One of my new clients was injured in a drunk driving accident. As a lawyer practicing in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County, I hear the question she posed often. Do spouses split the settlement received from a drunk driving accident?  Here’s the answer.

Pain and suffering is not shared. A personal injury settlement includes payment for medical bills as well as pain and suffering (which includes damages for things like anxiety, shock, worry, physical pain and bodily impairments).  The pain and suffering claim is considered personal to the injured person.  As such, it is not shared with that person’s spouse.  It belongs to the injured party. This is true for settlements involving a drunk driving accident as well as most all other injury claims, at least in Georgia (which includes the midtown Atlanta and Fulton County areas).

RELATED POST: Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Information, Are Lawyers Paid for Not Winning?

Medical bills paid by one spouse can be recovered.  The non injured spouse may seek repayment of any money he paid toward the injured spouse’s medical treatment.  Here is an example: Joe and Kim are married.  Kim is injured in a drunk driving accident, hires a lawyer and pursues a claim.  In turn, Kim’s personal injury lawyer asserts a claim for damages against the drunk driver’s insurance company which is located in Atlanta.  Kim had no health insurance.  So, Kim’s husband Joe paid Kim’s doctors $10,000.00 out of his pocket.  Kim’s personal injury lawyer settled the DUI claim for a total of $100,000.00.  Kim and Joe are now in the process of divorce.  Joe claims one half of the $100,000 settlement as marital property.  Joe is entitled to the amount of money he paid toward Kim’s medical bills.  However, he cannot share in any part of the recovery for Kim’s pain and suffering.  Hence, Joe gets $10,000.00 (the amount he paid for medical bills) and Kim gets $90,000.00 (reflecting the balance of the $100,000 DUI settlement).

This situation sometimes occurs where parties are obtaining a divorce. Here’s my disclaimer: if you are in that situation, this post is only intended for informational purposes and is not offered for specific legal advice.

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In a drunk driver accident, your lawyer will negotiate a settlement. This post addresses common questions regarding payment of the personal injury settlement for a drunk driver accident here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County.  Here are some quick facts: (1) a personal injury settlement is typically issued in one lump sum payment; (2) the insurance company typically does not schedule payments for on-going medical treatment for a personal injury action or dui accident; (3) the client must pay-off any medical bills from the total sum collected from her personal injury settlement.

A settlement is paid in one “lump sum” payment. Assuming a settlement is reached for a claim involving a drunk driver accident, the insurance company issues one payment at the conclusion of the case.  At least, that is the practice here in midtown Atlanta, Decatur, Fulton County and Dekalb County.  This payment is determined by the figure the personal injury lawyer and insurance company negotiate.  The personal injury lawyer and insurance company negotiate over their opinion as to the value of the DUI accident claim.  The value is determined by a number of factors and is a forecast of what a Fulton or Dekalb County Jury would award under similar facts. The location of the jury depends on where the at fault driver resides at the time of the DUI accident and is referred to as “venue” (or place of trial). 

RELATED POST:  Drunk Driver Accident, That’s a lot of Money!

On going medical treatment.  The insurance company typically does not schedule payments for on-going medical treatment.  In my experience, insurance companies only settle with the personal injury lawyer at the end of the case for one figure, which reflects the total value of the DUI claim. The insurance company does not schedule payments so that the injured party in a drunk driver accident may use that money to pay for on-going medical treatment.  The reason for this is because insurance companies only want to pay once they have determined that their insured (the at-fault driver they represent) is truly responsible for the accident.  This is equally true for accidents caused by drunk and intoxicated drivers.  The insurance company investigation may take many months.  Additionally, the insurance company typically wants to confirm the necessity for medical treatment and the extent of treatment. They are very suspicious creatures and will not simply take the client’s word that he requires (say) five physical therapy visits per week for a period of three weeks.

Medical bills must be paid from the settlement. The client must pay-off any medical bills once he receives a personal injury settlement from the insurance company.  In my experience, this is the practice here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County.  Other areas of Georgia are likely the same.  This is also true for the drunk driver accident claim.  This assumes that the client has no health insurance which would have paid for his medical treatment.  Assuming that to be the case, the client will either have to pay for the medical treatment “out of his pocket” (the client pays for medical treatment with his own money) or locate a doctor who is willing to treat on a “lien” (a doctor willing to treat with no out of pocket payment from the client or any payments from health insurance).  Finding a doctor to treat on a lien is difficult since doctors, like most any professional, desire to get paid up front when they render their medical services.

Be very wary of cheese ball lawyers (lawyers who advertise heavily and focus on a volume practice; mega volume law firms are included in this group) who will seek to steer their clients to friendly chiropractors (chiropractors who have a heavy stream of client referrals from a personal injury lawyer).  The chiropractor in this scenario will treat on a lien with no out-of-pocket payment from the client.  Often, the chiropractor will run-up excessive treatment which the client will ultimately have to pay from his settlement.  This often leads to the situation where the cheese ball lawyer and his friendly chiropractor end up with the lion’s share of the settlement, leaving the client with only a small fraction of the total.

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An alcohol related accident in midtown atlanta requires the lawyer to determine settlement value.  This post addresses “crush damage” (the physical damage sustained by vehicles in an accident; including those involving alcohol related accidents). As discussed in related posts, the value of an alcohol related accident here in midtown atlanta and Fulton County is a function of several variables, crush damage being one of them.

RELATED POST:  Settlement Value for an Alcohol Related Accident, is the DUI Driver a “Pro?”

Juries set the value.  In previous posts, I explained that juries here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County ultimately set the value of a claim because they decide the case if the parties cannot agree on a settlement value.  Hence, we negotiate with insurance companies on the settlement value for an alcohol related accident based on what we believe a Fulton County jury will award under the same facts.  This same analysis applies to Dekalb County Juries and other metro Atlanta areas.  The point being that juries respond more favorably to accidents involving significant crush damage. This is true for both alcohol related accidents and accidents from other causes, such as texting or speeding.  Hence, the corresponding settlement value for a case with significant crush damage is higher than where there is little crush damage.  The underlying assumption is that little crush damage equals little injury. 

RELATED POST: Alcohol Related Accident and Settlement Criteria, “That’s a lot of Money!”

Insurance companies are very skeptical creatures.  The do not like to pay for injuries they believe are contrived and this is equally true for alcohol related accidents, even where a personal injury lawyer is involved.  Insurance companies are deeply suspicious of most any claim where the damage is not readily observed.  In other words, if the damage does not show well in photographs, the insurance company will assume the victim was not injured.  

Demonstrate the Force of Impact.  A good personal injury lawyer representing someone injured in an alcohol related accident can work through these assumptions.  One method is to demonstrate that the vehicle may have sustained seemingly moderate crush damage that does not reflect the true force of impact.  Modern cars have sophisticated bumpers that are designed by federal standards to absorb a great deal of impact.  Therefore, the bumper absorbs a significant amount of energy in a collision that would have otherwise created significant crush damage without the bumper.  A good personal injury lawyer will look deeper into the facts.  One method is to argue facts collected from the “repair estimate” (a detailed itemization of car repairs).  The repair estimate will typically include the amount of labor and cost necessary to repair the car.   If the estimate includes repairs for “frame damage,” “frame alignent,” or similar notations, the lawyer can make the argument that the damage was more severe than outward appearance suggests.  In other words, the force of impact was much greater than the outward appearance of the car suggests.  In turn, this supports the argument that the victim of an alcohol related accident was more likely injured because the force of impact that was sufficiently strong to bend the steel frame of an automobile.

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Drunk driver accidents require lawyers who can provide quality legal help.  Personal Injury lawyers who pursue a drunk driver here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County are typically paid on what’s referred to as a “contingency fee.”  A contingency fee means that the personal injury lawyer earns his attorney’s fees based on a percentage of the recovery (amount of settlement or verdict) obtained.  Personal injury lawyers in midtown Atlanta, Decatur and Fulton County typically charge a contingency fee rate of 1/3 (or 33.33%) of the recovery for a “pre-suit” case (a claim where a lawsuit has NOT been filed).  Personal injury lawyers typically increase their rate to 40% where a lawsuit must be filed.  Personal injury lawyers increase their rate when filing suit because the time and money required to litigate increases dramatically compared to a pre-suit case.  Most people assume that personal injury lawyers who represent people who have been injured by a drunk driver collect very large profits.  This is not necessarily true.  Compared to other practice areas such as wills & estates or business transactions, personal injury law  is very labor intensive.  Personal injury lawyers must collect information from a wide variety of sources in order to sustain the burden of proof necessary to win a case against a drunk driver.  This means that the personal injury lawyer must collect medical records, medical bills, doctor narratives, witness statements, accident reports, photographs of the scene, photographs of the vehicles involved, hire accident reconstruction experts and so forth.   This requires a great deal of time and money and explains why a personal injury lawyer is consistently paid at the rates mentioned in this post.  Resist the temptation to select a personal injury lawyer who advertises for a lower contingency rate or agrees to cut his fee.  This is usually a reflection of inexperience  or a desire to create a volume practice, which tends to result in lower quality.

Here are some facts to know about contingency fees: (1) if the personal injury lawyer pursing a drunk driver does not obtain a recovery, the lawyer does not get paid; (2) if the personal injury lawyer pursuing a drunk driver does not obtain a recovery, the client is not required to pay the lawyer; (3) the client does not pay the lawyer during the time the lawyer works on the DUI case; (4) the lawyer is only paid at the end of the case from the proceeds of the recovery; (5) this means that the lawyer must win before he gets paid; otherwise, he collects no money for his time; (6) contingency fees are designed to provide access to quality legal help for people who do not have the money to pay a lawyer on the traditional hourly fee schedule; (7) if there were no contingency fees, then people injured by drunk drivers would have to “retain” a lawyer based on his hourly rate.  Here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County, a litigation lawyer with twenty years experience can easily command up to $500 per hour.  This would be prohibitively expensive for most anyone who is injured in a DUI caused accident.

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In related posts, I’ve talked about how to select a personal injury lawyer and how much a claim (the value of an accident caused by a driver who was impaired) is worth. This post addresses another common question for someone injured in an accident caused by an impaired driver: Do I have to go to court? The quick answer is, “probably not, but it depends.”  A personal injury lawyer, at least one here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County, will base this decision on several factors: (1) whether the insurance company accepts responsibility; and (2) whether the insurance company issued a reasonable settlement “offer” (a personal injury lawyer makes settlement “demands” while insurance companies make settlement “offers”).

RELATED POST: Settlement Value, is the DUI Driver a “Pro?”

Whether the Insurance Company Accepts Responsibility. For an accident caused by a driver who was impaired, nearly everyone makes the false assumption that the insurance company “will do the right thing” and accept responsibility.  This is not my experience.  Whether the insurance company accepts responsibility for an accident caused by DUI is a function of “negligence” facts (whether the impaired driver who was impaired did something wrong) and whether their “insured” (the at-fault impaired driver who caused the accident) accepts responsibility.  If negligence is disputed, then the insurance company will deny responsibility.  In that instance, they may offer a nominal settlement (which these days is very low; perhaps $2,500 or so) or they may deny “liability” altogether.  Liability refers generally to the insurance company’s obligation to pay a claim caused by their insured DUI driver. Technically, liability refers to the combined legal issues of negligence and causation, which I will address in future posts.  So, just because an accident was caused by a driver who was impaired, does not automatically mean the insurance company will rush to pay the claim. If the driver who was impaired tells his insurance company that he didn’t cause the accident (even if he is lying), they may refuse to accept responsibility. If the insurance company feels they can make an argument that will defeat negligence (even if ridiculous), they may deny negligence.  Or, they may low ball the claim and pay only a small fraction of what the DUI case is worth.  I see this quite often and is the reason why injured people need the help of a quality personal injury attorney here in midtown atlanta who focuses on representing people who have been injured in a DUI accident. This is where the use of crack investigators can make the difference between a mediocre settlement and a great one.  Hire a cheese ball lawyer (mega volume lawyers who advertise heavily) and you’ll end up with a mediocre settlement because they want to push cases not work them. I would expect this to be true in other areas of Georgia but certainly here in Atlanta, Fulton County, Decatur and Dekalb County.

Whether the Insurance Company issued a Reasonable Settlement Offer.  Another misperception is that an insurance company will fall all over itself to throw money at a case where an accident was caused by a driver who was impaired.  This has not been my experience.  It is true that there is a strong correlation between accidents caused by impaired drivers and higher settlements.  This is because juries typically punish intoxicated drivers and are more likely to award punitive damages to deter future bad behavior.  However, it is common for insurance companies to low ball offers even where there are very strong negligence facts for a DUI accident.  There are several possible explanations. The most basic is that the insurance company just simply wants to save money.  Another explanation is that the insurance company does not fear the lawyer or feels the lawyer will not try the case (such as with a “cheese ball lawyer” or mega volume law firm).  Or, the insurance company may have assigned a novice adjuster who has no awareness of the true value of the claim for an accident caused by an impaired driver.  Now that insurance companies are heavily marketing on television, they are employing low paid front line adjusters who have little experience.

RELATED POSTS: Punitive Damages and Five Important Facts

Where the insurance company refuses to accept responsibility or refuses to offer a reasonable settlement figure, the next logical step is to file a lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, the case progresses to court.  Eventually, the case will be tried by a jury if not settled.  Another misperception is that once a lawsuit is filed, the case will not stop until it is tried in front of a jury.  This has not been my experience.  A case can settle at any time even if a lawsuit has been filed.  In fact, the vast majority of cases settle even when filed in court (on the order of say 90% or more personal injury cases settle).  The difference is that the insurance company now has more at stake in the settlement process.  It has to hire lawyers or use it’s “in house” lawyers (lawyers who are employees of the insurance company) to defend the claim.  Again, the insurance company will not fall all over itself to pay a claim just because a lawsuit is filed.  However, my experience has been that the further a personal injury lawyer drives a case through litigation, the more “reasonable” an insurance company will become. This is because the process of litigation produces evidence.  In turn, evidence drives settlements because it reflects what the personal lawyer will show a jury.  And, what a jury will likely award sets the value of a personal injury claim for accidents caused by an impaired driver.

Finally, “going to court” (or the process of progressing through litigation once a lawsuit has been filed) is relatively painless for the client if the personal injury lawyer is doing his job well.  A good personal injury lawyer will copy the client on all communication and court filings as they occur.  A good personal injury lawyer will immediately respond to client questions about the process.  A good personal injury lawyer will spend whatever time is necessary to prepare the client for their deposition and court appearance.  In my experience, this effort dramatically reduces whatever anxiety the client feels about filing a lawsuit. Hire a cheesball lawyer and chances are they’ll never file a lawsuit.  If they do, you may be part of a “pod,” not a client.

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Selecting a personal injury lawyer after an accident caused by a driver who was drinking can be confusing.  This post will address lawyer selection tips focused on client service for the client injured in an accident caused by a driver who was drinking.  Client service is an important feature for anyone seeking to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent them for a DUI caused accident.  Here are two helpful tips: (1) determine whether the personal injury lawyer will be answering your questions during the time he is handling your case; and (2) ask the personal injury lawyer whether he has a client communication policy.

RELATED POST: Accident Caused by Drunk Driver- Lawyer Information and Five Helpful Steps to Select the right Personal Injury Lawyer

Determine whether the personal injury lawyer will be answering questions during his representation. Many personal lawyers here in midtown Atlanta and Fulton County are very busy and often find it difficult to answer questions from their clients.  However, this deprives the client who has been injured in an accident caused by a driver who was drinking of quality legal information about their case.  The personal injury lawyer has the legal knowledge not his staff.  Furthermore, it is universally agreed that staff should not provide legal advice.  Yet, “volume practices” (those law firms that handle several hundred clients per lawyer) often succumb to the practice of having their “para-professionals” (non-lawyer support staff) provide legal advice.  This is because the responsible personal injury lawyer in a volume personal injury practice does not have enough time to manage his caseload and answer client calls.  He therefore assigns this important task to his “pod” of para-professionals.  A “pod” refers to the practice that some mega volume personal injury practices use of assigning a very large collection of para-professionals to one lawyer.  This gives the mega volume firm the ability to manage perhaps 250 or more cases per lawyer.  Cheeseball lawyers utilize this case management method. 

RELATED POST: That’s a lot of Money! (Cheeseball Lawyers)

Ask the Personal Injury Lawyer whether he has a client communication policy. Perhaps the number one complaint about personal injury lawyers is that they do not timely return calls or messages and this is true here in midtown and Atlanta.  Personal Injury Lawyers are professionals.  They are highly educated, trained and (ideally) are specialized in their legal representation for accidents caused by drivers who drink.  With that said, personal injury lawyers are nonetheless in the business of providing a legal “service” to their clients.  In my experience, the best way to provide client service is to be immediately responsive to the client whenever he or she has a question about their case.  There are clues to determine whether your future personal injury lawyer is truly committed to client service.  Ask the lawyer whether he or she has a client communication process.  A solid client communication process should provide that the client’s question is answered immediately by any staff who initially respond to a call or email.  For example, a client injured in an accident caused by a driver who was drinking in Atlanta, recently called with a question about his car.  His car was fairly new, had been totaled in the DUI accident, and he was still making payments.  He had “gap” insurance (insurance often sold by car dealerships to cover depreciation).  He wanted to know if he would have enough money to buy a replacement car. His question was not routine so my staff was not able to immediately answer the question. I called within a few minutes of his message and answered his question.  Like most all clients injured in drunk driving accidents, details about their car and when it will be fixed are major issues.  He really appreciated the quick call.

This example leads to an important rule of client service the personal injury lawyer should follow.  If staff cannot immediately answer the question, then the personal injury lawyer should immediately answer the call and respond to the question. If that is not possible, the personal injury lawyer’s staff should immediately set a “hard calendar” date (placing a matter on the lawyer’s calendar) for a telephone conference with the personal injury lawyer to discuss the client’s question.  This telephone conference should occur at the very next available opportunity.  Emails should be answered immediately.

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The value of an accident caused by driving under the influence (DUI) is a function of several variables, which I’ve discussed in a related post.  A lawyer arriving at a settlement figure for a DUI Case typically considers these factors when resolving an accident caused by driving under the influence. This post will address the drinking driver’s history for prior DUI’s and its impact on settlement valuation here in Midtown Atlanta and Fulton County.

RELATED POST: Accident Caused by Drinking and Driving- Lawyer, That’s a lot of Money!

Intoxicated Driver’s History for Prior DUI’s. The value of a settlement is directly related to what we expect a jury to award under the same factual circumstances. This is because juries set the value of a case since they are the ultimate decision makers on the value of any disputed claim. If a case cannot be settled, then the parties proceed to a jury trial.   A jury then resolves the question of how much money a DUI case is worth.  Hence, when a personal injury lawyer and an insurance company negotiate a settlement figure, they are arguing over their opinion as to how a Fulton County Jury here in Atlanta would react under the same facts presented by the claim.  A prior history for driving under the influence dramatically increases the value of a claim for an accident caused by drinking and driving.  This is because society has determined that driving under the influence is bad behavior, which should be punished.  Juries are a microcosm of societal opinion.  Therefore, juries punish DUI drivers driving under the influence because they find drunk driving unacceptable.  This punishment results in higher awards in the form of punitive damages.

RELATED POST: Drunk Driver Caused an Accident- Five Important Facts and Punitive Damages

When taking a case where an accident has was caused by driving under the influence, the personal injury lawyer’s first task is to identify prior DUI arrests.  An experienced personal injury lawyer should detect clues as to whether the drunk driver is a “pro” (a driver who has had prior DUI’s). The most telling clue is that after an accident caused by a driver under the influence, the drunken driver refuses the field sobriety test and breathalyzer test.  In my experience, only pros refuse these tests since they’ve learned the hard way from prior DUI arrests that consenting to a roadside sobriety tests increase their chances of being convicted for a DUI.  There are other clues, which depend on the facts of the accident.  An experienced lawyer who handles these cases should know where to look.  If not, she’ll miss very important information about whether a drunk driver is a pro and will miss an opportunity to greatly improve the settlement value of a claim.

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The value of an accident caused by drinking and driving depends on: (1) whether there is bad behavior; (2) witnesses to the accident; (3) history of prior DUI’s; (4) crush damage; (5) whether the client is credible and believable; (6) transport from the scene; (7) legitimate medical treatment; and a host of other variable factors. This post will address bad behavior, which is typically seen in accidents caused by drinking and driving, particularly here in Midtown, Atlanta, Fulton County and Dekalb County.

Bad Behavior. The value of a settlement for an accident caused by drinking and driving is driven by what we might expect a jury to award if they reviewed the facts.  Juries don’t like bad behavior and this is true for juries in Atlanta and Fulton County.  Hence, the value of settlement where a personal injury lawyer finds bad behavior is higher.  I once represented two clients injured in a head on accident caused by drinking and driving in Midtown Atlanta.  The drinking driver hit my clients head-on and then attempted to leave the scene.  This is typically referred to as a hit and run.  In our case, the intoxicated driver was caught and arrested because his axle was damaged and he could travel no further.  We settled the case for the insurance policy limits (which refers to the maximum amount of liability insurance available that the drinking driver had on his insurance policy).  In our case, that happened to be $100,000.00 per client.  My clients were not seriously injured and this was very fortunate given the nature of the head on DUI collision.  The settlement value in this case was driven by the undisputed fact that the driver was drinking and driving and he attempted to flee the scene with knowledge that he was drunk.  As a society we frown on this conduct and so do juries.  Hence, the value of that case was much greater.  This is referred to as “punitive damages” (or damages designed to punish and deter future bad conduct).

RELATED POST: Punitive Damages and Five Important Facts

Bad behavior can also be found in other cases that do not involve an accident caused by drinking and driving.  For example, in another case I handled, I represented a nice cuban lady who was rear ended by a woman driving a Mercedes.  This was not an accident caused by drinking and driving.  However, the at fault driver’s conduct after the accident demonstrated bad behavior.  In that case, the at fault driver casually watched from the side of the road while my client bled profusely.  She did not attempt to render aid.  She did not attempt to call 911.  She simply watched from the roadside as my client bled from her head and nose.  When I asked her in deposition why she didn’t attempt to see about my client, the at fault driver was combative and said only that she did not know her.  Hence, she felt no need to check on her condition.  The insurance defense attorney quickly settled the case for the insurance policy limits realizing that a jury would not like this woman or her behavior. Fortunately, my client was not seriously injured but I still settled her case for $50,000 because of the at fault driver’s bad behavior.

A legitimate personal injury lawyer with experience in handling accidents caused by drinking and driving here in Atlanta and Midtown will instinctively know where to find bad behavior. Here in Atlanta and Fulton County, this experience translates into higher settlements and greater value to the client.  Be wary of “cheeseball” lawyers (those who advertise heavily on TV) with bare proclamations that a client got (say) $250,000.00.  That lawyer (or more accurately his para-professional) may have “settled the case short” for $250,000 when the case could have been worth $500,000.00.  The value of an accident caused by drinking and driving in Atlanta, Midtown and Fulton County is a function of those variables mentioned above, particularly bad behavior.

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I recently helped a client injured by an accident caused by drinking in Midtown Atlanta.  As a personal injury lawyer, I tell most all friends of my desire to help people injured in accidents caused by drinking and my dedication to personal injury law.  In this case, a drunk driver was going the wrong way on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Midtown Atlanta and hit my client head-on.  After the accident, the drunk driver attempted to leave the scene but was unable because the impact damaged the axle to his car.  The DUI driver was arrested and charged with the accident, which had been caused by his drinking.  I ultimately settled the case for policy limits (referring to the maximum available liability insurance coverage).  It so happens, a mutual friend of the client knew he had been injured in a accident caused by a drinking driver and suggested that he call me since I practice in Midtown Atlanta.  This is considered the classic “referral.”  All client relationships were once formed this way.  A lawyer’s reputation prompted referrals from members of the community.  Today, lawyer perception is at an all time low, particularly here in Atlanta, Midtown and Fulton County.  And this perception prompts the question, do lawyers really chase ambulances?

Here are some inside facts: (1) legitimate personal injury lawyers don’t chase ambulances; (2) legitimate personal injury lawyers turn down more cases than they take.

Legitimate Personal Injury Lawyers Don’t Chase Ambulances.  Ambulance chasing refers to the practice of collecting accident reports and then soliciting individuals in the report. Unfortunately, the practice is sanctioned to a degree in that it is legal for one to collect accident reports; at least here in Atlanta and Fulton County, Georgia.  However, a related practice called “running” is illegal.  Running refers to the practice of a lawyer paying someone to solicit a potential client.  This is distinguished from a traditional referral whereby a mutual contact suggests a referral to the personal injury lawyer.  The difference between the two is that no money or payment in kind is offered for the traditional referral.  Most all personal injury lawyers, especially here in Atlanta and Fulton County, are hard working and dedicated individuals who would never resort to running.  Legitimate personal injury lawyers don’t chase ambulances by paying runners to solicit potential clients.

Legitimate Lawyers Turn Down More Cases they Take. Over the course of a year, a personal injury lawyer can talk to perhaps hundreds of potential clients, particularly here in Atlanta and Fulton County.  Not all cases are worthy. Personal Injury Lawyers get paid for winning cases (based on their contingency fee).  A “contingency fee” means the personal injury lawyer gets paid a percentage of the settlement.  If the case doesn’t settle, the personal injury lawyer doesn’t get paid- and this is true for all lawyers in Atlanta and Georgia.  A personal injury lawyer doesn’t earn fees for taking losing cases.  If a personal injury lawyer takes every case indiscriminately, she is likely taking a heavy collection of losing cases and this means she’ll starve.  This is true even if the accident was caused by drinking. Hence, a legitimate personal injury lawyer typically screens potential clients very carefully to determine if their case has merit.

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For an accident caused by a drinking driver, the time for your personal injury lawyer to obtain a settlement depends on four factors: (1) investigation; (2) time for treatment; (3) time to prepare a demand; (4) time for insurance company review.

[If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by a drinking driver and have questions for an Atlanta personal injury lawyer, call us at 770.587.5529]

Investigation. Your personal injury lawyer first needs to obtain information about the accident caused by the drinking driver. He or she will need to obtain a crack investigator who will collect statements from the investigating officer.  Your injury lawyer will need to send several requests for records, including the accident report, the 911 call, a certified copy of the traffic citation and disposition, photographs of the wreckage for both your car and the drinking driver’s car, property damage repair estimates as well as your treatment records.  Treatment records include three main sources of information that need to be collected from every treating doctor or medical provider: your medical notes, medical bills and often a doctor’s  medical narrative. This process takes approximately 45 – 60 days, assuming the person injured in a drinking driver accident has finished treatment fairly soon after the accident.

[If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by a drinking driver and have questions for a personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, call us at 770.587.5529]

Time for Treatment. Your lawyer cannot submit a demand to the insurance company without first knowing the full extent of your injuries. This means that you will need to either complete treatment or reach a plateau of treatment (where you are stable and your injuries are getting no better or worse) before your lawyer can submit a demand.  This medical treatment plateau is called “maximum medical improvement.”  There are exceptions to this rule.  Contact The Burkey Law Firm for additional questions.

Time to Prepare a Demand.  Once your personal injury attorney obtains all investigative information and your treatment records,he or she will then need to prepare a demand (or request for settlement) to the insurance company.  This requires information about the insurance company’s policy limits.  Typically, the injury lawyer drafts a document which summarizes the areas of negligence (what the driver did wrong), your medical treatment, medical bills and his or her valuation of the claim.  In the case of an accident caused by a drinking driver, the lawyer will typically include legal research.  Demands for an accident caused by a drinking driver typically run ten pages or more in length.  At the Burkey Law Firm, we often include photographs, digital images and even video when available.  We usually embed this information into a digital word document that is either emailed or delivered via CD.  This process can take several weeks depending on the complexity of issues involved.

RELATED POST: That’s a lot of Money!

Time for Insurance Company Review.  After receiving the demand, the insurance adjuster prepares a review and then submits an offer (or response to the demand for settlement) in writing.  The typical turn-around for an insurance company to review is a demand of average complexity is thirty days.  Where a demand arises from an accident caused by a drinking driver, the turn around can sometimes be quicker.  In that instance, the lawyer will submit what’s called a “policy limits” demand or “time limited” demand.  This type of demand if not answered timely by the insurance company produces a severe penalty.

In all, the settlement process takes approximately three to six months, depending on ability to obtain background investigation into the accident and the length of treatment.  A personal injury lawyer who focuses only on getting-out a quick demand for a fast settlement check is not being thorough.  You’ll typically see those folks on TV and they should be avoided like the plague.  This is because a premature demand is likely skipping important information, such as a key witness to the accident, the investigating officer’s statement or the results of the drinking driver’s blood alcohol level or breathalyzer test.  Skip this information and the real value of the case will be overlooked by the insurance adjuster.  So, getting your check fast gets the lawyer his fee fast- at the expense of obtaining full value for your settlement.

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