Personal Injury FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

First, call 911 and make sure that everyone involved gets medical attention, if appropriate. After any emergency situation ends, if it’s possible to safely take photographs showing any evidence, try to do so. Photographs of vehicles, the scene and other things should be taken before they are moved, if it’s possible to safely do that.

It’s extremely important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after a collision. Why? Because an experienced lawyer can find and preserve valuable evidence that most people would never think about. For example, nearby businesses may have caught the collision on surveillance cameras. Getting that evidence can be critical, and extremely time-sensitive since many of those cameras only keep recordings for a short time before they are overwritten automatically. A lawyer can issue a subpoena for that evidence if the business won’t voluntarily produce it. In addition, a lawyer may want to quickly have a qualified accident reconstruction expert visit the scene, to document, measure and preserve evidence that might otherwise disappear. Those things include measuring and photographing skid marks, visiting body shops to document and measure vehicle damage before it’s repaired or auctioned off, etc. For instance, it can be crucial to have an expert measure the vehicle’s damage, because sometimes the depth of a dent or damage can be used to calculate a vehicle’s speed.

In addition, in an appropriate case the lawyer may want to have an expert download all of the data from onboard computers in any vehicle involved in the collision. Modern vehicles have computers that keep constant track of many factors (including the vehicle’s speed, direction, transmission gear, brake position, throttle position, turning, steering wheel position, spin rate, etc.). The primary purpose of that data is for the vehicle to decide whether or not to deploy the airbag in a collision. But an important secondary purpose is to help reconstruct how and why a collision occurred. Whatever the purpose, that data needs to be downloaded from the vehicle before it’s sold, transferred or the data overwritten.

The truth is that the only way you can really find out if you have a valid claim is by consulting an experienced attorney. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but the attorney will likely ask questions you hadn’t considered to get a better handle on the merits of your potential claim.

Missouri law uses what’s known as “comparative fault.” That means that if the jury finds there was negligence involved, they then assign a percentage number to each person claimed to be at fault, adding up to 100%. The jury then also places a dollar value on the person’s total damages and gives the verdict to the judge. The judge then subtracts from that total dollar amount the percentage of fault caused by the person suing, and enters a judgment for the remaining amount.

So, if there is a collision between Driver A and Driver B, and A sues B for his injuries, the jury might assess 25% fault to Driver A and 75% fault to Driver A, and assess A’s total damages at $1 million. The judge would then subtract 25% from the $1 million, and order Driver B to pay $750,000.

Pretty much every adult has at least some kind of pre-existing condition. It’s rare to find a 50-year-old who’s never had a broken bone or prior medical problem of any kind.

Despite that, insurance companies train their adjusters to tell people in negotiations that because they had a pre-existing condition, their claim is worth less. In fact, the opposite is true. If someone has an old injury to their left knee and then re-injure it in a collision, they typically suffer more than somebody who didn’t have that pre-existing condition, and the law recognizes that.

There’s a well-known legal maxim that says “You take the injured person as you find them.” That means that any kind of pre-existing weaknesses injuries or problems don’t let the bad driver and their insurance company off the hook.

In fact, there’s something in the law called the “eggshell skull doctrine” that stands for exactly that. If someone has an unusually thin skull, they are much more susceptible to having a serious head injury from a minor impact. If a minor motor vehicle collision (which would not cause harm to an average person) causes the person with the thin skull to have a fracture and a brain injury with catastrophic consequences, the at-fault driver is on the hook for all of those damages. It isn’t a defense to say “Well, I shouldn’t have to pay for all of it because a person with a normal skull wouldn’t have been hurt from that low-speed collision.” Legally, that is completely irrelevant – in essence, “you broke it, you bought it.”

While there are exceptions, the general answer is Yes. A lawyer is better informed about many of the things relevant to the situation including what potential claims you might have, how to pursue those claims, and what similar cases have settled for the past.

For instance, if the insurance policy for the driver who hurt you is insufficient to give you full and fair compensation for your claims, a lawyer can explore other types of claims or insurance policies that may be available to you, including uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, blanket or excess insurance policy coverages, and other similar additional avenues that may help you get a full and fair recovery.

Although most people don’t realize it, this can be a really complicated and tricky question. Most law firms (including Curran Law Firm) won’t give you a simple answer over the phone if you call and ask us question. It’s not that we don’t want to give you information – it’s that we don’t want to give you wrong information. The answer depends on many factors, including such things as:

  • what state you’re suing in;
  • what state the injury happened in;
  • exactly what type of claims you’re going to include in your lawsuit;
  • the age of the injured person (in many places the statute of limitations doesn’t start to run until you reach a certain age, so if a child is hurt the statute of limitations might not even start to run for many years);

Here is an example: someone runs a red light and hits a car in which Jim is a passenger. How long is the applicable statute of limitations?

Well, if Jim is simply injured, as a general rule, as of August 2021, the statute of limitations in Missouri for a typical personal injury that happened in Missouri is five years. But that general statement has many different exceptions and complications.

For instance, if the person who injured you dies (even from completely unrelated reasons), then Jim might have to file his claim within one year of the date of the death (even if Jim doesn’t know about the death!) and if he fails to do that, his claim may be limited to certain amounts.

But suppose Jim actually died from his injuries. In that case, a different statute of limitations applies, since now it’s a wrongful death lawsuit instead of a general injury lawsuit.

Or suppose Jim wants to file a medical malpractice lawsuit arising out of his treatment from these injuries – that suit would have a completely different statute of limitations.

Or suppose Jim had a long-standing feud with the guy who hit him. If Jim sues claiming the driver did it on purpose, there is a shorter statute of limitations than if Jim sues him for doing it accidentally.

Or suppose the defendant is a governmental entity, such as a city? Some claims require that a formal written notice be sent to specific government employees within just days after the injury, or you lose all your rights. (Technically those are called “notices of claims” instead of “statutes of limitations,” but the end result is the same: you lose the right to recover if you don’t comply with all of the requirements.)

So a lawyer can’t give you a good answer to this question without getting a lot of information and doing a detailed analysis. That’s why we can’t do it over the phone, but after learning all the facts of your situation and consultation, we will be happy to give you our opinion on that issue.

In general, to meet the requirements of the statute of limitations, you typically have to file a lawsuit, in court. It isn’t enough to send a claim letter or a demand or an offer to settle – you have to actually file a lawsuit in court. (As described earlier, in some situations a timely “notice of claim” has to be sent to a specific employee of a governmental entity you intend to sue, and those often have very short deadlines, measured in days rather than years.)

Insurance companies know that claimants who have a lawyer recover significantly more on average, than claimants who don’t have lawyers. They have done studies proving this.

Also, insurance companies don’t like to pay out money. So they specifically teach their adjusters to tell injured people that they don’t need a lawyer, and try to talk them out of getting a lawyer if they say they’re going to. They’re not doing this to help the claimant – they’re doing this to minimize how much they have to pay out in claims.

Most people who have no experience in negotiating personal injury settlements don’t understand exactly what types of losses are recoverable, and which are not. More importantly, they don’t know the “going rate” or historical settlement values for various types of injury claims.

If you’re negotiating in a vacuum, without any knowledge of the range of past settlements and past jury verdicts for your particular injuries, you have no yardstick with which to measure the value of your claims. Without that information, you’re operating at a severe disadvantage against an insurance adjuster who has been trained on how to negotiate injury claims.

Well, first of all, we want to make it clear to you that all we ever want you to do is tell the truth. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. Second of all, your credibility will be enhanced if you tell the truth and admit certain things that might hurt your claims. And third of all, it’s a crime to lie under oath.

But all that being said, you should not talk to anybody from the other side’s insurance company – at all. Why? The first reason is that they will lie to you. The second reason is that they view the situation as a one-way street: you give them all the information you’ve got, but they won’t give you any information in return. We’ve seen this again and again, with virtually every insurance company. Before hiring us, the client gave the insurance company a recorded statement explaining everything about how it happened, what doctors they saw, etc. But the minute they asked the insurance company for information, they get stonewalled:

  • “We’re not allowed to tell you how big the insurance policy limits are.” (That’s a lie – they are allowed to tell you that.)
  • “We’re not allowed to tell you what the independent eyewitness witness told our investigator.” (Another lie.)

Insurance companies routinely ask me for the opportunity to take a recorded statement from my client. I have a form letter that I send back to them that offering to make my client available for a recorded statement on the condition that they must also produce their insured at the same time and place for me to take a recorded statement from them. In over 30 years of practicing law, I have never – not once – had an insurance company take me up on that offer. Why? Because they’re not interested in exchanging information – they’re trying to get information, but not give any.

In general, if someone has been injured, insurance companies categorize their potential recoverable damages into two groups:

Non-Economic Damages: These are losses which don’t come with specific price tags already attached to them. They include things like:

  • Pain and Suffering;
  • Emotional Distress;
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life;
  • Humiliation and Embarrassment (such as from facial scarring, etc.)

Economic Damages: These are things that are easily put into precise numbers. Things like lost wages, the amount of their medical bills, the cost of repairing their vehicle, etc. While these items are easy to calculate, they’re usually just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the big picture.

Insurance companies love to base settlements off the economic damages, because it severely undervalues the noneconomic damage claims. They’ll tell you something like “it’s standard to settle for two times your medical bills.” That’s not only not true, it’s also unfair.

Having helped injured people for many decades now, I can tell you from personal experience that almost all of them consider their pain-and-suffering and emotional anguish to be far worse than their medical bills.

This is a really good question, but also one that’s really hard to answer, because there are so many factors to consider. A good lawyer isn’t going to give you an opinion on this question until after they’ve got a really good handle on your case, reviewed all your medical records, and you have already finished medical treatment and are basically finished recovering.

Any lawyer who says “a car crash in which a passenger broke their arm should always settle for $X” doesn’t know what they’re talking about. There are so many variations it’s impossible to generalize. Did they need surgery? Did they implant pins, rods, screws, or plates? How long were they in a cast? How old is the person? (Younger people generally heal better and more quickly.) How did the injury interfere with their daily lives? Does the doctor think they’ll need more medical treatment in the future? Is this one of the many injuries where arthritis will kick in many years from now, causing a lot of future pain the person doesn’t even realize is on the horizon? How much is the driver’s insurance policy limit? Are there any other claimants competing for that insurance policy limits? Etc.

If you are an employee hurt while working, you can generally file a workers’ compensation claim, and also file a separate negligence claim against the person who caused the injury. For instance, if John is delivering a part for his job when another vehicle runs a red light and crashes into him, John has both a workers’ compensation claim against his employer and a negligence claim against the person who caused the crash.

The interplay between these things can get complicated, but they are generally separate, standalone rights and you can pursue one, the other, or both. In general, the types and amounts of recoveries you can get from these two things are different. If you pursue both claims, the money you get from the negligence claim goes first to repay the workers compensation insurance carrier and the employer for the money they spent on medical care and other workers’ compensation benefits you received. (That’s called a “workers’ compensation lien.”)

Some cases settle as quickly as a month or two, and others can go on for much longer. There is no easy way to predict how long a particular case will take. But as a general rule, if a client is anxious to settle quickly for a reasonable number, it’s frequently possible to settle a claim within a few months after they finished treating for their injuries.

It’s not a good idea to settle before you finish treatment, because if complications happen after settlement it’s typically not possible to reopen the case. So you shouldn’t settle until you are certain that you have completed all treatment and have no complications.

Curran Law Firm, like most law firms involved in injury claims, usually represents injury clients on a contingent fee basis. That means that the attorneys fee is a percentage of the recovery, and if there is no recovery, the lawyer does not get any attorney’s fee. On most cases, Curran Law Firm will also agree to advance the cost of the expenses involved in prosecuting the case, which can be substantial. Case expenses include filing fees, deposition expenses, expert’s fees, trial exhibit expenses, focus group expenses and more.

No, you can’t. The insurance company didn’t drive the car, so you can’t sue them. In Missouri, the only person you can sue is the person who did injury you. Insurance companies have gotten the Missouri legislature to pass laws that specifically say that in an injury trial, the jury is not allowed to be told that the person being sued has insurance. It’s totally unfair, and designed to keep verdicts down by making jurors fear that the defendant is going to have to pay the full verdict themselves. (There are some minor exceptions, where you’re permitted to sue the insurance company directly. Such as you having a contract claim against them, such as where you’re suing for medical payments benefits under their policy.)

Generally speaking, insurance companies often say things like this when what they really mean is that they will include it in your settlement money for you to pay your medical bills.  Sometimes this situation arises as a genuine miscommunication, and other times insurance companies intentionally mislead people to think they will pay the bills directly.

So why won’t the insurance company pay your medical bills directly?  To be blunt, the primary reason is that they want you to feel the financial pressure of bills mounting up and bill collectors calling you, so that you’ll be forced to quickly settle your claims against them for a lower number.

No. You do not have to sign these, and should not. Insurance companies intentionally draft these papers so that you’re allowing them to get “any and all” of your medical records, even records from before the collision, and that have nothing to do with your actual injuries. If you read the paperwork carefully, you’ll also see that they usually check the box allowing them to get copies of any medical records and bills relating to deeply personal things which have nothing to do with your claims, including:

  • sexually transmitted disease records;
  • HIV-AIDS records;
  • drug and alcohol addiction records; and
  • psychiatric and counseling records

Why would they want to get all those extra medical records that are unrelated to the collision? After all, getting extra records will run up their costs, and be very time-consuming for their staff to read. So why did they do it?

Simple – they want to get their hands and everything they possibly can to dig up as much dirt and excuses so they can pressure you to settle quick and cheap.

I know many, many clients who simply don’t believe that insurance companies would engage in these tactics – but then it happens to them. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it over and over again. I once got a call from a woman who was 85 years old. She told me she had no intention of hiring a lawyer, until the insurance company asked her to sign medical papers that gave them the right to get copies of her medical records “going back to the patient’s birth.” She was so angry at this overreaching that she immediately hired me.

Generally speaking, the answer this is no, but the details of the exchange can really make a difference in that answer. If the insurance company is telling you that you’re stuck with the settlement, call Curran Law Firm and once we get the details of what happened and review the documents, we can give you a more informed answer this question.

A release is a piece of paper that you sign that actually settles your claims.  If you really want to break it down, a broad release basically says something like this:

“By signing this paper, I permanently release and give up all of my my rights to sue Mr. Smith from the motor vehicle collision, including all claims for personal injury (including medical expenses, lost wages, pain-and-suffering, emotional distress, etc.) and all claims for vehicle damage.”

In my opinion, this is one of the most unfair things that happens to injured people. They’ve been working a full-time job and earning health insurance benefits through their hard work. When they get hurt in a car accident, they submit their bills to the health insurance company and don’t think much more about it until they get a letter like this.

While I wish there was a simple black-and-white answer to this question, but there isn’t. It’s a very complicated issue that’s gone to the United States Supreme Court several times in the last decade because of its complexity and lack of clarity.

The overly simplified answer to the question is that it if an employee actually has health “insurance” issued in the state of Missouri, Missouri law prevents them from forcing the employee to turn over any part of the recovery. But just because everybody in the company calls it “health insurance” doesn’t mean it’s really health “insurance.” If the company you work for is large enough, they often provide health “benefits” instead of health “insurance,” and health “benefits” are a very different animal, and governed by completely different rules.

The upshot is that if an employee works for an employer who has a fully self-funded plan which is covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), that plan might (depending on how the documents are written) have a right to be reimbursed from your lawsuit recovery. And to make things worse, they often say that they don’t have to pay their fair share of your attorney’s fees and expenses.

If you want to learn more about this complex and unfair practice, do a Google search for “Walmart and Deborah Shank.” Walmart did exactly this back in 2008 to one of its employees who’d been seriously brain-damaged in a vehicle collision. Walmart sued her to force her to turn over to them basically every penny she received from the settlement. Walmart won, but the public backlash against the company for their overreaching tactics was so strong that Walmart publicly announced it was changing its policies and would no longer do that. However, almost every other employer that can do it, still does do it.