Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Injury Claims
Commonly Asked Questions about Protecting Your Rights after an Accident
At Buchanan Law, we bring more than 20 years of personal injury experience to men and women throughout New Mexico. In our decades handling personal injury claims, we have encountered a number of common questions from our clients about the legal process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from our clients:
Q: How much do I have to pay for legal fees?
A: We charge a standard contingency fee, which we offer on a scale starting at a lower percentage if we settle before we file a lawsuit and gets capped after we file a lawsuit at a slightly higher percentage. (this doesn’t include appeals, etc.). The fee is a percentage of the total amount recovered before subtracting out-of-pocket disbursements (costs) that we advance for you during the case. In other words, you pay nothing until we settle or win the case at trial.
Call us today to schedule a free consultation with my team. We fight for our clients throughout New Mexico from our Albuquerque office.
Q: I was injured on the job. How will I pay my medical bills?
A: Although you are generally not allowed to sue your own employer, (or anyone who is an employee of your own employer), every employee who is injured on the job has an absolute right to make a worker’s compensation claim. To qualify for workers’ compensation, you don’t need to prove that the injury was the employer’s or anyone else’s fault, as long as the injury occurred in the course of employment. If your claim is approved, you may receive periodic payments for your disability, and all reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to the work injury will be covered.
Q: I was injured on the job. Can I bring a lawsuit in addition to a worker’s compensation claim?
A: In many cases, yes. Worker’s compensation is intended to provide benefits for injuries caused by the carelessness or negligence of your employer or a co-worker. If you were hurt because of the wrongful acts of an unrelated third party, you can file a civil lawsuit for personal injury simultaneously with a workers’ compensation claim. Examples of third parties include manufacturers of dangerous or defective products, tools or machinery; drivers of motor vehicles; other contractors on a construction job, and workers on adjoining property.
Q: I am an undocumented immigrant. Can I bring a lawsuit if I am injured?
A: Absolutely! Anyone who is injured can sue regardless of their immigration status. Under current law, people who are in the country illegally can also sue for lost wages without a valid social security number, but problems can arise in cases where false documents, such as a forged social security card, were furnished to the employer at the time of hiring, and the employer generally did not know that the employee was undocumented Even in such cases, however, if the right to bring a lost wage claim is lost, a lawsuit for pain and suffering can still be brought for the injury, as well as for past and future medical costs, which can be very substantial in some cases.
Q: I fell on the sidewalk. Who is my personal injury claim against?
A: In many instances, you claim will be against the private owner. However, in New Mexico, a governmental body may also have liability, though there are additional legal hurdles to clear.
Q: I was in an automobile accident. What should I do first?
A: It may seem like the first thing you should do is contact your auto insurance provider…and that’s what they will tell you. From our perspective, though, you should never discuss a motor vehicle accident claim with anyone else until you’ve met with an attorney. Conversations with representatives of insurance companies will generally be recorded. The person asking you the questions knows much more about accident inquiries than you do, and it is his/her job to defeat or minimize your case. THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF YOUR OWN INSURANCE COMPANY. You have nothing to gain by speaking to these people, but you can do great harm to your case, or even lose your case completely without being aware of the significance of some of the things you have said. While your insurance company will tell you that you have an obligation to cooperate with them, which is true, you have every right to have your attorney do this without them speaking to you directly. You should definitely take advantage of this right or the insurance company will certainly take advantage of you.
Q: How does the jury decide how much my injuries are worth?
A: You will be called to testify in front of the jury with respect to your injuries, your medical treatment, your pain and suffering and the various ways in which the accident has affected your life. If you are married, your spouse should usually be called as a witness, since no one else is more aware of how the injury has affected you. If you played sports or recreational activities before the accident, the people you did these things with, (we call them “before and after” witnesses), should be called to get this across. Many times your physical limitations and difficulties can be presented much more effectively and more convincingly through others than by talking about it yourself. Photographs of activities you engaged in can also be blown up or projected on screen for the jury and can often forcefully express the value of what has been taken away from you. You will also testify about your work history and your prospects for earning more money in whatever job, trade or profession you were involved in have been affected. Other witnesses that we need to help support an expert economist’s projection also have to testify.
Obviously, the medical testimony is a critical part of every personal injury case. You need attorneys who will take the time to work closely with medical providers to get a good idea of what their testimony will be while your case is in progress.
The jury is not given any formula to calculate the amount that you will be awarded and all types of jury awards are broken down into those damages incurred in the past, that is, up to the date of the verdict, and the future, which is the time starting with the date of the verdict and covering your life expectancy.
The typical damage verdict sheet looks like this:
We, the jury, find that Plaintiff Jax Doe suffered damages as follows:
Past and Future Medical Expenses _________
Loss of Earnings ________
Loss of Household Services _______
Lost Enjoyment of Life _________
Loss of Chance (if applicable)______________
Pain and Suffering_____________________________
Each case is different and some cases need additional or fewer categories of damages under New Mexico law. It might seem that the jury is being asked to pull a number out of the air, and some people would agree with this. However, experienced trial lawyers know that good results on verdicts come from the painstaking preparation of the client and the witnesses in order to make the best possible impression on the jury. First, because any juror is making a very subjective decision when he or she decides how much you should be awarded, the jurors must like you. Every client has likeable aspects to his/her personality, as well as some aspects that might be downplayed. The same is true of the spouse or “before and after” witnesses we might call. The medical testimony must not only be credible, but it must be properly illustrated. Medical illustrations lend a certain reality to serious injuries, and they can be much more readily understood with blow-ups of MRI’s or CAT scans, artistic renderings of fractures or hardware that has been placed, or animated illustrations of surgeries you have had. The testimony of the economist must also be credible, particularly when his/her projections are in the millions of dollars. The attorneys you have retained to represent you are the ones who will speak for you. The most important thing is that you and your attorneys maintain credibility with the jury in order to get a verdict that will give you the fair compensation you deserve for the serious injuries you have suffered.
More than 20 Years of Personal Injury Experience
At Buchanan Law, we bring more than 20 years of experience to personal injury victims across New Mexico. Attorney Deena Buchanan suffered a personal injury herself, so she understands the impact it can have on every aspect of your life. She’s also worked for insurance companies, so she knows how defense lawyers prepare their cases. Deena has extensive trial experience in personal injury matters, including a number of catastrophic injury claims and wrongful death lawsuits. She’s highly respected by colleagues, clients and judges for her cool and calm demeanor at any stage of a trial.
Though our principal office is in Albuquerque, we will meet with you in person anywhere in New Mexico. Though Deena has handled legal matters in more than 20 states, we focus our practice in New Mexico. We have a thorough understanding of the laws and courts, and how judges typically try personal injury claims.
We know from experience that every injury claim is different. We’ll take the time to learn exactly what happened to you, as well as what you need to be made whole again.