Personal Injury FAQ

Personal Injury FAQ

1. When should I call a lawyer?

You should call a lawyer as soon as possible after an injury. Most people are afraid that, if they call a lawyer immediately after an injury, people will think they are greedy. This is a myth insurance companies have circulated to keep you from calling a lawyer when you need one the most. It gives them a huge advantage because waiting a few months gives the insurance company time to finish their investigation. By then, they will have talked to all of the witnesses and possibly lost or destroyed evidence you need to prove your case. It is always a good idea to call a lawyer before an injury if you have questions about your insurance coverage. Sometimes people are afraid that they cannot afford the advice of a lawyer. At the Whitaker Law Office we do not charge people for initial consultations. If you have been in an accident you can call us without worrying about getting a bill for our services. We handle injury cases on a contingent fee basis, and don’t charge people just to talk to them.

2. How much do you charge just to talk about my case?

I don’t charge people just to talk about their cases. In fact, I talk to people everyday about their cases. I can usually get enough information to find out if their case is one I can help them with. If I can’t, I will tell you why. I may also refer you to a different kind of lawyer if you need a lawyer who does specific kinds of cases that I do not do. Either way, I would be happy to talk to you about your case and I will not charge you for that. If you want to hire me to represent you, and I agree, we will enter into a written agreement that will spell out the terms of my representation. You will be given the opportunity to read the agreement and I will answer any questions you have before you sign it.

3. Why should I pick you to handle my case?

I have been practicing law in Wyoming for nearly 25 years. I have an AV rating, which is the highest rating you can get from Martindale Hubble, which is a lawyer rating service based on what other lawyers in the area think about my abilities. My practice is a trial practice. I have also been recognized by US News and World Report as a member of “The Best Lawyers In America.” This rating is also based upon what other lawyers think of my abilities. If I can’t get a case settled under terms my client thinks are fair, I will go to court and try the case. I have successfully tried most kinds of cases in both State and Federal court in Wyoming. You should always interview a lawyer before you hire one and I don’t charge for people to come down to my office to talk to me. If you are comfortable after talking to me, then we can talk about me representing you. It is always your decision.

4. Do I have a case?

This is a complicated question. There are a number of variables a lawyer must evaluate to answer this question. I don’t charge people to come down to talk to me, but after talking to a client about a case, I can usually tell if there is a case. If you do not have a case, I explain why I think so. I don’t charge to do this.

5. What is my case worth?

The primary way of evaluating the value of a case is to determine the costs of the past and future medical bills and add the loss of wages both past and future. Then we have to see whether you have been scarred either physically or emotionally. We will also evaluate how seriously you were injured and whether you have been disabled as the result of an injury. We would also want to look at whether you experienced severe pain and whether your pain has now become chronic. Finally, we will look at any potential negligence on your part. Value can be affected by the at-fault party’s conduct. Were you hit by a drunk driver or a driver who has a history of reckless driving? Each case is different, but I can usually tell what a jury is likely to say based on an evaluation of these types of factors.

6. What should I do if I have been in an auto accident?

The primary things you should do if you have been injured in an accident is to seek medical care and try to preserve as much of the evidence that you can. You should contact a lawyer early in the process and have a lawyer with you before making any statements to a claims adjuster working for the at-fault party. The Auto Accident page on this site explains these issues in greater detail, but you should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

7. What is a personal injury case?

A personal injury case is where someone makes a mistake that results in another person getting hurt. It involves some type of physical or emotional injury that is caused by some type of wrongful conduct on the part of someone else. If you fall off your porch on ice you knew was there, it may be your fault. If someone runs a stop sign, slams into the side of your car and breaks your neck, that is a personal injury case.

8. What is a wrongful death case?

Wrongful death cases are a special type of negligence case in which the family of a person killed files a suit against the person who caused the death. These are very complicated cases and very few lawyers handle them. Prior to filing the lawsuit, the family must go to court to have a personal representative appointed to represent all of the family members.
The lawsuit must be brought by the personal representative in his official capacity. Individuals cannot file a wrongful death case. General negligence standards apply in assessing liability, but there is no way to compensate a person who is deceased. The damages available in wrongful death cases are therefore limited to the loss of care, comfort and society the survivors suffer by losing a person they love. This type of loss can include things like the lost financial support, emotional support and the advice, guidance and love the deceased person provided while they were alive.

9. Are there different kinds of lawyers?

Yes. Lawyers specialize just like doctors do. Some lawyers can write contracts or wills. Others specialize in family law where they handle divorces, custody, adoptions and cases of that nature. In the personal injury and criminal law cases, you will need a trial lawyer. This is a lawyer who knows how to try a case in front of a jury. You will find very few lawyers in any given city who actually do trial work.

10. Will I have to go to court if I file a suit?

Possibly. If your case cannot be settled fairly with the insurance company for the at-fault party, you may be required to file a suit. If you file a suit, the lawyer representing the at-fault party (who is usually hired and paid by his insurance company) may decide to take the case to trial because he thinks the case has the possibility of a good result for the insurance company. Whether to settle a case or try it before a jury is your decision. If the insurance company makes an offer to settle your case and you do not think it is fair, we go to trial. If on the other hand the insurance company’s offer is within reason, it may be too risky and expensive for you to take the case to trial. Either way, you are the one who makes this decision after talking it over with a competent trial lawyer.

11. How much time will my case take?

The answer to this question also depends on the facts of the case. If the injury is clearly short term and expected to result in a complete recovery, the case can be settled quickly as long as the insurance company on the other side negotiates fairly. If on the other hand the injuries are complicated and may become chronic, the time interval between the initial claim and the end of the case can take years.
 
The level of available insurance can also play a part in how long a case takes. If there is very little or no insurance covering the at-fault party and no underinsured coverage on your policy, it may make sense to settle the case quickly. Also, if a trial is required, it will potentially take years just to get to court. And, after a trial, either party has the right to appeal the decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court. This could take at least another year.
 
In any event, it is always better to get started with the process as soon as possible. If you use up all your medical payment coverage you may wind up paying all your own medical bills. You could even be sued by the treating hospital or other health care providers for not paying your medical bills. This is another reason to act quickly if you have been injured.

12. Who pays my medical expenses and lost wages while my case is pending?

Your own auto insurance company will pay for your medical bills up to the limit of the coverage. Then, if you have health insurance, they will continue to pay the bills. But remember that both your auto insurance company and health insurance companies have a right to be paid back out of any settlement or verdict you get from the at-fault party in the case. If you don’t have health insurance, you may be required to pay your own bills until your case is settled.

13. Should I get a second opinion if a lawyer has already told me I don’t have a case?

Yes. A second opinion is very important in personal injury cases. We have taken cases that have been rejected by other lawyers and achieved remarkable results. A second set of eyes looking at a case is always helpful. The more experienced the lawyer is, the more valuable the opinion. If you ask a lawyer who usually does divorce work whether you have a personal injury case, you may not be asking the right kind of lawyer.

14. What geographic areas does your practice cover?

My practice is limited to Wyoming. I travel throughout the state, but for misdemeanor criminal cases it is usually better for you to find a lawyer in your city.

15. Do you do Workers’ Compensation cases?

No. Workers’ Compensation cases are done in an administrative process and there are lawyers who specialize in this area. However, Workers’ Compensation may not be your only avenue of recovery and I will usually talk to people about these cases. If a person caused you injury and did not work for the company that employed you at the time of your injury, you may have a personal injury case in addition to your Workers’ Compensation case. You should always talk to a personal injury lawyer about any injury you suffered at work even if Workers’ Compensation is paying your medical bills.

16. Do you do medical malpractice cases?

Yes. These cases are quite difficult and expensive. Over the years, I have done many medical malpractice cases. Malpractice cases can be complicated because I will need to see all of your medical records before I can evaluate your case. In Wyoming, before you can file a medical malpractice case, you must go through the Wyoming Medical Malpractice Review Panel. The first thing this requires is hiring an expert witness to review your medical records and see if there is a case.

17. What should I do if I am dissatisfied with my current lawyer?

First, you should talk to your present lawyer and tell them you are dissatisfied. It may be that your problem can be worked out. It is usually not a good idea to change lawyers in the middle of the legal process. If the problem cannot be worked out, you must follow your agreement with your present lawyer. However, there is usually a provision allowing you to terminate the employment. You must ask for your file back and then hire a new lawyer.