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Questions about Personal Injury?

Dealing with medical bills, insurance companies, and the legal process can be confusing. We want to make sure you understand what's happening with your personal injury lawsuit and get all of your questions answered. Please see our most frequently asked questions below. If you have other questions, please contact us.

Click on the questions below to view the answer.

What to do if I'm injured in an accident?

1. Speak To No One - except police and medical personnel, until you consult an experienced personal injury lawyer.

2. Do Not Sign Any Papers From An Insurance Company - until you consult an attorney.  If you settle or release your case too soon, your claim may end before you receive full compensation. 

3. Call Your Personal Injury Attorney - as soon as possible so the attorney may investigate the accident, obtain photos, witnesses, measurements and evidence while the facts are fresh. 

4. See A Doctor For Your Injuries - and follow up with your doctor or chiropractor as they recommend.  Medical bills should be paid by your own health insurance company or auto insurance first. 

5. Collect Witness Names And Contact Information

6. Do Not Repair Or Destroy Your Vehicle - until your attorney has a chance to inspect and photograph it. 

7. If Citations Or Tickets Are Issued - do not appear in court or give written or recorded statements without first contacting a personal injury attorney. Otherwise, your rights may be affected. 

8. Keep Anything Relating To The Accident Or Your Injury - until your attorney has a chance to examine it.  For example, if your injury requires a cast or brace, save it for evidence. Keep any journals or notes you write following the accident.  Keep records of losses, such as lost time and wages, health care bills, prescription drug expenses, travel expenses and other expenses.

9. Do Not Disclose Information About Your Accident Or Injuries - by email, or by posting on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. 

This list does not state all steps needed to protect your rights.  You should consult a qualified personal injury attorney for advice specific to your case.

I have auto insurance - so, why do I need a lawyer?

When people are involved in motor vehicle collisions, the law (and basic fairness) calls for the negligent party—the party responsible for causing the accident—to pay for the damages that result. In most situations, the negligent party's auto insurance company will pay for the damages. Starting in 2010, Wisconsin joined the vast majority of other states in mandating auto insurance for those operating motor vehicles. Nonetheless, there are still motorists on the roadways who do not carry auto insurance. When such uninsured motorists cause auto collisions, and property damage and physical injuries result, our own uninsured motorist coverage will often be the only place to recover the cost of those damages.

Individuals making claims based on the uninsured motorist coverage provided in their own policy will, as a result, be making a claim with their own insurance company. Uninsured motorist coverage applies when an insured is involved in an accident with someone who does not have auto insurance. Throughout the term of the policy, the insured has been paying the premiums to provide this type of coverage, and as a result may wonder why their interests would need to be protected by an attorney when it is their own insurance company involved.

In fact, though an uninsured motorist claim differs in some ways from a claim against a party's liability coverage, the substance of how the case proceeds remains largely the same: the insurance company will seek to minimize the amount of money damages paid to the injured party. They will do this by seeking to minimize the nature and extent of the physical injuries suffered, by hiring their own doctor to perform a Defense Medical Exam, and by seeking to relate physical problems to an origin other than the subject accident, among many other ways. The rights of injured parties therefore need the same protection as they would in any other context.

What do free consultation and contingency fee mean?

Sometimes lawyers offer a free consultation to potential clients. That means the lawyer is willing to meet with or talk to the potential client to discuss whether a claim is viable. Often the lawyer and potential client may discuss the facts leading to the person's injury, the treatment and repercussions to the injury, and what would be involved in pursuing a claim. "Free" means just that–the lawyer does not charge any money for the initial discussion.

Clients hire lawyers by paying a set fee for each hour of legal work, or by hriing on the lawyer on a "contingent fee" basis. Many persons, including and especially persons who have been injured in accidents and are unable to work, do not have the financial resources to pay a lawyer on an hourly basis. For them, a contingency fee may be the easiest option. That means the lawyer agrees to handle the case in return for receiving a set percentage of the eventual recovery. The percentage may vary depending on the nature of the case. Under such an arrangement, often the lawyer agrees that if there is no recovery, the fee will be zero and the client need not pay the lawyer anything.

More information on fees and costs can be discussed with the lawyer during the initial consultation, which often is a free consultation. People with questions on legal matters are encouraged to contact experienced lawyers.

What is a fair settlement amount?

When it comes to analyzing a settlement offer that an injured person has received from an insurance company–whether that person is represented by an attorney or not–there are a great many factors that must be considered. First and foremost, the nature and extent of the injuries, and whether there will be continuing or even permanent symptoms or problems, must be known and understood. Often it takes time after injuries have been sustained to know whether the injuries will compeltely resolve or whether a person will be left with continuing issues. For these reasons, it is often crucial that an injured person contact competent legal counsel to handle a physical injury claim.

Insurance companies are well aware of the fact that it is difficult to fully and confidently know the nature and extent of physical injuries until the recovery period has been completed. Often, it takes a year or more to know, understand, and have confidence in the manner in which injuries either have healed or the manner in which such injuries will continue to persist into the future. As a result, insurance companies will often look to rush injured people into accepting settlements shortly after injuries have been sustained and while a person continues to heal.

In addition to knowing the nature and extent of the injuries there are many other factors that need to be considered in arriving at a fair settlement. Has a person lost wages? Is a person's ability to continue in their employment altered by the injuries? Has the person lost the ability to engage in long-enjoyed recreational pursuits? All of these questions need to be answered before a case can be settled. All of this is to say nothing of liability issues which may impact the settlement value of a case.

In short, evaluating the appropriate settlement value for a physical injury case can be exceedingly complex. One of the most important things for injured people to do is obtain all the necessary treatment and partner with doctors to find the best treatment approaches available. Another key is to permit enough time to pass to determine, and put one's doctors in position to determine, what the future will hold. The importance of having an experienced personal injury attorney to handle these and other facets of a physical injury case cannot be overstated. 

Should I sign a General Release?

Once an insurance company has fully paid a claim, it will ask the party making the claim to sign a "general release." That is a document that forever ends the insurance company's liability on the claim. Even if the party making the claim is injured and may need money for future medical bills, signing a general release will take the insurance company off the hook for any losses that have not been paid.

Some unscrupulous insurers will try to press a person injured in an accident to sign a general release soon after the accident, in return for payment of a small sum such as $1,000 or $5,000. By taking the money and signing the general release, the person injured generally loses the right to seek greater payments as medical bills and wage loss connected to the injury mount over time.

A claimant usually should not sign a general release until he or she is reasonably certain all the elements of loss have been paid by the insurance company, and the insurer has paid everything it is supposed to pay under the law. Furthermore, claimants have the right to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer to review the release before it is signed. 

My spouse was injured in an accident. Do I have a claim?

When someone is seriously injured in an accident, they are not always the only ones to suffer. The spouse of an injured victim often suffers as well. The non-injured spouse may not suffer physical injuries, but they often suffer in other ways. They may need to provide care to the injured spouse. They often have to take on extra responsibilities in running the household, and taking care of children. It can also affect the normal marital relationship.

The law does allow a spouse to make a claim for these hardships. It is called a loss of consortium claim, or a loss of society and companionship claim. These claims involve the loss of love and affection, the companionship and society, the comfort, aid, advice and solace, the rendering of marital services, the right of support, and any other elements that normally arise in a close, intimate and harmonious marriage relationship. 

What is the Attorney-Client Privilege?

When a client seeks professional advice from lawyer on a legal matter, confidential communications between the client and the lawyer need not be disclosed to other parties, and the law protects that privacy interest. This protection is referred to as "privilege," and has a long history and tradition within the legal realm. The purpose of "privilege" is to make sure that the client and lawyer are forthcoming in their communications with each other, and to protect the trusted relationship. The law recognizes only limited exceptions to the confidentiality of privileged communications.

Further information and advice on important legal matters can be obtained by contacting a lawyer directly. 

How do cases and statutes work?

A variety of different laws can come into play when a person is injured in an accident. The legislature enacts statutes, which establish certain rules such as liability insurance limits, rules of the road and certain standards that apply to claim procedure. Courts interpret the statutes when they are vague, and also apply rules developed over years of precedent, called the "common law."

Sometimes statutory rules and common-law rules conflict with each other. Determining which rules apply in a given case can be complicated.

An injured person is encouraged to contact a competent, experienced lawyer to make sure that all the applicable laws and rules are identified and followed. 

What are interrogatories?

Once a civil lawsuit is filed, the sides will exchange information about the case.  This process is called 'discovery.'  The purpose of 'discovery' is to help both sides evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case and prepare for depositions and trial.  Interrogatories are discovery through written questions. 

The attorney for the at-fault person and their insurance company will prepare these questions for you and your attorney to answer.   They will also request copies of documents that may be related to the case.  Your attorney will work with you to answer these questions and provide any appropriate documents.  Once the questions are answered, you will be able to look over the answers before signing them.  These answers are like testimony in court, so it is important to work with your attorney to be complete and truthful before signing them.  Once they are signed, your attorney will sign them as well and they will be sent to the attorney for the at-fault person and their insurance company.  Your attorney will also be sending out these questions to the at-fault party and their insurance company to get any information needed to pursue your case. 

What are pleadings?

In any civil case, the first stage of the process involves pleading. The party who initiates a lawsuit provides two pleadings, a "summons" and a "complaint." The "complaint" is a short and plain statement of the legal and factual grounds for the lawsuit, drafted in separate paragraphs. The "summons" is a separate paper issued under the authority of the court, and commands the party to be sued to participate in the case. The summons tells that party they are being sued and must "answer."

The party who starts the suit and provides the summons and complaint is the plaintiff. The party sued is the defendant. The defendant provides a pleading called an "answer," which goes through each allegation in the complaint and provides a point-by-point response, admitting or denying the allegations. The answer also sets forth any defenses the defendant wants to assert, and any counterclaims the defendant wants to bring against the plaintiff.

Various other pleadings may be used throughout the case, but the summons, complaint and answer are the basic ones employed in most lawsuits.

What is a deposition?

If your personal injury attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf, there is a good chance that you will have your deposition taken at some time before your case is resolved. Your attorney will speak with you in more detail before your deposition takes place, but this is a quick summary of what to expect.

At a deposition, the attorney representing the at-fault party and the insurance company will ask you questions regarding your accident and your injuries. Your attorney will be with you during your deposition. A court reporter will also be present and will take down all of the questions and answers and later prepare a written transcript. You will be under oath at the time of the deposition, so it is important to tell the truth.

The purpose of the deposition is so that the defense can hear directly from you (the injured party) about how the accident occurred and about your injuries. During your deposition it is important to listen carefully to the question that is asked and to answer only that question. If you do not understand a question don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Also, "I don't know" or "I don't remember" are perfectly acceptable answers if you honestly do not know or do not remember. 

What is mediation?

Once a civil lawsuit is filed, the parties conduct a scheduling conference with the court and enter into the phase of a case known as discovery. Once discovery, in the form of written requests or depositions, is generally completed, the parties are required by most judges to participate in a mediation. Mediation can be valuable and useful in determining whether some cases can be settled short of a full jury trial.

At a mediation, the mediator conducts the proceedings. Usually, mediators are attorneys who have practiced for many years, are familiar with the civil process, and are skilled at analyzing and evaluating cases. Mediators may also be retired judges. Many mediators use a rather informal format whereby the various parties are placed in separate rooms. The mediator then moves among the rooms, discussing the details of the cases with the parties, and ultimately conveying and giving his evaluation of any demands or offers that are made to settle the case.

In some situations, mediators are very successful in bringing parties closer together, while in other situations the case still must be tried to a jury because the parties cannot agree on a settlement. Even if unsuccessful, mediations can provide a party with helpful information on how the other side is looking at certain aspects of the case. 

What is DME or IME?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the opposing parties generally dispute the extent of injuries sustained by the injured party. When the dispute involves a person's mental condition, physical condition, or ability to pursue a vocation, the opposing parties may request that a physical, mental or vocational examination be performed by their own examiners. In many situtations this will be agreed to voluntarily. If not agreed to voluntarily, the Wisconsin statutes give the opposing party the right to obtain a court order for an examination, provided a motion is brought and cause for the examination is established. The motion may be disputed by the injured person, especially if the defense has already had an examination or some other means exists to obtain the desired information.

Medical examinations by the defense's examiner are known as defense medical examinations or DMEs. The defense often refers to such medical examinations as "independent" medical examinations or IMEs. In so doing, the defense implies that their expert is a non-biased examiner. In fact, this is rarely the case. Thus, the more accurate term is DME.

In addition to obtaining a medical examination, the judge (upon just terms) will also order the injured person to give the defense and/or its medical examiner the right to inspect any X-ray photograph taken in the course of that person's diagnosis or treatment. Similarly, the judge will order the injured person to give consent and the right to inspect and copy any discoverable hospital, medical or other records and reports. 

What is a subpoena?

Courts issue certain important documents to compel persons to appear for a hearing or trial to permit inspection of documents. One of those documents is a subpoena. That document is usually issued to a person or entity that is not named in the case, but possesses important information. A subpoena "testificandum" tells a witness to appear to testify under oath. For example, a witness to an accident may receive a subpoena to appear at trial. A subpoena "duces tecum" tells a person or company to permit inspection of documents or records. For example, a product maker may receive a
subpoena to release product plans or specifications.

Lawyers use subpoenas as important tools in the justice process to help develop the case and get the information necessary to support claims and defenses. 

What is a "letter of protection"?

Sometimes when a person is injured in an accident, the insurance companies decline to pay the medical bills promptly. In such a situation, the injured person's lawyer may send the medical facility a letter of protection. Such a letter promises the facility that the bills will be paid once the lawyer receives funds from a settlement of the injury claim.

The purpose of a letter of protection is to protect the facility from the risk that the bills will go unpaid, and to protect the injured party from collection efforts by the medical facility that may cause unnecessary distress and harm to the injured person's credit. 

Pre-existing conditions: Will they bar my claim?

A person injured in an accident can recover money damages for the injury caused by the accident. "Cause" means the accident was a substantial factor contributing to the injury. An injury may have more than one cause, and the accident only need be "a" cause, not necessarily "the" cause, of an injury in order for the person to recover.

A pre-existing condition, even with similar symptoms and regions of the body involved, does not bar a claim as long as the accident was a cause, meaning a substantial contributing factor, that made the problem worse or different.

An injured person can get more information about their rights by contacting a lawyer. 

What is a Pre-Trial Conference?

In most cases, before a jury trial takes place, the Court holds a Pre-Trial Conference. At that conference, the lawyers and the judge discuss the witnesses and evidence expected to be introduced at trial. Sometimes, testimony has been recorded on videotape. The judge may rule on objections contained in the videotape. In addition, the Court's clerk may mark exhibits by placing identifying stickers on exhibits. These markings help the lawyers and the Court know which pieces of evidence are being referred to throughout the course of the trial.

Sometimes, when the parties appear for Pre-Trial Conference, negotiations take place in an effort to settle a case without resort to jury trial.

The Pre-Trial Conference is also an opportunity for the lawyers and their clients to familiarize themselves with the particular courtroom, the layout of the courthouse and any other matters necessary to get ready for trial. 

If I go to trial, who will be on the jury?

Some cases are tried to a jury. The size and composition of the jury depend on the jurisdiction where the trial is held. Often in injury cases trial is held in the county where the accident happened.

The jury is selected from a group of ordinary adult citizens of the county where the trial takes place. The lawyers asks potential jurors questions in the selection process–called "voir dire," which means "speak the truth." The questions focus on the background and outlooks of the potential jurors. Then, each side uses "strikes" or "peremptory challenges" to remove a few potential jurors from the panel. The remaining citizens serve as the jury. Sometimes an alternate juror is selected to listen to the evidence and serve in the event another jury becomes ill or otherwise cannot participate in the deliberations that ultimately will decide the outcome of the trial. 

What is post-judgement interest?

Sometimes there is a delay between the time when a money judgment is entered in a civil case and when the winning party gets paid. Under Wisconsin's post-judgment interest statute, Wis. Stat. § 815.05(8), the judgment debtor must pay interest on the judgment at the statutory rate during this time period. Similar statutes have been in effect in Wisconsin since at least 1858. Over time, the interest rate has varied to provide fair compensation to persons who win civil law suits.

One purpose of the post-judgment interest statute is to motivate the debtor to promptly pay the judgment. For many years, the post-judgment interest statute demanded interest at the rate of 12% per year on the amount recovered from the date of entry of the judgment until it was paid. Because the 12% interest rate far exceeded the prime rate, the statute provided a powerful motivation for immediate payment.

Effective December 2, 2011, the Wisconsin legislature dramatically lowered the post-judgment interest rate to only 1 percent, plus the prime rate. The monthly prime rate value is currently about 4.25%. Thus, the new legislation lowers the post-judgment interest rate to only 5.25%. The purpose of the law is to limit the interest rate to the time value of money. The law eliminates any penalty aspect, thereby reducing the judgment debtor's motivation to immediately pay money judgments. Instead of the civil judgment being the first debt paid, the judgment debtor will be able to consider whether not paying the judgment will result in a better return on investment for the judgment debtor. 

What does it mean to be "immune," and how does immunity affect my case?

When a negligent person is immune they cannot be held legally accountable for their negligence. When immunity protects a wrong-doer, the injured person will not be compensated for his or her injuries. Wisconsin has numerous immunity statutes that favor negligent people over injured people. However, you should never assume that immunity applies. If you are injured under circumstances where immunity is a possibility, you should consult an attorney immediately. This is particularly important when the government is negligent. Under such circumstances, there are strict notice requirements that must be complied with on a timely basis in order to pursue a claim.

Some examples of Wisconsin immunity laws that apply fairly commonly in tort cases include governmental immunity, which may extend to governmental contractors, Wis. Stat. § 893.80; recreational immunity, Wis. Stat. § 895.52; equine immunity, Wis. Stat. § 895.481; and contact sports immunity, Wis. Stat. § 895.525. New immunity laws are being enacted frequently so this list will lengthen in the future. 

What is Minnesota No-Fault insurance, and what does it cover?

The Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act ("the No-Fault Act") covers persons injured in motor vehicle accidents occurring in Minnesota, as well as those injured in another state if the injured person is covered by a policy complying with the act. All automobile owners in Minnesota are required to carry no-fault insurance. In addition, a Wisconsin automobile policy should pay no-fault benefits if you are injured in a Minnesota automobile accident.

Under the No-Fault Act, no-fault benefits, known as Personal Injury Protection ("PIP"), provide some payments to injured persons without regard to fault. PIP will pay for some compensation for damages such as medical and chiropractic bills, lost wages, or reasonable mileage. In addition, you may be able to make a claim for additional compensation that is not covered by PIP. These additional losses may include pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, and other losses. In order to make a claim for additional losses, the injured person must establish certain thresholds such as over $4000 in medical or chiropractic bills, permanent injury, permanent disability, or a disability for more than 60 days.

Accidents involving the No-Fault Act are complex. If you are involved in an accident that involves the No-Fault Act, you should seek the advice of an attorney. 

What is a guardian ad litem (GAL) and why is one needed?

The term ad litem means "for the suit."[1] A guardian ad litem is a special guardian appointed by the judge to prosecute or defend a child, or an incompetent person, just for the duration of the lawsuit. A guardian ad litem is considered to be an officer of the court. [2] The guardian ad litem functions as an advocate under circumstances where the child or incompetent person needs their own spokesperson in the case to act in their best interests.

In Wisconsin, settlements and compromises in personal injury actions involving minors and incompetent persons are governed by Wis. Stat. § 807.10. Under such provision, a court order approving a settlement or compromise, and directing its consummation, has the same force and effect as a judgment of the court. Court approval, with input from the guardian ad litem, assures that the case is handled and resolved in the best interests of the child or incompetent person.

Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition (1979), p. 40.

Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition (1979), p. 635. 

What is Wisconsin's "Castle Doctrine?"

Deriving from the English common law dictum that "a man's home is his castle," the "Castle Doctrine" is an American legal doctrine generally allowing all manner of force, including deadly force, to protect the home, and its inhabitants. Wisconsin's version of the "Castle Doctrine" was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker on December 7, 2011.

Wisconsin's "Castle Doctrine" immunizes persons who use force, including deadly force, in response to unlawful and forcible entry into a dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business with civil liability immunity. To become immunized, the person using force must "reasonably believe" that the force was necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily harm to himself or herself or to another person. Under the new law, a person is usually presumed to have the required "reasonable belief" that the force was necessary. Although the "Castle Doctrine" does not technically provide immunity purely for defense of property, as a practical matter, it will be hard to overcome the presumption when one decides to kill in defense of property.

In addition to the "reasonable belief," the "Castle Doctrine" requires that the person using (1) force know or reasonable believes that unlawful and forcible entry has occurred or that an unlawful and forcible entry is in the process of occurring; (2) that an unlawful and forcible entry actually has occurred or is in the process of occurring; and (3) where there has been an unlawful and forcible entry, the person using force must also be inside the entered home, vehicle or dwelling (where the entry is still occurring it is permissible to be outside, but on the property). Public safety workers have some additional protection when they enter or attempt to enter in the performance of official duties, but only if they identified themselves before force was used or if the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a public safety worker.

According to Wikipedia, Wisconsin is by no means the first state to adopt a Castle Doctrine. However, Wisconsin's law differs is some respects. Unlike some states, Wisconsin does not require that the intruder intends to commit some felony in addition to the unlawful and forcible entry. Wisconsin's law does not contain a duty to retreat. Finally, Wisconsin's law immunizes the person who uses force instead of just creating a favorable presumption or defense. 

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