to review and summarize your medical records.
Your case cannot be settled until the nature of your medical condition has been determined by your doctor. For this reason, the time necessary to process your case may be anywhere from six months or longer.
- SETTLEMENT EVALUATION
When all of the necessary information has been obtained, we will evaluate your case and discuss it with you. Once we have agreed upon a settlement amount, we will contact the insurance company. The insurance company generally requires approximately 30 days from the time it receives our demand before it is in a position to respond. Ordinarily, it does not accept the original demand, and further negotiation is required. This negotiation requires additional time.
- STARTING A LAWSUIT
In many cases, it is necessary to start a lawsuit before a settlement is possible. This may happen when the doctor indicates that a long period of treatment may be necessary, when it is necessary to start a lawsuit in order to obtain information necessary for settlement purposes, to preserve evidence which will be lost if a lawsuit is not started, or to avoid having your case barred by the Statute of Limitations.
When settlement is attempted, but we are unable to agree with the insurance company, a lawsuit will be started.
- FILING THE LAWSUIT
A lawsuit is started by us when we prepare a summons and complaint indicating the time, place and description of the accident, and the nature of injuries sustained by you. These papers are served on the defendant. The papers are then sent to the insurance company for the defendant, which in turn, delivers them to its attorneys. The insurance company’s attorney then files an answer, which gives the reasons why they claim they may not be responsible for your injuries.
It is important to remember that most cases are settled before trial. Even though a lawsuit may be started, settlement is still very probable.
From the time the lawsuit is filed until the time of trial may depend upon the county where the lawsuit is started. In Skagit County, it generally takes six to twelve months from the time the case is filed to the time it is brought on for trial. In other areas, it can take longer.
- DISCOVERY DEPOSITION
The law allows the testimony of parties and witnesses to be taken before trial by what is called a discovery deposition. In this situation, you, or the defendant, or some other witness, is placed under oath, and questions are then asked by the opposing attorney in the presence of a court reporter, who records, verbatim, all of the testimony. I will be present for any deposition. A deposition is extremely important because the testimony can be used at the trial, and because it frequently affects the amount of the settlement that can be negotiated. Before any deposition is taken of you, I will sit down and thoroughly discuss it with you.
Once a lawsuit is started, written questions may be submitted by one party to the other party. These are required to be answered under oath, in writing, within a certain time. We will send interrogatories to the defendant. We will undoubtedly receive interrogatories from the defendant’s attorney to be answered by you. We will tell you what procedures to follow and will assist you in answering the questions.
- MEDICAL EXAMINATION
The law authorizes the defendant to require you to go to a doctor of its choice for a medical examination. I will meet with you before this examination to discuss it with you. The examination may be tape-recorded, and, typically, you may be accompanied to the examination by a someone. Please attend the exam and report back to me. This doctor will file a report with the attorneys based upon the examination of you, and, if there is a trial, will probably appear to testify on behalf of the defendant.
11. INSURANCE COVERAGE
There are different kinds of insurance coverage that may be available to compensate you for your injuries. Washington State law requires that everyone who owns an automobile must carry liability insurance. Not everyone complies with the law, and the minimum liability insurance required may not be enough to fully compensate you. In such a case, your own insurance policy will have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, unless you have specifically rejected it. This coverage is in addition to the liability coverage available from the at-fault party’s insurance company.
You will also have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage available to you, unless you have specifically rejected it. This is a form of no-fault insurance which is available to pay your medical bills, a portion of your lost income, and to pay for household services which you cannot perform because of your injuries.
In addition to PIP coverage, most people have some other form of health insurance coverage which may also be available to pay your medical bills.
If your own insurance company makes payments under your PIP coverage, or if your health insurance company pays for treatment necessitated by your injuries, they have the right to be paid back out of any recovery you make from the at-fault party. This is what is known as the right of subrogation. This right only exists, however, if you are fully compensated. Furthermore, your PIP carrier or the health insurance carrier has to pay its pro-rata share of attorney’s fees and costs.
Mediation is a process designed to avoid trial. Parties to a lawsuit and their attorneys appear before a trained mediator, usually an attorney. Both sides tell the mediator about their side of the case. After that, the mediator meets separately with each party in an effort to reach a common ground that is acceptable to each side. The mediator acts as a negotiator.
Mediation has proven to be a successful way to avoid trial. Neither side is bound to accept the recommendation of the mediator. It is strictly a voluntary procedure.
Arbitration is an alternative to trial. It is available in many counties in this state when the amount in dispute is not more than $35,000.00. It is also frequently used when an injured person and his or her own insurance company cannot agree on the amount that should be paid under uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
Arbitrations are conducted by lawyers in the community who may sit as a single arbitrator or as a member of an arbitration panel of three. Arbitration hearings are informal, and are typically held at one of the attorney’s conference rooms. Witnesses are sworn and evidence is presented, but there is no jury.
Arbitration can be a quick and effective way to resolve disputes.
- THE TRIAL
Should a trial be necessary, we will, of course, spend considerable time with you and your witnesses preparing for it. Basically, all trials are conducted in the same manner and they involve the following steps:
A) Selecting Jury. In a jury case, the first step is to question prospective jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial. The law allows us to excuse three jurors without giving any reason (preemptory challenges). Any juror may be excused for cause, i.e. if the juror cannot be fair and impartial.
B) Opening Statement. After selection of the jury, each attorney has the opportunity of telling the jury what the case is about, and what proof will be presented.
C) Presenting Witnesses. The Plaintiff calls its witnesses first and presents its case by way of witnesses and exhibits. The Defendant is given the right to question the Plaintiff’s witnesses when the Plaintiff has finished asking them questions through a process called cross‑examination. When the Plaintiff has finished presenting its case, the Defendant is given the opportunity to call its witnesses. The Plaintiff has the right of cross‑examination of those witnesses.
D) Instructions. Once all of the testimony has been presented, the Judge will instruct the jury concerning the law of the case.
E) Final Argument. After the Judge has instructed the jury on the law, I will address the jury on your behalf. The Defendant’s attorney is then given the right to argue on behalf of his client, and I am given the opportunity to rebut the Defendant’s argument. The jury then retires to the jury room to deliberate the case. (In some cases the defendant has admitted liability or the judge has ruled as a matter of law that the defendant is liable. In that case, the jury only decides the amount of the verdict.)
F) Appeal. Either party may appeal from the result within 30 days after entry of the judgment.
- TAX CONSEQUENCES
The law of taxation changes rapidly, but at the present time, reimbursement of medical expenses, as well as compensation for pain and suffering, is not taxable. We recommend that you consult your accountant or tax advisor for information in this regard.
- KEEPING YOU INFORMED
It is our policy to send you copies of letters or documents which we send or which are received by us. Even though the papers or copies of letters discuss court appearances, you should not appear in court unless you receive a letter from us instructing you to be there. If you have a question or need some advice, or are concerned about your case, do not hesitate to call our office and talk with me or with the legal assistant assigned to your case.
- THE AMOUNT OF SETTLEMENT
It is impossible for us to tell you how much money you will receive in connection with your case. As your attorney, I feel it is my primary duty to obtain a settlement or verdict which will fully compensate you for your injuries. I will not be in a position to discuss a settlement figure until we have gathered all of the information we need in order to evaluate your case. I will not make a settlement demand until we have thoroughly discussed the settlement with you and have obtained your consent to settle your case for a certain amount.
- SETTLEMENT FUNDS
Settlement funds are deposited in our trust account. Unpaid medical expenses are paid. In addition, medical insurance companies and your PIP carrier who have paid for treatment usually have the right to be reimbursed (see paragraph 12). Amounts due medical providers and health insurance companies must be verified. This usually takes no more than two weeks. By law, an attorney’s trust account is a pooled interest-bearing trust account. The interest earned by all funds in the account is paid to The Legal Foundation of Washington. This means that the client does not receive any interest on the funds in the trust account. When the amount is very large, or it is anticipated that the funds will be on deposit for a long period, it is possible to open a separate account in the client’s name. In this case, interest is paid to the client. The decision to open a separate account is made on a case-by-case basis.
- CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
As your lawyer, I must have all the facts in order to properly represent you. Any information given to us by you is strictly confidential.
Wallstrom Law Offices
Paul Arnold Wallstrom