PART ONE: I'VE BEEN INJURED IN AN ACCIDENT,
You've been injured and you are in pain, the bills are coming in, you're missing work, the doctors are talking in another language and you don't know what to do. To make matters worse, you are getting phone calls now from insurance adjusters and you're not even sure who they are. Are they from your insurance company or the other guy's company? They want to take your statement or maybe, they are offering you money to "settle", what are you supposed to do? On top of it all, your boss is calling and asking when you will be back- you're worried you might lose your job while you are out recovering. It's too much to deal with and the stakes have never been higher. YOU NEED HELP.
THERE IS HELP OUT THERE AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE RICH TO GET IT.
First, you start by contacting an injury lawyer who will give you a FREE CONSULATION to discuss your injury claim. Ok, but then what? In this three part article we will empower you with the information you need to protect yourself and your loved ones. We will give you insider Tips and actual Questions you can ask your attorney to improve your outcome.
We will tell you what you can do, and what to expect if you have been injured and need help. In this first article we'll tell you about what you should expect from the initial call and that first the office visit with an injury attorney. We'll also give you practical tips and actual questions you can ask to help choose an attorney. In the next article we will tell you how you can afford an attorney without paying an expensive hourly rate and explain what your attorney will do for you in the initial stages of representation. Finally, we will address common questions clients have about case value, demands and settlement.
So Let's Begin...
I have been injured and I have set up an initial appointment with an attorney. What should I expect?
ANSWER: Like many Injury Attorneys, Rice Law Office offers free phone consultations for injury cases. In this initial contact you should expect to be asked a series of questions aimed at understanding your unique circumstances so that the attorney will be able to better answer your questions about lost wages, medical bills and insurance coverage. Often, seriously injured clients also need advice about keeping their job, benefits and health insurance. Serious injury results in time out of work and clients need to know what protections they have to keep their job while they are out recovering.
If you are seriously injured and therefore likely to miss time from work and risk losing pay and maybe even your job as a result of your injury related absence, you may want to be sure your injury attorney is willing to and capable of handling your employment AND personal injury claims, because you will probably have both. Your attorney may be able to join forces with another attorney in the office or at another office to give you this full representation, but its important you ask. At Rice Law Office, we represent clients in personal injury cases as well as in worker's compensation, employment, disability and Social Security claims. We know serious injuries often result in lost time from work. This means we work aggresively to recover our clients' medical bills, lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering by filing a personal injury claim, but we also take the time to assess what other benefits and insurances our clients might have available to ease their family's stress while the case is pending. People with serious injuries risk more than loss of income, they also face job loss and loss of important benefits like health insurance. An attorney who practices in employment AND injury law can fight for you in the injury case while simultaneously helping you and your family with the immediate concerns of how to keep your job, your benefits and your health insurance during your recovery and while your case is pending. Law suits take time and you shouldn't settle your case until you are recovered from your injuries or nearly recovered, so you will need advice in the meantime about all the available benefits to which you are entitled. You should expect this kind of full assessement and representation from your injury attorney.
Here's what you need to know to get you started in talking to your attorney:
There are a whole host of state and federal laws which help protect injured and disabled workers and they can and should be put to work for you. For example, if an injury occurs in and during the course of work, but it occurs also as a result of the fault of another person AND while the employee is on the property of another or in a car, then worker's compensation may be combined with the other person's insurance to replace income, pay medical bills, provide job protection and compensation for pain and suffering. Worker's compensation alone would only provide 60% of lost pay and offers no recovery for pain and suffering. By comparison, an injury claim on its own would allow for 100% recovery of lost wages and would also offer compensation for pain and suffering, but it does not provide any job protection while your case is pending. Therefore, working people who are injured in an accident outside of work, could lose their job while their personal injury case is pending. By combining these laws where possible, clients can get the greatest amount of protection. Failing to recognize the opportunity to combine these rights would leave an employee without full coverage. So ask your attorney if he can help you determine what other laws or benefits you might have available to you.
Worker's compensation is not the only way to protect wages, jobs and benefits while you are out of work due to a injury. For non work related injuries, there are other laws and insurances that offer similar protection and which you might have a right to access. For example, injured employees who suffer an injury outside of work may be eligible for job protection under The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or to light duty work under New Hampshire State or Federal disability law. State, municipal and federal employees or members of unions may have additional benefits under the law or under a collective bargaining agreement which should also be considered. In the worst case, if you will be disabled for some time, you may be eligible for disabilty retirement benefits or social security benefits.
In addition , you may have other insurances available through work that could help you pay your bills while you recover. For example, many employees have disability insurance which could be used to replace their lost income while they are out of work for an injury. It's a common, but easily overlooked employment benefit. Most employees don't know that their employer has been paying premiums all along for insurance benefits to help pay for lost wages in the event of a worker's compensation injury, unemployment or disability. These benefits are mistakenly considered a form of welfare, when they are no different than any other employer insurance plan; like health insurance, for example. Employees might not know about these benefits or might mistakenly think they are taking advantage of their employer by making a claim, but these are insurance benefits you and/or your employer have paid for just in case of an injury such as this and you shouldn't hesitate to make a claim if you are eligible. What's more, often these claims can be made simultaneous to your injury or worker's compensation claim. These employment benefits, which may be available sooner and come faster, can provide a lifeboat for you and your family while you are recovering and can't yet file a demand in the injury case.
At Rice Law Office PLLC, we work with our clients to help determine all the protections available, whether your injury is a work injury or a serious injury outside of work that threatens your job and your family's security. This kind of global approach is particularly important for people who are seriously injured and facing time out of work, but the careful consideration and personal attention is something every client deserves.
TIP #1: FIVE QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR INJURY ATTORNEY
You should be sure to ask the attorney you work with about what other protections you might be entitled to while your case is pending. Consider:
1) Are you eligible for short or long terms disability insurance while you are out of work?
2) Are you eligible for job protection while you are out on medical leave?
3) Does your employer have to accommodate you if you can return to work, but need light duty? and
4) How can you continue your medical insurance for you and your family while you are out recovering?
5) Do you have any insurance for your car or mortgage payments due to your disability?
What is the Next Step?
ANSWER: Our next step is to meet with you in person. Some lawyers don't choose this route, but at Rice Law Office PLLC, before we agree to accept your injury claim, we like to meet you so we typically offer to set up an in person meeting, either at our office or if you are unable to travel due to your injury, we may make appointments somewhere convenient to you. While there is no cost to you to meet with us, we believe this initial meeting is very important and once you meet with us, we think you will agree. Your case is important to you and to us and we think it is worth our time to meet you so you can be sure we are the right attorneys for you. We encourage you to consider asking your attorney for a face to face meeting if its not automaticlally offered.
One of our goals for our initial client meetings is to make sure that you understand ALL the benefits that are available to you so that you can stop worrying about medical bills, lost wages, paperwork and those plaguing phone calls. When you've been seriously injured you need information and answers to your questions so you can stop the worrying. The stress of the unknown only makes the injury worse for you and your family. We know this and that's why our initial goal, is to give you the answers you need so you can have the peace of mind to focus on just getting better while we work to take on the insurance company.
In that initial meeting we want to make sure that you understand what Rice Law Office can do to help you and be sure that we are the best fit for you and your family. Remember, this is a partnership.
TIP #2: MEET WITH YOUR ATTORNEY FACE TO FACE TO BE SURE THIS IS THE PERSON YOU WANT TO WORK WITH
Personal injury cases take time and you will need to be able to work closely with your attorney and the staff for perhaps a period of 2-3 years, depending on how serious your injury is. You want to be sure you are comfortable with these people. You wouldn't buy a house or a car without first checking htem out and an injury case is just as valuable, so take the time to "look under the hood" a bit. Meet with the attorney who is going to fight for you and ask a few questions about how you will work together to be sure you are a good fit.
TIP #3: FOUR QUESTIONS TO ASK TO HELP DETERMINE IF THIS ATTORNEY IS RIGHT FOR YOU:
1) How quickly can I expect you to reply to my calls? One of the biggest complaints we hear is "My lawyer doesn't call me back!" Communication is vital and you want to be pro-active by addressing this right away. During the week, you should usually expect someone from your attorney's office to return your calls within a day or two and sooner if it is urgent. They may not have an answer or solution for your concern in that time, but you deserve the courtesty of a reply just to let you know they are working on an answer. Ask what your attorney's practice is about returning calls and he will be more likely to stick to it.
2) Who from your office will I work with besides you? you can ask to meet the staff members who will be assigned to your case. It's good to put a face to a name and you want personal attention.
3) When should I expect to hear from you next? There are often long periods where you won't hear from your attorney while she or he is working on your case. Some clients appreciate the calm, but if it is important to you to get updates, let your attorney know this at the start and set up a reasonable expectation about how often you will check in with eachother.
4) What are your expectations of me? We address this in our third article, but ask your attorney if there is anything you should be doing to advance your case. You are a team and while your attorney will take the lead in your battle with the insurance company and to navigate the law, no one knows the facts of your case or your needs better than you. you were there, you go to the doctors appointments and you and only you feel the pain and loss. Your lawyer may want you to keep a journal or keep track of mileage and receipts to help track your damages while you focus on recovery.
Look for Part Two in this series where we will answer your questions about next steps, including:
1) How Can I afford to hire a personal injury attorney and what is a Contingent Fee?
2) If I hire an attorney to help me with a personal injury claim caused by the negligence of another, what will she do first?
3) How much is my case worth?