Q: Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?

  • A:The term “bodily injury claim” usually refers to a personal injury claim. Economic damages include, but aren’t limited to:
    • Lost wages
    • Medical bills
    • Rental car expenses, etc.

    General damages include:

    • Pain
    • Suffering
    • Humiliation
    • Distress

    If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all the types of damages available to you, or you’ll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.

Q: Can a health care insurer be repaid from a personal injury settlement?

  • A:Yes, it’s quite common. Most health insurance policies now have language that allows the insurance company to be repaid for the amount paid out on medical bills if the insured person gets a personal injury settlement. Depending on the law in your state, your daughter may be able to deduct attorney’s fees and costs from the total amount owed to her health insurer.

Q: Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the settlement check?

  • A:Yes, and you should. As a client you have an absolute right to see a copy of the settlement check, as well as to review a copy of the settlement breakdown sheet before the check is deposited. Usually, the insurance company check has both your name and your attorney’s name on it, so you would typically have to endorse the check before it could be placed in your lawyer’s trust account. Ask your lawyer to provide you with a copy of the actual settlement check forwarded to him by the insurance company, as well as a copy of all checks written by him (which should total the full amount of the settlement).

Q: Can I break an annuity from an auto accident settlement?

  • A:Probably not. It’s difficult to “break” an annuity. The purpose behind an annuity is to have the insurance company pay out the settlement funds over time rather than in one lump sum payment. In your situation, because you were underage at the time of the settlement, your parents only alternative to an annuity would have been to accept a lump sum payment and put it in the bank for you. The interest earned over the past four years would have been insignificant compared to the interest earned placing the funds in a structured settlement annuity.

    You could try to get a court to set aside the annuity, which doesn’t seem very likely. The only other alternative, which would not be wise in your situation, is finding a company that purchases structured settlements from personal injury victims. Usually these companies will pay you 20 to 50 cents on the dollar and purchase your right to future payments. You’ll be giving up a substantial amount of money if you choose this option.

Q: Can I gain access to my child’s settlement money?

  • A:A parent usually doesn’t have access to a child’s settlement funds. The reason for this is to protect children from parents who might use the money to benefit themselves, instead of the child. A court will generally place a child’s settlement money in a “blocked” bank account until the child turns 18. A court will sometimes allow withdrawals from blocked accounts if the funds are needed for the child’s care and well being, and the court is satisfied the funds will be used to benefit the minor. You and your lawyer should discuss what expenses might be paid for with the settlement funds.

Q: Can my lawyer settle my case without my consent?

  • A:It’s possible that the retainer agreement you signed with your lawyer allows him to settle the case without your consent and sign the settlement and release agreement on your behalf. If your attorney settled the case without your permission, and you haven’t yet signed the settlement and release agreement, you should tell your lawyer that you don’t want to proceed with the settlement if you’re unhappy about it. If a check has already been forwarded to your lawyer, it’s a simple matter to return the funds.

Q: Do lawyers receive their fee percent before or after the medical expenses are paid?

  • A:The attorney’s fees paid will be based on the retainer agreement between you and your lawyer. Read the contract carefully. Some retainer agreements provide that attorney’s fees are calculated on the gross settlement (before the medical bills are paid) and some provide for payment of fees after medical expenses are paid (the “net” amount).

Q: How do I collect my personal injury award?

  • A:If the person against whom you have the judgment has insurance, the easiest thing to do is simply to notify the insurance company of your judgment (if they’re not already aware of it). The insurance company will usually just write a check for the damages up to the limit of the insurance policy. If the person against whom you have the judgment is uninsured, collecting won’t be as easy. You must have the judgment “entered” with the court and then seek to “enforce” the judgment. There are actually attorneys who specialize in collecting judgments, and it would be a good idea to consult with one.

Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?

  • A:No, there is no minimum or maximum settlement amount. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on lots of factors, including:
    • the nature and extent of the injury,
    • the amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills)
    • the amount of time the injury is expected to last

    If you’re trying to put a value on a specific case, it would be a good idea to check with a lawyer near you.

Q: What is a proper contingency fee?

  • A:An attorney’s fee is usually negotiated, and depends on the complexity of the case, the time at which it settles, and the anticipated costs that may be invested. In California, 40% is the fee that is typically charged as the maximum fee if the matter is litigated through trial or arbitration. The only way to know if your attorney is willing to consider a lower fee is to ask. If there isn’t much of a fault (“liability”) issue, you may be able to find a less expensive lawyer. The skill and reputation of your lawyer is very important, though. A 40% fee to a highly skilled, well-respected lawyer will in all probability yield a higher overall recovery to you than a 33 1/3% fee with less experienced counsel.