Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a civil case and a criminal case? In my opinion, the simplest way to remember is civil actions or cases involve money or property, whereas criminal actions involve the police, prosecutor and maybe imprisonment. The standard of proof in cases is also different; civil cases require “preponderance of evidence,” compared to criminal cases which have the highest standard of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What is a personal injury? Personal injury is a legal term for an injury to the body as opposed to an injury to property. A personal injury claim (case) is a situation involving at least two people or a person and an entity such as a business, where one person seeks compensation for an injury caused by another person’s negligence.
What is negligence? Negligence is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation.
What are damages? In civil cases damages is the “value” of an item, harm or injury. In personal injury cases, damages associated with the injury often encompasses: past medical costs; future medical costs; lost wages; future lost wages; mileage for medical treatment; physical scarring; human damages which include: mental anguish of pending medical needs, job loss, etc.; emotional distress of dealing with the traumatic event; and pain and suffering, both past & future. Another damage is spousal or parental loss of consortium which is a loss of companionship and services due to the trauma or injury.
Who may bring a claim? If you are a competent adult, 18-years-old or older, and have been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, then you may bring a claim. If minors or incompetent adults are injured, then parents or court-appointed guardians may bring forth claims on their behalf.
When the crash occurs, does the lawyer file the lawsuit right away? The first thing the lawyer does after a crash is to get information. Investigation of the facts is vital to any legal cause of action. A claim is generally pursued in a quest to resolve the case before filing a lawsuit. The investigation period differs on a case by case basis.
Will I always need to go to court to settle a claim? No. If you receive a fair settlement for your injuries, then you will not need to go to court. It is our goal not to be the cause of increasing your stress level; as such we first try to negotiate with the insurance company handling the injury claim. We have a high success rate of winning settlements for our clients. However, if the insurer does not negotiate fairly or refuses to make timely payment, then we will proceed with a lawsuit.
What if I was partly at fault for the accident; can I still file a claim? Possibly. Florida’s law of comparative negligence may diminish the amount awarded based on the degree of fault but does not stop recovery.
Who pays for my medical bills? Each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own medical costs by law. If an automobile is involved, the first line of insurance benefits to pay for medical costs in Florida is PIP, followed by your regular health insurance. You need to provide the hospitals, doctors and diagnostic centers with your insurance information. The Salesia Smith-Gordon law team will pursue justice against the at-fault party for your total medical costs (past & future) related to the injury.
Who decides when it is time to resolve my case? Ultimately, you decide when you’ve been offered fair and just compensation to settle your case. Attorney Smith-Gordon will assess your matter and give you guidance in making the decision whether to settle your case or go to trial to obtain a jury verdict for a fair resolution for your injuries.
After my case is settled, what happens? After your case settles, it takes approximately twenty days to receive the settlement check from the insurance company or defendant. After you sign the Release and check, the check will be held in the firm’s trust account until the check clears. This generally takes seven to ten business days. Attorney Smith-Gordon will provide you with an itemized closing statement which reflects the total settlement or verdict, the amount of attorneys’ fees and costs and any unpaid medical expenses which will be paid from the settlement. After you approve and sign the closing statement, we will provide you with a check for your portion of the award. If your case is settled without a trial, it takes approximately 30 days from the date of settlement until you will receive the settlement proceeds.
Will I be taxed on the money I receive? No. Regardless if you settle or go to trial, the amount you receive is not taxable. After disbursement, the interest on money earned is taxable.
Who pays for time I miss from work? If you have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, your insurance company will cover 60% of your lost wages up to $5,000 in PIP benefits. You must keep close track of all time lost from work as a result of your injuries. Lost wages, sick leave and vacation time must be proven with appropriate documentation.
How long will it take to resolve my case? As each case is different, some cases take a shorter time to resolve – a few months – while others take years. On average cases without filing suit take between 12 months and 18 months. The law requires certain steps to be taken which causes delays in case resolution, such as legal discovery, mediation and scheduling court hearings. It is also important to ensure that your health is nearing healing with a degree of medical certainty; this takes time.
What is my case worth? With an in-depth investigation of your case, attorney Smith-Gordon will help you determine the appropriate value of your individual claim. Every personal injury case is different, and so the value differs. First, we assess aspects of your case to determine if the defendant’s negligence caused your injuries in whole or in part. If negligence or fault cannot be proven, then there can be no recovery thus no case. Second, damages are those with specific monetary assessments (economic damages) such as medical costs and lost wages. Damages which emotionally and physically affect the quality of life of you, your spouse and family include pain and suffering (non-economic damages).
What should be my expectations from an injury case? The first thing to expect is to be treated with dignity and respect and given factual information about the injury-related event. The outcome of each case is different and each person, injury and factual scenario is different, even if slightly. Justice is sometimes not a swift as we would like it, but you should be kept informed of the status of your case and able to have your questions, if any, answered.
How do I know what amount is reasonable in an injury case? I think this is a good question for each client to answer at some point during the process. A reasonable amount for an injury case should take into account all harms that can reasonably be attributed to the negligent action, such as:
- Medical: Medical issues from new injuries, pre-existing medical conditions that worsened, or those conditions which were dormant without any effect but were activated by the trauma, as well as the medical costs associated with the diagnostic testing, treatment both non-surgical & surgical, prescriptions, OTC medicines, medical aids and the cost of associated future medical visits and treatment needs, which often is seen in surgical cases.
- Lost Wages: Suddenly having less in your paycheck because of injuries caused by someone else, losing your job, or getting a demotion or missing a promotional opportunity that you worked for are loss wage factors for consideration.
Pain & Suffering: Having to handle the painful sensations, numbness or loss of use of a body function, or the fear of having to undergo a medical procedure, the challenges of healing, embarrassment and other such human damages are part of pain and suffering.
What are case costs? Case costs are those “must have” items for the handling of client case, i.e. copies, medical records, postage, investigation, out-of-county travel, legal research, court fees, court reporter and transcripts, and specialized experts, e.g. biomechanical engineer. The experience of our firm’s team coupled with our use of technology and mindfulness that costs, though typically advanced by the law firm, are ultimately repaid by the client and thus should be kept reasonable for the specific case, are hallmarks of our approach.
How can I afford a lawyer? Contingent Fee is the kind of contractual agreement by which payment to the firm is by percentage. The client pays the lawyer no money for fees, unless and until there is a financial recovery. The attorney assumes the risk of payment for his/her time and effort exerted in representing the injured client. No recovery * No fee. Attorney Fees differ from case costs. It is important to discuss this issue at your consultation.
What if the driver that hit me was not insured or if I was involved in a hit-and-run? This is such an important question because it highlights the need for uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, which pays for costs related to injuries to you or your family members and guests in your car caused by an underinsured, uninsured, or hit-and-run driver.
What are your office hours? The office is open 8:30-5:30 Monday through Friday. After hours and holidays, you may leave a confidential message on our voicemail at (561) 655-9279.
Is there a cost to hire your firm? For injury and wrongful death claims, the firm works on a contingent fee agreement in which there is no cost unless and until a financial recovery is awarded to you the injured client.
Who will be working on my case? The entire team works on client matters. Each law office team member has a particular role in assisting the evaluation and prosecution of your legal matter.
Whom do I contact if I have a question about my case? Many of your questions can be answered by a member of the law office team. However, only attorney Smith-Gordon is permitted to give you a legal opinion or advice. If a team member is unable to answer your question or a matter that attorney Smith-Gordon is only able to answer, schedule an appointment to conference with her by phone at 561-655-9279 or in person.