Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute to Consult an Attorney

INJURY VICTIMS WHO WAIT TOO LONG CAN FIND IT DIFFICULT TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY. Alabama law generally has a two-year statute of limitations for auto-negligence claims. There are exceptions to this general rule of law, including if the victim is a minor or if the at-fault driver was in the line and scope of employment for a city or county agency. [To preserve the two-year stature of limitations against a city or county agency, the victim must notify the agency of the claim within a prescribed time period.] At BF&W we have recently seen an increase in the number of people who are trying to handle their personal injury claim without an attorney and then call for a quick consult shortly before the statute of limitations expires. The following two examples show why waiting too long to consult an attorney can be detrimental for an injury victim.

A woman from Texas called our office with her statute of limitations about to expire in a week. She was involved in an accident on I-10 while traveling through Mobile and she had been trying to handle the claim herself without hiring an attorney. The insurance company had finally made her a settlement offer about a week before her statute of limitations would run but it was a lot lower than she expected. She was calling to find out if the offer was “fair” and if to see if she could hire our firm to file suit on her behalf. She consulted with Knox Boteler by phone and he explained that while the settlement offer was probably lower than the true value of her claim, there was not enough time to make a fair evaluation of her claim before the statute of limitations expired. Knox also explained to her that it was not fair of her to expect BF&W, or any attorney or law firm, to file suit on a case that they had not been given adequate time to investigate or evaluate for purposes of litigation, especially when there was a pending settlement offer.

In another similar situation, BF&W received an e-mail request through our web site where a local man asked us to tell him whether the insurance company’s settlement offer for his auto-negligence claim was “fair”. His statute of limitations was set to expire within two and half weeks. The information he provided indicated the accident aggravated a pre-existing condition. It was determined that a fair evaluation of his claim would require a review of previous medical records as well as current medical records and there was not enough time to collect and evaluate those records before his statute of limitations expired. Once again, it was suspected that the offer was lower than the true value of the claim, but without adequate time to investigate BF&W was not be able to assist him.

The proper evaluation of a personal injury claim involves a detailed factual review of the accident, which may include witness interviews and interviews with the investigating officer. It also includes a detailed review of the medical records and narrative reports of treating healthcare providers. It may also require the review of past medical conditions if there is an aggravation of a pre-existing condition and it requires the review and analysis of any other additional aggravating or mitigating circumstances related to the accident and/or injury. Finally, the claim is analyzed based upon the legal venue that has jurisdiction of the claim. With this information, an experienced auto-negligence attorney can then begin establishing a Probable Verdict Range (PVR) for that particular claim or case. It is important for victims to remember that if the claim cannot settle then the “value” of the claim will be determined by a jury’s verdict within the jurisdiction of the claim or case. The PVR becomes the benchmark to determine whether a settlement offer on a claim is fair.

Even if there is an “offer on the table” before consulting with an attorney, if the attorney is provided adequate time to investigate the claim there may be a variety of benefits the attorney can bring forth for the claimant. At BF&W we know many people are reluctant to consult with an attorney about a personal injury claim because they don’t want to appear greedy. We also know insurance adjusters are trained with tactics to discourage claimants from consulting with an attorney. Yet in both cases detailed above, we believe we could have provided a significant benefit for both of those victims had they just consulted with our office in a timely manner. If you have an ongoing personal injury claim please consider consulting with an experienced auto-negligence attorney as soon as possible and no later than several months before the statute of limitations expires.