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Personal Injury FAQs

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” –Mohandas K. Gandhi

Q: Can I handle my own car wreck claim?

A: If you suffered a minor injury that quickly heals with little medical expense, then—yes.

If you have over $4,000 in medical costs and the injury has dragged on for months, then you should, at minimum, consult with a lawyer.

Q: What is a frivolous lawsuit?

A: One man defined it as, ”One brought by someone other than me.” In other words, too many lawsuits are branded “frivolous” just because people have a hard time empathizing with pain felt by others.

The argument about “frivolous suits that are driving up insurance rates and destroying our country” is a scam perpetrated by large corporations and insurance companies. They are “poisoning the well” of future juries by issuing this propaganda.

Under the current “anti-plaintiff” environment, frivolous defenses are far more frequent—and a much bigger problem for the system—than the danger of frivolous lawsuits.

Q: Are injured Plaintiffs getting rich by filing lawsuits in Texas?

A: No.

Most large verdicts go to seriously injured people and the money is small compensation for their loss. Texas errs on the side of underpaying and under- appreciating the injured, not the opposite.

Q: Are frivolous lawsuits driving up our insurance rates?

A: No. Texas passed stringent tort reform several years ago. Injury lawsuits have fallen dramatically. Have your rates gone down? As with every state that has passed tort reform, the only visible effect (other than many suffering, uncompensated families) was that the insurance companies made a lot more money.

Q: My property was damaged in a hurricane, can I handle the loss myself?

A: If your damage was small, then—yes.

If you incurred substantial damage and you are satisfied with the amount you are being offered, again—yes.

If you have experienced a large loss and you feel that the insurance carrier is not treating you fairly, then you really need to get an attorney. Adjusters are professionals. They are far more adept and have a lot more resources than you do. No matter how nice your particular adjuster may be, he or she must operate under insurance company guidelines that are designed to keep you from getting everything you are entitled to receive.

Examples:

  • Some adjusters will open multiple claims under a single loss and tell you that you have “several deductibles”;
  • Adjusters will offer you fifty cents or sixty cents on the dollar and tell you that it’s the repair value of your damaged property even though your contractor is charging you almost twice the amount;
  • Adjusters will “lose” your file and say you gave them no documents;
  • Just when you think you are getting somewhere with an adjuster, the insurance company will assign a new one and you’ll have to start all over; and
  • The insurance company will refuse to pay all the money they owe you but will hold it back for “depreciation”.

Even if you are one of those rare, extremely methodical individuals, it will be very difficult for you to get the best recovery from your insurance company. They know that you, without legal representation, are no threat. They are not going to pay you top dollar.

Q: Are insurance companies and large corporations evil?

A: It’s tempting to think so, isn’t it? But no, not at all. They can be the source of a lot of good.

The problem with insurance companies and large corporations is that they are not living beings, theoretically live forever, and have great power and no conscience. They judge their success by how much money they make. That is, for the most part, a corporation’s only measure of achievement.

Corporations and insurance companies respect only money. It is the only way to communicate with them. Tort reform and the election of anti-plaintiff judges have cut off the court system to the injured and the oppressed.

This type of power, unfettered as it now is—thank you tort reform—leads to great injustices. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”—Lord Acton.

Over a hundred years ago a judge explained how money (in the form of punitive damages) leveled the playing field and made life better for us all:

Under the cover of a corporate name and authority, there is in fact as much wickedness and as much that is deserving of punishment as can be found...anywhere else. Because these ideal existences can neither be hung, nor put in prison, nor placed in chains the doctrine of exemplary damages is, in fact, more beneficial than in it’s application to ordinary people.

There is but one vulnerable point in a corporation and that is the pocket of moneyed power that is concealed behind it. If that is reached, they will wince.

When it is thoroughly understood that it is not profitable to employ reckless, indifferent agents, nor careless insolvent servants; then better men will take their place—but not before.

Q: What is PIP?

A: A standard automobile policy is really several different policies. PIP stands for Personal Injury Protection. It is an agreement with your insurance company that, if you are in a car wreck and are injured, they will pay up to (usually) $2,500 or $5,000 of either your medical expenses or 80% of your lost wages.

Upon proof that you incurred the medical bill or lost the income, this money is supposed to be paid with essentially no questions asked. It does not need to be repaid to the insurance company even if you recover it from the person who injured you.

Q: What is Uninsured or Underinsured Motorists Coverage?

A: These are parts of a standard “full coverage” insurance policy. If the person who hits you has no insurance, then your “Uninsured” policy will pay for your injury up to the amount of your policy. For example, if you have a minimum limits policy (you shouldn’t—we’ll talk about that later) then you may be able to recover $20,000 or more from your own carrier (if your injury merits that amount).

If the party that injures you has too little insurance to pay the full amount of your damages, then you can claim through your “Underinsured policy” for the remainder of your loss up to the policy limits. For example, if you suffered a $50,000 injury and the person that hit you only had $25,000 policy limits, then you could claim the remaining $25,000 against your policy (providing that your limits are that high).

Q: I am short on money. Should I get low policy limits (or liability insurance only) to keep my insurance premium where I can afford it?

A: No.

Always buy full coverage. Why pay to protect the other guy and leave you and your family to the wolves?

Get $50,000 per person limits or, if possible, $100,000 per person. If you are fairly sound financially, get the highest limits you can. You will be surprised how cheap the higher limits are.

If you skimp anywhere on automobile insurance, do it by raising your deductible. The first layers of insurance are always the most expensive. The higher limits are rarely used and, therefore, relatively cheap.

Following this strategy pretty much guarantees that you will cuss us every time you get in an accident and have to reach in your pocket for a $1,000 or so to fix your vehicle (or drive it with that dent). On the other hand, you’ll love us if you ever get in a severe accident because some drunken idiot with no insurance (or $25,000 limits) incapacitates you for several weeks or months, or longer.

If you have to save money, decide to accept the small pain in order to be safe from the life-altering consequences of drastic injury.

Q: My car is old and, paid off. Should I carry only liability insurance?

A: No. As explained previously, your automobile policy has many other policies rolled together. The “liability policy” is only one of them and is not the most important. Your liability policy protects the other guy. You want to protect yourself and your family.

Never go on the road without full coverage for the highest limits you can afford.

Q: Can I sue my insurance company for “bad faith”?

A: Texas allows policyholders to sue when an insurance carrier indulges in behavior that shows “a lack of good faith and fair dealing.” The penalties can be severe. However, after tort reform and with our current appellate judiciary in place, successful verdicts are almost nonexistent.

Absent exceptional circumstances, including this claim in your suit against an insurance company is counterproductive. It delays your suit and adds little to your recovery.


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Robert D. Clements, Jr. and Associates represents clients seeking legal advice for issues such as divorce, child custody, personal injury, probate, insurance litigation, and business litigation throughout southeast Texas, including Brazoria County, Galveston County, Harris County, Fort Bend County, Sugar Land, and Richmond.

© 2009 by Robert D. Clements and Associates

First National Bank of Alvin
1600 East Highway 6, Suite 318
Alvin, Texas 77511

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