Answers to some common legal questions

General Questions and Answers from Phoenix Personal Injury Lawyers

Q: Should I hire a lawyer for my injury case or just handle it myself?

Q: Should I hire a lawyer now for my case or wait to see if I need one?

Q: Do I have to come up with any money to hire a lawyer for my case?

Q: What is a contingency fee?

Q: Do you offer free consultations?

Q: I can't get to your office to hire a lawyer - can you still help me?

Q: Should I give a recorded statement to the insurance company?

Q: The insurance company sent me papers to sign. Should I sign those and send them back?

Q: The insurance company wants me to sign a HIPAA release to obtain my medical records - Should I sign?

Q: I got a lien in the mail from the hospital. What does this mean?

Q: My doctor wants me to sign a "lien." Should I do that?

Q: Should I use my health insurance to pay for accident related treatment? Why should they pay - it was the other guys fault?

Q: Will my insurance rates go up if I make an underinsured motorist or underinsured motorist claim?

Q: What is Medical Payments Coverage?

Q: Does my health plan have the right to get paid back from my settlement?

Q: Will my case have to go to court?

Q: How long will my case take?

Q: What types of lawsuits do personal injury lawyers handle?

Personal injury lawyers handle a wide variety of cases, ranging from representing clients injured in car accidents to assisting the victims of dog attacks. Although personal injury attorneys are often able to settle cases without filing a lawsuit, sometimes it becomes necessary.

Q: What does it cost to hire a personal injury lawyer?

Many personal injury attorneys do not charge for their services unless money is recovered from the party that caused their injuries. This arrangement is known as a contingency fee. If there is no recovery, then the personal injury attorney does not get paid any money.

Q: Who pays the up-front expenses of a personal injury case?

It is within the discretion of the personal injury attorney whether to advance expenses in a case. If the personal injury attorney chooses to advance such expenses, the amounts advanced are recovered by the personal injury attorney when there is a recovery of money from the person responsible for the client's injuries.

Q: What can you expect to happen in a personal injury lawsuit?

If your personal injury attorney is unable to settle the client's case with the other party and filing a lawsuit becomes necessary, the litigation process begins with the filing of a lawsuit that provides the basis of the client's claim, known as a cause of action. The document filed initially is known as a Complaint. The client that brings the claim is known as the plaintiff, while the other side being sued is called the defendant. The defendant is served with a copy of the Complaint so they will have the opportunity to answer the Complaint and defend against the claims brought by the Plaintiff. Through the remainder of the process, the parties exchange information regarding the claim. For example, the plaintiff is required to provide (disclose) copies of all relevant medical records regarding the plaintiff's injuries. The parties also have the opportunity to take each other's sworn testimony. This testimony is typically transcribed by a court reporter. Ultimately, a trial is held and t he parties present their case before a jury, who determines whether the plaintiff should be awarded money from the defendant.

Q: What expenses are involved in a personal injury lawsuit?

The typical expenses incurred in a personal injury lawsuit are court filing fees, fees paid to court reporters to take deposition testimony, and any fees charged by experts or witnesses to testify on behalf of the plaintiff. Some of the expenses can be recovered from the defendant if the plaintiff ultimately, wins the case.

Q: What is the value of my personal injury claim?

It is difficult to determine the value of any personal injury lawsuit without knowing the facts of the case and being familiar with the medical treatment and costs of medical care. The plaintiff's injuries must be reviewed by a competent attorney, who can provide the wisdom of his or her experience in similar cases to provide a proper valuation of the case. Every case is different in terms of value; therefore it is important to seek the advice of an attorney as quickly as possible after the injury occurred.

Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?

Although there is no minimum personal injury settlement amount, an experienced personal injury attorney can assist the client in determining the value of the case so the client can make informed decisions regarding the case.

Q: What about medical bills? Are they included in a bodily injury claim?

The types of medical treatments and the amount of medical bills are always very important considerations in making a bodily injury claim. These will help to provide the personal injury attorney with a means of providing a monetary valuation of the case. In other words, the medical care and medical bills are important factors in determining how much a case is worth.

Q: Do lawyers receive their fee percent before or after medical expenses are paid?

Typically, attorney's fees are taken from the gross (total) amount recovered on behalf of the client. The medical expenses can be paid from the money recovered by the personal injury attorney, and many times the attorney can successfully negotiate a reduction in the medical bills, which will result in additional sums of money to the client.

Q: Does my lawyer need my consent to settle my personal injury case?

A lawyer can never settle a client's case without the client's consent. Any settlement offers that are received by the attorney must promptly be discussed with the client. The settlement offers for the client should be discussed with the client prior to making them. In short, the client should be involved in his or her case as much as possible.

Q: How do I collect the money owed to me in my personal injury case?

When a settlement is negotiated with the other side, arrangements are made by the personal injury attorney to receive the settlement funds on behalf of the client so they can be properly distributed to the client. The attorney is able to protect the best interest of the client by making sure that any medical providers that are legally entitled to payment are satisfied. The attorney can often negotiate a reduction in repayment of medical expenses and medical liens; therefore, it is important to retain a personal injury attorney as soon after an accident as possible.

Questions and Answers from Bicycle Accident Lawyers

Q: I want to sue the person responsible for my bicycle accident. Can I do that?

When a person is involved in a bicycle accident, the injuries are usually very severe. If another person caused the accident, they may be legally responsible for the injured person's injuries. It is very important to consult with an experienced bicycle accident lawyer as soon after the incident as possible. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to review the injured person's case and determine if a legal claim can be brought against the responsible person.

Q: Who are the potential defendants in a bicycle accident case?

There are many possible parties against whom a person injured in a bicycle accident can recover. The potential parties that can be pursued for damages depend on the facts of the case. Often, the driver of a motor vehicle is responsible for the client's injuries and claims can be brought against the driver's car insurance company. Other potential parties against whom an injured bicyclist can recover include cities, counties or states for improperly maintaining roadways can creating hazardous and dangerous conditions, homeowners who created dangerous conditions on their property or failed to maintain their property, and manufacturers of defective bicycles or bicycle parts. These are only a few examples of the potential persons against whom an injured bicyclist can recover. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate a client's particular case to identify potential parties against whom an injured bicyclist can recover monetary damages.

Q: What if I think I am at fault for the bicycle accident?

Bicyclists are obligated to follow Arizona law for the safe operation of a bicycle. Even if a bicyclist injured in an accident believes that he or she is at fault in some way for the accident, the bicyclist should still speak with a personal injury attorney regarding the case. Many injured people mistakenly believe that if they violated a law, they will not be able to recover from another person whose actions or inactions contributed to the accident. Injured bicyclists should NEVER assume that they do not have a claim for damages against another person. Again, the bicyclist should consult with an attorney as soon after the accident as possible.

Questions and Answers from Car Accident Lawyers

Q: After I am involved in a car accident, what should I do?

Aside from seeking immediate medical attention when necessary, a person injured in a motor vehicle accident should obtain insurance company information from the other driver. These days, most cellular phones come with a digital camera feature, which can be used to take photos of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles involved that were involved in the collision. Photographs of any visible injuries should be taken and preserved. Obtain names and contact information for any witnesses present. Again, seeking prompt medical attention is always the first step that should be taken. Lastly, you should not give a statement regarding the accident to insurance company representatives or property damage appraisers. Do not accept any money from anyone and do not sign any documents, such are releases or waivers. Consult with a car accident lawyeras quickly as possible.

Q: Why do I need to hire a car accident lawyer?

An experienced ca accident lawyer should be consulted with as quickly after the accident as possible. It is not wise to attempt to deal with any insurance company on your own. Insurance companies and their representatives do not have the injured person's interests at heart. An attorney will be able to represent the injured party's best interests and seek appropriate compensation on the client's behalf. The attorney will ensure that the insurance companies are not taking advantage of you and seek maximum compensation.

Q: I wasn't wearing a seat belt - Can do I still have a case?

Q: Do I have to go to court if I want to pursue a claim for my bicycle accident?

Not necessarily. Although it is possible that filing a lawsuit will not be necessary and the case can be settled without filing suit (also known as pre-litigation settlement), sometimes it becomes necessary. Generally speaking, the majority of cases, filed or un-filed, do not go to trial. A competent personal injury attorney will be able to guide the injured client through the process and represent solely his or her best interests. The attorney will communicate any settlement offers and fully discuss all of the client's options.

Q: How much will a consultation or evaluation with a lawyer cost me?

There is no firm answer regarding whether or not a given personal injury attorney charges a fee for a consultation/evaluation. Therefore, when a potential client initially contacts an attorney/law firm, he or she should ask in advance of scheduling an appointment whether or not the attorney/law firm charges a consultation/evaluation fee. Many personal injury attorneys do not charge such a fee, but it is best to ask in advance before scheduling an appointment. It should also be noted that many attorney can discuss a potential case over the telephone and then determine whether an in-person consultation is necessary. A consultation should be conducted by a licensed attorney. Do not be shy about asking the person you are consulting with whether he or she is a licensed attorney.

Questions and Answers from Dog Bite Attorneys

Q: Should I report a dog bite?

Yes, if the dog or animal is still at large and poses any threat to you or others you should call 911 immediately. You should report all dog and animal bites to the animal control department for the county where the bite occurred. In fact, under Arizona law, health care providers are required to report dog bites to animal control officials in order to prevent the spread of rabies. In Maricopa County, all bites should be reported to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control at 602-506-PETS(7387) who will perform an investigation.

Q: Does Arizona have the "one free bite" rule?

The "one free bite" rule is a common law rule of negligence that is not the controlling law in the state of Arizona. Arizona has common law and statutory causes of action that impose strict liability on dog owners.

Q: What is "strict liability"?

How does it apply to dog bites? Strict liability means that liability is imposed without proof of negligence, carelessness or fault. Dog owners are strictly liable pursuant to ARS Section 11-1025 and if a dog is at large, in violation of ARS Section 11-1020.

Q: Do local ordinances and state laws cover dog bites?

Local laws prohibit the keeping of vicious dogs and prohibit dogs from running at large. Also, the State of Arizona has statutes that impose strict liability for dog bites and prohibit dogs at large.

Q: What are leash laws?

Most cities in the State of Arizona, including Phoenix, have ordinances that prohibit dogs at large. Most of these municipalities require that dogs be on a leash that is six (6) feet or shorter or confined with in a yard or structure. Many retractable leashes extend beyond six feet and are not in compliance with leash laws. The law of the State of Arizona prohibits dogs at large.

Q: Does homeowner's insurance cover dog bite claims?

Most homeowner's policies cover bites and attacks by animals owned by the insured. These cover dog bite claims. They sometimes cover other animals that occasionally bite, like cats, and rare animals like monkeys, ferrets, and snakes. There are rare occasions when these policies have breed exclusions for certain breeds like pit bulls or rottweilers. It's best to contact an experienced dog bite lawyer when insurance questions regarding these incidences arise.

Q: What happens if the dog owner doesn't have insurance?

If the dog owner does not have insurance, it is important to investigate whether they have assets or income sufficient to satisfy the damages caused by the dog bite. Also, it is important to determine whether there are other responsible parties or available insurance polices such as renter's insurance, a relative's policy, or a commercial insurance policy.

Q: Are dog owners required to post security signs around their property?

Dog owners are not required by law to post security or warning signs around their property. However, it is makes good common sense to warn of danger especially powerful or aggressive dog breeds.

Q: Should I press charges if my child has been attacked?

You should cooperate with local prosecutors if you or your child is attacked. Often, dog owners are prosecuted for allowing a dog to be at large, unregistered, or keeping a vicious dog.

Q: What compensation am I entitled to if a dog has bitten me?

Dog bite victims entitled to compensation for their damages. In Arizona, a dog bite victim is entitled to be compensated for the nature and extent of their injury, pain, anxiety, suffering, cost of medical care, future medical care, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and loss of consortium or companionship for a spouse or family member. Specifically, in dog bite cases victims are often disfigured physically by scars that require plastic surgery. Many dog bite victims are harmed by the emotional trauma of the event and fear of dogs.

Questions and Answers from DUI / DWI Accident Attorneys

Q: Can I sue a drunk driver for punitive damages?

Yes, drunk and impaired drivers are subject to punitive damages in addition to the typical auto accident damages.

Q: Can I collect from the drunk driver's insurance company?

Yes, drunk and impaired drivers are often at fault for collisions. You can typically collect money damages from the other insurance company. However, punitive damage awards are not typically covered under most car insurance policies.

Q: Is there an alcohol level at which a drunk driver is automatically responsible for an accident?

There is no alcohol concentration that makes the intoxicated driver automatically responsible. Under Arizona law, the legal limit is .08 blood or breath alcohol concentration and those drivers above that level are presumed to be impaired. However, a driver can be impaired to the slightest degree by a lesser amount of alcohol and/or combination of prescription or illicit drugs.

Q: Can I still sue a drunk driver even if the police did not charge that driver, or he or she was found not guilty?

Yes, the standards in criminal and civil court are different. It is not necessary for the person to be convicted in criminal court to win a money judgment in civil court. However, if the driver is convicted of DUI in criminal court, the drunk driver cannot later deny that they were impaired.

Questions and Answers from Elevator / Escalator Accident Attorneys

Q: Who is liable in an elevator and escalator accident injury claim?

In most instances of elevator accident injury cases, the property owner, property manager or elevator maintenance company is the responsible party for elevator accidents.

Q: Under what category of law do elevator and escalator accidents fall?

Elevators and escalators are typically regulated by the municipality or local government. Elevators and escalators typically are inspected annually and periodically. When an elevator or escalator accident occurs there is often a violation of safety codes. A victim of an elevator or escalator accident often files a civil suit for negligence seeking money damages for their injuries.

Q: What are the statute of limitations involving elevator and escalator accidents?

Most elevator and escalator injury cases involve negligence claims. In Arizona, the statute of limitations is typically two years except in the case of claims against public entities; in that case, a notice of claim is due within 180 days from the accident and the lawsuit must be filed within one year of the elevator or escalator accident.

Q: What are some of the most common elevator incidents that result in an injury?

Elevator accidents occur when doors malfunction and sensors close on a person is entering or exiting the elevator. Also, elevators sometimes do not stop level with the floor and passengers sometimes trip or fall out when entering or exiting the elevator. In more rare instances, elevators fall or the outer doors open when the elevator is not at the floor causing a person to fall through the elevator shaft.

Q: What are some of the possible injuries resulting from elevator accidents?
Elevator accidents cause a wide variety of injuries including broken bones. Accidents that involve a person falling in an open elevator shaft often result in catastrophic injuries or death.
Q: Who can file a wrongful death claim in an elevator accident-related death?

The family members of the deceased, including the spouse, children or parents, can file a wrongful death action.

Q: How do escalator injury accidents occur?

Escalator injuries often occur when a body part, often extremities, like a hand or foot, is trapped in the escalator. Often, these injuries are shearing or lacerations. Additionally, children are disproportionately injured in escalator accidents. These accidents often occur because the escalator is not properly maintained, safety equipment is broken or missing, or the escalator does not have state of the art safety equipment.

Questions and Answers from Motorcycle Accident Attorneys

Q: How I know how the accident happened?

It is important to conduct a thorough investigation. An experienced motorcycle accident attorney will coordinate an accident investigation by collecting all police reports and investigative materials. Also, a motorcycle accident investigator can often analyze the evidence from the accident to reconstruct what happened.

Q: What if my motorcycle had Defective Equipment?

It is important to preserve the evidence from an accident, including taking photographs of the scene and the vehicles involved. Furthermore, after an accident, the motorcycle should be inspected by a qualified technician. If there is some indication that a defective product was involved the evidence, that is, the motorcycle should be preserved and stored as evidence.

Q: What should I say to the other driver involved in the accident or their insurance adjuster?

Under Arizona law, a person involved in a collision has the duty to provide basic information and render assistance as follows:

A.R.S. § 28-663. Duty to give information and assistance; classification
A. The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person or damage to a vehicle that is driven or attended by a person shall:
1. Give the driver's name and address and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving.
2. On request, exhibit the person's driver license to the person struck or the driver or occupants of or person attending a vehicle collided with.
3. Render reasonable assistance to a person injured in the accident, including making arrangements for the carrying of the person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if the carrying is requested by the injured person.

However, you should always consult with a motorcycle accident lawyer prior to speaking with the other driver's insurance company. Most experienced motorcycle accident attorneys advise those who are involved in collisions not to speak with the other driver's insurance adjuster and not to give a recorded statement.

Q: I was partially responsible for the motorcycle accident, can I still recover damages?

Arizona law recognizes the concept of comparative fault. That means that multiple parties may be responsible for an accident and fault can be apportioned among several parties. Therefore, even if you believe that you are at fault for a motorcycle accident, you should consult with an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer to evaluate the case. Even those riders who are more than 50% at fault can make a claim.

Q: How long will my case take?

Every case is different and the time it takes varies based in part, based upon the length of medical treatment. Often a case can be settled within a few months after the medical treatment is completed. However, some cases take longer if a reasonable offer cannot quickly be obtained by the insurance company.

Q: Will my case go to court?

The majority of cases are resolved without filing a lawsuit. There are times, that the insurance company does not offer a fair and just settlement or the insurance company does not accept liability. In those instances, an experienced motorcycle litigation and trial attorney is necessary.

Q: Should I sign a release my medical records to the insurance company?

Typically, in the pre-litigation stage, we do not provide a signed medial HIPAA release to insurance company. A motorcycle accident attorney can obtain all of the pertinent medical records and disclose them to the insurance company with the goal of obtaining a settlement.

Q: Can any lawyer handle a motorcycle accident case?

All lawyers licensed in Arizona are legally able to the handle motorcycle accident cases. However, that does not mean that it is wise. An experienced and competent personal injury attorney who handles motorcycle accident cases makes a bit difference and can usually obtain the best results for a the client who was a victim of a motorcycle accident.

Q: What if the other person has no insurance?

An experienced motorcycle attorney should conduct a thorough investigation before concluding that the other driver was uninsured. If the other driver is uninsured, the motorcycle accident victim's insurance may have coverage to pay for damages, injuries and expenses. The possible policies are uninsured motorist coverage, medial payments coverage and collision coverage.

Questions and Answers from Semi Truck Accident Attorneys

Q: What is the difference between an ordinary car accident and a trucking accident?

In many ways, ordinary car accidents and truck accidents are similar. Trucking accidents often cause more damage and more often involve fatalities. Trucking cases are typically more complex and involve unique accident reconstruction issues. In addition to local and state traffic laws, Semi trucks are also subject to a complex set of federal safety regulations.

Q: What are commercial trucks?

Commercial trucks include a wide variety of commercial vehicles including those known as semi trucks. "Eighteen wheelers," and smaller vehicles, like delivery trucks, tow trucks, deliver vans etc.

Q: Why do truck accidents occur?

Trucking accidents occur because of many of the same reasons ordinary car accidents occur, like driver error and violations of traffic laws. Trucking accidents also happen because of driver fatigue, driver inexperience, failure to follow safety regulations and equipment failure.

Q: I live in another state, but the accident happened in Arizona?

Typically, it is best to find an experienced trucking attorney in the state where the accident occurred. Arizonans should contact an experienced semi truck accident lawyer.

Q: Should I file my claim against the trucking company and the truck driver?

In most cases, both the trucking company and the driver are named in an insurance claim or lawsuit for injuries due to a truck accident.

Questions and Answers from Sexual Abuse Attorneys

Q: How long do I have to file a claim or lawsuit?

Typically, there is a 2 year statute of limitations for these types of cases. However, if there is a public entity involved, a notice of claim must be filed within 180 days and the lawsuit must be filed within one year. Often, a sexual abuse victim is a minor and these deadlines are tolled or put on hold until the victim's eighteenth (18th) birthday. You should contact an attorney in your State immediately to discuss the deadlines particular to your case.

Q: How much is my sexual abuse/assault case worth?

In Arizona, a sexual abuse victim is entitled to be compensated for the nature and extent of their injury, pain, anxiety, suffering, cost of medical care, future medical care, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and loss of consortium or companionship for a spouse or family member. It is difficult to put a dollar amount on any case until it is adequately investigated by an experienced sexual abuse attorney. However, these cases are extremely serious and the damages are substantial.

Q: Who can file a claim or lawsuit in Arizona for sexual abuse?

The victim of sexual abuse or their parent or guardian if the victim is a minor can bring a claim or lawsuit. Perpetrators of sexual abuse, assault or molestation, and often their employers, can be held responsible for the damages that they have caused their victims.

Questions and Answers from Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys

Q: What is a brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury refers to an intracranial injury. There are closed and penetrating head injuries. These types of head injuries are caused by car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, falls and any number of traumatic causes. Traumatic brain injury can often result in death. For those who survive the long term disability is sometimes physical, behavioral, cognitive and emotional.

Q: What is a spinal cord injury?

Spinal Cord Injuries occurs when a trauma causes damage to cells within the spinal cord or severs nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord. Many accident victims with spinal cord injuries are permanently paralyzed, and many die as a result of their injuries.

Q: Who can file a lawsuit for a brain injury or spinal cord injury?

Sadly, in many cases, the victim of the brain injury or spinal cord injury does not survive their injuries. In those cases, family members may bring a wrongful death action. If the injury victim survives, they can bring their own claim or lawsuit for money damages.

Q: What damages can a victim seek for traumatic brain or spinal cord injury?

Injury victims with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries often incur tremendous medical treatment and bills. These types of serious injuries also require a lifetime of future care and treatment. An experienced attorney will work with health care providers and economists in order to prepare an estimate for future care.

Questions and Answers from Wrongful Death Attorneys

Q: What is a wrongful death claim?

A wrongful death action is a civil action to recover money damages against the responsible party by the family members or estate of a person who was killed.

Arizona statues set forth the wrongful death action as follows:

A.R.S. § 12-611. Liability

When death of a person is caused by wrongful act, neglect or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action to recover damages in respect thereof, then, and in every such case, the person who or the corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death was caused under such circumstances as amount in law to murder in the first or second degree or manslaughter.

Q: Who can file a wrongful death claim?

Arizona law allows certain family members or personal representative to bring a wrongful death action. These are very serious cases that should be addressed with the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney.

A.R.S. § 12-612. Parties plaintiff; recovery; distribution

A. An action for wrongful death shall be brought by and in the name of the surviving husband or wife, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person for and on behalf of the surviving husband or wife, children or parents, or if none of these survive, on behalf of the decedent's estate.

B. Either parent may maintain the action for the death of a child, and the guardian may maintain the action for the death of the guardian's ward.

Q: What damages can I recover as a result of a wrongful death?

A.R.S. § 12-613. Measure of damages; nonliability for debts of decedent

In an action for wrongful death, the jury shall give such damages as it deems fair and just with reference to the injury resulting from the death to the surviving parties who may be entitled to recover, and also having regard to the mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect or default. The amount recovered in such action shall not be subject to debts or liabilities of the deceased, unless the action is brought on behalf of the decedent's estate.

Q: What causes a wrongful death?

Wrongful deaths are caused by the negligence, recklessness or intentional actions of another person. Most often, wrongful deaths are the result of an automobile accident, motorcycle accident, pedestrian collision or bicycle accident.

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