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Frequently Asked Questions

Personal Injury

Do I need an attorney to handle my claim or can I negotiate with the insurance company on my own?

Almost all personal injury cases are defended by an insurance company. Insurance companies make their profits by not paying out claims. The less money they pay you for your injuries, the more profits they make. This means that while the insurance company’s adjustor may act sympathetic and even pretend to be on your side, they are concerned with their own interests and not with fairly compensating you for your injuries and property damage.

Insurance company adjustors have many tactics they use against injured parties who are not aware of the system. Hiring an attorney to negotiate on your behalf will ensure that you receive all of the funds you are entitled to so that you are not left with uncovered expenses by someone else’s negligence. It is best to contact an experienced attorney immediately after an accident to protect your rights.

What should I do if I am injured in an accident?

Your first concern should be to get medical attention. After that, if possible, make sure that the police are aware of the accident and that a police report is created. Get as much information as you can about the other individuals involved, whether it is the driver of the other car or the owner of property you are injured on. If possible, photographs of the scene of the accident, your injuries, and any damage done to your car or other property are extremely valuable. It also a good idea to contact an experienced attorney to make sure that you receive the compensation you need to cover your expenses, as well as any pain and suffering you have experienced.

How much is my personal injury case worth?

This is a common question, but one that can be difficult to answer. Each case is unique, and there are multiple factors that affect the range of acceptable settlement amounts. How serious your injuries are, whether you have suffered any permanent disability, the amount of your medical bills, if you lost any wages being away from work, and the amount of insurance the defendant was carrying are just some of the factors to be considered. You cannot estimate the value of your case based on stories of other settlements, but rather the best way to do so is to engage an experienced attorney who can examine all the aspects of your case and advocate for you to receive the largest settlement possible.

If the other party's insurance company has asked me to give a recorded statement and sign a medical records release should I do so?

As an injured party, you have no obligation to give a statement to the other party’s insurance company. In reality, the insurance company is asking you to give a statement in order to try and discover something that will give them an excuse to deny the claim. Insurance companies have perfected this technique and will not hesitate to use it to deny you payment, if they can. If you are being pushed to give a statement, contact an attorney to make sure you do not do anything to jeopardize your case.

If the other party’s insurance company is insisting upon you signing a medical release, do not do so. This release will most likely be used to gather your past medical records in an attempt to discover a way to avoid paying you money that you are rightly due. You are not required to sign a release for the insurance company, and should not do so. Instead, allow your attorney to control what is given to the insurance company to demonstrate your damages and expenses.

Will I have to wait a long time for the case to settle or go to trial?

The vast majority of personal injury cases never make it to trial. Insurance companies do not want to be exposed to the costs and uncertainty of a trial, especially if their insured was clearly at fault. However, when an injured person is not represented by an attorney, the other party’s insurance company will often attempt to drag out resolution of the case for as long as possible. The insurance company thinks that, if they can make you desperate you will end up accepting less money than you are otherwise entitled to. An experienced attorney can ensure that the process moves along and that a settlement is reached in a timely manner.

What if I was engaged in potentially negligent activity myself when I was injured?

North Carolina is one of only a few states that still follows the doctrine of “contributory negligence.” Contributory negligence means that if you are even 1% negligent in your conduct, you will not be able to recover anything for your damages. This is a very harsh doctrine, and it often prevents seriously injured individuals from receiving anything for their expenses and suffering. If you are concerned that your own negligence may jeopardize a recovery for your injuries, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced attorney to decide how to proceed. Insurance companies in North Carolina are well aware of contributory negligence and will not hesitate to use it against you, if they can.

Medical Malpractice

What is medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a patient receives improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment from a physician, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care professional. All health care providers have a duty to follow the same standard of care that a reasonably competent provider would follow when treating a patient. This does not mean that the doctor or nurse must do everything perfectly, only that he or she must do what any reasonably competent health care provider would do. This means that if you were injured because of a misdiagnosis, prescription error, surgical error, nursing home negligence or abuse, birth injury, or hospital negligence, you may have a medical malpractice case.

What should I do if I think that I may be a victim of medical malpractice?

If you have suffered an injury as a result of a medical procedure or in the care of a medical provider, you should immediately contact an attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice cases. In general, the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice action in North Carolina is 3 years from the date of the injury or death. This means that the clock starts running as soon as the injury occurs, unless you are not aware of the injury until some later date. Either way, if you do not file a lawsuit within this time period, you risk being able to recover any damages for your injuries. To avoid this, document as much of what happened as possible (perhaps sitting down and writing out exactly how you recall the events occurring while they are still fresh in your mind) and consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

How do I know if I have a claim for medical malpractice?

No medical procedure can be guaranteed to be successful; there is always a risk involved. Even if you have received the best possible care from a talented provider, a bad outcome is possible. However, if the medical services provider failed to follow the standard of reasonable care and you were injured as a result, you may have a claim for your injuries. Determining whether the standard of reasonable care was followed is a process that requires the testimony of expert medical witnesses. An attorney who is experienced in handling medical malpractice claims can help you determine whether you are a victim of medical malpractice and engage the proper experts to support your case.

Can I file a medical malpractice claim against someone who is not a doctor?

Yes. You can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against anyone who provides health care. This includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nursing home employees, technicians, and chiropractors, among others.

How much will I have to pay my attorney to pursue my medical malpractice claim? What if we lose?

Medical malpractice cases can become very drawn out and expensive. Reviewing medical records, hiring and consulting experts, and filing a lawsuit can be a very involved and time-consuming process. However, almost all medical malpractice attorneys will take on a case on a “contingency” basis. This means that the client will not be responsible for the attorney’s time and expenses spent on the case, with the understanding that the attorney will receive a percentage of any settlement or judgment award paid to the client. This type of arrangement allows an injured individual to pursue a claim without incurring any costs, which is especially important if he or she is facing significant medical bills. If the case is ultimately unsuccessful, the client will not be responsible for the attorney’s time and expenses. A lack of financial means should not prevent you from pursuing a claim for your injuries.

Glossary

Glossary of Legal Terms

Absolute Liability

A type of liability that arises from abnormally dangerous activities. For example, using explosives or demolition.

Accidental Death

A death resulting from an unusual or unanticipated event. An insurance policy may provide for payment of accidental death benefits even if the death is caused intentionally (i.e. murder).

Action

A case or lawsuit legally and formally filed by one party against another.

Affidavit

A voluntarily made written statement of facts made by the affiant. The affiant must make an oath or affirmation, and the affiant must be competent for the affidavit to be valid.

Allegation

The assertion, claim, declaration, or statement of a party to an action. An allegation sets out what the party intends to prove in his case.

Appeal

An opportunity for the unsuccessful party to an action to have a higher court review the lower court’s decision for errors of law.

Arbitration

A process in which both parties to a controversy have an opportunity to be heard, after which a binding decision is issued by an unbiased arbitrator.

Bench Trial

A trial decided by a judge, without the use of a jury.

Beneficiary

One who is entitled to receive assets or profits from an estate, trust, or insurance policy.

Capacity

The ability to legally understand the nature and consequences of one’s actions.

Case Law

Law created by appellate court decisions that are binding on lower courts within the jurisdiction of the appellate court.

Civil Action

An action filed by one party against another to enforce, redress, or protect the party’s legal rights in a non-criminal proceeding, generally for money damages.

Cognitive Functions

An individual’s ability to process thoughts, speak, and learn new information.

Compensation

An amount of money given by settlement or court judgment to make an injured party whole.

Contingency Fee

Generally, a percentage of an injured party’s compensation that is paid to his attorney. This is the typical method of payment in personal injury cases. An injured party is usually not otherwise required to pay a fee unless a settlement or judgment is awarded.

Counterclaim

An action by a defendant against a plaintiff seeking relief from the plaintiff.

Criminal Action

An action brought by the state against an individual accused of committing a criminal act.

Damages

A monetary award determined by a civil court and given to a plaintiff injured by the wrongful conduct of another party.

Default Judgment

A decision issued in a civil case against a party that fails to defend itself within the legally-required timeframe.

Defendant

The party against whom relief is sought in a civil case. Also the accused in a criminal case.

Deposition

Out-of-court testimony given by a party or witness to a civil or criminal trial.

Directed Verdict

A power given to a judge to take the case out of the jury’s hands and enter an alternative verdict.

Disfigurement

Having one’s appearance deeply and persistently harmed by injury, disease, or birth defect.

Dismemberment

The loss of one’s limb(s) as a result of injury or violence.

Exhibit

A document, photograph, or piece of physical evidence introduced in court.

Gross Negligence

A heightened level of negligence that implies an even greater breach of a standard of reasonable care.

Hit and Run

The crime of failing to stop and identify oneself after an automobile accident.

Insurance Adjuster

Insurance company representative responsible for handling insurance claims.

Judgment

A decision by a court that resolves a civil or criminal case by determining the rights and obligations of the parties.

Liability

Legal responsibility for damages done to another.

Medical Malpractice

Improper, unskilled or negligent treatment of a patient by a physician, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care professional.

Negligence

A breach of reasonable care that causes damage to an individual.

Out-of-Court Settlement

An agreement to resolve a lawsuit without taking the matter to a trial.

Personal Injury Lawyer

An attorney who gives legal representation to a individual who claims to have been injured by the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of another.

Physical Therapy

The health care practice of working with individuals to develop, maintains, and restore movement and functional abilities.

Physician-Patient Privilege

The legal doctrine that protects confidential information given to a physician by a patient.

Plaintiff

The party seeking a legal remedy, generally by initiating a lawsuit.

Premises Liability

The liability of a landowner for certain injuries suffered by persons on the premises.

Product Liability

The liability of a manufacturer, distributor, supplier, or retailer of a product for injuries caused to the public.

Punitive Damages

Damages awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was so egregious that an extra monetary award is deemed necessary to deter the defendant and others who would engage in similar conduct.

Settlement

An agreement to resolve a lawsuit without a trial.

Slip and Fall

A type of personal injury case based on injuries to an invitee due to a dangerous condition on the landowner’s property.

Statute of Limitations

A legal bar to bringing an action once a certain amount of time has passed.

Subpoena

A court order that compels testimony of a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure to do so.

Waiver

A voluntary relinquishment of a known legal right or privilege.

Wrongful Death

A claim brought by relatives of the deceased against the party responsible for the death.

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