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General Accident and Injury Law FAQs

It’s important for injury victims to stay informed about about the law. It’s best to do research on how to pursue your accident claim. After being injured, there’s a good chance you may have a lot of unanswered questions. We would like to provide a few frequently asked questions from previous clients in Philadelphia. It’s possible you have a similar question. If, not, please call our office at 215-332-0300. We are happy to help and offer free consultations for injured victims.

Can I Reject my Settlement Offer?

Yes. If you bring forth a personal injury lawsuit against the potentially negligent party who caused your injuries, or if you file a claim with an insurance company, you can reject any settlement offer.

Most injury cases settle before going to trial and many claims even get settled before a personal injury lawsuit is even filed. There a number of reasons one would want to reject a settlement offer and go to court. For instance, maybe you and the other party can’t come to an agreement about the extend of the injuries or who’s at fault for the car accident.

With that said, be wise and take a reasonable approach to settlement offers you’re given. Speak to your lawyer about how to proceed. Most often, settlement negotiations will continue if an offer is rejected. The plaintiff usually makes a counter-offer and a professional demand letter.

Demand letters are used to tell the injured person’s side of the story, such as how the accident happened, extent of injuries, evidence showing negligence, and medical treatment that has been administered. In your demand letter, you will show evidence that shows how the initial offer is too low and present a dollar amount you would be willing to accept.

What are punitive damages in a car accident case?

In a case involving a car accident, punitive damages are financial penalties that are paid to the injured party and are meant to punish the wrongdoer for causing the injury. These type of damages are only awarded in some cases and some states. To receive punitive damages, the wrongdoers actions or behavior must have been particularly reprehensible. For instance, here are a few examples that may result in punitive damages in states that allow them:

– Using a vehicle as a weapon (i.e intentionally assaulting or killing another with a vehicle)
– Caused injury while under the influence
– Driving recklessly or aggressively and causing injury. (road rage or racing)

These punitive damages are only available when the wrongdoer knew or should have known that his or her behavior would likely result in damage to property or cause injury or death. Punitive damages, as the name states, are damages meant to punish and differ from other damages that a car accident victim would seek, such as compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, etc.

What is limited Tort?

Limited Tort: With some exceptions, you have given up your right to seek compensation for pain and suffering, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life and other “non-economic damages.” Because most people are unfamiliar with automobile insurance terms, they don’t really understand what Limited Tort means. They choose it because it’s going to save some money on their automobile insurance premiums. The typical scenario: you’re talking to your insurance agent and he/she tells you they have your insurance policy ready and you need to sign some papers, one of the papers says you are agreeing to take Limited Tort. In your haste to sign the many papers the insurance agent puts in front of you, you may not even notice the exact document. Often, if you ask what that means, the insurance agent tells you that you are still getting “full coverage” but at a cheaper rate, you’re basically rushed into taking Limited Tort without fully understanding the other options that you have. You have just given up some of your rights and don’t even realize it until it is too late to do anything about it.

Exceptions to Limited Tort:

Even if you sign for Limited Tort, you still have your Full Tort rights under certain circumstances:

– If you suffer a “serious injury” you maintain your full tort rights. Serious injury is defined as death, serious disfigurement, or serious impairment of a bodily function. The first two exceptions are basically self-explanatory. The third exception, serious impairment of a bodily function, can be a problem. The Pennsylvania Courts have been making decisions for over 30 years about what is meant by a serious impairment of a bodily function. These decisions are all over the place and in my opinion, can result in a serious miscarriage of justice. There are cases of people with fractured ribs, broken arms, broken jaws, brain damage, or herniated discs where the Courts have decided that the person did not have a serious impairment of a bodily function and dismissed their case. The insurance carriers all know about these cases, which will make them less likely to settle a case. They will drag you through the Court system for as long as they can, and hope that they will have to pay you little or nothing.

I recommend that for any automobile accident case involving an injury, you should consult with an attorney who has a lot of experience in, and concentrates his/her law practice on automobile accident law. An attorney with decades of experience will give you the best chance of recovering in a limited tort case.

– The person who is responsible for the accident is convicted of, or pleads guilty to or accepts Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition to driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Remember, simply being charged is not enough. Even if you think the other person is drunk, if the police do not charge and convict, this exception does not apply.

– The person who is responsible for the accident is driving a vehicle that is registered in another state. It doesn’t matter if the person is from another state or has a driver’s license from another state. They must be driving a vehicle that is registered/has a license plate from another state. This issue arises in tractor-trailer accidents. If the trailer is registered in another state and the tractor is registered in Pennsylvania, insurance companies argue that the “vehicle” is registered in Pennsylvania, and limited tort applies.

– The person who is injured is a driver or passenger in a commercial vehicle. This mostly would apply to a taxicab or bus, but can be extended to work vehicles, rental cars, and other vehicles.

– The person who was injured is a pedestrian. Insurance companies will try and argue if you get out of your car and start walking and get hit by a car that you are not a pedestrian, but that you are “vehicle oriented” and that limited tort should apply.

– The person responsible for the accident is not insured. This really doesn’t help a lot unless you have uninsured motorist coverage, since you are probably not going to be able to collect anything from the person with no insurance anyway. Also, insurance companies may argue that while you have full tort rights against the uninsured driver, you are still considered limited tort as it applies to them.

– The person who was injured is claiming that their injuries stem from a defective product in the car, such as a defective airbag.

Again, you can see that even after reviewing these materials, that the issues involving Limited Tort vs. Full Tort are complicated and confusing. That is why if you suffer an injury in an automobile accident, you should always consult with an attorney with years of experience who concentrates his/her practice in automobile accident law.

What is Considered a Serious Personal Injury?

In some cases, this answer is obvious. For instance, a knee injury requiring surgery will most likely be considered a serious personal injury. I say ‘most likely’ because ultimately it is up to a judge or jury to determine if something is a serious personal injury. Remember, you are usually trying to recover money from an insurance carrier. Insurance carriers decide whether they want to make offers in limited tort cases based upon their feelings/guesses whether a judge or jury would consider a personal injury serious.

I can tell you that I monitor cases all around the city of Philadelphia, and that I have been doing this for over thirty years. I have seen cases where judges or juries found that a broken leg, broken arm, or herniated disk, were not serious personal injuries, and gave nothing for pain and suffering.

I can assure you that if you injure your neck or back; have to get therapy for six months; discharged by your doctor as being mostly improved, that you DO NOT have a serious personal injury.

No personal injury lawyers are willing to take my case?

It’s hard to give an opinion without knowing the facts. The personal injury lawyers you spoke to may think the case is too small to take OR they may think that you don’t even have a personal injury case (because you can’t prove that somebody else’s at fault for your slip and fall). Assuming you do have a personal injury case, I would tell the claims adjuster that you want to gather your medical bills and reports and that you will submit them to him/her. You’ll actually have to get records of your treatment from the Dr. and/or hospital. When you submit them to the claims adjuster, let them know you want your medical bills to be paid PLUS something for pain and suffering and/or a possible score on your hand. You WILL have to reimburse Medicare/Medicaid. One other tip. Do not agree to give a written or recorded statement to the claims adjuster.

Do I need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

You absolutely have the right to represent yourself in district court without a personal injury lawyer. If you are not sure if you need or want a personal injury lawyer, we suggest that you get a brief consult with one before making your final decision. Many personal injury lawyers now offer “limited scope” services, so you can pay for just the consult and not hire the personal injury lawyer for full representation. Here at the Heslin Law Firm, we will give you a free consultation to see whether or not you have a case.

A person who goes to court without being represented by a Philadelphia-based personal injury lawyer is called “self-represented” or “pro se.” Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself.”

You may need a personal injury lawyer if:

– You want legal advice.
– You do not fully understand papers you received from the other party side or from the court. (Court administration may be able to answer some questions for you.)
– You cannot afford to lose your case.
– You have a complicated case.
– You want to appeal a case.
– You are charged with a crime.
– You want to sue someone, but you don’t know the legal theory or basis for your claim

You may not need a personal injury lawyer if:

– You understand your case well enough to explain it to a judge.
– You don’t get nervous speaking in a courtroom
– You are organized and keep accurate records.
– You can write neatly or type well
– You will be able to dedicate time to prepare papers, make copies, learn the required steps, file papers with the court, do legal research and attend court hearings.
– You have the time to respond to papers you receive from the other party.
– You are able to read, understand, and respond promptly to all papers you get from the Court.
– Your case is somewhat simple and no one will come forward to argue against what you want.
– You are comfortable negotiating with the other side or their lawyer, if represented.
– You understand your state laws and court rules and cases.

You also have the option of going to conciliation court without representation, which handles small cases such as:

– Claims by creditors for unpaid debts
– Claims by employees for unpaid wages
– Claims by tenants for return of security deposits
– Claims by landlords for damage to property
– Claims about the possession or ownership of personal property valued at $10,000 or less

This is a great option if you have a smaller case with some extra time to spare and don’t have the money to afford a lawyer.

We can see you in any of our four locations!

Our main office is located in Northeast Philadelphia and we have three other locations throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding counties! Call 215-332-0300.

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