Q. What is a personal injury case?
A. Generally, personal injury cases involve automobile accidents, slip and fall accidents and other incidents that do not relate to negligence alleged against doctors, hospitals or healthcare providers. (See “Medical Malpractice FAQ” for information about these types of cases.)
Q. What is a statute of limitations in a personal injury case?
A. Statute of limitations is the time limit established by law within which you must file your case or be forever barred from doing so. Personal injury cases generally have a two-year statute of limitations that begins running on the date you were injured. It is important that you consult an attorney as soon as you believe you may have been injured, as various factors may impact your statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for a minor child or a person under a disability may be extended, so contact a lawyer to advise you about a particular claim.
Q. I was in a car accident and the other driver’s insurance company keeps calling me. Do I have to talk to them?
A. If you had insurance at the time of the accident, you may want to let your insurance company do the talking initially and refer any calls you receive from the other party’s insurance company to your insurance company. If you are represented by an attorney, you should refer any calls and correspondence that you receive from insurance companies to your attorney for handling. It is important to keep in mind that once you sign a release or indemnification you have permanently settled your claim and may be barred from any further action for future injuries related to the incident. Always be mindful that insurance companies want to settle claims quickly and as cost-efficiently as possible. It is important that your rights are protected in the process.
Q. What information should I have about the incident?
A. All of it. Any police reports, incident reports, medical records, witness names and any other related documents might be vital to your case. Photographs and even videotape can often be very helpful, so don’t delay in getting this possible evidence preserved.
Q. Do I have to pay my insurance company back if I am awarded a settlement?
A. In some circumstances, insurance companies may assert liens against bills that they have paid on your behalf. What that means is that by law they are entitled to be paid back for medical bills that they have paid for you if they have asserted a lien and a settlement is reached. If you are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, Tricare or Workers Compensation at the time of the accident, chances are that you will have to pay the government or insurance company back for any funds they paid on your behalf to medical providers. This is also the case with some private health insurance. That is why it is very important that you retain all “Explanation of Benefits” forms or statements for services that you may receive from medical providers. Understand that in the event of a settlement your attorney may be required by law to pay in full any outstanding liens for which they have received notice before you receive any settlement proceeds. Ultimately, you are responsible for the payment of your medical bills.
Q. My doctor is asking me to sign an assignment form so that he is paid out of any settlement proceeds. Should I do that?
A. You should have an attorney review any documents you are asked to sign so that your rights are protected.
Q. Should I get my own medical records?
A. In personal injury cases (auto accidents, slip and falls, etc.) it is usually a good idea for you to obtain your own records if you can. You will be asked to fill out a release form and to pay for the duplication of the records. In most cases, you are entitled to receive a copy of your records within two weeks of your request as long as you have filled out the proper paperwork and paid the requested fee.
Q. Should I tell my doctor why I want my records?
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A. If your doctor wants to know why you want you records it is generally alright to tell him or her if it is unrelated to his or her care and treatment (i.e. an auto accident case or a slip and fall case). You are not, however, required to give them any reason in order to receive the records.