Get Answers From Our Experienced Legal Team
At Weiner, Spivey & Miller, we are committed to helping victims understand their legal rights after suffering injuries or losing a loved one due to the negligence of others. Below are answers to initial questions that clients often have when they first contact us.
What is a personal injury lawsuit?
Personal injury lawsuits, including those for wrongful death and medical malpractice, are claims brought to obtain compensation for “damages” resulting from someone else’s negligence. Unlike criminal cases, personal injury claims do not focus on whether someone violated the law, but, instead, on whether an individual was negligent and, therefore, financially responsible for the injuries and losses suffered by a victim of their actions. When personal injury cases are successful, injured victims are entitled to financial compensation for their economic and non-economic damages.
What is negligence?
In terms of personal injury law, negligence occurs when a person (or company) fails to exercise a reasonable level of care for the safety of others. Negligence is at the core of most personal injury cases, and being able to prove that a defendant’s negligence was a cause of harm/injury is critical to a successful case. When a driver, medical provider or business owner fails to act as a reasonable person would, they can be held liable (“responsible”) for the injuries and damages caused by that unreasonable conduct.
Determining negligence, that is who was “at fault,” is one of the most important aspects of a personal injury case. In order to receive compensation for their injuries and losses, an injured person must prove that the other party was “negligent” and was responsible for an event (for example, a car accident). The injured person must also prove that the event was the direct cause of their injuries. Proving this is often not as straightforward as it would seem.
What is contributory negligence, and what impact can it have on my case?
Almost all states have some form of “comparative negligence.” Using the example of a car accident, comparative negligence means that, if Sue was injured in a collision caused by Bill, but Sue was partially responsible, then the amount that Sue can “recover” (receive) from Bill’s insurance policy is reduced to reflect the extent that Sue was also at fault.
However, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., as well as Alabama and North Carolina, have far more stringent laws regarding how injured drivers may collect for their damages in a personal injury claim. These four states and D.C. follow statutes of “contributory negligence.” Under these laws, if Sue is found to be just 1% at fault for the accident, she is not entitled to any financial compensation, no matter how significant her injuries.
Proving that you had no responsibility for the accident or other injury-causing event or can be surprisingly difficult to do, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the legal system, or how to deal with insurance companies. To protect your interests, it is critical to work with an experienced law firm with a proven track record in successfully handling cases like yours.
Do I have a case?
Whether you have a personal injury case depends upon the unique facts and circumstances of your case. Generally, injured victims have the right to pursue legal action against an at-fault party – whether that be an individual or a corporation (e.g., a trucking company or hospital). Determining who was at fault and, therefore, responsible is a critical first step in every case. During an initial consultation with Weiner, Spivey & Miller, we will help you determine whether or not you have a case and the steps for moving forward.
What kinds of damages can I recover?
While the laws differ by state, in most personal injury cases, an injured person may recover compensatory damages, which may include both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are the financial losses directly related to the injury, including past and future medical care, and lost income, including loss of future earning capacity. In cases of wrongful death, these damages can also include the costs of funeral and burial services, as well as the loss of financial support to the family.
Noneconomic damages are the intangible damages that result from the injury, including physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment or quality of life, and the severity and duration of the injuries. In the case of wrongful death, a family may also claim the loss of support and companionship of their loved one.
In some cases, victims may also recover punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages (economic and non-economic), punitive damages are not available in every case. They are designed to punish wrongdoers for egregious acts of negligence or intentional acts of malice.
Who pays for my medical bills and other damages?
Usually, an injured victim receives compensation for their damages through the insurance policy of the person or business that was negligent and caused their injury. Unfortunately, the amount of insurance coverage may not be sufficient to cover the damages of the victim.
For example, while it varies by state, the minimum auto insurance coverage required by law is not significant if, for example, you must spend two weeks in the hospital and have permanent injuries. Here are the minimum coverages required: Virginia – $50,000, D.C. – $20,000, and Maryland – $30,000.
It should be noted that the relevant insurance coverage is not that of the driver who caused the accident, but of the owner of the car involved. Regarding medical bills, these are covered primarily by the injured persons own health insurance. The injured person is responsible for those costs during the legal process. Weiner, Spivey & Miller can help negotiate a reduction in large hospital bills and to forestall any bills going into collections. A final negotiated settlement or jury award may include reimbursement for medical costs.
What is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) and why do I need it?
If another driver hits you, there is no guarantee that the other driver will have a sufficient amount of insurance coverage, or any coverage at all. Based upon years of experience of seeing devastating injuries and insufficient insurance coverage, we strongly recommend that you have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage on your automobile insurance policy.
Uninsured/underinsured motorists (UM/UIM) coverage protects you and your family. If a driver, who has no insurance hurts you, if you have UM coverage then your insurance company will pay you damages for your personal injury (and the personal injuries of your family members) up to the limits of UM coverage you purchased. UM coverage also protects you if you are the victim of a hit-and-run and the driver is never caught, or you are injured by a driver who has less insurance coverage than you do. You should have the most coverage your insurance company will sell you to protect your family. Do not buy the minimum coverage required by law in your state. You will not be providing your family with any UIM protection.
Some insurance companies will not readily sell you the highest amount of coverage. Often you will need to speak to a supervisor or ask the agent to speak to a supervisor to get authorization for the highest limits. Do not let them talk you out of buying more coverage when they tell you, “You don’t need that much.” Additionally, our personal injury experts want you to know that an “umbrella policy,” while sounding right, does not protect you if you are injured by someone with no insurance or too little insurance.
The cost to increase your policy to $1 million is often less than a few hundred dollars.
How does an attorney help me determine the value of my case?
Beyond proving that the other party was responsible for your injuries, the value of your case depends upon the severity and permanency of your injuries; and the extent of your other “damages” (such as, lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering). However, the amount you can actually recover financially is usually determined by the amount of insurance coverage (of the other party) and, if you have it, your underinsured motorist coverage. In some cases, the negligent party may have to pay personally to help cover your damages, if they have assets and the insurance coverage is not sufficient.
The unfortunate reality is that there may not be enough insurance to adequately compensate an injured person for their losses. Our legal team has the experience to review the facts of your case and your damages to help you understand the value of your case and your legal options. Our expertise in evaluating insurance coverages helps to ensure that you get the maximum compensation possible – either through aggressive negotiation with the insurance company, or taking your case to trial.
Do I really need an attorney?
The most important aspect in dealing with your injury and any possible case is getting the best medical care as quickly as possible – so you can begin to heal. While medical care must be your primary focus, the main reason to speak with a knowledgeable attorney quickly after you are injured is to protect your interests. Be aware that the insurance company of the other party will begin working immediately to protect their “insured.”
The other party’s insurance company will contact you shortly after the accident is reported to them. We caution you about speaking with an insurance adjuster before speaking with an attorney. The other party’s insurance company is not your friend, no matter how friendly the insurance adjuster (representative), nor how simple the questions they ask you. The adjuster’s job is to determine ways to limit the insurance company’s liability and, in turn, reduce the amount they pay you. Something you say now could have a huge impact on the compensation you receive later. Do not post on social media!
Insurance adjusters commonly offer settlements that are worth far less than the true value of your injuries and losses. This often happens quickly after the accident, while you’re still in pain and not able to completely grasp the implications of accepting the settlement. Accepting the settlement offered by the insurance company prohibits you from receiving any further compensation.
To ensure that you recover the full amount you deserve, speak with an attorney before giving the other driver’s or party’s insurance company any details of the accident or your injuries. Our Weiner, Spivey & Miller team includes former insurance defense attorneys. Knowing how the insurance companies will approach your case helps us to achieve the best results for you.
How do I get started with my case, and what is the process?
Your initial consultation: During your free consultation (by phone, video conference, or in-person), we will discuss the details of your case, answer your questions, and outline your legal options. We are proud of our professional, yet personal and compassionate approach to working with our clients.
Once you sign a retainer (the agreement in which you give us permission to represent you), your Weiner, Spivey & Miller team will handle all communication with the other driver’s (or party’s) insurance company, including determining the amount of insurance coverage available; gather your medical records; interview witnesses, obtain photographs of vehicles/ the scene of the injury; and consult with medical and accident reconstruction experts, as needed. You can focus on healing. Through frequent updates, we will keep you well-informed about the legal case and check on the status of your medical progress.
Filing a lawsuit: Unlike on TV, personal injury lawsuits are rarely filed until there is a clear picture of the extent of someone’s injuries, the plan for and cost of medical treatment needed now and in the future, the duration and permanency of the injuries, the extent of impact of the injuries on their personal and working lives, and numerous other factors. Once these damages can be quantified for your case, Weiner, Spivey & Miller will prepare and file a lawsuit. We will begin to negotiate the best possible settlement on your behalf even before a lawsuit is filed.
Negotiating a settlement or preparing for trial: Most personal injury cases do not go to trial. However, some cases do go to trial, particularly when defendants dispute fault and liability, or fail to offer a fair settlement. If the offers made by the defendant’s insurance company during negotiations aren’t satisfactory to you, we will be prepared for trial. We understand that going to court can be daunting. We will make sure that you are prepared and comfortable. Some law firms are reluctant to go to trial. While we always work to get you the best possible settlement through negotiation, we prepare every case, as if it will go to trial. This gives us a leg up and benefits our clients. Defense attorneys for the insurance companies know our reputation for being prepared. Our legal team is comprised of nationally recognized trial lawyers with a long history of successful trial verdicts. We frequently have defense attorneys refer their injured family members and friends to us because they know how hard we will fight for our clients’ rights.
What if I was a passenger?
If you were injured while riding as a passenger in a vehicle, you have the right to file an action against the driver who caused the accident. That might be the driver of the other vehicle. That might be the driver of the vehicle you were in. Clients often express concern about suing a family member to recover for their injuries. Compensation is almost always paid exclusively by the auto insurance carrier of the driver, not the individual driver personally.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
Statute of limitations: Injured victims do not have an unlimited amount of time to take legal action against the at-fault party. The statute of limitations is the period within which a lawsuit must be filed after the date of the event in which the victims were injured. If the statute of limitations expires in your case, you will not be able to file a lawsuit for the damages that you have suffered. The statute of limitations differs by state: Virginia, 2 years; D.C., 3 years; and Maryland, 2 years.
Quantifying your damages before filing a lawsuit: To ensure a complete picture of your injuries and other damages, a lawsuit in a personal injury case is almost never filed until you have finished medical treatment, specifically that your doctor feels that you have reached maximum medical improvement. At this point, your doctor and other experts can evaluate the short and long-term effects of your injuries on your personal and work abilities, as well as outline additional medical treatment which is likely to be needed in the future. Your medical costs, lost wages and other damages can be quantified and incorporated into a lawsuit. Of course, your Weiner, Spivey & Miller team will be well aware of the statute of limitations on your case and will ensure that the lawsuit is filed before the statute has run.
Once a lawsuit is filed: Once a lawsuit is filed, the legal process takes approximately one year. This includes investigations, depositions, court hearings and, if necessary, a trial. During this time, we would continue to negotiate an appropriate settlement on your behalf while coordinating closely with you.
How much will it cost to hire Weiner, Spivey & Miller?
If you are concerned about working with a lawyer because you don’t think you can afford one, you should know that most personal injury lawyers – including our firm – handle cases on a contingent fee basis. This means there are no upfront legal fees associated with hiring our firm. We receive no fee, unless we successfully resolved your case through negotiation or at trial. You will be responsible for court costs and other litigation expenses, which you would approve in advance.
Working with a firm with extensive experience in successfully resolving personal injury cases is one of the most effective ways to secure the outcome you need and deserve. The insurance companies who cover the at-fault parties will capitalize on injury victims who represent themselves. When you have skilled advocates on your side, you have the support team who know the legal process and will handle all communication with the insurance company on your behalf. You can focus on healing and rebuilding.