Lawyer up

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Bicycling: Recovering from being hit by a vehicle


 Spoiler alert – My case is all settled. That is why I’ve been able to publish these posts. It took from February 8, 2014 (when I was hit) until November 24, 2015 for the last paper to be signed and check to be cut. With that out of the way, be prepared for a lot of words on this topic.

It’s inevitable. It’s days after you’ve been hit by a vehicle while riding your bicycle and you’re feeling terrible. The days pass and the talk turns to, “When are you getting a lawyer?” My first response to that question was, “I’m not sure I want or need one.” I then began talking to people with more experience (some) with these sorts of things than I had (none) and it became apparent to me that I wanted to get a lawyer.

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I didn’t want to have to deal with figuring out how to negotiate with insurance company lawyers (who do this for a living) while also spending months recovering. I also didn’t want my wife to deal with that stress on top of an already stressful time for her. The driver’s insurance company was already calling and wanting to settle. Even with no expertise, I knew it was laughable to talk about a settlement when so little was known about the full extent of my injuries. I spoke with a (corporate) lawyer for advice on getting a personal injury lawyer to represent me and his main advice came in the form of questions, “Do you think you can get at least a third more with a lawyer involved? And do you think he’ll do that with a lot less headaches for you?” The questions were valid. First, you need reasons to think you’ll get at least a third more in the settlement with the lawyer than without. If you don’t, you could be in trouble. I hear about people getting a lawyer for a relatively minor car crash. The lawyer does a good job, but doesn’t get a third more than what the individual would’ve gotten on her own. In some cases, this can mean the individual pays out-of-pocket for some of the expense of the crash. For example, the total costs of a crash are $5,000 – property, personal injury, etc. The lawyer ends up getting a settlement for $6,000. After the lawyer takes his cut, the individual has $3,960 from the payout. The only way a lawyer even begins to make sense in that case is if the settlements is for at least $7,600.

My case was straightforward in the legal sense. The driver was sighted by the police for failure to yield and I wasn’t breaking any laws. The driver ran a stop sign and hit me with his SUV. My case was not so straightforward in the sense that my injuries were going to take many months to determine what the full costs were going to be. In fact, as I type this, I’m still waiting for the braces on my teeth to do their thing before I can have the top four front crowns put in my mouth. That is 22 months after the main event.

I found my lawyer just like anyone finds a good lawyer – via a TV ad. Just kidding…it was a billboard. No, it was through a friend and then doing a little research on the recommended firm. My wife and I met the lawyer in person, got the details on how these cases typically go for him, how he approaches them, and what we should expect in a broad sense. We were satisfied with everything and signed our lives away.

Lessons learned (in no order of importance)

  1. Make sure you have high uninsured/under insured coverage on your car insurance policy, especially if you ride a bicycle. I received the maximum amount from the driver’s insurance policy. That was not enough to cover the long term costs of my injuries, especially in regards to my teeth. Once we settled with the driver’s insurance, my lawyer started the process with my own car insurance policy to pursue recovering the remaining amount my injuries required. I was baffled. Driver’s insurance covers you when you’re riding your bicycle? Yep. The uninsured/under insured coverage comes into play. For more info on this, see Seth Davidson’s post. He’s a cyclist and lawyer. His advice on this topic is particularly solid: https://pvcycling.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/please-get-r-done/
     
  2. The lawyer’s assistants are critical. They’ll be handling a lot of the day-to-day of your case. Their attention to detail (or lack thereof) will determine how much time you spend on the case yourself. Unfortunately, my lawyer’s assistant, while very nice and polite, was not on top of the details like she needed to be. She lost emails and attachments. She used an AOL email address that was hacked while my case was on-going. There were documents being exchanged with (key) incorrect dates. Initial drafts for me to review were nearly unreadable. I had several talks and email exchanges with my lawyer about this. I’m not sure how you can head this problem off, but it’s something to be aware of. No matter how good the lawyer is, if the assistants aren’t solid, you’ll probably spend quite a bit of time on the case that you shouldn’t.
     
  3. Make sure you have ample MedPay on your car insurance policy. Read Seth Davidson’s explanation on this https://pvcycling.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/cyclist-cover-thyself-more/
     
  4. Patience is required. It could take a while to settle. At first, the insurance company will want to settle ASAP. Once they realize you have a lawyer or are not going to settle until you have all the damage assessed and treated, there is no rush for them. At that point, the insurance company realizes the pressure will be on you. You’ll have the burden on you to mess with your medical insurance, MedPay, etc. while they simply wait. Worst kept secret: insurance companies have a lot more money than you do. If they have to wait many months to settle, they realize this means that the financial burden is falling on you in some way and that may lead to you becoming more eager to settle.
     
  5. Keep good records. Your lawyer is going to remind you of this, but it’s important to know that every piece of paper you receive related to the accident needs to be kept and submitted to your lawyer.
     
  6. Stay on top of your doctors. The risk is that your doctors treat your injury like any other injury. This isn’t any other injury. Anything that goes undiagnosed will go untreated and will not help your case, let alone your body. Even if something is diagnosed, some doctors may not be aggressive enough with treatment. You’ll need to educate yourself on your injuries to better understand whether the treatment you’re receiving appears to be within reason or not. If this sounds like a pain, that’s because it is. I’m not saying you need to second guess your doctors every step of the way, but you do need to pay extra attention. You need to make sure the doctor properly documents all of this and provides you (and your lawyer) with the documentation. I ran into a couple of months worth of back and forth between my lawyer and various doctors and dentists to get the injuries and treatments properly documented to present as part of the case. Have your lawyer talk to the medical providers’ offices along the way to make sure your case has the proper documentation as you go, it’ll save time and hassles later on.
     
  7. Set expectations with your lawyer up front and along the way. My lawyer was surprised when I wanted to meet with him because I wasn’t happy with the poor communication between us during a period of time. To him, things were waiting for me to recover. There wasn’t much he could do. To me, I thought I should have some signs of progress on the legal side just as I was seeing in my own recovery. My expectations were out of line, and his expectation setting wasn’t great. Once we had that meeting, we both had a better understanding of where things were at, what we both expected at that point in time from each other, and how we would work together moving forward. It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, as I ran into issues related to point #2 in this list, but my expectations were reset and I understood it was going to take well over a year to settle my case once and for all.

I’m capturing my journey towards recovery after being hit by an SUV while riding my bicycle on February 8th, 2014. I’ve learned quite a bit along the way and want to share those lessons. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or any other sort of expert in this area. Any insights I provide along the way should be taken as my insights to my particular situation. In other words, seek professional counsel if you find yourself in similar circumstances. See more here.