Episode #10: What is the Timeline of a Personal Injury Case?By Stewart J. Guss on September 14th, 2020
For this episode of the Breaking Down The Law Podcast we’re joined by Stewart J. Guss, a personal injury lawyer in Houston who specializes in Personal Injury cases. He’s joined by Breaking Down The Law Podcast host, Ashley Rodriguez.
During today’s episode, we’ll be addressing the timeline of a personal injury case. Some examples include:
- What is the typical life cycle of a personal injury case?
- We’ve got a situation where you wake up in the morning and this is an example I use. No one puts their pants or skirt on in the morning expecting to be in a car accident, but unfortunately, they’re you’re driving to work and Yikes, it happens Monday. Yeah, ruin your day and you know, it’s a terrible situation, but one that we have to live with until we get the Jetsons flying cars, but that may be a while away. So what’s the first thing that happens once an attorney gets involved? And I think we talked the other day about how it is very important to make sure that you contact an attorney as soon as possible after an accident because there are some things that you don’t expect there are some the insurance company is going to be trying to take advantage of you.
- So the first thing that happens after we are retained, you’ve already started, you’ve gotten checked out, you’ve started your medical care. When we get involved, the first thing we do is we start our investigative phase. And by that I mean we send out a formal notification to the insurance companies that are involved that we represent you. And please don’t talk to our client, talk to us, keeps them from trying to pull the wool over your eyes, and order the police report. if we need to. We’ll send an investigator out to look at the intersection or talk to witnesses.
Check out the full episode for more details!
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Transcript [This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors]
Intro : 0:09
Breaking down the Law, Breaking Down the Law a podcast hosted by attorneys and legal specialists discussing everyday law and how it affects regular people, regular people. Let’s break down the law with our host, Stewart Guss and Ashley Rodriguez. They have the inside scoop on everything legal and newsworthy.
Stewart J Guss : 0:35
Welcome to our podcast Breaking down the law with your co hosts, Stewart,
Ashley Rodriguez : 0:39
and Ashley, and today’s podcast is going to be about the life cycle of a typical personal injury case.
Stewart J Guss : 0:46
Yes. Which is one of the most common questions that we get and you know, again, going back to the purpose of the podcast, we’re trying to give people information ahead of time. If they ever find themselves in this situation, they’ll at least have some idea idea about what to expect. Did you know In our intro it talks about the inside scoop and it’s very close to lunch and now I’m hungry for ice cream. We got to change that. So for our intro next time let’s be how about the inside salad? That’s a much healthier option. All right lifecycle of a personal injury case. We’ve got a situation where you wake up in the morning and this is an example I use no one puts their pants or skirt on in the morning expecting to be in a in a car accident, but unfortunately they’re you’re driving to work and Yikes, it happens Monday. Yeah, ruin ruin your day and you know, it’s terrible situation, but one that we have to live with until we get the Jetsons flying cars, but that may be a while away. So what’s the first thing that happens once an attorney gets involved? And I think we talked the other day about how it is very important to make sure that you contact an attorney as soon as possible after an accident, because there are some things that you don’t expect there are some the insurance company is going to be trying to take advantage of you. So the first thing that happens after we are retained, you’ve already started, you’ve gotten checked out, you’ve started your medical care. When we get involved, the first thing we do is we start our investigative phase. And by that I mean we send out formal notification to the insurance companies that are involved that that we represent you. And please don’t talk to our client, talk to us, keeps them from trying to pull the wool over your eyes, and we order the police report. if we need to. We’ll send an investigator out to look at the intersection or talk to witnesses. Luckily, a lot of the times liability is relatively straightforward. If you’re rear ended typically there’s not going to be much of a fight. about liability unless unusual circumstances. Does that make sense? Make sense so far?
Ashley Rodriguez : 3:05
Yes. So just for clarification, we make sure if they are trying to get us to answer anything, we always just send them back to our attorney.
Stewart J Guss : 3:13
Yes, absolutely talk to you, as they say in mafia movies, a doctor my mouthpiece, although I do not recommend necessarily imitating the Godfather when you are talking to the insurance company, bad idea. Alright, so we’re investigating, we’re dealing with the insurance company at the same time. Your job is very simple. And this is one of the reasons that personal injury lawyers really bring a lot of value to a situation more than just going after and getting money. We are sort of managing the legal aspects of the case. At the same time that you are able to focus on the one thing that really matters, which is your health and your physical recovery,
Ashley Rodriguez : 3:53
gives you time to get better.
Stewart J Guss : 3:54
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you can really focus on working with your doctors and getting whatever medical in need, without having to worry about dealing with calling the insurance company back or you know, worrying about is someone trying to take advantage, etc, etc. And so we move from the investigative phase into what we sort of think of as the treatment phase.
Ashley Rodriguez : 4:17
How does that go?
Stewart J Guss : 4:18
Yeah, so the thing is, it really depends a lot on the extent of the client’s injuries, right? So some people have a relatively, you know, minor car accident, they may only treat for, you know, a few weeks or, you know, a month or two, and then they feel better and they reach a point that we sort of refer to as maximum medical improvement or are you back to where you were before? Or are you as good as you’re going to get after your treatment? Sometimes, unfortunately, that treatment phase can last a lot longer. We have the responsibility sometimes of helping people who are catastrophic ly injured and may require more extensive medical treatment, such as surgery, or whatever. So depending on the situation, that treatment phase could last six months, it could last year, it could last longer.
Ashley Rodriguez : 5:11
So if it happens to last, like for your whole life, how do you deal with that?
Stewart J Guss : 5:17
One of the things that we do once you’ve reached maximum medical improvement, that is to say, if you’re only going to get up to 80%, of where you are before we can, and we will fight to recover for you future medical expenses that you may incur down the road, as well as a monetary recovery for for disability. So that’s all that’s all factored in. And these are all damage elements that we’re allowed to put in front of a jury in a lawsuit.
Ashley Rodriguez : 5:49
Stewart J Guss : 5:49
So let’s say however, we have a typical car accident case, and let’s say maybe someone treats for three, four months. They’re better They can get around. They’re rolling, you know, doing housework or playing with the kids or you know, playing soccer again and everything is good. The next phase at that point is we will go ahead and our team will gather all of your medical bills and medical records. And we’re going to put together a formal settlement demand package that we’re going to send to the insurance company to start the negotiating process. That settlement demand package is typically going to include not just your medical bills and medical records, but any important evidence that we have. So photographs or a police report, anything that we think really solidifies and backs up and establishes the value of the client’s claim. We’ll send it to the insurance company and we start the negotiation process.
Ashley Rodriguez : 6:46
How long does that typically take once the demand package has been sent?
Stewart J Guss : 6:51
Well, so it’s important for people to understand I’ll take a step back, I’ll answer that question, but it’s important for people to understand that sometimes The whole process of gathering all the medical records and bills, putting together the evidence and assembling the demand package, that is a process that can often take several weeks or even a month or two, depending on you know how cooperative the care providers are in timely turning over medical and billing records. We also want to take our time and do it right when we put together the settlement demand package. So I just, you know, I want everybody to make clear, don’t expect that negotiations will begin on your print. And this is true for if you hire us or any other personal injury lawyer, don’t expect that the negotiations are going to begin, you know, a week or two after you finish your medical treatment. There’s a process and it and it does take time.
Ashley Rodriguez : 7:42
Well, and you’re on the timetable of the doctors and waiting for them.
Stewart J Guss : 7:45
Yeah, to a certain extent and surely laws in Texas that limit the amount of time that doctors have to produce medical and billing records, but they pretty much ignore them and a lot but of course GM stores we have a whole department that’s in charge of gathering medical records, and we’ll see knocking on doors and, you know, plopping down in doctor’s offices with a cup of coffee. Oh, no, I’ll just wait here until you’ve got the records. It’s it’s been a few weeks now. But going back to your question, how long is that negotiation phase? Typically speaking, we will give our adjusters a deadline to respond. And it’s typically two or three weeks out from the time we send it. Sometimes the adjusters will ask for an extension if they’re if they’re backed up. And depending on the relationship that we have with the adjuster, that is to say, if that adjuster or that insurance company knows us, respects us and works fairly with us, we’ll you know, we typically won’t give them too much of a hard time on that. But essentially, it’s a back and forth and you know, sometimes we have to come up with more evidence or answer questions and it’s a process. The negotiation phase may last, you know, just three, four weeks. Sometimes it takes longer if we have to get some supplemental stuff. Once we’re done with negotiations though, one of two things happen. Can you guess what they are?
Ashley Rodriguez : 9:07
They probably send an offer in and then we sometimes talk to our client. Mm hmm. And then we go from there if it’s a fair settlement or not.
Stewart J Guss : 9:16
Well, yes, sort of basically what happens is sometimes we get an offer sometimes we don’t sometimes we get an offer we make a counteroffer, we negotiate but once we’ve negotiated for a while, one of two things generally happens, obviously, we get the, you know, this is ultimately the clients decision, you know, our job is to advocate. But ultimately, you know, we let our clients know you know, this is a resolution that we think is fair for you, this is how it would break down. This is the the money that you would see from this. Are you okay with that? Yes or no? How would you like us to proceed, and then based on the client’s instructions, obviously, and the insurance company, one of two things happens either a week settle the case. or two, we go to war. All right, so yeah, so either we settle the case, and we have to do some paperwork. But we’re typically once we get a settlement, we can wrap up the paperwork and find out. Usually within a few weeks, part of what we’re trying to do is we’re looking for other ways to put more money on our clients pocket. So for example, if there are outstanding medical bills that have to get paid, we’re going to try and negotiate reductions on those, because again, that that’s another way that we can add to our client’s net recovery. So not to hit the applause button. Again, if we settle it takes a few weeks, sometimes a little bit longer, depending on the reductions and we fund out. Alternatively, and I got a try. We go to war Yep, we find out lawsuit. And unfortunately, that process takes a long, long time. It’s not that we want it to take a long time, but you’ve heard the expression, the wheels of justice turn slowly. It’s true, unfortunately. So typically speaking, a case that we filed will probably not get its first, you know, if we file a case on, let’s say, on January 1 2020, we’re probably not going to get our first trial assignment until early 2021. And then, depending on how busy the court is, for that particular docket, we may not get called. And in fact, it’s pretty common that you don’t get called on your first on your first dockets. So, so yes, so but there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on.
Ashley Rodriguez : 11:48
Behind the scenes.
Stewart J Guss : 11:49
Yeah, in the meantime. So once we file the lawsuit, we do written discovery, which is both sides can send each other questions and ask for documents from each other. We sometimes do depositions, where in a private setting one of the lawyers offices, we put a witness under oath, and the attorneys can take time questioning them before trial. That’s a way to sort of prepare your evidence and sort of get to the bottom discovery get to the bottom of what happened. And then after the discovery, it’s typical that we mediate our cases, which is an opportunity for professional mediator and impartial mediator come in and try and talk sense into both of the parties. And by talk sense from his perspective, he’s trying to get the plaintiff to accept less than they came in wanting. And he’s trying to get the insurance company and the defense counsel to be willing to pay more than they came in willing to pay
Ashley Rodriguez : 12:49
to make everybody happy so we don’t have to go all the way to court.
Stewart J Guss : 12:52
You know, the funny thing is get a lot of mediators say that the best, the best outcome is when neither party is happy, but They’re, they’re satisfied. And yeah, compared to the additional expense delays, and most of all the uncertainty of going to court,
Ashley Rodriguez : 13:09
yeah, you gotta depend on 12 other people and hope they go in your favor.
Stewart J Guss : 13:12
That’s right. And, and one of the things that I like to tell my clients before we go into mediation is remember, for every minute that you have to tell your story, your side of the story, the defendant is going to have a minute to tell theirs. So nothing is a foregone conclusion no matter how obvious it may seem, we go to litigation we try. Typically, I would say probably 80 to 85% of cases, even though they’re filed. They’re settled at some point before trial. But then we try cases regularly. You know, I’ve got a whole department up there on the fourth floor that does nothing but prepare for and drug cases 365 days a year.
Ashley Rodriguez : 13:54
It makes us a little different than some because some won’t go all the way to trial right.
Stewart J Guss : 13:57
Some will not go all the way to trial week. Take pride and basically, you know, our team will carry the ball for our clients, as long and as hard and as diligently as we need to to get to get justice for our clients. You try the case. And luckily for us, you know, the idea is right, you win more than you lose every once in a while you lose or you can win and get less than you expected. But at the end of the day, justice is done. There are some times where we want to make an appeal that’s not particularly common, but and then after the lawsuit is tried if there’s no appeal, if the plaintiff one money, the insurance company goes ahead, writes a check. We find out and move on down the road.
Ashley Rodriguez : 14:41
Well, Stewart, I think it’s that time you know, the time where you have to tell us a joke.
Stewart J Guss : 14:46
Oh, that’s right. Oh my gosh, we cannot close out a podcast without the inevitable horrible lawyer joke. So today’s lawyer joke even though I am a personal injury lawyer is for my criminal defense attorney. friend’s criminal defense lawyer is meeting with his client and tells his client Hey, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. So the nervous client asks, okay, okay, what’s the bad news? Well, the bad news says the lawyer is that your blood is all over the crime scene and your DNA proves that you are guilty. Oh my gosh, what’s the good news? Well, good news. your cholesterol is only 130 rimshot. Yes. Alright. And with that, now that everyone has a good laugh at my horrible lawyer joke of the podcast, I guess we will wrap it up and until next time, dear listeners stay safe and stay legal.
Please contact us if you need help with a personal injury case at 281-783-3934