July 4, 2014

"What is the purpose of punitive damages?"

Punitive damages are an important part of the law but the business community has done a great job of "demonizing" punitive damages (except when a business has been harmed then it is "ok" to get punitive damages).

So what are punitive damages?

Punitive damages are awarded in rare circumstances where the defendant (the one sued) has caused injury intentionally or recklessly.

How are punitive damages different than compensatory damages?

Punitive damages are NOT to compensate the plaintiff for injuries. That's the role of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages make the plaintiff "whole" in the eyes of the law by awarding enough money to make up for the injury or loss.

Punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from doing the same bad conduct.

How do punitive damages punish?

When a person or company does something intentionally (or recklessly) and this harms someone, there needs to be punishment. We are not talking accidental or negligent conduct -- we are talking deliberate bad actions or driving drunk, etc.

The punitive damages let that person or company know its conduct was bad and it should not do it again.

Same as why we punish criminals -- there is a price to be paid for illegal conduct.

How do punitive damages deter others from doing the same type of bad conduct?

If a company cheats consumers intentionally and that company is hit with a large punitive damage award, then other companies who are thinking of cheating customers will take a moment to think.

"Is it worth it to do the cheating?"

"What if we get popped with a large punitive damage award also?"

This is one of the biggest reasons punitive damages are needed -- to deter others from doing the same wrongful conduct in the future.

Are punitive damages good or bad?

Like anything, punitive damages can be mis-used.

But when used properly, within the boundaries of the law, punitive damages are what keep the community safe. It keeps evil doers in line and those that still do wrong, it punishes them if the wrong was intentional.

I hope this post has been helpful -- if you have more questions give us a call at 205-879-2447.

John Watts
Birmingham, Alabama

May 31, 2014

"How do I prove my Alabama car wreck was the fault of the other driver?"

Ultimately you show the jury enough evidence to convince them the other driver was at fault. So how do you do this?

Right After The Wreck
Take pictures of your car, the other car, the scene, and any injuries you have. Make sure to save those pictures on your computer and a back up -- dropbox, google drive, etc.

Make sure you identify any witnesses to both the wreck but also to what you are going through.

Keep a diary of what you are going through medically, physically, emotionally, etc. Be as specific as possible.

Make sure you keep all doctor appointments and do what your doctor says -- be the best patient possible. Your number one goal is to get better and regain 100% of your health.

Before You Sue
Make sure you have a good lawyer that you feel comfortable with and confident in his or her ability to represent you and keep you informed of what is going to happen in your case.

You want to have given your lawyer all the background information -- previous wrecks, prior lawsuits, your medical history (and your lawyer should have your medical records), as well as your damages -- lost wages, etc.

Make sure that you have spoken in detail with your lawyer about the objective of the lawsuit and what will be expected of you so there are no surprises.

Your lawyer will interview witnesses, look at the physical evidence, look at pictures, and analyze the case from both your perspective but also from the defense perspective to see what the jury will be looking at. Ultimately you have to show, in your case, that the other driver was at fault -- was "negligent" in order for you to recover money damages.

After You Sue
Stay in good contact with your lawyer so nothing is missed.

Take "discovery" very seriously -- this is where you answer written questions and ultimately give a deposition. These activities are critical for you to do well in them -- tell the truth and be prepared.

Consider any settlement offers -- decide what is best for you after finding out what the "bottom line" number will be for you after lawyer fees, expenses, subrogation of Blue Cross Blue Shield, etc.

Trial
Trial is a serious matter and sometimes I have seen people not treat it as seriously as it deserves to be treated. The jury is giving up days or even a week of its time to hear your case so make sure you show up on time, prepared, and are respectful of the process.

Often times the defendant will not -- let it be "night and day" comparing you with the defendant. Let the jury see that you are honest, credible, etc.

What To Do Now
It makes sense to contact an Alabama car accident lawyer. If you are seriously injured, a personal injury attorney will collect the evidence to prove liability, file your accident claim, and negotiate with the insurance company while you focus on getting well. If we can help you, give us a call at 205-879-2447 or you can contact us through our website Birmingham Injury.

May 19, 2014

"I have a previous injury that is now worse after my car wreck -- can I be compensated?"

This is known as a "pre-existing" injury and you can still be compensated for a negligent person making your pre-existing injury worse.

Practical Reality
If you are over the age of 20, you likely will have some pre-existing injuries. Maybe in high school you hurt your knee. Or you hurt your back on your job.

Now somebody blows through a red light and crashes into you and your back or knee hurt worse.

Or you never thought you had any problems but the doctor says you have "degenerative disk disease." This just means your back is showing wear and tear.

This is not something to run from or to be discouraged by -- it is just the reality that we all have had problems or injuries to different parts of our bodies. The alternative is to be dead so not so bad when you think about it.... :)

Why Insurance Companies Love Pre-Existing Injuries
Even though we all have these, when an insurance company for a drunk driver or a negligent driver finds out you had a back injury 10 years ago, the company gets giddy.

It thinks it hit the lottery and now you should not be compensated at all.

Stupid thinking.

So what that you have a previous back injury?

If your doctor says that an SUV slamming into your car made the old injury flair up, or get worse, or require surgery, then the negligent person is responsible for that damage that was caused.

We have pointed out that the law does not require that you be a 20 year old olympic athlete in order to be compensated when you have been injured because of someone's negligence.

What To Do About A Pre-Existing Injury
Don't try to hide it.

Be honest about it.

Let your doctor know how the pain is different, more intense, came back, etc. Let the doctor know why you are feeling worse or have less range of motion.

People get into trouble when they lie about anything but particularly an old injury or problem.

The solution is to be honest.

Conclusion
If you are honest and, if needed, you hire a good lawyer, then the pre-existing injury can be dealt with in a proper manner.

Don't be discouraged -- instead understand that the law requires that the defendant compensate you for how you are not how a 20 year old olympic athlete would have been affected. If the defendant wants to make that argument then he should have run the red light and hit that person -- not you. He hit you so he has to deal with the consequences.

If you live anywhere in Alabama and have questions about a potential car wreck or other personal injury case, give us a call at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form here and we will be glad to get back with you the same day.

May 19, 2014

"If I was partly at fault for my accident in Alabama, can I still sue?"

Alabama is one of only two states in the nation that has what is called contributory negligence. This means if you, the injured victim, were at fault in any way for the car wreck, slip and fall, etc. then normally you cannot recover any damages against the party that was primarily at fault.

Most states have something called comparative negligence which means that the court "compares" your degree of negligence with the degree of negligence of person or company that you sue. Normally your damages will be reduced by whatever percentage you are at fault.

But in Alabama if you are even 1% at fault, the normally the defendant will win the case based upon contributory negligence.

There are exceptions to this rule, some of which are obvious and some of which are not quite so obvious. The point of this blog post is not to get into a lengthy legal discussion of those exceptions but simply to point out that if either you were at fault or it appears that you might of been partially at fault, then you need to be carefully understand your rights before you start dealing with the insurance company or find yourself in a lawsuit.

The insurance companies love to say that you were at fault and therefore are entitled to no damages. We always expect them to say this.

I cannot think of a single personal injury case that we have ever had where the insurance company and the defense lawyer did not raise contributory negligence as a defense. So every single case we have ever filed, the other side has said that our client was guilty of contributory negligence.

This is true even in cases where our clients settled their cases for seven figures.

The point is that this is something to be aware of and it is a serious danger to you, but normally we can demonstrate that either you are not at fault or one of the exceptions applies so that you can still recover damages against the party that was primarily at fault.

If you live in Alabama have any questions about this for free to call us at 205-879-2447 words you can contact us through our website BirminghamInjury.com.

Note -- we do have a page of definitions that may be helpful to you where we quickly define certain words and phrases such as "contributory negligence."

May 10, 2014

"What is medical payments on my car insurance and how does it help me if I've been in a car wreck?"

Almost every car insurance policy has a provision called "medical payments," which will pay for medical bills if you are involved in any type of wreck in your car. Many people who are injured in a car wreck do not think about this provision of their insurance but we want to spend some time talking about this important part of your insurance.

How much med pay do I have?

Normally, your medical payments or med pay will be around $5000. You can ask your insurance agent or check your insurance card as it may have the amount listed.

How is med pay different than other parts of my car insurance?

One important part of this part of your insurance policy is that it will pay regardless of who, if anyone, is at fault in the wreck.

This is different from liability insurance on your car. That will defend you if you are sued because somebody has claimed that you were negligent.

If you are in a wreck with somebody else and you claim that they were at fault, then their liability insurance will pay if it is proven that they were at fault.

But med pay will pay even if it is a single car wreck and even if nobody was at fault.

So how does med pay work?

After a car wreck, gather up your medical bills as you receive them. You can then turn them into your insurance company and specifically ask that you be reimbursed out of your med pay provision.

So will State Farm or Allstate or whoever my insurance company is actually pay this money?

Yes.

I have been representing Alabama residents in car wrecks for about 19 years now. In all that time, I have never had to sue a car insurance company over med pay. Now I have filed countless lawsuits over car wrecks for personal injuries, and even some for property damage, where the insurance companies will not pay, but never for med pay. I have found that if you send the proper documentation in, then the car insurance companies are good about paying under your med pay.

Do I need a lawyer to help me claim my med pay benefits?

Let me answer it this way.

You do not need a lawyer to get your med pay benefits.

You can do this on your own.

Now, if you have already hired a lawyer to sue the person who is negligent and/or to sue your own insurance company for uninsured or underinsured benefits, it makes sense to let your lawyer handle the med pay part of your case.

I cannot speak for other lawyers, but I can say that my firm has never charged a fee to help somebody collect their med pay benefits. It normally is simply a matter of sending in the medical bills with the appropriate letter, and the benefits are paid very quickly.

So if you have not hired a lawyer, than you can handle it on your own. But if you have hired a lawyer or you expect to hire a lawyer, then you might prefer for the lawyer to handle it just so you do not have to deal with the details.

If I've been in a car wreck in Alabama and I have questions, what should I do?

A couple of things.

First, remember that there is a two-year statute of limitations to sue the person who is negligent. So don't wait too long -- instead take action before that time period expires. But...

Second, there is generally no reason to have to hire a lawyer the next day after a car wreck. You have time to make the right decision. Especially if you're being pressured to hire a lawyer, I would be very skeptical. It also makes sense to gather information about car wreck cases in Alabama and about lawyers who handle car wreck cases, so that you can make the right decision. Any good lawyer should happily give you written information or a CD or DVD that explains the process and answers questions that you have.

And if the lawyer insists that you must come in for a consultation, you can certainly do this, but you would naturally wonder why, if this lawyer is skilled at handling car wreck cases, he or she cannot give you free information ahead of time.

Third, if you're interested in talking to us or in receiving the free information package that you can review in the privacy of your own home, give us a call at 205-879-2447 or you can contact us by filling out the form on the left of this page, or you can use the contact us page on our Birmingham Injury website.

We wish you the best of luck and let us know how we can help you.

John Watts

February 8, 2014

Definitions of Legal Words Used In Personal Injury Cases

In our websites and blogs we do our best to avoid legal jargon -- instead we try to explain things in plain english.

But there are words that are used in injury lawsuits and it can be helpful to understand those words.

So in our personal injury site -- Birmingham Injury -- we have a list of definitions of many legal words used in injury cases. We will continually add to this list and if you have any suggestions please make them in the comments or in a private message to us.

We hope you find this useful and have a great day!

John Watts
Birmingham, Alabama

November 1, 2013

"What is arbitration and what does it mean for my case?"

Arbitration is where you have to take your dispute before a private company -- an arbitration association -- instead of going in front of a judge and a jury.

Arbitration is "voluntary" which means you have to agree to it when you enter into your relationship with the defendant. This is normally when you buy a product -- a car -- or a service -- nursing home care.

There are ways to show that you had no choice but this is normally difficult -- if you signed an arbitration agreement or you signed a contract containing an arbitration agreement then you will normally be bound by this.

Just because you go to arbitration does not mean you will lose -- it simply means that you won't have a jury and won't have the normal right to appeal a decision. It also means that instead of paying 300-500 dollars to file your case, you may have to pay thousands of dollars to have your case heard by the arbitrators -- the ones who act as the "judge" and the "jury" in your case.

You can click on the category of definitions for more information or if you would like a single page with many definitions, you can find that on our website Birmingham Injury.

If you live in Alabama feel free to call us at 205-879-2447 and we will be glad to speak with you.

July 4, 2013

Alabama Car Wreck: Should I Take Pictures of My Injuries?

Yes if at possible take pictures of your injuries. You may have bruises that will fade with time. You may have incisions from surgeries -- you may places in your back where you received blocks or injections.

What's the old saying?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A picture can help the jury (or an insurance adjuster who has the checkbook) understand your injuries.

If you take pictures, try to take the best ones possible. If it is hard for you to do it yourself, have someone else take it.

If you want more information about what to do, and not do, after an Alabama car wreck, give us a call at 205-879-2447 and we'll be glad to help you.

June 30, 2013

Are Hands Free Devices Still Distracting To Drivers?

Alabama Injury Attorneys Blog has an interesting, and disturbing, blog post on how hands free devices may be more distracting than calling or texting the old fashioned way.

The AAA Study focused on high-tech gadgets that allow for voice control of telephones, wipers and radio stations. Using cameras mounted on the dashboard to track head and eye movement, a skull cap to monitor brain wave activity, and a device to measure reactive time, researchers determined that using voice controls of any type can be very distracting. What's more, many drivers aren't even aware that they are distracted.

Read the rest of the blog post -- it will be interesting to see what states, including Alabama, do with this information. We all need to do our best to not be distracted, whether we are talking to a person in the car, on a cell phone, listening to sports radio, or whatever we are doing.

June 29, 2013

Alabama Car Wreck: Should I Settle My Case Quickly?

Generally the answer is no as you won't know the extent of your injuries until you complete your medical treatment. Without knowing how badly you are injured and the long term effects, there is no way to know what the right settlement amount is for you.

I admit there are some exceptions to this -- maybe you were not hurt, or maybe you get to feeling better immediately after the wreck -- but for the types of cases we handle involving serious personal injuries, the danger is getting in too big of a hurry to settle and then regretting it later.

After the settlement, the case is over. You can't go back and say "Hey State Farm, my injuries didn't quite heal like I wanted. I need you to pay me more money."

It just doesn't work that way.

You should settle when you know the value of the case.

You can't know the value of the case until you know the extent of your injuries and damages.

You can't know the extent of your injuries until you know how you are going to heal and what types of medical treatment (physical therapy, shots, surgeries, etc) you will need.

All of this takes time. And you may be in a bad position financially.

The insurance companies know this.

And so they dangle a small settlement in front of you figuring since you "are over a barrell" you will accept it.

My suggestion is you have been injured -- you may deal with the effects the rest of your life -- get the full value of your settlement.

If you have questions about this you can pick up the phone and call us at 205-879-2447 or you can contact us through our website Birmingham Injury.

December 13, 2012

Alabama Car Wreck: Should I go to ER or Doctor?

Yes -- if you have been injured in a car wreck, get checked out. Make sure that you are physically ok. Sometimes right after a wreck you may feel fine but once the adrenaline wears off, you feel the pain. It may just be pain that will go away or it may be a sign of something serious.

Look, here's the deal. Car wrecks and accidents never happen at convenient times. None of us want to go to an emergency room or to our doctor. But we need to if we have been in anything but the most minor of wrecks.

Get checked out -- make sure you are ok.

From a lawsuit standpoint -- which is not as important as your health -- if you don't go right away, the insurance company and defense lawyer will argue you must not have been hurt.

"If you were really hurt, you would have gone to the doctor the same day or gone to the ER."

It is an unfair argument but sometimes it is effective with juries so don't give them the chance.

For the sake of your health and to preserve your credibility, get proper medical attention after a car wreck.

Feel free to give us a call at 205-879-2447 if you have any questions about your rights and options after a car wreck in Alabama.

December 10, 2012

Alabama Car Wreck: What is Medical Payment (MedPay)?

If you have been in a wreck in Alabama, you should have "Medical Payment" (Medpay) insurance with State Farm or Allstate or whoever you have your policy with. This is a very valuable but often unknown benefit that you have been paying for and that you are entitled to use.

Normally this benefit is available in $5,000 or $25,000 amounts -- you can read your policy or call your agent to find out the exact amount you have.

This covers medical bills when you have been in a wreck -- regardless of who is at fault. You simply show you were in a wreck and have medical bills that are related to the wreck.

In handling Alabama car wreck cases for over 17 years, I don't recall one time having to fight with an insurance company over medical payments.

So if you have been in a wreck, keep up with all of your out of pocket expenses. Mileage to doctors. Pharmacy bills -- get a printout from your pharmacist. Copays. Deductibles. Physical therapy bills. Etc.

Send them into the adjuster of your insurance company and let him or her know you are making a claim for your med pay.

If you live in Alabama and have a question about your Alabama car wreck (and you don't have a lawyer), feel free to call us at 205-879-2447 and we'll be glad to set up a meeting in person or by phone.