Personal injury cases often involve complex issues | Lipman & Katz

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Personal injury cases often involve complex issues

By Karen E. Boston, Esq.

When a person is seriously injured, the process of resolving any legal matters related to the injury can be time consuming. In many instances, it can be months or years before a person makes a full recovery. Unfortunately, sometimes such injuries can result in death. In either case, early legal advice and representation can be helpful and often necessary. It is often not clear as to who was at fault for such injuries.

Emergency room hospital entrance

Legal representation can be helpful in conducting an investigation and assisting the injured person or his or her family in responding to inquiries from others, including law enforcement. Sometimes, it is necessary to obtain an independent accident reconstructionist, to take photographs or videos of the scene and/or vehicles, or to preserve other evidence. 

In situations where a serious injury or death has occurred, the person who is at fault or responsible for such injuries may not have enough insurance coverage. It is important to understand how insurance policies will be interpreted in order to maximize the potential insurance coverage available. Sometimes the medical bills alone may exceed the available insurance coverage. Legal representation can be helpful in negotiating medical liens. Medical bills may have been paid by sources such as private health insurance, MaineCare, Medicare, or medical payments coverage under a motor vehicle policy (also known as “Med-Pay.”) These payors will likely have a subrogation interest in the recovery. They will expect all or a portion of what they paid out to be reimbursed. The attorney representing the injured party should do his or her best to maximize the injured person’s recovery, which means trying to resolve the amounts owed for a lesser amount if appropriate.

If the injured person dies from the injuries, a wrongful death action may be brought. There will likely be probate issues such as the appointment of a personal representative that needs to be promptly resolved. The personal representative or PR will represent the estate in the ensuing legal proceedings. There are monetary caps (or maximum amounts) that may be recovered under the wrongful death statute for the loss of comfort, society and companionship of the deceased, including any damages for emotional distress. However, the statute also allows for recovery for reasonable expenses of medical care and treatment, reasonable funeral expenses, pecuniary injuries, i.e. loss of income, and also conscious suffering.

In many instances, the damages can far exceed $500,000, particularly if there are significant medical bills and conscious pain and suffering. The $500,000 maximum for the loss of love, comfort, society and companionship of the deceased allowed by the statute, is not a given. Proving the impact of such loss on the family members can be accomplished best by skilled attorneys who know what type of questions to ask the family. It also may be necessary to obtain expert opinions as to the value of economic damages such as the deceased’s estimated future wages. An experienced attorney can maximize the available recovery by gathering the best information and obtaining the proper experts.

In cases involving catastrophic injuries without death, such as loss of a limb, paralyses or other serious impairment, the medical bills may be astronomical. The future costs and expenses for the injured person may be even more. A life care planner and/or an economist may be hired to evaluate and give an opinion on future costs and expenses. Such expenses and losses could include not only medical bills but medical equipment, a specialized vehicle or adaptive equipment, housing adaptations, household assistance, home health care and loss of earning capacity.

While personal injury matters involving less significant injuries still require careful attention and can benefit from experienced representation, it is even more important to have skilled legal counsel with experience handling personal injury matters when the injuries are significant. It is imperative to gather and preserve the correct information early on, to know what information to obtain and how to best obtain it, as well as how to present the information in the context of settlement and potentially trial.

As mentioned, with medical injuries usually come issues involving payment of expenses in subrogation. Further, an attorney will need to take the time to understand the nature of the injuries and be able to communicate well with medical professionals if necessary. At Lipman & Katz, we have attorneys with decades of experience in handling significant personal injury matters including wrongful death cases.