You’ve been in an accident, and you were hurt. What’s next? The biggest question here is: were you hurt badly enough to ask for damages? In this article, we’ll discuss how to judge that.
In every case, you should start with medical bills. This is the biggest indicator of whether you might want to look at damages. In Texas, computing those medical bills is interesting. You can’t go before a jury with the total charges for a hospital bills. What you can take before a jury is the amount you’ve actually paid or the outstanding balance. If the hospital wrote off charges, the court looks at those charges as if they never happened. This is called “paid vs. incurred”, and Texas is one of the only states that uses it.
Calculating the amount of medical bills that go before the jury is complicated using this method. But to put it as simply as possible, use the amount that was paid by the individual or insurance company, or what is left to be paid. Start with that number.
Another thing you should look at is whether the person needed surgery. Obviously, this means he or she was hurt pretty badly. Then, look at whether therapy was needed. Did the person require physical therapy and treatment after the accident?
Sometimes, you have people come in after an accident. When you ask what happened afterwards, they say, “Well, nothing”. If that’s the case, this person probably wasn’t hurt. Most of the time, you should tell that person, “Be thankful you weren’t seriously injured. A lawsuit isn’t worth your time.” If, however, the person went to the emergency room, that’s a big deal and requires further consideration.
That doesn’t mean that if the person didn’t go to the emergency room immediately, he wasn’t hurt. People feel okay all the time at the accident scene, due to shock or adrenaline, and then wake up the next morning sore or in pain. Then, they go later.
Those are the big indicators of how badly someone was injured. These are the questions you want to ask:
- Did you go to the emergency room?
- What was the treatment?
- What was the effect of the injuries?
- Did you have to miss time at work?
- Did the injury affect your well-being?
Remember that no one wants to have surgery. It’s the only option or a last resort. People don’t want to spend hours at physical therapy, away from their jobs or families, unless it’s going to help.
There is no magic time to make a judgment on a person’s injuries. Most people start looking at lawyers a couple of weeks after an accident. Then, they realize how big the process really is. This is when insurance companies start asking questions, wanting statements. When they come in, I always tell them to do what the doctor says. I wouldn’t make a judgment on the extent of injuries until a doctor says there’s nothing more that can be done. Unfortunately, sometimes that means the person still has something that can’t be fixed. Maybe it’s stiffness in the neck or a pain in the shoulder. More often than not, the doctor will eventually tell the person that they have to learn to live with that.
But I would not make the call until the doctor says one of two things: “You’re healed” or “This is as good as it gets.”
If you’re offered a settlement by an insurance company, in most cases, you shouldn’t take it. It’s different if you’re only dealing with property damage with your vehicle; that’s fine and pretty straightforward. For that, you don’t need an attorney. I always tell my clients that I’m happy to advise them on property damage, but I don’t want to have to get paid from that part of the accident. It’s not complicated and they don’t need me.
But, when you’re dealing with personal injury, you should always discuss it with a lawyer. Some insurance companies are fair; some are better than others about what they offer and pay. Sometimes it’s not very fair, but it’s usually pretty close. Just talk it over with the lawyer before you take whatever the insurance company says.
So those are the basics of dealing with personal injury. First, assess the medical bills and medical situation. Remember that Texas law only uses medical expenses that are paid or have an outstanding balance. Don’t figure anything for the case until the doctor signs off on the healing process. And always talk with a lawyer before taking a personal injury settlement.