Dealing with insurance companies can be very difficult for a personal injury victim. An experienced personal injury attorney not only knows what information and documentation an insurance company needs for settlement negotiations but also knows how to protect the victim from being taken advantage of by the standard tactics and ploys of the insurance industry.
For example, insurance companies will often ask the victim for a statement before the victim has had an opportunity to consult with an attorney and before the victim has even had an opportunity to assess their medical condition with their health care practitioners.
Insurance companies also often ask for authorization to receive all the medical bills and records and often use the authorization to get records that are not directly related to the injuries incurred as a result of the accident. In order to protect a victim from the practices of the insurance companies which are designed to minimize payments to victims, a victim who suffers serious injuries as a result of an accident should have an attorney from the onset to protect the victim’s rights.
There is not necessarily a standard fee for personal injury cases, but the trend is for attorneys to ask for a fee of one-third or less if the case is settled before a lawsuit has to be filed and then increase the fee up to 40% or more if the case gets set for trial.
If you have a case that is large enough for an attorney to handle for you on your behalf, you should not sign medical release forms and return them to the insurance representatives of the person who caused your injury. Your release of medical records can give the insurance company an advantage to obtain records of your healthcare beyond the items that were caused by the accident. Insurers have even asked treated physicians to give their opinion as to whether your condition was caused by the accident and the negative answer by the treating physician can be very detrimental to your case.
On the other hand, if you intend to proceed in a small case without an attorney, it can be a convenience for you to sign the release and allow the insurance company to gather the pertinent records. You should be careful to limit the release to the particular period of time that you received treatment for your injuries.
Except in a small case where you intend to handle the matter yourself, it is best not to give a statement to the insurance representatives of the person who caused your injury. Your attorney will be able to give the pertinent information to the insurer at the appropriate time. If the case proceeds to litigation, you are likely to be deposed, but your attorney will be with you to interpose appropriate objections.
Medical liens are a part of contracts between you and your healthcare insurers. The healthcare insurers demand repayment from your recovery by settlement of judgment in a personal injury case. As a part of most medical insurance contracts, the medical insurer has a contractual right to recover its costs of treating you for the accident from your settlement or judgment. However, there are limitations and the amount is often negotiable depending on whether you got a full recovery in the settlement.
For example, if you have an attorney, case law in California provides that the insurer must reduce its lien by one-third for the attorney’s fees that you are presumably paying to get the recovery.
Also, if you do not get a full settlement or award, for example, in the case where liability is uncertain, insurers are often open to negotiation and reduction of the lien.
According to the statute of limitations in California, you have 2 years from the date of your accident to bring personal injury and wrongful death claims (CCP § 335.1) and 3 years from the date of your accident to bring property damage claims (CCP §338).
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