The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
I Got Hit By a Car in Buffalo, MN. What Now?
May 17, 2021
Medical bills are usually the largest component of a personal injury settlement. In a serious injury case, like a head injury, the total medical bills, from the first day of emergency care to the last day of physical therapy, usually exceed $50,000. In a catastrophic injury claim, like a spine injury, the lifetime medical bills could be over $5 million. Not that many people can say, “I was it by a car,” but if you were, you have rights.
Accident or Negligence in Buffalo, MN?
Vehicle collisions usually involve monetary settlements, because driver error causes over 90 percent of these incidents. In a few cases, this driver error is truly accidental. Sarah might turn her head at exactly the wrong moment or Tom might not see a patch of black ice in the shadows. But in most cases, these errors are negligent.
Some people think that a negligence claim “blames” the other party for a crash. But we all make mistakes. And, we must all accept responsibility for the mistakes we make. In this context, that responsibility includes paying compensation for damages. Victims need this compensation to pay medical bills, replace lost property, and otherwise put their lives back together. THis money should not have to come from their own pockets.
If negligence was involved, a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer can usually obtain substantial compensation. The amount usually depends on how well an attorney adheres to the proper plan, as outlined below. Compensation might be available in other cases as well, such as crashes that involve bad tires or other defective products.
Evaluating a Claim
Just like a house is built on a solid foundation, a car accident settlement is built on a solid investigation. That investigation includes both the facts and the law.
For Buffalo, MN accident lawyers, the factual investigation normally begins with the police accident report, witness statements, and medical bills. These three types of evidence are very insightful and often sufficient, by themselves, to ensure fair compensation.
Frequently, this evidence is sufficient to obtain maximum compensation. Medical records are a good illustration. All medical bills contain diagnosis and cost information. Many of these records also contain treatment notes which show the victim’s physical pain level and state of mind. Such information humanizes these medical bills and is very useful in terms of noneconomic damages.
Sometimes, however, this evidence is not enough. For example, if the victim was killed, the police accident report probably does not reflect both sides of the story.
Additional evidence includes things like a car’s Event Data Recorder. A commercial jet’s black box flight recorder measures and records mechanical and operational data. Likewise, a vehicle’s EDR tracks things like:
Engine RPM, and
THis electronic evidence often resonates well with tech-savvy Wright County jurors. Furthermore, assuming the gadget was working properly, EDR information is essentially bulletproof in court.
This critical evidence is unavailable unless a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer acts quickly and has the right tools.
Don’t Lose Physical Evidence of Being Hit by a Car
Most insurance companies destroy wrecked vehicles within a few days. If that happens, any physical evidence the vehicle contains, including the EDR, is lost. Early in the process, attorneys usually send spoliation letters to insurance companies. These letters create a legal duty to preserve evidence and prevent its “accidental” destruction.
Additionally, EDRs are sophisticated and sensitive devices. That’s especially true of large truck EDRs. Attorneys need the right tools and training to access and download this information. A lawyer needs a lot more than a screwdriver, a laptop, and a plunky attitude.
The legal investigation is important as well. There are several basic theories in negligence cases, and both of them have pros and cons. For example, if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a safety law and caused a crash, the tortfeasor might be liable for damages as a matter of law. Negligence per se claims are relatively easy to prove. However, monetary damages are often lower in negligence per se matters, because some jurors are more likely to say that the victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes, however, the opposite is true. Many jurors believe that drivers who get behind the wheel if they are drunk, stoned, or otherwise impaired are intentionally disregarding a known risk. As a result, they often award higher compensation in such claims. That fact could drive up a claim’s settlement value, as outlined below.
Possible insurance company defenses come into play as well. To see how they might affect the settlement value, a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer must think like an insurance company lawyer.
Motorcycle wrecks are a good example. Frequently, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) tells the reporting officer something like “She came out of nowhere” or “I never saw her coming.” Sometimes, these statements are just excuses, They could also indicate that the motorcyclist was operating recklessly. The aforementioned investigation usually reveals the truth.
Situations like this one usually involve the comparative fault defense. If both operators were partially responsible for the crash, jurors must apportion fault between them. Minnesota is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. So, if the victim was no more than 49 percent responsible for the wreck, the victim is entitled to a proportionate amount of damages.
In both investigatory phases, experience matters more than anything. Buffalo, MN accident lawyer must know how to collect compelling evidence. And, they must use the right legal theory to put this evidence together.
Determining the Settlement Value
When you buy a car from a dealer, the sticker price serves as a starting point for price negotiations. But what if the vehicle had no sticker price? A buyer would have to make an initial offer based on the cost of the vehicle and some other factors, mosty supply and demand. This determination requires research, which we discussed above. It also requires accounting for intangible factors, which we’ll discuss below.
Economic losses are the total of lost wages, medical bills, and other tangible losses. Minnesota has a very complex collateral source rule. Sometimes, expenses paid by Medicaid or a private insurance company are included in this total, and sometimes they are not.
On a related note, attorneys usually negotiate with medical providers and convince them to lower their fees. If Paul’s medical bills are $50,000, his lawyer might be able to reduce them to $30,000.
Once again, Minnesota’s collateral source rule is rather complex. Sometimes, Paul might be able to keep an extra $20,000, because the court awards him 50k and he only pays 30k. Sometimes, however, that’s not the case, and the court would only award him 30k.
To ascertain noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, most Buffalo, MN accident lawyers multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four. The multiplier largely depends on the facts of the case, the applicable law, and some intangible factors, such as the legal venue.
The Car Injury Settlement Process in Buffalo, MN
Most car wreck claims settle out of court. These resolutions almost always benefit victims. They end the case sooner and give the parties more control over the outcome. The settlement process might take only a few weeks, but more often it could take several months.
Demand Letter in Buffalo, MN
Once medical treatment is at least substantially complete, attorneys usually send demand letters to insurance companies. The initial demand amount often greatly affects the amount of money in the final car accident settlement.
It’s important to wait until this point before beginning settlement negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the settlement amount might not account for all future medical expenses. The aforementioned spine injuries are a good example. These permanent injuries require continual surgical care. Furthermore, when physically disabled victims move into new living spaces, these spaces require expensive structural modifications. These costs could easily be tens of thousands of dollars, or even more.
Many of us are not very good financial planners. We overestimate or underestimate future needs. But a Buffalo, MN accident layer has your back in these situations. When necessary, attorneys partner with accountants, financial advisors, and other monetary professionals.
The figure in a demand letter is the starting point for settlement talks. At that point, a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer’s negotiating skills take center stage. An attorney must know when to give ground and when to stand firm. Otherwise, the settlement amount might be too low, or there might not be a settlement at all. Fortunately, most attorneys are better negotiators than Patrick.
The Question of Liability in Buffalo, MN
If liability is not an issue, most insurance companies have a legal duty to settle the case in a few weeks. However, there is almost always at least some question as to liability. The aforementioned contributory negligence defense is a good example. These defenses can delay settlement and affect the amount of money the victim receives.
So, a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer must often file legal paperwork to preserve the victim’s rights. The statute of limitations in most negligence cases is two years from the date of the accident. Additionally, undue delay usually hurts victim/plaintiffs, because they have the burden of proof.
Legal advocacy skills are important. Most legal actions have basically two parts. First, there are pretrial motions which focus on the applicable law. Then, there is the trial itself, which focuses on the facts. If a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer is highly skilled in both these areas, the final settlement amount could be significantly higher.
Endgame When Negotiating a Settlement in Buffalo, MN
Frequently, after initial procedural moves are finished, insurance companies get down to business, and they negotiate a settlement.
These procedural moves usually involve a motion to dismiss the action and/or a motion for summary judgement. Essentially, these motions claim that there is no way the victim/plaintiff could possibly win, so the judge should put a stop to the lawsuit.
So, as long as Buffalo, MN accident lawyers do their homework during the investigative phase, these motions usually fail. If an attorney takes shortcuts to try and settle the case early, the victim/plaintiff could be in real trouble. That’s especially true since, by this time, the statute of limitations has probably expired.
Attorney Fee Arrangements in Buffalo
Attorney fee arrangements come into play here as well. Accident lawyers work on a contingency basis, and insurance company lawyers work on an hourly basis. Frequently, these fees are over $1,500 an hour. So, the insurance company has a financial incentive to resolve the case quickly.
Nevertheless, for various reasons, insurance companies often dig in their heels. Most don’t want to set what they see as a bad precedent. A handful of companies genuinely care about their policyholders and vigorously defend them in court. But to almost all insurance companies, people who pay premiums are just line items on spreadsheets.
If You Are Referred to Mediation by a Judge in Buffalo
So, if the case remains unresolved as the trial date nears, a judge usually refers it to mediation. This alternative dispute resolution process usually lasts a full day. The parties meet in an office building or other somewhat informal setting.
The day begins with brief opening statements. But instead of a judge or jury, the audience is a third-party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Buffalo, MN accident lawyer. Afterwards, the parties retire to separate areas, or more commonly separate rooms. Then, the mediator conveys settlement offers back and forth, along with legal arguments and counterarguments.
If both sides negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful. In this context, “good faith” usually means two things. First, each side must be genuinely committed to resolving the case. Mediation is not just a showpiece. Second, each side must be willing to make some compromises. That’s the way financial negotiations work. There’s always some give and take.
Connect with an Experienced Wright County Attorney
Most negligence claims settle out of court, and due to the nature of this process, it’s hard to tell how much your case is worth at the outset. If you can say, “I was hit by a car”, then you should contact a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer. Contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home, virtual, and hospital visits are available.