Oregon Personal Injury Case FAQs
Should I use an attorney or deal directly with the insurance company in a Personal Injury case?
Answer: There is no simple answer to this complex question. The answer depends on many factors such as:
- Complexity of the accident – a simple fender bender where fault is clear, versus a hit-and-run with serious injuries;
- Type of damage – property only, versus bodily injury or wrongful death;
- Settlement process – negotiate with an insurance adjuster, versus pursue arbitration or litigation with a jury trial;
- Financial settlement goal – pay for damage to my car, versus recover lost wages and future expenses for medical treatments;
- Personal Risk – none, my insurance will cover the damages, versus the guy that hit me is underinsured;
- Negotiation approach – I have the time and knowledge to negotiate, versus a team of legal professionals who have extensive experience in dealing with insurance companies and their legal teams;
- Monetary value needed to recover – small, less than $10,000, versus million dollar settlements.
What should I look for in choosing an Oregon Personal Injury Attorney?
Our recommendation is to always speak with an experienced Portland Personal Injury Attorney to evaluate your specific case factors, your situation, and the appropriateness of retaining a lawyer. We provide an initial free consultation and personal injury case evaluation for all potential clients and will give you an honest assessment of the case including a potential value and strategy to win your case.
What questions should I ask in order to understand if there is a good fit?
Answer: Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney to represent you is a very personal and important effort. Attorneys operate under a strict code defined in the Rules of Professional Conduct and Oregon Code of Professional Responsibility. These standards are written and enforced by the Oregon State Bar to insure a professional relationship is established and maintained between the client and their Attorney. The best advice in what to look for in choosing the Right Lawyer for you comes from the Oregon State Bar.
One of the best ways to find a lawyer is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend, especially if they have contacts that have been through a similar legal process before. Check with the Oregon State Bar as to whether the individual is licensed to practice law in Oregon, what is their status (from Active to Disbarred) and any history of disciplinary actions. Interview the lawyer and make sure you are “comfortable with the lawyer’s attitude, responsiveness, stated abilities, and experience.” Here are some good questions to ask:
- Briefly describe your resume.
- Describe the main focus of your practice. Describe a typical client/case?
- Describe the key aspects of your reputation and the practice What are you known for? What are your strengths?
- Do you have the resources and availability to actively work on my case?
- Can I talk to a past client (a reference) whose case is similar to mine?
If you like the answers and feel you have a match, then summarize your case by providing the basic accident description with enough detail to permit the attorney to formulate an understanding of the case circumstances and facts, with the goal being to focus the discussion on the case. Ask probing questions to determine how your lawyer would approach the case, costs & fees, and potential results. Here are some good questions:
- What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the case?
- Describe how you would approach the case.
- Describe your scope-of-work and the corresponding fees/costs.
- What do you think the value of the case might be?
- What are the next steps?
What Is My Personal Injury Case Worth? What Type of Costs Can I Recover?
Answer: In almost every personal injury case, one of the first questions asked by potential clients is, “What is my personal injury case worth?” What they are really trying to determine is an answer to the question “Is it economically worthwhile to hire a lawyer and pursue a settlement, knowing that lawyers cost money; or is my case small and simple enough that I should settle it directly with my insurance company?” In order to answer these questions you need to meet and discuss your personal injury case with a lawyer, in a Free Consultation, where the lawyer has an opportunity to review the basic case, ask you questions, and formulate an initial impression of whether your case warrants the services of an attorney. An experienced Lake Oswego Personal Injury Attorney, who has worked on both sides of an accident, meaning insurance defense work and plaintiff representation, can easily spot the factors that move the case from “handle it yourself,” to “I need legal assistance.”
Here are some of the factors your attorney will evaluate to determine if you need legal representation and what the potential value of the settlement might be:
Type of accident
Most accidents are simple collisions, where damage is limited to the vehicle(s) and personal injuries can be measured in terms of bruises and muscle soreness. Hopefully, both parties have adequate insurance and there are no issues over determining the at-fault party. On the other hand, here are factors that will quickly elevate the complexity of the accident and create the need for representation by an experienced Oregon Personal Injury Attorney:
- Multiple vehicle collisions (3+ vehicles) or collisions with pedestrians, bicycles, or motorcycles
- Serious injuries where an individual has suffered neck, brain, spine, or other permanent injuries
- Hit and Run accidents
- Wrongful death
- Uninsured (UM) and/or Under-insured motorist (UIM)
- Accidents caused by drunk drivers, under-the-influence, or distracted driving
- Negligent driving
- Accidents involving employees of private companies or public organizations
Who / what caused the accident — Liability
Determining who was at fault in causing the accident is paramount to calculating what insurance coverage and benefits become available to you. If it is determined that the other driver is 51% or more at fault, then you have the right to compensation from a third party insurance company and/or directly from the person that caused the accident. In some instances, both drivers may be judged to be equally at fault, in which case both parties may seek compensation from the other party. The cause of the accident also plays into the valuation of the case. In some accidents, the other driver may be cited as being negligent when they drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, violate the right-of-way rules, or drive on the wrong side of the road. These actions may significantly improve your chances of obtaining a maximum settlement in a shorter period of time.
Type and extent of the injuries you and others have suffered
Minor injuries are usually described as bumps, strains, bruises, and soreness, which are common in everyday life and easily treatable. By themselves, minor injuries are not a reason to hire a lawyer. A word of caution – in the first few days after an accident you may conclude you have only suffered minor injuries, but many serious injuries begin as soreness and progress into a serious injury a few weeks later. In many cases, victims who have suffered whiplash from rear-end collisions, that didn’t appear for several weeks after the accident, and then resulted in blinding pain, nausea, and migraine headaches. With treatment over the course of the next 11 months, the symptoms gradually diminished from once a day to once a month.
Serious and major injuries, on the other hand, require the expertise of an experienced Portland Personal Injury Attorney to lead the efforts in dealing with the insurance company and their legal team and protecting your rights while maximizing your financial recovery. Major injuries raise the stakes for all of the parties involved because of the financial magnitude of the settlements needed to cover your recovery and rehabilitation costs, which can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. They also open the door to General Damages associated with pain and suffering, disability, and disfigurement. If you have serious or major injuries such as brain, spine, back or neck injuries; or injuries resulting in disabilities, disfigurement, or loss-of-use; or if your injuries require prolonged rehabilitation or future medical treatment, then you need to consult with an experienced Portland Personal Injury Attorney.
Your personal characteristics and motivation? The defendant’s personal characteristics?
Age, gender, career, family, and likability are all factors that play into determining the value of non-economic damages if you are disabled or suffer a quality-of-life altering limitation because of the accident. For example, a 35-year old male, with a family of three kids, on the executive fast-track, suffering a permanent disability which prevents him from working full-time will, in theory, receive more compensation than a 65-year old, single male, who is retired and has access to Medicare. In addition, your personal motivation to settle or “deal” with an on-going case has a significant bearing on the value of the settlement. Basically, most cases significantly increase in value over time as the parties move the process along the path of pursuing arbitration or litigation as the means of obtaining a fair settlement. This process may take years which might not be the best settlement option – receiving 60% of a maximum settlement 1-2 years sooner may be the best option for you. In addition, the defendant’s personal characteristics such as past driving record, physical limitations (eyesight), current medical conditions/limitations, driving habits, and financial net worth all paint a picture of how the insurance company will view the strength of their defense. For example, an insurance company would be more receptive to a higher settlement offer if the defendant had a history of speeding citations, was not wearing prescription glasses, and became combative with the police officers at the accident scene.
Special or Economic damages you have or may incur in the future – medical, non-medical, and property
Economic damages are the direct, out-of-pocket costs you have incurred, or will incur in the future as a result of your injuries. They include:
- Current and future medical / rehabilitation costs – emergency room, hospital, doctor, therapist(s)
- Diagnostic tests, laboratory fees
- Prescriptions, drugs, prosthesis, or other medical devices
- Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity
- Household expenses for cleaning, personal care, and childcare
- Cost to repair or replace property
- Travel expenses
General or Non-Economic damages – damages for intangible harm
Non-economic Damages are more subjective, and hence more difficult to establish a value. They are very dependent on the accident’s impact to the quality of your life, now and in the future. These damages are the only compensation that can be provided for having to cope with the injury itself, as opposed to Economic Damages which are reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. These damages are especially relevant to people who work at home, or retired, children, and students, where they have no means of establishing direct costs associated with lost wages. Examples of Non-economic damages include:
- Physical and Emotional distress
- Loss of or diminished normal activities
- Lost or diminished capacity – sterility, mental capacity, physical impairment
- Loss of a loved one
Insurance coverage available
The type and amount of insurance coverage available to both parties play an important role in determining the value of your potential settlement. If the at-fault driver only has the minimum insurance amounts required by Oregon law (or potentially NO insurance), and their personal net worth is minimal, then chances are your financial recovery will be minimal. In this case, the best recovery strategy would be to utilize your available insurance. On the other hand, if the at-fault driver has generous policy limits (5-10 times the minimums) and substantial personal net worth, then your potential financial recovery will significantly improve.
How can I get a “Ball Park” estimate of the value of my Oregon Personal Injury case?
After reviewing the contributing factors of your case an experienced Portland Personal Injury Attorney will be able to “ballpark” a potential settlement value based upon their experience and the contributing factors in your case. Despite internet chatter, simple formulas to calculate what your case is worth do not exist. The best predictor of settlement values is comparing the circumstances and issues of your case; to what juries have been awarded in similar cases. We know you are entitled to receive compensation for all of your verifiable and necessary Economic Damages, plus an amount for your Non-economic Damages. We also know that the insurance company will start with very modest offers to settle quickly (which may be attractive to some clients) and proceed to increase the settlement offer as the defense costs rise and risk of a large jury award approaches.
Being injured as a result of another person’s actions and thrust into a legal process where you must fight to recover the impact on your life and finances, is frustrating and overwhelming. The best way to ensure your rights, eliminate mistakes, effectively recover your expenses, and minimize your liability is to seek the advice and services of an experienced Personal Injury Attorney. As your attorney, Travis will provide you with the personal attention, experience, and legal strength needed to protect your rights and maximize your settlement.
For more information on Oregon Personal Injury Cases
Visit our Mayor Law Blog, or call Travis Mayor at (503) 444.2825 to arrange a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case. Additionally, see answers to other frequently asked questions relating to accidents and personal injuries.