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Lawyers Can Help Navigate Personal Injury Claims

Mar 27, 2007

Question: I tripped on some steep concrete steps, and badly injured my knee. One of the store owners told me others have had problems with those steps before. The property owner's insurance company called me. I want at least my medical bills and lost wages paid. Two questions: Am I better off hiring a lawyer rather than doing this myself, and what has to be proven to have a case?

-- C.B.,

El Segundo

Answer: There are some who will insist "never do it yourself!" They worry about what the insurance company will ask you, what you will say, and what you may or may not recover.

I don't agree, but can tell you that over the years it seems that injured parties in such circumstances tend to fare better on their monetary recovery with a lawyer rather than without.

In some instances, the insurance company may be stringing you along, which becomes more difficult with a lawyer breathing down its neck. Or, the insurer finds out information that does not assist you, and offers less than you may be entitled to. Whereas a lawyer can seek to limit discussion and also can seek all potential recoveries (e.g., if you have a spouse, perhaps there is a loss of consortium claim).

The decision to hire a lawyer turns in part on whether you believe it will help you recover what you are entitled to. There are other reasons as well, such as the time you will save, the guidance you will be provided, and the details the lawyer may be able to uncover which strengthens your position (i.e., the possible height illegality of the steps).

The bottom line is, why not talk with one or two lawyers to get a sense of how you can be helped, and decide at that point?

As to your second question, you must establish that the condition of the stairs was dangerous, and that the property owner knew or should have known about the unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to others.

Some possible examples: 1) the stairs are not to code; 2) you hire an expert who conducts a friction test that shows the stairs are too slippery; 3) the stairs lack sufficient lighting at night; 4) there is typically some debris on the stairs which can cause people to slip; 5) the width of the stairs is such that instead of having a railing on each side, the owner was required to have a railing down the center.

Q: We bought a car less than a week ago, but did not yet get insurance for it when we were slammed into by a driver who went through a stop sign. We are going to make claims. Will those be limited because we did not yet get insurance?

-- D.A.,

Hermosa Beach

A: Perhaps the dealership you bought the car from had insurance for the vehicle that covered it for a period of time after purchase. It's worth finding out because you will not only have limitations on what can be recovered, but your driving privileges can (and may well) be suspended.

California's Compulsory Financial Responsibility Law requires every driver and owner of a motor vehicle to have certain basic insurance coverage ($15,000 for a single injury or death, $30,000 total for injury or death, and $5,000 property damage).

If you do not have at least the basic, required insurance, you are limited as the owner-driver to recover economic damages only (such as property damage to your vehicle, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages). You cannot recover noneconomic damages, namely pain and suffering, which often constitute the largest part of the claim. The passenger in your vehicle, however, can recover both.

In sum, make sure you have at least the basic, required auto insurance, and proof of it on you, or in your car, at all times.

What to do after a car accident

The California State Bar has an informative booklet you can read online that answers multiple questions, including: 1) do I have to stop after an accident? 2) what if someone is injured? 3) do I have to report the accident? 4) what if someone sues me as a result of the accident? and 5) what if the other person is uninsured?

Visit the State Bar Web site at Scroll down on the right side to "consumer pamphlets;" when that opens, click on "auto accident," which you will find on the left side. You can call the State Bar and ask for the booklet at 415-538-2280.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach-based attorney with 28 years of experience and a member of the South Bay Bar Association. His column appears each Wednesday. E-mail questions and comments to him at [email protected]; or mail him at Daily Breeze, 5215 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA, 90503-4077; or fax to him at 310-540-6272. This column is a summary of the law, and not a substitute for legal consultation in any particular case.

(c) 2007 Daily Breeze. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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