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Brainstorming and collaborating for frequently asked questions around injury law

Frequently Asked

Questions

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A CASE?

Personal injury cases often rely on the legal theory of negligence, which requires the plaintiff to prove three key elements: liability, damages, and proximate cause. If any of these elements is not proven, the plaintiff will lose the case. Winning requires demonstrating all three elements. Liability is established by showing that someone, such as an individual, corporation, or government entity, either did something they shouldn't have done or failed to do something they should have done. It can be a conscious or unconscious decision, and it signifies being at fault for the incident. To prove damages, the plaintiff must provide evidence of the harm and losses suffered as a result of the incident. This includes things like the nature and extent of the injury, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, scarring, grief over the loss of a loved one, and funeral costs. Proximate cause is proven by establishing that the liability was the legal reason behind the damages. A useful test for determining proximate cause is asking whether the damages would have occurred "but for" the liability. If the injury itself is directly responsible for the missed work, it can be considered a legal reason for the absence. Successfully winning a personal injury case requires proving all three elements: liability, damages, and proximate cause. This is done through presenting admissible evidence such as witness testimonies, documents like medical records or business records, and demonstrative aids. The jury evaluates this evidence based on the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, meaning if the plaintiff has shown something to be more likely true than false, it is considered proven. While this burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases, our firm, Gates Law Firm, aims to thoroughly and convincingly establish all three elements, leaving no doubts in the jury's minds. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in proving your case.

HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO FILE A PERSONAL INJURY CASE?

In a personal injury case, there is a time limit called the "statute of limitations" for filing a lawsuit. Once this time limit expires, the plaintiff cannot file a lawsuit. It is important to act promptly to ensure the case is filed on time. The time limit varies depending on the type of personal injury case. For instance, in cases involving harm caused by a medical professional, the time limit starts from the day of the negligent act, which may be different from the day the injury occurred. For example, in a misdiagnosed cancer case, the negligent act could have happened months before the cancer worsens. Generally, a person has three years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit in a personal injury case. If you need assistance with filing your personal injury lawsuit, contact us today.

WHAT IF I WAS PARTLY AT FAULT FOR THE ACCIDENT? 

Liability is the legal term that refers to being at fault for a bad event. To prove liability, the plaintiff must show that someone (a person, corporation, or government entity) either did something they shouldn't have done or failed to do something they should have done. This can be a conscious or unconscious decision that is clearly a bad choice. There are situations where the plaintiff's own choices contributed to the bad event. For example, if the plaintiff turned left in front of the defendant on a blinking green arrow, but the defendant was driving above the speed limit through the intersection. While the plaintiff did not have full right of way due to the blinking green arrow, the defendant should not have exceeded the speed limit. The jury then determines which choice was more at fault. In Arkansas, if the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, they lose the personal injury case completely. If the plaintiff is found to be 49% or less at fault, they win but with a caveat. The damages awarded by the jury are reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff's fault. For example, if the jury determines that the plaintiff was 40% at fault and awards $100,000 in damages, the judge will reduce the verdict to $60,000 ($100,000 - 40% = $60,000). In Arkansas, a plaintiff who is partially at fault can still pursue a personal injury lawsuit, although the damages awarded will be reduced accordingly. It's important to note that this law may not apply in all states. For Arkansas cases, we can help you navigate this complex issue. Contact us today for assistance.

WHAT IS A RELEASE IN A SETTLEMENT?

A release is a legally binding document that the Defendant/insurance company requires the Plaintiff to sign in exchange for a monetary settlement. It signifies that the case is permanently closed because both parties have agreed on a specific amount of money. Gates Law Firm has extensive experience in reviewing releases, having examined countless documents. Each release typically contains at least three complex legal terms, such as confidentiality, non-disparagement, hold harmless, repayment obligations to Medicare or Medicaid, pro-rata discharge, and more. Joseph Gates, GLF Founder, has provided legal education programs to colleagues nationwide and has published articles discussing the complexity of releases and the ethical concerns associated with certain terms. It is crucial for individuals not to be compelled to sign a release without competent and experienced legal counsel evaluating it beforehand. Contact us today for assistance in navigating this complex matter.

DO I NEED A LAWYER FOR A PERSONAL INJURY CASE?

Personal injury cases are complex and nuanced, making it crucial to have a personal injury lawyer by your side. While it may seem self-serving for us to say so, the reality is that inexperienced individuals are ill-equipped to handle this area of the law alone. If you have suffered an injury or tragically lost a loved one due to negligence, we strongly encourage you to prioritize your emotional, physical, and spiritual healing. Dealing with the aftermath of such a traumatic event already leaves you in a vulnerable state. Attempting to outmaneuver the insurance and corporate defendants, who spend millions of dollars to avoid paying maximum compensation to those they harm, will only add to your burdens. There are countless decisions to be made, from proving your personal injury case to understanding the timeframe for filing a lawsuit, among many others, in order to pursue maximum compensation. Furthermore, the multi-billion dollar industry will not take you seriously until you have a skilled and experienced lawyer with a proven track record representing you. Contact us today for assistance in navigating this complex terrain and to learn how we can help you in your journey.

HOW DO I PAY FOR A LAWYER IN A PERSONAL INJURY CASE?

In most legal situations, individuals are required to pay lawyers out of pocket for their services, similar to doctors or CPAs. However, personal injury cases are different. Personal injury clients at Gates Law Firm are not expected to pay legal fees and costs upfront. We offer a contingency fee payment plan, meaning we only receive payment if we successfully obtain money for our clients. Personal injury clients did not anticipate or expect to be in a situation that requires hiring a lawyer. They have experienced unexpected injuries, loss of loved ones, medical bills, missed paychecks, and immense stress. Our firm understands this, which is why we ensure our clients are not burdened with additional financial concerns. Not only are legal fees deferred until we secure compensation for our clients, but the costs associated with pursuing the case are also deferred. We cover the necessary case costs, such as expert fees, records, filing lawsuits, depositions, and more. These costs are then repaid from the obtained compensation. In the unlikely event that we are unable to obtain compensation, the responsibility for legal fees and case costs remains with Gates Law Firm. Our clients bear no financial risk when working with us. For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, you can listen to our founder, Joseph Gates, discussing it on a podcast with Stephanie Malone, CEO of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA).

WHAT SHOULD I BRING WITH ME FOR MEETING MY LAWYER FOR THE FIRST TIME?

Before meeting with our team at Gates Law Firm, it's helpful for personal injury clients to understand the typical items we use to prove our cases. This will give you a better idea of what to bring to the meeting. To prove our cases, we generally focus on three key elements: (1) Liability, (2) Damages, and (3) Proximate Cause. For proving liability, common documents include reports from investigating entities like the police, OSHA, or Game and Fish, as well as photographs of the scene or vehicles involved. To establish damages, important documents include medical records, medical bills, photos of any injuries or scarring, pay stubs, and family photographs from before the incident. For administrative purposes, clients should bring their health insurance cards, social security cards, driver's license, and car insurance cards (in car crash cases). While there may be additional case-specific items we'll request, our aim is to alleviate our clients' burdens and reduce their stress. We can assist in ordering and gathering many of the documents mentioned here.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A PERSONAL INJURY?

There are various types of personal injury cases such as car crashes, trucking incidents, products liability, traumatic brain injuries, medical malpractice, premises liability, and sexual assault, among others. To determine if you have a personal injury case, consider whether you or your family member suffered harm due to someone's or a company's actions. This harm can include physical injuries, pain, mental distress, missed work, medical expenses, scarring, or diminished earning capacity. If you believe someone else is responsible for the harm inflicted upon you or your family member, it's crucial to contact us promptly. There are time limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit, and proving all the elements of a personal injury claim involves numerous complexities and nuances.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO SETTLE MY CLAIM?

No sugarcoating. Not all cases settle (though most do). For the cases that do end up settling, the process will likely take longer than you anticipate. Insurance companies and big corporations do not like to part with money to pay for claims even when they have money set aside to do so. Why this happens fundamentally comes down to greed, and they would rather keep cash on hand to invest in other projects like the stock market than to pay what they owe. While we cannot necessarily control the timeline, what we can control is how we prepare. Ultimately, a case that is worked up ready for trial will create fear and anxiety in the other side that typically creates the best opportunity to get the most compensation. For most negligence cases, there are two general tracks: (1) Pre-Litigation and (2) Litigation. (1) Pre-Litigation It is not viable or practical for all cases to spend a lot of time in pre-litigation. There could be a big fight over who is at fault or the damages could be so large that no insurance company or big corporation will want to pay what they should without going through the litigation process. However, for the cases that it is viable and practical to go through the pre-litigation process, one can expect the treatment and investigation stage to last around 6 months (sometimes longer depending on how someone is responding to medical treatment). Once someone is finished treating with medical professional, we will then create a demand packet to serve on the insurance company, which will contain our investigation, the medical records/bills, lost wage information (if any), photographs, and other evidence to show how the strengths of the case. Depending on the other side responds, we will present two choices: (1) our recommendation to resolve the case if we feel it’s fair, just, and maximum or (2) our recommendation to litigate. Our personal injury clients will have the choice, and we will respect and honor that choice. For cases that jump to litigation or cases that end up in litigation after a failed negotiation in pre-litigation, there are six general milestones one can expect in litigation. Anywhere along the way, the cases for our personal injury clients can resolve. Here at Gates Law Firm, we prepare each client's case for Trial. We have found that this mindset allows us to dot every "i" and cross every "t" so that we are fully prepared to achieve justice and get maximum compensation for our personal injury clients.

HOW DO I PAY MY MEDICAL BILLS UNTIL I GET MY SETTLEMENT?

Our personal injury clients did not ask to have this situation thrusted upon them, and it is unfair for them to have to pay out-of-pocket. This is one reason why we at Gates Law Firm work these cases on a contingency fee model, so you don’t have to worry about paying an hourly rate to a lawyer. However, our personal injury clients will likely incur expenses typically in the form of medical bills as they try to recover from this bad, negligent event. Ultimately, the medical bills are the patient’s responsibility. However, there are different ways for medical bills to be paid. The primary way for medical bills to be paid is through a settlement with the at-fault insurance company. That can be time-consuming. In the interim, we employ a few tactics to lessen the burdens for our personal injury clients. The first tactic is to bill health insurance if our personal injury clients have that. This may cost a co-pay, but the upside is that the total bill handled. Another tactic, if the medical provider is willing, is to bill on a lien basis. A lien is where the medical provider delays payment in exchange of having the bill guaranteed by the settlement. Full disclosure: not all medical providers work from this model. And another tactic if our personal injury clients are injured in a car wreck is to see if they have a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage called Medical Payments (MedPay). This is a no-fault insurance (meaning it doesn’t matter who was at fault) coverage to help pay for medical bills. Typically, the limit is $5,000.00, and it can be a big help on medical bills. We at Gates Law Firm will explore these three tactics for our personal injury clients. Regardless of which tactic we employ, we will work diligently to ensure that the at-fault insurance company or corporation pays maximum compensation, which will include money for medical bills and reimbursement for any out-of-pocket expenses. At the end of the day, they are primarily responsible, and we will work toward that end.

WILL I HAVE TO GO TO TRIAL?

Short answer: probably not. Cases rarely go in front of a jury. Most cases settle when the other side offers financial compensation to end the case. For some cases, a judge will dismiss the case because the judge believes the Plaintiff has not or cannot prove their legal claims. Here at Gates Law Firm, we have tried over a dozen of negligence cases to a jury, yet we have handled and litigated hundreds of negligence cases. Thus, statistically, the odds of any case going to court are low. Despite those statistics, we at Gates Law Firm firmly believe that when we prepare and get our personal injury clients’ cases ready for court, we can achieve maximum compensation. Insurance companies and big corporations like to prey on the overwhelm that a jury trial brings to back people into a corner. We have found that when we are on the offensive by getting your case ready for court, this dynamic flips, and we have achieved maximum compensation for our personal injury clients. This practically means that we will conduct discovery and take depositions (see Milestone 4 discussion in FAQ No. 2). We will interview witnesses and hire experts when warranted. We will use visual aids and cutting technology to tell our personal injury clients’ story in a clear, convincing, and compelling manner. Even if we are not afforded the opportunity to tell our personal injury clients’ story to the jury, we will be prepared to do so.

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