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There are many questions about injury claims after you have been in an accident. We will provide the answers to those questions here.

General Information

How do personal injury lawyers get paid?

Personal injury lawyers are paid on a contingency fee basis. This means that a personal injury lawyer only gets paid if there is a settlement or verdict in your favor. If the personal injury lawyer does not get you a settlement or verdict, you don’t owe the lawyer a dime. Contingency fees are based on percentages.  Our firm typically charges 15% for workers’ compensation cases, 33.3% for car wreck cases, and 40 to 45% for nursing home negligence and medical malpractice cases. In other types of cases, such as dog bite injury cases or industrial accident cases, the fee can range from 33.3% to 45%, depending on the circumstances and the amount of legal work necessary to win the case.

Is there an initial consultation fee to meet with a personal injury lawyer?

No, there is no initial consultation fee to meet with our personal injury attorneys. Unlike divorce or criminal defense lawyers, we do not charge a fee to meet with you. We do not require a retainer. We do not charge by the hour.  We only get paid a percentage of your settlement/verdict. If there is no settlement/verdict in your favor, your personal injury lawyer will not get paid.

How do I find Siniard Law’s office?

We are located at 511 Madison Street in Huntsville, Alabama. The building has four large white columns and is on the righthand side of Madison Street as you drive towards the Madison County Courthouse. Client parking is in the rear of the building. There is a ramp for those in wheelchairs.

What happens at an initial consultation?

We meet with the potential client to gather all information about how the incident occurred.  For example, in a car accident case, we will want to know what you remember about the wreck, where you received medical treatment, and whether you have car and health insurance. We will also want to gather any evidence you have, including the crash report, photographs of the scene of the wreck, photographs of the vehicles, and any medical bills you have received.  Then we explain in detail the legal process and how we can help. At that point, if you wish to hire us, you will sign documentation that allows us to represent you.

How long does a personal injury case take?

The time frame depends primarily on two things. The first factor is how much medical treatment you need.  We generally do not like to reach a settlement until you have completed medical treatment. It is hard to determine the true value of your case until we can see the full picture of how much you have suffered, whether you will have any permanent medical issues going forward, and the full amount of medical bills and lost wages.

The second factor is whether the insurance company offers a fair settlement amount. We always want to be able to reach a settlement without having to file a lawsuit. However, if the insurance company denies responsibility or makes a low offer, you have the option for us to file a lawsuit on your behalf. If this occurs in your case, it will take many months, and sometimes years, to reach a settlement or trial date. However, sometimes it is necessary to receive fair compensation.

How much time do I have to settle my personal injury claim in Alabama?

You always need to be aware of the “statute of limitations.” This is the timeframe in which you must either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.  For example, in Alabama, there is a two-year statute of limitations for cases involving negligence (the time period is shorter if the claim is against a county or municipality.) If you have not settled your case by the expiration of the statute of limitations period and have not filed a lawsuit, you have lost your case. Therefore, it is always best to consult with a personal injury lawyer sooner rather than later.

Do people who have personal injury lawyers get more money than those who don’t?

Yes. Studies generally conclude that people who have an attorney get about three times as much money as someone who doesn’t have an attorney. The primary benefit of having an attorney is that an insurance company knows if you have an attorney, that there is a risk of the attorney taking the case to trial.

Is my personal injury settlement taxable?

Under IRS Code Section 104(a)(2), personal injury settlement money is generally not considered taxable income.  However, there are exceptions and you should consult with an accountant or tax attorney after your personal injury case has settled.

What is a hospital lien?

In Alabama, hospitals have a right to file a lien on your personal injury claim for the full value of their bill. What’s frustrating is that the hospital can do this even if you have health insurance. Hospitals like to file hospital liens because they can collect more money from your personal injury claim than they could from your health insurance. Usually, hospital lien amounts are negotiable if you have an attorney.

Do I need to get my own medical records?

If you hire us to handle your injury claim, we generally obtain all of the medical records on your behalf. However, some hospitals, including Huntsville Hospital, provide a patient portal where you can download your hospital records for a small fee. We encourage our clients to use this portal because it is quick and cheap. Huntsville Hospital’s patient portal.

Should I let an insurance adjuster record my statement on the phone?

We always advise against you giving a recorded statement to an insurance company without first consulting with a personal injury attorney. This is because insurance companies will try to twist your words at a later time to make it seem like the incident was partially your fault.

If I am unhappy with my personal injury attorney, can I switch law firms?

Yes, you have the right to choose the attorney who handles your injury case. We have represented many people who were not satisfied with a prior attorney, usually due to poor communication.  With that said, we cannot and do not encourage anyone to switch attorneys; that is a personal choice that is up to you.

If you do choose to end the attorney-client relationship with a prior law firm, they might assert an attorney’s lien on any settlement you receive. The attorneys’ lien is usually the costs that the firm incurred, as well as the reasonable value of legal services performed.

Why should I hire Siniard Law?

Most lawyers boast about their many years of experience or big verdicts. While we are proud of our experience and our results, at Siniard Law, we are most proud of the client experience we provide to injured people in north Alabama. At an initial consultation, you will always meet with one of our personal injury lawyers and not a “consultant” or “client liaison.” Our injury lawyers will always be available for a phone call, a Zoom call, or an in-person meeting. We believe in not only advocating for our clients but educating them about the process and keeping them informed as their injury case progresses.

 

Car Wrecks

What happens if both of the drivers are partially at fault for a wreck?

In Alabama, we have the doctrine of “contributory negligence.” This means that if a judge or jury believes both of the drivers were negligent and that each of the drivers’ negligence contributed to causing the wreck, then neither driver would be entitled to compensation from the other’s insurance company.

What does it mean when an insurance company accepts or denies liability?

When the other person involved in the wreck has insurance, the insurance company will either accept liability or deny liability. Accepting liability means that the insurance company believes their customer was negligent and that you did not contribute to causing the wreck. It is always good news when the insurance company accepts liability.

If the insurance company denies liability, they either believe their customer was not negligent or that you contributed to the wreck. An insurance company’s decision to deny liability in your injury claim should not discourage you from reaching out to a personal injury lawyer to review the case.

What if the person who causes a wreck doesn’t have car insurance?

In Alabama, as many as 1 in 5 drivers don’t have valid car insurance. That’s why you have to protect yourself by purchasing uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. While you could always try to pursue the uninsured driver for your damages, it may be difficult to collect. As they say, it’s usually hard to get “blood out of a turnip.”

If you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage, you can make a claim for damages against your own insurance company. Doing this should not make your car insurance rates go up. We handle uninsured motorist claims frequently since a good fraction of Alabama drivers who cause wrecks don’t have car insurance.

What is subrogation?

Subrogation is the legal principle where an entity is entitled to be reimbursed for the money it paid as a result of the wrongful conduct of someone else. The most common example is when someone is in a wreck, and the hurt person’s health insurance has to pay for medical treatment.  If the hurt person gets a settlement from the at-fault driver’s car insurance, then the injured person’s health insurance company has a right to be reimbursed out of the settlement. Usually, the amount of reimbursement is negotiable if you have a personal injury lawyer.

What do I bring to my initial consultation?

In a car wreck personal injury claim, we always request that you bring your driver’s license, your health insurance card (if applicable), a copy of the crash report, and any photos of the vehicles and your injuries. If you forget, it is not a big deal, and we can get the information at a later time. If the case involves nursing home abuse or neglect, we like for you to bring any photos, videos, or notes you may have.

How can I prove the other driver was using his cell phone?

The only way to obtain this information is if we file a lawsuit in your case.  Once a lawsuit is filed, we have the ability to subpoena the other driver’s cell phone records, which usually show the time of phone calls, texts, and data usage.

How do I get a copy of the accident report?

There are a few different ways to get an accident report after a car wreck. First, you can download the crash report for $15 at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s website. You will need either the crash report number given to you by the police or your driver’s license number in order to download the report.

If you prefer to speak with someone about it, you can call the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency at 334-242-4241 to request the accident report. You can also go in person to the law enforcement agency that handled the crash investigation and created the accident report. Huntsville, where our firm is located, has its main Police Station at 815 Wheeler Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35801.

What do I do if I was in a hit-and-run accident?

Report it immediately to the police and provide all information about the other vehicle. Locate witnesses and obtain their contact information. Take photos of your vehicle and any crash debris that could include parts of the vehicle that fled. Get medical treatment if needed and contact your insurance company to notify them of the situation. If the police cannot locate the other driver, you may have to make a claim for property damage with your own insurance company.  If you were injured, you could also claim uninsured motorist benefits with your insurance company.

Will the other person’s car insurance immediately pay my medical bills?

No. There is a common misconception that you can just send your medical bills to the insurance company, and they will write a check. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If you have co-pays, deductibles, or have no health insurance, you are personally responsible for the medical bill until a settlement is reached. Car wreck settlements are considered “lump sum” settlements because they include compensation for pain, suffering, and medical costs incurred (among a variety of other potential damages.)

What are medical payments (MedPay) coverage?

One of the types of car insurance coverages you may have is medical payments, which is commonly referred to in the legal industry as “medpay.” Medpay coverage usually comes in amounts of either $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 or $10,000. This amount of money will pay for medical bills incurred as they come due.  If you get a settlement from the other person’s car insurance, your car insurance company will have a right to be reimbursed out of the settlement.  However, that reimbursement amount can be reduced if you have an attorney.

Should my health insurance cover medical bills for treatment I got after a wreck?

Yes. Your health insurance will pay for medical treatment just as if the medical treatment was unrelated to a car accident. However, your health insurance will have a right of subrogation, i.e., a right to be reimbursed out of your settlement. The amount of reimbursement can be reduced if you have a personal injury attorney.

What am I entitled to when my car is damaged in a wreck?

The other person’s insurance company has to pay not only for your injuries but for damage to your vehicle. If your car is totaled, you are entitled to the vehicle’s fair market value. If your car is repairable, you are entitled to 100% of the repair costs, loss of use damages (this usually means the cost of a rental car while your car is being repaired), and compensation for the loss of value of the vehicle sustained due to the wreck.

 

Workers’ Compensation

What are workers’ compensation benefits in Alabama?

There are 3 primary benefits: workers’ compensation insurance has to pay for 100% of medical treatment, 2/3 of your average weekly wages while you are out of work on doctors’ orders and has to pay you an amount if you have a permanent partial or permanent total disability. Review this information for a full explanation.

Can I choose my own doctors if I’m hurt on the job?

Unfortunately, no, you cannot. Under Alabama workers’ compensation law, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier has a right to authorize treating physicians. If you do not like your authorized doctor, you have a right to choose from a panel of four other doctors.

Does workers’ compensation insurance have to pay for medicine for my injury?

Yes. If your authorized doctor prescribes you medication for your injury, then workers’ compensation insurance is required to pay 100% of the cost of the medicine.

If I’m hurt on the job, is all I can get workers’ compensation benefits?

Not necessarily.  In some cases, you may be entitled to additional compensation. For example, if you’re in a wreck while on the job, you would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and be entitled to collect from the at-fault driver. Other examples include injuries from defective products while on the job and when a co-worker intentionally removes a machine safety guard, which results in injury.

 

Nursing Home Abuse

How do you prove nursing home negligence?

The first thing to do is obtain the patient’s medical records from the nursing home. In addition to the medical records, any photos, videos, and notes will likely be helpful. In Alabama, an expert witness must review the nursing home records and other evidence to determine whether the nursing home breached the standard of care. We tell people that a breach of the standard of care is similar to a healthcare provider making an “F” on their report card. We have a network of nursing home expert witnesses who review cases for our firm to determine whether there was a breach of the standard of care.

What should I do if I suspect the nursing home is abusing my mother or father?

Take all the pictures you can. Pictures are more powerful than words, whether it’s bruising, signs of dehydration, or that huge “goose egg” on your mother’s head. It’s possible that someday those photos could be compelling evidence in court. After you get photos, we always recommend you immediately notify the nursing home administrator or the director of nursing (“DON”) of your concerns. The next step is to notify the Alabama Department of Public Health and fill out a complaint and contact a nursing home abuse lawyer.

Are nursing home arbitration agreements enforceable?

It depends on who signed it and whether the patient was mentally competent at the time of the signature. It will be enforceable if the patient signed the arbitration agreement and was competent. It will not be enforceable if the patient signed it and was incompetent.  If the patient’s family member signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of the patient, then whether it will be enforceable depends on whether the family member had a power of attorney and also depends on the competency of the patient.

What is nursing home arbitration?

Arbitration is a process that is both similar to a trial but different in many aspects. Like a trial, you present evidence about the case and get to make arguments.  However, in arbitration, there is no judge and no jury. The arbitrator makes all decisions in the case – who wins, who loses, and whether the money will be paid or not. An arbitrator is a neutral third party (usually an older attorney or retired judge) that decides all of the issues in the case.

What nursing home injuries are usually the result of neglect or abuse?

The most common nursing home injury we see is what many people call “bedsores.” Medically speaking, “bedsores” are referred to as pressure ulcers, decubitus ulcers, or, more recently, pressure injuries.  Pressure ulcers occur when a nursing home patient is not properly repositioned or is not provided adequate nutrition. The area surrounding the tailbone is the most common area of the body where a pressure ulcer develops. This is called a sacral pressure ulcer.

Other common injuries that result from nursing home negligence include broken bones and head injuries from falls, medication errors that cause health complications, and dehydration.

I’m not sure I want to file a nursing home lawsuit, but can I report a nursing home to law enforcement for their failures?

Absolutely. If you believe there has been nursing home negligence or abuse, you should contact the Alabama Department of Public Health to report a complaint. To fill out a report, go to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s reporting website.

Are there any laws about what nursing homes have to do for patients?

Yes, there are many such regulations. Federal and state regulations govern how nursing homes care for patients. If the nursing home does not follow these regulations, there is a strong argument to be made by a nursing home negligence lawyer that the nursing home was negligent. The regulations are found in 42 CFR § 483.

 

Wrongful Death

Who has the right to bring a wrongful death claim?

Generally speaking, only the “personal representative” of the deceased’s estate has legal standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there is an exception for when the deceased is a minor. In that event, the custodial parent has the right to bring the lawsuit.

What kind of damages can you get in a wrongful death claim?

In Alabama, punitive damages are the sole measure of damages in a wrongful death claim.  These are damages that the jury awards to punish the wrongdoer. The deceased’s family cannot recover money for the deceased’s pain, suffering, medical bills, or the deceased’s lost wages.

Who gets the money from a wrongful death settlement?

In Alabama, the money from any wrongful death settlement is divided in accordance with the rules of intestacy.  The rules of intestacy are the laws that decide inheritances when someone dies without a will.  Even if the deceased in a wrongful death case had a will, the settlement money will not be distributed according to the will. Instead, it will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.

Injuries To Children

If my child is hurt, which parent has the right to bring a personal injury claim for the child?

When the parents of an injured child are married, either parent has the right to bring the injury claim. If the parents are unmarried (whether by divorce or otherwise), both parents may want to pursue the child’s claim. Alabama Code Section 6-5-390 states that in the event the parents of the child are not married, the parent having “legal custody” of the child shall have the “exclusive right” to pursue the child’s personal injury claim.

How does a parent decide what a fair personal injury settlement is for their child?

Your personal injury attorney can give you guidance on whether a settlement offer is reasonable and fair. If a minor’s personal injury claim is settled, the settlement still must be approved by a judge. Unlike an adult’s personal injury claim, judicial approval is required to settle a minor’s personal injury claim.

Once a settlement is reached, the judge appoints a “guardian ad litem.” A guardian ad litem is an attorney whose job is to represent the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will meet with the child and the parents, review the medical records and bills, and review any other relevant documentation to ensure that the injury settlement is in the best interests of the child.  Then the judge will conduct a “pro ami” hearing where the judge decides if the settlement is fair and in the best interest of the child. The claim is only truly settled once the judge approves the settlement.

If there is a personal injury settlement for a child, who gets the money?

Any settlement money must be held for the benefit of the minor. Therefore, even if the parents are superb parents, the parents are not allowed to receive the entire settlement.  The custodial parent can receive a single payment out of the settlement that does not exceed $5,000 pursuant to the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.  However, this is subject to the judge’s discretion, and the judge can deny the parent any right to receive any money from the settlement.

The court system usually holds the remaining portion of the settlement until the child reaches the age of majority, which is 19 in the state of Alabama. Once the child turns 19, he or she can obtain the money from the court.  However, if the settlement is significant, the parents should consider a structured annuity that will allow the money to be paid to the child at chosen intervals once he or she reaches adulthood. The primary benefit of a structured annuity is that the interest gained on the settlement money is non-taxable.