frequently asked questions

We have found that many of the same questions arise from people seeking personal injury legal assistance. Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions are listed below. Every case is unique, however, and these answers should not be substituted for consultation with an attorney about the specific circumstances of your case.

Do I really need a lawyer?
We receive hundreds of personal injury inquiries every year. We carefully review the facts of each potential claim and often suggest that the services of our firm are not warranted, usually because there is no case or the claimant would do better by not hiring a lawyer.

We are not helping ourselves or you by taking a meritless case. While it may be true that you were harmed by someone's action, being right is not enough. You have to be able to prove your case and if we think that is impossible or unlikely, we are going to tell you so. We stake our reputation on our integrity - we are going to tell you the truth even when it is not what you want to hear. We are not in the business of filing frivolous lawsuits. If you come to our office, you are obviously injured enough; we won't inflict further injury by leading you to believe you have a case if you don't.

In cases with relatively minor injuries, insurance companies make computer-generated, take-it-or-leave-it offers, secure in the knowledge that juries have little sympathy for claimants with minor injuries. Claimants in this type of case often net more money without hiring a lawyer. In these kinds of cases, we frequently educate the claimant about sources of coverage and how to present their claim. We call it "coaching" and we do it for FREE. If these claimants or their friends are later involved in serious injury cases, they call us because they have learned first hand that they can trust us with their case

You don't always need a lawyer. At Burnett & Williams, we will give you the information you need to decide whether to hire a lawyer.

How is the lawyer paid?
We are a contingency fee firm, meaning you do not pay legal fees unless you receive money. Our fees are based on a percentage of the amount recovered. You are responsible for the expenses associated with your case such as costs for securing records, experts, depositions, filing fees, and serving subpoenas. Many times, however, we advance these expenses and then deduct them from the award. Costs vary depending on the complexity of the case.For instance, a medical malpractice case usually involves expert testimony and much more examination and retrieval of records than an automobile accident case. We will discuss these matters with you in detail when you come into the office.

How much are these costs, usually?
The total amount of your estimated case expenses is usually based on the complexity and longevity of your case. For a straightforward accident case that is settled without having to file suit, the costs would include fees to obtain medical records, a copy of the accident report, postage, long distance calls, and copies. We will consult with you prior to advancing any substantial costs, such as filing suit and retaining an expert witness.

How much is my case worth?
As you probably know, every case that comes through our door is different. Factors that influence the value of a case include the facts of the accident and the liability of the other driver, the extent of your injuries, and the medical treatment you have received and will have to receive in the future for those injuries. It takes time to determine the value of your case, as there are many unknowns at the beginning, such as the extent and cost of the treatment you need. As your case progresses, we will be better able todiscuss with you what your case is worth.

How long will my case take?
This depends on the type of claim, the degree of injury, and the position of the insurance company or defense lawyer. Claimants and the insurance companies usually disagree about the value of a claim. The insurance companies are not in the business of compensating you for top dollar; they will never say that the amount of compensation you are asking for isn't enough, and you should get more. They are in business to save as much money as possible even if you have a meritorious claim. Depending on the case, we may enter litigation in order to avoid delaying trial if your case does not settle. Our experience has shown cases tend to settle as the trial date nears. If the case does not settle, your claim could take from eight months to two years to get to trial, depending on the court. Keep in mind, an attempt to settle quickly gives the insurance company the upper hand.

You may wonder why we take time to settle our cases. The reason is that we value quality over quantity. We do not take the majority of cases that come in our door because we believe in doing our best work and spending time and effort on the cases we do take. We know from experience that getting a good settlement on a case is not something that can be done in weeks or months. Thorough preparation is the key to a higher settlement. We know that our clients would prefer to have their accident and case far behind them, but they also want to get a good settlement to fully compensate them for what they have been through.

When should I hire a lawyer?
As soon as possible; there are time limits on your right to file a lawsuit. If the paperwork or requests from the defendant’s insurance company are extensive, an attorney can help. If you've tried your best to resolve the matter on your own and run into a brick wall with the insurance company or the person or company at fault, then you need to hire a lawyer.

What is a statute of limitations?
Every claim must be settled or filed in court within a particular period of time from the date of the injury. This period of time is called the “statute of limitations.” If you wait too long and the time to bring a lawsuit passes, you can lose your right to bring a claim. Statutes of limitations vary from state to state and from claim to claim. Generally, you must settle or file auto accident claims in Virginia within two (2) years of the collision. The statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases, intentional harm cases, or any case in which the injured person is a minor, are more complicated. During our initial consultation, we will explain the statute of limitations regarding your case.

It is important to consult an attorney well in advance of your statute of limitations. We need time to investigate your claim before filing a lawsuit. Also, as of July 2005, Virginia passed a new law requiring that plaintiffs of medical malpractice claims obtain a letter from a doctor who has reviewed the case and opines that it has merit. (Click here for more information about this law) It may take up to several months for a doctor to review your medical records and issue an opinion. That’s why we advise you to contact an attorney sooner rather than later.

What happens after I hire a law firm?
Once a case has been evaluated and a decision is made to proceed, you and your lawyer will gather all the information needed to either settle the case or take it to court. Your attorneys will learn all they can about the cause of your injury, collect your medical records and bills, speak with your doctors, and determine what sources of insurance coverage are available. Success in the information gathering stage depends on good communication between lawyer and client.

After you have signed our Retainer, we will be the point of contact for any insurance companies involved. The adjuster on your case will now deal with us instead of you. We know that dealing with insurance companies can be a hassle, and the peace of mind you get from having our office deal with those issues is one of the reasons you hire an attorney.

I want to make sure my medical records will only be seen by those who are authorized. Does Virginia permit hospitals to distribute information about me to others?
No. In October 1998, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a verdict against a hospital in a case which involved the hospital’s unauthorized disclosureof a patient’s medical records to third parties. The court held that a hospital owes a duty to the patient not to disclose information gained during the course of treatment without the patient's permission and that violation of this duty gives rise to an action for money damages. The Court said that confidentiality is an integral aspect of the relationship between the health care provider and the patient. If you become our client, we will have you sign a form authorizing us to obtain your records.

If I am injured due to someone else’s negligence and may eventually have a claim against this person, at what point should I contact a doctor?
Immediately! If you are injured, your first priority is to seek medical attention. Do not wait until after you have discussed your case with an attorney. Our main concern is your well-being. Your health comes first,your case comes later.

Will you refer me to a doctor with whom you work?
No. You should pick a doctor based on your medical needs, not based on what may be best for your case. Jurors are suspicious of doctors who are involved in cases as the result of direct referrals from lawyers. If your doctor, who is testifying at trial, has had numerous other patients referred from the same lawyer, the opposing party will challenge the doctor’s credibility.

What is automobile Liability insurance? (Click here to read more on insurance)
Liability coverage is that amount of money your insurance company would pay if you were at fault in an automobile accident that resulted in injury to another person. This coverage protects your personal assets. We strongly recommend that your Liability coverage be in the amount of at least $300,000. Given today’s high medical costs, a moderate collision can cause injury in excess of $100,000 which is the limit many people tend to carry. Incredibly, some people carry coverage in amounts less than $100,000 yet the cost of increasing your coverage to $300,000 is not that much more.

What is Medical Payment (MedPay) insurance?
MedPay covers the medical bills of you and the passengers in your vehicle after an accident, regardless of who is at fault. MedPay is designed for immediate and short-term care. It is often used first, and once its limits are exceeded, your health insurance kicks in. MedPay generally covers reasonable and necessary expenses for medical, surgical, dental, and chiropractic treatment. It also covers hospitalization, ambulance services, X-rays, nursing services, prosthetic devices, and funeral services. It is no substitute for broader health insurance, however, as few companies are willing to sell more than $25,000 worth of MedPay coverage. Even if you have health insurance or belong to an HMO, having MedPay is a good back-up plan.

What is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) insurance?
Virginia, like many states, does not require drivers to have automobile insurance. Underinsured or Uninsured Motorist insurance protects you in the event that a person who causes you injury has littleor no liability coverage himself. For example, if you have UIM coverage in the amount of $300,000, and someone with $25,000 of coverage seriously injured you, his/her policy would pay the first $25,000 and your policy would step in to pay the next $275,000 to provide you with coverage up to $300,000. Uninsured motorist coverage is a way for you and your family to protect yourself against irresponsible drivers. We recommend the amount of your UIM coverage be the same amount as your Liability coverage.

What should I do if an insurance company asks me to sign a release?
Once you sign a release, you are settling with the insurance company and that will be the end of your claim. It is alright to sign a property damage release so payment can be forwarded for your vehicle to be repaired. You should not, however, sign a medical release until your injuries have been fully treated. Once you have signed the release, you will not be entitled to collect more money if your injury gets worse. Please give us a call for more information about releases.

The insurance company is asking me to sign medical authorizations- should I do that? I don’t want to sign anything that could hurt my case.
If you are planning to hire an attorney, you should not sign the medical authorizations sent to you by the insurance company. Once we begin your case, our office will be in charge of collecting all of your medical records, and we will send the accident-related records to the insurance adjuster once you are finished with your treatment and we are ready to make a demand. Likewise, if you are filing a claim for medical expense payments, we will send the records to the medpay insurance carrier in order to get your check for medical benefits as soon as possible.

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