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Handling Your Case
After your South Florida accident or injury, you need answers. That is why it is important to work with a law firm with years of experience handling cases like yours in courtrooms in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyers at David W. Singer and Associates, P.A. are committed to providing all of our clients with passionate representation in order to help them win justice. We do this through a process that is meant to guide our clients through the legal system and give them the help they need. See below the many aspects of handling your case that helps to make us leaders in the South Florida legal community:
- How We Handle Your Case
- General Outline
- A Caution
- Medical Proof
- Filing Suit
- Lawsuit Development
- Prior Accidents and Health
- Work Record
- The Incident
- Your Injuries
- Conferences with Attorneys
- Medical Examination
- Preparation and Attitude
- Talking with the Doctor
- The General Rules
- How You Can Hurt Your Case
- Checklist of Client Responsibilities
- A Word or Two About a Trial
- Statement of Policy
How we Handle your Case
We believe that every case that we undertake is important. We know that your case is important to you. We want you to know that we share your feelings and that we will do everything that we can to obtain the best possible result for you. However, the practice of law is a professional undertaking. No two cases are alike; nor are the results, even in similar cases. No law firm can promise you success, but our law firm will give you our best efforts and that makes success most likely to occur.
It is impossible to call you every day to give you a status report on your case. However, you should expect to hear from us, at least once a month. When something concrete or specific happens in your case, we will advise you immediately; otherwise, you can be assured that your case is following a normal course of preparation. Please don’t misunderstand. If you have a question, or need some advice, or are concerned about some aspect of your case, DO NOT HESITATE TO CALL our office.
General Outline The information which follows is a general outline explaining the ordinary step-by-step preparation that is involved in handling a case. The steps mentioned here are not followed exactly in every case, but are illustrative of the type of steps typical in a case such as yours.
Please refrain from discussing the details of your accident or injuries with persons not entitled to that information. Inquiries from the person responsible for your injuries or his insurance company or other representatives should be referred to your attorney. If the insurance company representative comes to you, inform him you are represented by our law firm and REFER HIM TO US for any information. Do not make statements to him. If you have already made statements to an insurance company representative, or anyone else, tell us immediately of these statements and the contents of the statements. If you have given a written statement, furnish us with a copy if you have one in your possession.
When you are interviewed by us for the first time, we obtain some general information about the date of the accident, the place of the accident, how the accident occurred and the general nature of your injuries. A file is opened on your case and this file is then assigned to an attorney, his or her secretary, a paralegal and possibly an investigator. These people have the responsibility to prepare your case for trial or settlement. All these assistants help David Singer with your case. Mr. Singer makes all the important decisions in the handling of your case. Next, the attorney and paralegal will discuss your case and begin an investigation. In a motor vehicle case we will obtain a copy of the police report; we may interview the police officer and obtain statements from witnesses. In a motor vehicle accident, photographs of the vehicles involved are critical.
It’s best if you take them with a 35mm camera or digital camera. If you don’t have a camera, buy a disposable camera and take pictures from all angles including damages to the inside of the car (broken seats or dashboards). Also, it is helpful to take pictures of any damage to the undercarriage of the motor vehicle. Don’t forget to send us pictures of any scaring, cuts or bruises to your face or body. We will gather all of the information that is available to show who caused the accident and who is responsible. A similar type of investigation will be conducted if your case does not involve a motor vehicle. A letter will be sent to each of your doctors requesting medical reports. Hospital records and test results may be obtained that deal with your past and current medical conditions. The secretary and/or paralegal periodically report to the attorney as matters progress. The attorney will periodically review the collected information.
After the basic investigation and when the medical information is complete, the attorney is then in a position to prepare the case for settlement. It generally takes five to six months to gather all of the above information. More serious injuries can take longer. Often it is difficult to obtain medical reports quickly from the physicians simply because they are so busy. Sometimes they delay writing a report in the early stages of your treatment because they are not yet sure how much medical care will be needed or whether there will be a permanent injury. Eventually, we get the reports we need.
Early in the case, the insurance company for the negligent party is contacted and an effort is made to discuss settlement of the case. Before an insurance company is in a position to make an offer in a given case, it usually insists upon having the following information:
- A detailed and itemized list of all medical and other expenses;
- A statement, preferably from the employer, showing how much time has been lost from employment or the amount of salary lost;
- An estimate or invoice to show the amount of automobile or other property damage involved;
- A list or statement supported by cancelled checks, receipts or bills for all the expenses incurred in the case;
- Medical reports, hospital records or other satisfactory medical information concerning the nature and extent of the injuries.
Insurance companies want to know all the relevant facts in order to make an offer. Documentation is necessary to substantiate your claim. A company does not operate on guesswork, nor does it pay for unsubstantiated claims. Should an offer be received, it will be relayed to and discussed with you. In the event that a fair settlement cannot be reached at this time, the attorney considers the advisability of filing a suit. However, for many reasons, which vary with the facts and circumstances of the case, we frequently file suit without any (sometimes very little) substantial discussion of the settlement with the insurance company. Some, but by no means all, of the reasons are:
- The statute of limitations may be close to expiration;
- Past experience that some insurance companies just give the claimants the “run-around”;
- Advantage of being able to deal with a lawyer rather than an adjuster;
- Sometimes people are hurt so badly it may be a year or more until they are well enough for us or anyone to fully evaluate their injuries. Insurance companies won’t pay fair settlements until the prognosis is almost certain. Such cases afford too much opportunity for an insurance company to delay, and we sometimes feel it may shorten the total time required to conclude the case to have the case proceed in court while the patient is recovering.
The attorney files suit by preparing a “Complaint” and serving it to the defendant of the reasons why a claim is being made against him and the general nature of the injuries sustained. You will receive a copy of the complaint. The defendant takes these suit papers and turns them over to his insurance company. The insurance company gives them to its attorney. The insurance attorneys file an “Answer to the Complaint”. There may be court hearings on various matters and technicalities may have to be ironed out. Preliminary matters have to be resolved before the case is put on a judge’s trial list. When your case if filed, it is assigned to a specific trial judge and given a number and, thereafter, all of the hearings in the case are heard by the same trial judge. The judge becomes familiar with your case and that judge will be the judge who will try your case.
The judge will give your case a trial date in accordance with the courthouse schedule (on a first-come first-serve basis). In other words, if your suit is filed tomorrow, you are in line for a trial date and, as the judge disposes of other cases, your case will come to the top of the list and the judge will advise the attorneys of the trial date. When we receive word from the judge of that date, we will advise you. It generally takes about 6 to 12 months from the day that a suit is filed for a case to receive a trial date from the trial judge. It may be important not to settle or try your case too soon because sometimes the full effect of the injury is not apparent for many months.
After your suit has been filed, we, as your attorneys, have the right to take the testimony of the people who are involved in your case. That is, we can take the defendant’s “deposition” (his testimony) under oath. We can ask many questions that deal with how the incident happened and any information that the defendant may have. The defendant’s attorney also has the right to take your testimony by deposition. They may ask you how the incident occurred, the nature and extent of your injuries, and many questions on related matters such as your background, education, past health, earning capacity, and ESPECIALLY OTHER CLAIMS and OTHER ACCIDENTS and INJURIES before and after the one in question. In addition to giving your sworn testimony in a deposition, the defendant has the right to ask you to answer, under oath, a list of written questions. These are called “interrogatories.”
The lawyer for the insurance company draws up a list of questions dealing with your case and they are sent to us and then we send them to you. You have to give a written, truthful reply to each question. These answers are prepared in final form by our office and then sent back to you to be sworn to and signed. We also have the right to send interrogatives to defendants. They must also answer these under oath and return them to us. Before we go to trial, your attorney reviews the file again and decides what additional steps are necessary to present your case in court. Some witnesses are re-interviewed; photographs may be enlarged; exhibits and other evidence are put in proper form. The law is researched and prepared for the judge’s use. What is expected of you at trial will be explained to you in detail in advance of going to the courthouse. The following section contains specific instructions on what to expect and prepare for at your own deposition. Please read it carefully both now, and before the date when your deposition may actually be taken.
If suit is filed, your deposition will most likely be taken. We want you to carefully read the following so that you will have a clear understanding of what to expect. You will, of course, have an opportunity to discuss any of these matters with your attorney and to ask specific questions about your case. This is merely a guide that applies generally to all cases.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a question and answer session during which the opposing attorney obtains information from you. You do NOT go alone. You and an attorney from this firm will go to the office of the attorney for the defendant and answer questions in front of a court reporter. You will be placed under oath by the court reporter and your attorney will be present throughout the entire procedure with you. This will not take place in the courtroom and neither a judge nor a jury will be present. Whatever you say will be written up by the court reporter in booklet form. We shall receive a copy of the questions and answers and these will be available for you to read at a later date.
The opposing lawyer will also get a copy of these questions and at the time of trial, if your testimony is different, he will be able to confront you with your prior testimony. The procedure is very informal and although it is important, there is nothing about which you should get nervous. There is no way of telling how long the deposition will take, that depends on the seriousness the accident and injuries. Generally, however, it lasts for about one hour. The reason we are going through this process is because we have to. This is not an attempt on our part to impress anyone with the seriousness of your claim, but rather this is something that the insurance company is doing because it has the legal right to do so prior to trial. Likewise, we have the right to take the deposition of their clients and other witnesses prior to trial.
The opposing attorney is interested in finding out many things about you and the facts of your case. Our purpose is to be completely truthful with him, but at the same time we want to answer the specific question that is asked and not offer anything extra. The time for us not to leave anything out will be when we are in front of the judge and the jury rather than in the office of the opposing attorney. We want you to make a complete, honest and frank disclosure of anything that is asked, but we do not want to volunteer any information that we are not asked. Every question should be answered without any unnecessary explanations and as briefly as possible. When the opposing attorney has finished asking his questions your attorney has the opportunity to add anything that he feels might need explaining and you should leave it to our judgement as to what needs further explaining.
There is no need to try to convince the opposing attorney that you know everything about your case. If the deposition takes the usual course, your attorney will not ask you any questions at the end of the deposition. You should adopt the attitude during your testimony that you are telling the absolute truth and not feel that any explanation is needed in order for anyone to believe your testimony. Merely state a truthful answer and do not try to convince anyone as to why it may be a logical answer. Again, do not volunteer anything that you are not specifically asked.
Personal Appearance and Conduct
One of the things that the opposing attorney will be observing during the deposition is your personality and appearance. We would like you to dress conservatively and not feel that you have to dress up. We want you to be extremely polite during the deposition and treat the other lawyer with respect. He might attempt to see if he can provoke you by becoming somewhat sarcastic, or, on the other hand, he might try to see if he can get you to agree with his version of things by being extremely nice to you. In either event, leave the emotions out of your testimony and just be courteous. Where appropriate, you should say “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. If the attorney for the other side is suggesting a different version of the incident, do not hesitate to disagree and to remain firm in your version. Do not nod your head because this cannot be recorded. Your must give an oral answer.
Types of Questions
Make absolutely sure that a question is completely finished before you give your answer. In everyday conversation we often know what a person is going to say before they complete the sentence, and we in turn will give our answer in the middle of a question. This is extremely dangerous in a deposition and it must be absolutely avoided. Take all the time that is necessary to completely understand the question before you give your answer. Don’t ever be embarrassed to say that you do not understand the question and/or particular word in the question. This is your lawsuit and you must be sure that you understand every question that is asked of you.
Also, be careful that you do not say “yes” or “no” to a double barreled question which may contain two different questions. Do not try to guess whether or not an answer will help or hurt your law suit; tell the truth as best you can and leave it to the others to judge the result. Don’t look for help by looking at your attorney all of the time. If there is something that you do not understand, though, do not hesitate to turn to him and ask him any question very frankly. Generally, if the question is not proper we will give you instructions not to answer and then you will abide by our instructions.
Scope of the Deposition
Generally, the opposing lawyer will question you about the accident in which you were involved, the injuries and expenses which you suffered, and your life prior to, and since, the accident. You can readily see that this covers your entire life and they will be interested in your prior health doctors, hospitals, accidents, claims, law suits, marriages, etc. There are very few things that are privileged and about which they cannot inquire. If there is something in particular that bothers you, please be sure to discuss this with your attorney in advance so that we can advise you concerning it. Do not be concerned that you are going to have to remember every detail about a doctor’s bill or the dates of each visit. We don’t want you to be surprised because the attorney will ask questions that you may consider rather personal. We know the limit to which they are allowed to go and we will protect you from anything that is not legal.
Prior Accidents and Health
You will definitely be asked whether or not you have ever been in any prior accidents and it is extremely important that you make a full disclosure. You should know that insurance companies have a central index system which is very similar to the fingerprint files of the FBI. They routinely check every case and determine if you have ever had an accident or claim anywhere before this one. They will also, as a matter of routine, check their branch offices around the country in the places where you have lived or worked and make an investigation concerning accidents and claims. More than once, a person with a legitimate claim has had it rejected by a jury because they failed to disclose a prior accident and the jury thought that they were trying to hide something.
There is nothing that pleases an insurance company more than attacking your integrity rather than staying with the facts of the accident and your present injuries. Therefore, it is extremely important that you make a full and complete disclosure. Remember, too, that the word “accident” does not apply to just automobile accidents, but applies to anything that may have been accidental. It includes falls, burns, etc. It includes incidents when you may have been in school, work, or the military. It includes an automobile accident where they might not have been personal injury, but there was property damage. There will also be a discussion about your prior health. Again, a full disclosure should be made of any serious illnesses or injuries that you may have been in and any doctors that may have treated you. Usually none of this is too important until it is overlooked.
You will be asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime and about your personal life in general. None of us have lived a perfect life and if you have any skeletons in the closet please make sure to discuss this with your attorney. The same relationship exists between you and your attorney as between you and your doctor. Anything that you say to us is absolutely confidential and privileged. We should know the full picture, so that we can adequately represent you. The defense attorney will find out if you have a criminal record or if you have ever had any trouble with the authorities. Other matters concerning divorce or personal problems should be discussed with your attorney because you may be required to give answers about them.
If you are a person who has worked and lost earnings as a result of this accident, this will be fully examined at your deposition, and later checked by the insurance company. You should know that you will be required to produce copies of your income tax returns and an investigation will also be made with the worker’s compensation office. If your income tax returns are not available you will be required to sign a request form so that the Internal Revenue Service may send copies of your returns for the last several years to the insurance company.
Before giving your testimony about your earnings, it is best to refresh your memory from your past records, and if there are any problems, they should be discussed with your attorney. Your earnings, since the accident will be a factor and you should have the information available. Much of this information is previously supplied in your answers to the interrogatories. You should review these documents prior to your testimony. If there have been any unusual developments since your accident these should also be discussed fully with your attorney. For instance, people sometimes become involved in a second accident.
You will be asked in great detail concerning your knowledge about the incident and your injuries. Even though you may be sure that you are 100% correct, do not try to convince the opposing attorney that you are in the right. Merely answer his questions and do not argue with him. Sometimes the general question will be asked of you “How did this accident happen?” and, in response to this, you should give him an answer that is accurate, brief and truthful. Remember that you are under oath and that every word you say will become part of the permanent file which can be used either for you or against you.
You will be asked what physically happened to you in the incident and about the doctor, hospital and medical expenses. It is not necessary that you remember the date of every visit or the amount of every bill. The thing that you should be aware of, however, is that you should not try to diagnose your own injuries and you should leave that to the doctors when they testify. Usually the doctor tells the patient very little about the medical diagnosis. Tell what you know through your own knowledge, but don’t guess about what someone else may think. Don’t try to decide whether some condition is related or caused by the incident, simply tell what your condition was before the incident and what it has been since the incident.
You will be asked what your condition is today and what your complaints are. This is one place in the deposition when it is important that you volunteer each and every injury and complaint. One easy way to remember everything is to start at the top of your head and think about each and every part of your body. Make sure that you list every single thing and if the lawyer should interrupt and ask you to enlarge upon one particular thing make sure that you come back and cover all complaints. A jury at a later date will not be able to understand why you forgot a serious injury or illness. Try to be accurate so they won’t hold an error against you. You should also spend some time thinking about things that you are unable to do now that you could do before the accident.
This has to do with the things that you personally enjoy and the inconveniences that may be caused to you now because of your injuries. It has to do with the hobbies and the personal pleasures that you have had to give up. You are going to have to do it before your trial anyway and it is usually best to make a written list about these things and give it to your lawyer. We will use it for our own use and not file it anywhere. It will give you a chance to itemize the things that are seriously wrong with you. It is a good idea to get the help of your family, too.
Be prepared, also, to discuss the areas where you have pain and the medication that is necessary for you to take. Of course, you should not exaggerate any of this because it could prove to be extremely embarrassing to you later, and can hurt your case. All of these matters will be checked carefully with your treating doctors and you will also have to go to another doctor, appointed by the court, who will examine you.
You should realize that in many cases the insurance company will have someone, such as a private detective, watch your activities at different times of the day. This is done so that he can testify to a jury about how you are exaggerating your injury. He is paid by the insurance company to find anything that could hurt your case. They may video your activities. You may not be aware that you are under surveillance. If there should be questioning about particular activities such as working in the yard, bowling, going to the movies or any number of examples, then there is a chance that they have you on video. Before you deny emphatically that you have done an activity, think carefully about it. If you are unable to remember then answer “not that I remember”.
Conferences with Attorneys
You should admit, if asked, that you have had discussions with your attorneys and have discussed the deposition with him. You will be asked to give the name of any witnesses that you know. You may also be asked to tell about any photographs that you may have seen. You should be truthful about these matters, and if you know the name of a witness that should be disclosed (be sure that your attorney is also aware of all witnesses). You will also be asked about any drinking of any alcoholic beverages and drug use prior to this incident. If there may be a problem in this regard, discuss it freely with your attorney.
You wouldn’t buy a house sight unseen; neither will a jury make a fair award unless they have all of the detailed evidence presented to them. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that we have your fullest cooperation in helping us gather the evidence. We need good records from you of all of the money that you spend for anything connected with your case. We need receipts, cancelled checks, bills, and other memoranda to prove all of your losses and expenses. If you are making a claim for lost earnings, it will be necessary that you obtain your income tax returns for the last four years. Defense attorneys have a right to see them, and they may be out in evidence in court by us or the defense.
In the event that suit is filled in your case, the defendant has the right to have you examined by a physician of his choice or one appointed by the court (sometimes we will agree to such an examination before suit is filed). The insurance company will pay the cost of this examination. A report will be rendered to the insurance company attorneys and to us showing the doctor’s findings and his opinion concerning your injuries. Since you may be examined by such a doctor on behalf of the defendant and his insurance company, and this examination and the doctor’s testimony may be used in trial, here are some suggestions and helpful hints on what to do.
Preparation and Attitude
Be prompt for the appointment even though some insurance doctors are overbooked and you may wait a considerable time before seeing the doctor. Be on time and be patient. The doctor is paid by the insurance company – do not pay him anything. Remember the doctor is not your friend; he works for the other side and is interested in minimizing your problems.
Talking with the Doctor
Do not discuss blame or talk about “how the incident happened” with the doctor. His job is to estimate the extent of the injury and not decide who was at fault for the accident. Tell the doctor each and every complaint – letting him decide whether it was caused by your accident. In your mind, start at the top of your head and work your way down your entire body, telling about each injury and pain to the doctor. Do not minimize or leave out any injury – no matter how minor it appears to you. Remember, this doctor’s job is to down-play your injuries when reporting to the insurance company and you should not help him find little or nothing wrong with you.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SOUND LIKE A COMPLAINER. If your complaints are legitimate – describe them fully to him. Tell the doctor how pain affects your daily life. If you were unable to work after the accident, give that information to the doctor. Were you able to do your household chores? Did you have to drop out of the bowling league due to pain? Is it hard to sleep? Is your married life changed? Were you assigned lighter duties at work? All this information may be important in the doctor’s overall evaluation of your injury – past, present and future.
The General Rules
Tell the truth. Do not hide information about previous accidents or injuries. Such information does not hurt your case in any way. It is possible you may not like the doctor. No problem – be polite and let him do his job. However, if some highly unusual test is proposed, you may say “no”. The doctor may be friendly, but his written report will be strictly businesslike and can hurt you. Work with him, but keep in mind that his job is to find out not how much but how little you are hurt.
How you can Hurt your Case
As we said before, there are very few secrets in a case of this kind. THE INSURANCE COMPANY HAS AN INDEX SYSTEM ON A NATIONWIDE BASIS WHICH SHOWS ALL OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE CLAIMS BEFORE FOR OTHER INJURIES. IF YOU HAVE MADE A CLAIM IN ANOTHER INCIDENT FOR ANOTHER INJURY, YOUR NAME WILL BE THERE and they will have this information. The defense may take movies, question you neighbors, talk to your employer, check at former addresses, etc. They may obtain the office records of all of your doctors, past and present, so disclose all physicians that you’ve seen, and all problems that you may have had.
You may be assured that they will make an exhaustive study in your case to determine the validity of your claim. YOU ARE URGED TO BE FRANK, CANDID AND ABSOLUTELY HONEST IN ALL OF THE ANSWERS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE CASE. Please confide in us. Don’t hold anything back. Let us be the judge of whether or not it can hurt your case. We may be able to prevent facts about embarrassing matters from being put in evidence before the jury if you have been totally honest. But, if you have not, these matters can be introduced to prove that you are not truthful and this will doubly damage your case.
Checklist of Client Responsibilities
This list of client responsibilities is designed to furnish us with information which is of great importance in the preparation of your case for both trial and settlement purposes. We can do our best only when we know ALL of the facts of your case; therefore, it is essential that you do these things and review the list from time to time, keeping us informed of any change.
- DIARY: It will be most helpful if you will keep a diary of your activities. List all restriction of your activities caused by your injuries, specific plans, and the frequency and type of medication taken. A diary such as this will be useful to you prior to the trial to refresh your memory as to occurrences that might otherwise be forgotten.
- EVIDENCE: Be sure to keep all physical objects such as shoes, clothing, etc. that you had on at the time of the accident. We may need them as evidence at the trial.
- DATE: Be sure you have accurately and completely filled out our client information questionnaire.
- DOCUMENTS: Keep and send to us:
- Hospital bills;
- Doctor bills;
- Ambulance bills;
- Nursing bills;
- Drug(medicine) bills;
- All other expenses you incurred as a result of this incident, such as travel to and from doctor’s offices and hospitals, and extra help around home and/or business. Keep a notebook record of these expenses. IF YOU DO NOT OBTAIN BILLS AND SEND THEM TO US, WE CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR FAILURE TO CLAIM THESE ITEMS.
- ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Please tell your drug store from which you purchase prescriptions to be certain that the bills which are furnished you include only medications which are related to the accident. In the event they should inadvertently include some other item such as talcum powder, etc. on your bill, the inclusion of this bill would be used by the insurance company to embarrass you at the time of trial to make it appear that you were seeking something to which you are not entitled.
- BEFORE AND AFTER WITNESSES: Make a list of the names of any neighbors, friends, fellow employees or relatives who knew of your activities both before and after the accident and who can personally testify as to how the accident and injuries received have restricted your activities. Give us the names, addresses, telephone numbers and relationships.
- TAX RETURNS: Locate copies of your tax returns for the last four (4) years and send them to us. If you do not have them, ask for forms to help you get them.
As you think of information that should be added to this list, get in touch with us.
A Word or Two about a Trial
Your case will usually be tried before a Circuit Court Judge and a jury of six men and women. The Judge is there to decide matters of law and to instruct the jury with reference to the law. The jury is made up of people in every walk of life from the county where the case is filed. Their names are picked at random from the licensed drivers in the county. The function of the jury is to hear all of the testimony – yours, the defendants, the doctors and the witnesses – and to make up their minds, using the rules of law that the Judge gives them, as to who is right and who may or may not be negligent and what is a fair amount of damages to award. The jury decides the amount of your damages. The jury system is truly a wonderful system. It is fair and honest. You should be proud of it. You should have no fear of having your case presented to six of your fellow citizens.
Statement of Policy concerning our Acceptance of Cases
This firm has an express policy regarding the accepting of our cases. Your case is being accepted by this office for INVESTIGATION. Cases take time to analyze, gather information and study. Litigation is extremely time consuming and very expensive. For these reasons, this firm expressly reserves the right to withdraw from your case and return your file at the firm’s discretion whenever we are of the opinion that the litigation does not justify going forward. If you have asked us to consider a case, it is being accepted for evaluation under these terms.