Why Hire An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney?

SOMETIMES accident victims decide to settle their own personal injury cases. If you had very minor injuries, no significant medical expenses, and are confident that your injuries have completely healed, you may not need a personal injury lawyer. If you have a serious injury caused by the negligence of another person, however, you are more likely to lose money than to save money by handling the claim yourself.  Here’s why you should hire an experienced personal injury attorney:

1. Counter the tactics used by insurance adjusters

Whenever an accident occurs for which an insurance company might have to pay compensation, the company estimates the value of the claim and sets that money aside. The job performance of an adjuster is measured by how much of that money the company keeps for itself. Settling claims for less money than the company has reserved is bad for accident victims but good for the adjuster’s career. Claims adjusters use a variety of tactics to pay less. They tell you that you cannot prove the full extent of your damages. They will argue that you were partly or wholly at fault. They will insist that you be evaluated by the insurance company’s doctor, who will conclude that your injuries are less serious than your own treating doctors believe them to be. They will delay payment of claims in the hope of wearing you down. Personal injury lawyers are immune to these tactics.

2. Back up the threat to file a lawsuit

Insurance companies do not like to be sued. Lawsuits cost insurance companies money. If their insured is sued, the insurance company has to either hire a law firm or assign in-house lawyers in the county where the lawsuit was filed. Insurance adjusters know that if a victim is not represented by a lawyer, they won’t be sued. When a lawyer represents an accident victim, insurance adjusters know that the threat of a lawsuit is real. They are much more willing to settle cases for their true value.

3. Maximize recovery for medical expenses and earning loss

Medical expenses and wage loss due to an injury are not easy for a victim to compute, particularly where your health insurer has paid “discounted” amounts for medical expenses and where you’ll have future medical expenses. A personal injury lawyer knows how to prove these items.

4. Maximize recovery for Pain and Suffering

Compensation for pain and suffering is the largest component of a jury verdict. Adjusters insist that pain and suffering isn’t worth much. Accident victims pay a fee for the services of a personal injury lawyer, but only if the lawyer obtains compensation for them. In nearly every case, that fee is more than offset by the increased compensation that the lawyer negotiates for the victim’s pain and suffering. A 2011 study commissioned by the insurance industry revealed that injury victims with a lawyer get, on average, 3 ½ times more money that those who settled their claim on their own. In cases involving more serious injuries, the multiple was 10 times or more.

5. Find Additional Insurance Policies or Sources of Recovery

Insurance adjusters will represent that there is only a limited amount of money available under their insured’s policy. This may be true, or it may not. The person at fault may have more than one insurance policy against which you could make claims. You may also have your own insurance policy or polices which you can make claims against such as an “underinsured motorist” policy. The insurance company’s settlement offer may cut off the injured party’s ability to make claims against other policies.

Christopher Shenfield, Esq., Burlingame, California, March 22, 2018.

Police Reports: What Are They, What Do They Stand For, And How to Get Them?

Police Reports

Most people do not understand what goes into a police report, what it stands for in a court of law, and how to go about obtaining one. A police report is a form that is completed by a law enforcement officer after an accident or arrest. In the context of traffic accident cases, the precise name of the report is a “Traffic Collision Report.” In the context of a criminal arrest, the report is called an “Arrest Report.” In the event of a car accident involving a criminal charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol or a controlled substance, there will be a Traffic Collision Report as well as an Arrest Report. However, people unfamiliar with these documents, or even attorneys who don’t specialize in traffic accident cases, frequently refer to them simply as “police reports.” We’ll use the terms police report and traffic collision report interchangeably in this article.

What a Police Report Stands For In Court
A police report is merely a police officer’s documentation of his or her investigation. Unless the officer was physically present at the scene prior to the incident and actually witnessed what happened firsthand, then the report is at best his or her opinion regarding what happened based on an investigation. As such, the report is considered hearsay evidence and is not admissible in a court of law. The hearsay rule provides that out of court statements or documents (such as a traffic accident report) may not be submitted as evidence in court in order to prove a case. But this doesn’t mean the officer’s work and investigation is rendered completely useless. It still has certain limited uses.

Alejandro “Sandy” Stern (Raul Julia) in Presumed Innocent, 1990

While the report cannot be submitted as evidence to prove or disprove a legal case, the investigating police officer may be called as a witness in court to testify as to his or her investigation. As a witness in court, the officer would be expected to testify in like fashion with what is written in the report. In this respect, the report gives you and your personal injury lawyer a good indication of what the officer would be likely to say in court.

Also, any statements by opposing parties in the police report may be submitted as evidence under one of three notable exceptions to the hearsay rule: an admission by a party opponent; a statement against interest; or a prior inconsistent statement. While the police report is hearsay evidence, and therefore inadmissible in court, any statements that were admissions regarding the legal matter, statements against the interest of the party making them, or prior inconsistent statements (the party’s position taken in court is different that the statement given to the police officer), are admissible in court to prove your personal injury case.

How to Obtain a Police Report
The quickest way to a copy of a Traffic Collision Report or Arrest Report is to hire a personal injury attorney who will handle the task for you. You need an attorney anyway; it is essential if you want the best possible outcome in your legal case. Once you hire an attorney, he or she will obtain the report through the most efficient channels, which depends upon the agency who prepared the report. Some law enforcement agencies make the reports available on the internet through certain legal providers. Some only provide the report over the counter at the agency. Some agencies accept mail requests, which your lawyer can expedite by delivering a stamped mailing envelope to the correct contact person at the agency and paying applicable fees in advance so that the moment the report is ready it will be forwarded to your lawyer.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Police Report?
The length of time it takes to get a police report depends on three factors: (1) the responsible law enforcement agency, (2) the severity of the injuries; and (3) whether that is an ongoing criminal investigation, such as a DUI. The single most important factor is the responsible agency, which is determined by accident location. The California Highway Patrol (CHP), which handles incidents occurring on a freeway or state highway, is usually the quickest. They get the job done within a matter of days, and your lawyer can usually obtain the CHP report in less than one week, sometimes in as little as 3-5 days. Rarely does CHP take longer than 7 days. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), which handles incidents on the streets in the City and County of San Francisco, is a little slower. They can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, or longer. Other agencies, including other police departments such as the San Mateo County Sheriff, have varying processing times but most are closer to that of SFPD, which is 2-4 weeks.

If there are severe injuries, or a death occurred, the investigation will take much longer and the report will often need to be reviewed by upper management within the agency. This can significantly increase the processing time until the report is available to your traffic accident lawyer. If there is an ongoing criminal investigation, CHP will usually prepare its report quickly but the other agencies may take longer than one month to prepare their report. Even if the report is going to take two months to complete, for example because of an ongoing DUI investigation with the SFPD, a competent personal injury lawyer will be able to contact the investigating officer and immediately obtain relevant information, including sometimes digital photographs, needed to take all necessary steps to protect your interests and to build a strong legal case.

Underinsured Driver Car Accidents

WHAT HAPPENS when the person at fault for a car accident does not have enough insurance to cover the all of the injuries and damage caused by the car accident?  Although California requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance coverage so there is some money there to pay damages to the injured victim, the California car liability insurance minimum frequently falls far short of the needs of the car accident victim.

The state of California requires that all cars operating or parked on their roadways carry a certain level of liability insurance.  Evidence of your minimum liability insurance coverage must be on you at all times when you are driving so that you can show law enforcement when asked and share with parties to a car accident.  Here are the minimum liability insurance coverages set forth in California Insurance Code Section 11580.1 (b):

  • $15,000 for injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for property damage

Often referred to as “15/30/5 coverage”, one can easily see how these coverage limits usually fall well below what is needed to pay for the injuries and damages of the victim(s) of a car accident. For example, the victim of a car accident may have no major physical injuries following an accident, but their car has some major damage. When you are hit by someone with the coverage minimums listed above, the most you can get from their policy is $5,000 for the damage to your car.

Underinsured Car Accident Lawsuits

WHO makes up the difference? Similar to those instances in which you are hit by a driver who illegally has no car insurance at all, when you max out the policy limits for the other driver you can then go after the coverage in your own policy. Many of our clients do not realize that they have coverage for this very scenario, but if you do, we will work with (or in many instances, fight against) your own insurance company to get you the money you deserve following a car accident with an underinsured driver. Unless you declined this specific coverage in writing, you very likely have some level of uninsured and underinsured coverage (listed on your policy as “UIM Coverage”).  So going back to the example above– say the damage to your car was around $20,000. We would first exhaust the $5,000 policy limit of the “at fault” driver and then seek the remaining $15,000 from your own policy, if that amount is available.

YOU can’t control who you get into a car accident with.   For that reason, it is always important to take a look at your own insurance policy and make sure that your comprehensive coverage is high enough. If you are reading this, and have not been in an accident, but want to make sense of your insurance policy, you are welcome to give us a call and we will take a look for you. Underinsured car accidents are complicated.  Insurance companies will almost always try to offer you a lowball amount to save money on their end.  At the law firm of Shenfield & Associates, we have handled hundreds of these types of cases.  We know how to maximize your recovery. If you have recently been injured in a California car accident, please give us a call today at (650) 373-2054 to discuss your case further. We take all our cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you don’t pay us anything until you get paid.  We look forward to the opportunity to be of service to you.