IANAL. YANML. Should I get a lawyer?
January 1, 2005 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Someone ran over me and I've got minor but long-term injuries. Should I get a lawyer? [MI]

I was a on a scooter stopped at a stoplight. Behind me lady in an SUV didn't stop. I'm lucky to be alive. My knee is tweeked and I'll probably never be able to do stuff like play basketball or anything that would twist my knee. The question is this: Should I get a lawyer? If so, are those guys that advertise on TV for this kind of thing really the people to call? Anything that I should know or keep in mind? I'm not looking at this an opportunnity, but I don't want to get screwed either...
posted by john m to Law & Government (30 answers total)
I don't know who you should call, but it sounds to me like you should definitely get a lawyer, and from what I've been told all my life by lawyers and other people apparently in the know is that it absolutely shouldn't be one of those lawyers you see advertising on TV.

Do you know any lawyers? Or anyone who knows any lawyers? They'd probably be the best people to talk to in finding someone.

Your insurance company might help you, too. Are you covered by any type of insurance while traveling on the scooter?
posted by BackwardsCity at 5:55 AM on January 1, 2005

a) YES.
b) NO.
Ask around. A lawyer will probably take your case on a percentage + expenses basis, but the "expenses" can add another 5-25% onto the 20-40% they keep when the settlement comes through.
posted by pomegranate at 6:18 AM on January 1, 2005

IANAL, but whether or not you ever actually go through with suing her, my understanding is that after an incident like this, there's sort of a window when you at least have to put some legal and bureaucratic stakes in the ground, or give up a lot of your ability to follow through later.

Basically, let's say you find out two or three years from now that you actually need a much more expensive operation on your knee, even though it doesn't seem like it right now. As I understand it, if you don't establish certain claims with your insurance company, and file certain legal documents within the next couple of months, you could have a very hard time suing her, or getting your insurance company to pay up, that long after the fact.

Again, not only am I not a lawyer, but I'm sure the specifics vary widely from state to state, and from insurance company to insurance company. At the very least, I'd recommend you find a good lawyer just to have someone who's familiar with the issues, in your specific jurisdiction, and make sure you're covering the ground you need now, to protect yourself for later.
posted by LairBob at 6:44 AM on January 1, 2005

yes, get a lawyer ... i'd suggest asking around your circle of friends, family and acquaintances ... one of them may have been in a situation like this and been served well by a lawyer ... and you have no idea of what the consequences of your injuries really will be
posted by pyramid termite at 7:08 AM on January 1, 2005

Get a lawyer, also see your doctor. Your tweaked knee might be fixable. I tore my anterior cruciate, meniscus etc years ago and had surgery to repair it years after the damage. Now I've got 98% or more of my use back. If I'd have had a good doctor at the time of the injury (his response was "I guess you're going to limp") I might've been able to avoid even the surgery.

Avoid the late night television lawyers, the only sure thing is that they'll make money any way they can. Most people know somebody who's been in an accident through only a couple of degrees of separation or less. That's your best bet for finding a respectable lawyer.
posted by substrate at 7:38 AM on January 1, 2005

Someone ran over me...should I get a lawyer? You need to ask? That should be your top priority. Christ. Oh, and I'm sorry to hear about your injuries, that must've been very traumatic and painful.
posted by Grod at 7:39 AM on January 1, 2005

What Grod said. Squared. No, cubed. If it weren't News Year's Day, I'd say stop reading right now and start hunting up references for a good attorney and started getting treatment for the good reasons LairBob and substrate gave you.

This a little, no very, presumptious, and I don't mean to 'blame the victim, but honestly, I'm stuck by this: some legligent inattentive ****wit hits you, injures you for perhaps the rest of your life, and you're wondering whether you should get someone to vigursly represent your interests? Trusts me, you're worth it. Really.
posted by mojohand at 8:06 AM on January 1, 2005

[Memo to self: when hung over, first drink coffee, then try to distinguish between spell check and post buttons]
posted by mojohand at 8:10 AM on January 1, 2005

Ditto what mojohand eloquently said. A woman hit you with her SUV which caused you injury that you acknowledge will likely be permanent, and you're still on the fence? Man, you're looking like a candidate for sainthood to me.

Also, I'm wondering - how did the scooter fare?
posted by Miss Bitchy Pants at 8:32 AM on January 1, 2005

Get a lawyer but I would try to find one that specializes in motorcycle accidents. Try calling a motorcycle club in your area and ask them for any leads.
posted by squeak at 8:38 AM on January 1, 2005

Why isn't your insurance company involved? You did have insurance, right?
posted by mischief at 8:52 AM on January 1, 2005

You didn't mention whether there was a police report or not. If there was, get a copy of it as soon as you can. There's usually a place for the officer to code in who seemed to have been at fault and any V&T law infractions. It can carry a lot of weight with insurance companies, especially when you're not the one at fault. Good luck to you.
posted by tommasz at 8:57 AM on January 1, 2005

Absolutely! Why are you even pausing to ask this question?
posted by rushmc at 9:31 AM on January 1, 2005

I second squeak's idea. Look for a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents.

Something similar happened to me many years ago. On a motorcycle, creamed by a lady driving her kid to school (I'll never forget the look on the kid's face as I made impact with the windshield). Totally her fault. Long story short, her insurance company tried to lowball me. I found a lawyer in the yellow pages who advertised himslef as an advocate of motorcyclists' rights. He was able to get the full amount of her insurance coverage without hardly lifting a finger, but he didn't want to settle for that when it was possible that she had other assets he could go after. I made him stop there, but as I get older and the long-term effects of that collision continue to develop, I wonder if maybe I shouldn't have. It's hard to put a dollar value on long-term injuries, but I don't think you'll even come close to receiving fair compensation if you go it alone. Good luck!
posted by Buzz at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2005

Not only should you get a lawyer right now, you should have them sue the driver so hard that they'll go bankrupt and their children will be homeless unto the seventh generation. Take everything that they have, please, and salt the earth. Bad drivers don't deserve to live.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:54 AM on January 1, 2005

We do need backlash against litigious, opportunistic thieves -- but here's the problem. People like you have legitimate cases, but they second-guess themselves because lawsuits have become taboo.

Personal injury lawyers exist for a valid reason, their (arguably deserved) reputation notwithstanding. You should get a lawyer. You should go after her insurance. Depending on your medical needs, maybe you should go after her personal assets.

Learn from the mistakes of others, who have chosen to "be nice" only to be shocked by huge medical bills years later. There's a time for charity, and there's a time for self-interest. Just because society sneers at personal injury lawsuits doesn't mean you don't have a valid case.
posted by cribcage at 10:09 AM on January 1, 2005

I was going to recount the aftermath of my own too-close encounter with a car (bicycle, doored by parked SUV, thrown against a passing cab) but the relevant bit is almost exactly like Buzz's experience.

If anyone from her insurance company calls before you have a lawyer, just say you'll have your attorney contact them at the appropriate time and hang up. Don't say anything else. Then let your lawyer handle everything.

If you're feeling squidgy about getting a lawyer because of "frivolous lawsuit" outrage, don't be. This is anything but frivolous.
posted by vetiver at 10:12 AM on January 1, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, everybody. I'll be starting a lawyer search on Monday.

To answer some questions that came up:
  • I had full coverage insurance, but my insurance co. hasn't been involved.
  • The insurance co. of the woman at fault has been picking up the exploratory medical bills.
  • The police report clearly says who is at fault.
  • The scooter was pretty banged up. The angle of impact that threw me clear also kept the bike from getting completely flattened.

posted by john m at 10:26 AM on January 1, 2005


Lawyers that advertise are not *bad* lawyers, they just have practices that are so lucrative that they can afford to advertise. They will still represent your interests with vigor. Other than the above recommendations (ask friends, etc.) you should consider *interviewing* a few lawyers. Most established P.I. (personal injury) lawyers will represent you effectively, but this could drag on for quite some time and you want to work with someone who you like and trust. All attorneys will meet with you initially for free. I'd go with the one that seems the most knowledgeable, sincere, and gives you a good vibe.

P.I. attorneys will represent you for a percentage of the settlement, plus fees. Fees will be court costs, deposition costs, copying, faxing, etc. Fees can add up quickly. The maximum percentage allowed varies by state. In Minnesota a P.I. attorney can take up to 45%, plus fees. I seem to remember that the max in California is 20%. I have no idea what it is in Virginia. You could try negotiating the percentage, but it is likely that only a newbie would negotiate their fee, but try anyway.

Once you select an lawyer, s/he will send you to a doctor to get your injuries evaluated and documented. Depending on how involved your case is and how much the driver's insurance fights will determine how far the lawyer will have to go to get you a good settlement. It is unlikely that your case will actually *go to court*. These cases usually settle. But *discovery* will ensue.

Discovery is where both sides have to share information and documents, including your medical bills, etc. Depositions are where each side interviews the other side. For example, your attorney will depose the other driver. They will sit at a table with the driver and her attorney and your attorney will ask her a series of questions, which are recorded by a stenographer. The depositions are used to get more information and are used to solidify the case.

I hope that this helps.

May you have an accident & injury free 2005.
posted by Juicylicious at 10:29 AM on January 1, 2005

If you don't know anyone who knows a good lawyer, John, post to a motorcycle forum and ask for references to a good lawyer in your area. I know you'd get good advice from the guys over at www.sport-touring.net
posted by SpecialK at 11:16 AM on January 1, 2005

I've gone through two personal injury cases resulting from nasty collisions with cars (I'm a bike commuter, and the drivers were at fault both times). My observation is that the personal injury lawyers have such cases down to a science, and it's a volume business. My attorney, for example, had about 900 motor vehicle cases open at any one time, and would bring about one in thirty to court, settling the rest.

If your injuries aren't severe, your attorney will probably hook you up with regular pseudo-medical "treatment" by a chiropractor or physical therapist. This is usually paid for by the at-fault party's insurance, and is intended to prove the severity of your injury to the other party's insurer. Such treatment also jacks up the total dollar amount of your medical care, which is a prime determinant of the eventual amount of settlement according to the formulas that insurance companies use.

Bottom line: it won't cost you anything to get a reasonable chunk of money out of the driver that hit you except your time. If you're willing to do weekly treatment, a lawyer will usually handle everything in exchange for 30% or so.

Setting aside philosophical questions about the potential for abuse that such a system creates, it was worth it in my case. Aside from the money, I also managed to get the 80 year old man that hit me last year off the road (his insurer dumped him after the fact).
posted by killdevil at 11:19 AM on January 1, 2005

The police report clearly says who is at fault.

Ok, this answered a question I was going to ask. Out of curiosity, was the driver inebriated? Did the police check? The timing and type of accident sounds just like a DUI.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:22 AM on January 1, 2005

Lawyers that advertise are not *bad* lawyers, they just have practices that are so lucrative that they can afford to advertise.

Yes and no. The presumption that only the rich lawyers advertise is belied by the fact that if you are raking it in with word of mouth referrals, you're by definition more "successful" than the PI shops. Then again, huge corporate firms do advertise. This is more for the name recognition than anything else.

Now about the guys on the side of the buses:

The conventional wisdom is that these lawyers are soliciting clients that might not even know they need a lawyer. Maybe their knee still aches from a six month old slip and fall, but they haven't thought much about it until 1-800-lawyer-guy promised a large cash settlement. Because these claims are typically fairly weak - can any witnesses to the accident be located after so many months have passed? - and those that aren't usually fall within the insurance coverage of the defendant, both sides instantly talk settlement. Now, here's the rub: When you're working on contingency, your per-hour rate is whatever you make of it. So, perhaps you can put in 1 hour of work and get a $10,000 settlement for your client. Or you can put in 10 hours of work, discover some more facts beneficial to your case, spend some time negotiating, and get a $20,000 settlement. Perhaps you can put in 100 hours of work, rooting around for the third party negligence that could net your client a million - but what are the chances of that happening, and your 100 hours wasted? As a businessperson, your goal is to maximize revenue per work hour. As the above example illustrates, this does not always agree with the goals of your client.

The competent lawyer does not purposefully drive her firm into the red by taking charity cases. Rather, she performs triage. She will want to invest an hour learning the details of your case, the facts of the accident, and analyze the potential liabilities of both sides. Then comes an informed decision: How much money should you get from this case? How much time can the firm invest, by researching law and discovering additional facts, in getting you this money? If this is a money-losing proposition, the lawyer will simply refuse to take your case.

A bad lawyer will rarely refuse PI cases unless for some reason it's a real stinker. They will accept most cases simply because an "adequate" settlement will pay for the hour or two of her efforts. Of course, your settlement might be a lot less than it should be. You'll never know, and neither will your lawyer. The lack of appropriate triage is the reason why TV lawyers are best avoided.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:36 AM on January 1, 2005

My dad is a PI lawyer here in Oregon and I pretty much grew up in his law office.

Talk to friends/family about any PI lawyers they might know. Give them all a call and talk to them on the phone. Look in the phone book for lawyers who specialize in motorcycle or auto cases and call them too. Don't see them in person, they'll try to get you to sign a contract with them, just call them all on the phone and talk to them about your rights, what you should do, etc. Expect to talk to them for 20 minutes or so each. If they aren't willing to talk to you about your case or their expertiese then you don't want to sign with them. Really, this is their job, it is a job for them. It isn't like you were at fault and they're getting you off and you need someone with Matlock-like skills, you don't need the most expensive lawyer in the world, just the one that knows injuries, knows motorcycles, and knows how to get the most out of her insurance company. When you find the lawyer you like, meet with them and sign their contract.

You'll probably have to give up about a third of the final settlement to the lawyer, but you'll more than make up for that in what they'll get for you. They'll tell you to go to the doctor and you should. The doctor will tell you to go see a masuese, or if you'd like (like I did when I was in an accident a few weeks ago...) tell the doctor you'd like to see one and see what they say about that. They'll tell you to see a chiropractor. They'll have you fill out forms informing them of how much you like to do outdoor activities, and how often you used to do them, they'll ask you to write down your thoughts on how you enjoyed playing basketball with your dad and that one day you hoped to play basketball with your son. All of this will build your case and the amount of damange will be quantified.

YOU ARE NOT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION. Remember that. It is the job of the other parties insurance company TO SCREW YOU. If you don't tell them that you were hurt and how you were hurt the insurance company will not pay you for the hurt. This works for emotional pain and physical pain. Seriously, ten or twenty years down the road you will not be able to take this opportunity back. You may never be able to run without pain again, what is that worth to you? Oh, by the way, stop talking to the insurance company until you get a lawyer, remember they seem nice but they are not trying to help you out, they are trying to keep you from knowing your rights.

Here's how the money thing works. You hire a lawyer, you go see a doctor, the other parties insurance company is either billed for the doctor visits or the doctor bills the lawyer. You don't have to pay for it so don't worry about it right now. Once the insurace company and you guys reach a deal, the lawyer gets the money, they pay the doctor and anyone else who billed them, then they take a third of what's left (...I think...) then you get what is left from the "pain and suffering" portion.

If you are in financial trouble right now and need some money NOW, tell your lawyer this and keep the following in mind. In Oregon you have two years to file a lawsuit. At this point you don't know the extent of the injury, you shouldn't sign anything with the insurance. In a few months or in two years you'll have a better understanding of this injury. Seriously, it might not show for a few weeks. If you're willing to gamble that this problem doesn't get bigger and want this issue behind you sooner, tell the lawyer that up front. If you want to play it safe and really get the most out of this as you can, be ready for this to go one for two years. There is no rush unless you need the money.

Good luck and feel free to contact me via email if you have any other questions.
posted by pwb503 at 11:58 AM on January 1, 2005

I was in a bike vs truck some years ago (I was on the bike), resulting in a broken hip. Some comments:

First off, do get a lawyer.

1. Your doctor should give you a worst-case scenario for your injuries.

2. The motorist's insurance basically wants to finalize everything as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. They will also probably want a "structured settlement" (that is, paying dribs and drabs over time).

3. Don't consider going to court until you've tried to come to a settlement. The settlement process is slow enough, but courts are slower. And with the courts, you've got a chance of not winning. A settlement is at least sure. If the insurer won't be reasonable about the settlement, then you consider going to court.

4. Your settlement should cover the worst-case scenario as described by your doctor. That is, if you might need an artifiical knee in five years, roll that in (along with current medical bills, time lost from work, etc). Structured settlements are probably not in your best interests (as your lawyer will tell you). In my case, the first (structured) settlement offered by the other guys would have actually left me out of pocket for immediate medical expenses (because your medical insurance will subrogate your claim). Not to mention the time-value of money.
posted by adamrice at 12:02 PM on January 1, 2005

I know this is not strictly part of the question, but be very very aware that the insurance adjuster from the other side who will call you will be likely to be very nice, understanding and caring. You'll be lulled into thinking that s/he is your friend and that they will try to help you. You might be tempted to make statements in a friendly, congenial manner. Stuff like "I think I'm mostly okay" or "I think most of my gear/scooter/etc is okay". This, to her, will be seen as a binding statement which declares that you will not want reimbursement for damage to your gear/scooter/etc and will hurt you later when you claim medical damages. My friend was hit by an SUV while he was on a bicycle. He talked glowingly about how nice the adjuster was and how the process wasn't bad at all until the tallying of compensation for damages started. Then it turned into a complete nightmore scenario. All of the recommendations to get a lawyer are essentially to protect you from the insurance company. They have decades of experience in screwing people over. You should go to a doctor ASAP and get documentation of all of your injuries and do not make any firm statements about your health status or the status of your gear and scooter until you have an expert opinion.
posted by hindmost at 1:48 PM on January 1, 2005

ditto pwb503 (good post, good advice)
posted by dsaelf at 4:15 PM on January 1, 2005

I had a friend in a rollover, someone else driving. Someone died. She broke her foot. $30k, after her lawyer wrote a nice letter.

If I could never play basketball again, I'd sue their friggin' bahoonies off, and bahoonies isn't even a word. I have no idea if suing them will in any way alter their future behavior. You could play this game:

Someone walks up to you, and says: "I'll run over you with my SUV and give you permanent injuries. Is that ok, if I give you X dollars first?

X would have to be pretty darn high for me to go through with it.
posted by mecran01 at 4:54 PM on January 1, 2005

"It is the job of the other parties insurance company TO SCREW YOU... remember they seem nice but they are not trying to help you out, they are trying to keep you from knowing your rights."

Ditto ditto ditto. Been there, seen that. (Also worked as a temp in an insurance company filing claims -- saw things in those files that would turn your hair white.)

They will cover some bills, but at some point they are going to want to cut you loose. And it is likely to be when you aren't at all "fixed up". At that point they will do things like send you to what one of my doctors called a "prostitute" -- a doctor who is supposedly an independent opinion, but who is beholden to the insurers. This doctor will tell you there is nothing wrong with you. And the insurers will use that as justification to cut you off. (That was the point when I got a lawyer, in my case.)

You need a lawyer to make sure you get treatment as long as YOU need it, not as long as the insurers want to pay.

In my situation I did need several years of treatment but eventually one very wise doctor figured out what was going on. It took that long, and if I hadn't had the attorney to back me up I probably never would have gotten the right treatment, and I'd still be cashing disability checks. (Which, despite what you may think, is nowhere near enjoyable.)

It is not likely to be the road to fortune -- more likely the lawyer will just make it possible for you to get the treatment you need and come out at the end of it with a small chunk of cash. (Mine made it possible to pay tuition for my last two quarters of college, pay a few months rent, and get a used $800 car and some clothes. It was no fortune at all. The vast majority of the settlement went to pay medical bills.)
posted by litlnemo at 5:06 PM on January 1, 2005

As someone else said above, if the insurance co. calls you, SAY NOTHING. Don't even answer the question "How are you today?", as the answer, "fine", could be construed in certain ways.
Good luck. And as others have said, take care of your body, with consideration for the future. You never know how much more you may need 10 years from now.
posted by oflinkey at 5:20 PM on January 1, 2005

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