Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few generic answers to common legal questions.

Why is the insurance company saying that there is not enough damage to my car for me to be injured in an accident?

Insurance companies will often refuse to pay your medical bills or pain and suffering if there is not much visible damage to the vehicle you were in. The insurance companies know that juries will not believe that a person can be injured if there is not much visible damage to the vehicle. Based on that belief, insurance companies deny the claim because they are confident that they can defeat such a claim at trial. To see how attorney John P. Burns defeated this insurance tactic at recent trial, read This article.

Is there a law against tinting my vehicle windows in California?

Yes, there is a law in California against tinting either your windshield, driver’s side window or right front seat passenger window. This question is also answered in the following information from the California Highway Patrol.

Attorney John P. Burns has written several articles about this subject as it relates to the case of singer Justin Bieber, who had a problem with tinted windows. You can read the news article (Justin Bieber’s Tinted Windows Cause Crash) and blog post (Justin Bieber’s illegally Tinted Car Windows-What Do You Think?) for more information.

What are the first things to do after you leave the accident scene?

How you handle a car accident is important. As soon as you leave the accident scene, make sure to do these three things:

1. Submit an SR -1 accident reporting form to the California DMV.
2. Call the insurance company of the person who caused the accident.
3. Call your own insurance company.

Will I lose money on my accident injury claim if I miss some doctor appointments?

Yes, your claim will be worth less if you have what are called gaps in treatment. If you miss more than one of your treatment visits, the insurance company’s claims software will automatically decrease the amount to be offered on your claim. This is because the insurance company can then argue that you must not have been injured too badly because you took a week or two off treatment. If a gap in treatment is unavoidable, there is a way to possibly prevent the devaluing of your claim. What to do in such a case is explained by attorney John P. Burns in his article, How Avoid Loss in Accident Injury Claim Value Due to Treatment Gaps.

Should I sue if the insurance company delays in making a good settlement offer?

Not right away. If there is any way to keep negotiating with the insurance adjuster, you should do so. This is because you will get your money sooner and save extra legal expenses if you can settle without filing a lawsuit. Anything you can do to show the insurance adjuster that your case is worth more than the adjuster thinks it is worth should be done. Only when you have exhausted all possible ways to achieve settlement should you file a lawsuit.

Is my accident claim against the person who caused my injuries or against that person’s insurance company?

Your accident injury claim is against the person who caused the accident and your injuries. That person will turn your claim over to his or her insurance company to represent them in regard to your claim.

To explain this in more detail, Attorney John P. Burns has written a full article on this subject: Claim vs. the Driver or His Insurance Company? You can also watch this video on the same subject: I Have Been Injured in an Accident | Who Is My Claim Against?

What happens if I decide to file a car accident or personal injury lawsuit?

If you have a car accident or personal injury case and the insurance company won’t pay the reasonable value of your case, you may instruct your attorney to file a lawsuit. Here is what happens next:

  1. Your attorney writes the lawsuit.
  2. In the lawsuit, your attorney names the person or persons who caused your injuries as the defendant(s).
  3. Your attorney files the lawsuit with the Clerk of Court.
  4. The Clerk of Court accepts the lawsuit, files it with the Court and issues a copy of the lawsuit and Summons for your attorney to give to the defendant(s).
  5. Your attorney has a process sever find the defendant(s) and give them copies of the lawsuit and Court Summons.
  6. The defendant(s) give the lawsuit and Summons to their insurance company.
  7. The insurance company of the defendant(s) hires a defense attorney to defend the case.
  8. The Court sets a date for the case to go to trial approximately one year from the date of the filing of the lawsuit.

For more information concerning this question, please read this article and watch the accompanying video: Mission Viejo Car Accident & Injury Attorney Explains How a Lawsuit is Filed.

Can I get a good settlement on my case without having to file a lawsuit or go to trial?

Yes, there are times when you can obtain a good settlement of your car accident or other personal injury case without filing a lawsuit. It depends on your ability to obtain, organize, analyze and send to the insurance company all the documents needed to get a good settlement without filing a lawsuit.

Our office gets almost every case we handle settled for our clients without filing a lawsuit.

We obtain every document and photograph having to do with the accident right away. This includes accident scene photos, witness statements, vehicle damage photos and vehicle repair estimates. We also gather:

  1. Medical records
  2. Medical bills
  3. Physical therapy or chiropractic records
  4. Lost income or lost wages documentation
  5. All other documents relevant to the harms and losses you have incurred

After we have everything organized, cross indexed and placed in binders, we send it to the insurance company. This is called a settlement demand and is the way insurance companies settle cases with people injured in an accident. You can learn more about this process in this article: Mission Viejo Car Accident Attorney Tells How To Settle Case Without Lawsuit.
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What can I do to protect myself from drivers with no insurance or very little insurance?

Ask your insurance agent to give you Uninsured Motorist coverage on your existing policy. You can find more information on this coverage here: Why You Need Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage.

What is a whiplash injury?

Whiplash is a medical condition that mainly occurs in rear end car, truck or motorcycle accidents. As an injury attorney, John P. Burns has represented hundreds of clients who have suffered whiplash injury from rear end accidents.

Mechanism of Whiplash Injury:

When a vehicle is struck from behind, the heads of the occupants are snapped backwards very quickly. The back of the head may or may not hit the vehicle headrest, depending on how high the headrest is set. After the head and neck are snapped backward, they are then thrown rapidly forward until the shoulder and lap belt stops the forward progress of the body. This sudden back and forth motion is called whiplash.

Injuries Caused by Whiplash:

This rapid movement backwards and then forward causes damage to the muscles ligaments, and tendons in the neck, as well as the spinal discs and spinal nerves. The symptoms that usually occur, sometimes not until the day after the accident, are headaches, neck pain, neck soreness & stiffness, pins and needles down the arms and fingers, and shoulder pain, soreness and stiffness.

There is more information on whiplash here: What is a whiplash injury.

If I am not happy with my attorney can I switch attorneys at no extra cost to me?

If you change attorneys in the middle of your personal injury case, the new attorney should take care of everything for you. You just tell the new attorney to advise your prior attorney that the new attorney is taking over your case. The new attorney will send a letter to your prior attorney advising them that he’s taking over your case with your consent and agreement, and the old attorney will relinquish your files to the new attorney.

What payment is the prior Attorney entitled to?
In California, the prior attorney is entitled to a portion of the fees, depending on the amount of work he or she has done on your case. But you don’t have to pay that as an additional attorney fee. At the time of settlement or judgment after a trial, your new attorney must pay a portion of his or her attorney’s fees to the prior attorney. You are usually not charged extra attorney’s fees so there’s no reason not to change your attorney if you wish to do so.

There is more information about changing attorneys in this video: Can I Change Attorneys For My Personal Injury Case?

I was in a car accident, had an examination and physical therapy or chiropractic treatment but I am still having pain – What is my next step?

If you were injured in a car accident, received medical care, physical therapy or chiropractic care, and are still symptomatic with pain, residual symptoms or disability, there are some things you can do.

First, to help determine if your case is strong enough that there will be sufficient money to pay for the additional medical care, read this article: how an experienced California personal injury attorney evaluates a case.

You can also watch this video about compensation.

If, after reviewing the article and video, you feel you have a strong enough case to support the additional medical care you will need, the first thing you should do is see a specialist.

If you have pain radiating out to your arms or legs, you probably need to see a neurosurgeon for an evaluation. The neurosurgeon will usually take a medical history from you, examine you and then possibly refer you out for evaluation by a neurologist. The neurologist will administer electronic tests to determine if there has been damage to the nerves that run down your arms and legs from your spine.

The neurologist will then usually refer you back to the neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon can refer you to a pain management physician, who may provide you with oral prescription medications to control your pain. He or she may also administer what are called epidural injections into the discs in the spine in your neck or back. These epidural injections may shrink down an inflamed disc that may be pressing on the nerves in your neck and back, causing the pain that is radiating down your arms or legs.

If you have pain in your shoulders, elbow, wrists, hips, knees, ankles or feet, visit an orthopedic surgeon. The orthopedic surgeon will do many of the things the neurosurgeon does but with an emphasis on your joints and bones. This doctor is qualified to examine you for spinal, disc and nerve injury but is especially qualified to examine and treat you for joint and bone injuries and problems.

If you need help, please contact the Law Offices of Jon P. Burns and we can refer you to the appropriate medical specialist. If you do not have health insurance and we take your case, we can arrange it for you to be seen by the specialist at no charge until the end of your case when the specialist is paid out of the settlement or verdict.

You may also wish to read this article for more information: Experienced Medical Doctor’s Case Evaluation: 4 C’s Medhod

The second thing you should do is consider having an attorney file a lawsuit for you. With the symptoms described above, you have a serious case for which you are entitled to significant compensation. The insurance companies are so unreasonable these days that you need to get the lawsuit filed as soon as possible. That way you negotiate from a position of strength, instead of being pushed around.

What can cause pain, numbness or tingling that spreads into an arm or down a leg after an accident?

Pain, numbness or tingling that starts in the neck and runs down the arm is often called a radiating symptom. An accident may have damaged a disc in the spinal canal of the neck. The damaged part of the disc then presses on the root of the nerve where it comes out of the spinal canal and runs out the arm to the shoulder, upper arm, forearm hand and fingers. The same can apply to a low back disc injury that causes pain, numbness or tingling to run, or radiate, from the low back down the leg.

If you have any of these symptoms you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will probably order X-Rays and MRI tests to determine if there has been an injury. The X-Rays can show if any bones have been broken. The MRI will show if tissue inside or near your spinal canal, including your spinal discs, have been injured.

If you have been in an accident caused by another person and don’t have health insurance, see a personal injury attorney who can help get your doctor’s visits and MRI covered on a lien basis. A lien basis means you don’t have to pay any money now and the doctor and MRI facility will be paid out of your settlement at the end of your case.

What happens when I go to an attorney for a free initial consultation for my car accident case?

When you come to the Law Offices of John P. Burns for a free consultation, you will be asked to bring with you every scrap of paper having to do with your accident.

Here is a list of things you should bring to the free consultation:

1. Small card the officer gave you if the police or California Highway Patrol (CHP) came to the accident scene.
2. Police or CHP Traffic Collision Report if you have it.
3. Copy of your own vehicle insurance file.
4. Emergency room discharge and medication documents.
5. Cards of any medical doctor, chiropractor or physical therapy facility you have visited, and any other document related to your medical care.
6. Photos of your bruises, abrasions, cuts or other injuries.
7. Photos showing damage to your vehicle or the other vehicles in the accident.
8. Repair estimate for your vehicle.
9. Any little pieces of paper on which you made notes concerning any aspect of the accident.
10. Any letters from any insurance adjusters.

You meet with attorney John P. Burns in our conference room. We will offer you a drink of water, coffee or tea and we will just talk for a while. You will able to tell us a little bit about yourself and any immediate concerns you may have. Then you can tell us the facts of the accident.

In the second part of the meeting, you will be asked about the following things:

1. Were you driving your own car or was someone else driving you?
2. When did you first become aware that an accident was about to happen?
3. Did you hear a screeching of brakes or blowing of horns before impact?
4. Was the impact to the rear, side or front of your car, truck or motorcycle?
5. Did you have your seat belt on?
6. Did you strike any part of your body on the inside of your vehicle, such as the back of your head hitting the headrest, the front of your head hitting the visor, or your knees, legs or feet hitting the bottom of your dashboard?
7. How far was your vehicle moved by the crash impact and in what direction?
8. Was your vehicle pushed so hard by the impact that it struck another vehicle?
9. Did you lose consciousness or have any time of being disoriented?
10. Did the other driver talk to you after the impact and what did he or she say to you?

You will have as much time as you wish to talk about the above, and then we will talk about your injuries and treatment.

Why does a doctor refer an accident patient to a neurologist for an EMG or NCV test?

Adoctor sometimes refers an accident patient to a neurologist (nerve doctor) for an EMG or NCV test when he or she suspects that a nerve injury has occurred in the accident. The EMG (Electromyelogram) and NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity) tests measure the speed of the electrical signals in the body. If the nerve signals are running abnormally slow, the neurologist can tell where the nerve injury is and the nature of the injury to the nerve or nerves.

A car pulled out in front of my motorcycle, and I sustained road rash. Do I have a claim?

Road rash or road burn can be a minor to serious injury that causes damage to a motorcycle rider’s skin. This occurs when the rider is thrown from the bike due to a car crash. Injury is caused by the friction of the motorcycle rider’s skin sliding against the road or pavement. Injuries of this nature can be painful and typically require medical care. They need to be cleaned well, and sometimes stitches are needed in order to heal properly and to prevent infections. If the accident occurred because of the other driver, you most likely will have a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. You should speak with an experienced injury attorney as soon as possible.

What is spinal lumbar fusion surgery and how does it work?

When someone suffers a lower back injury in a car accident, spinal lumbar fusion surgery may be recommended. This surgery fuses two lumbar vertebrae together with the use of a bone graft. The bone graft can come from the patient’s own hip (autograft), from a cadaver bone (allograft), or it could be manufactured (synthetic bone). Once the problem disc gets removed, the bone graft is placed in between the two vertebrae in order for them to grow into one larger bone. The surgeon will typically hold the vertebrae in place with metal plates and screws until the bones fuse together. The goal of this lumbar fusion surgery is to stabilize the spine and reduce the abnormal movement in order to eliminate the lower back pain.

I was in a car accident and fractured my femur. How much is my injury worth?

Most victims of car wrecks want to know if they have a case and what it is worth. If you have fractured your femur, fractured your vertebrae, suffered a herniated disc, or sustained any other serious injury, then you may have a legal case against the negligent driver.

The impact of your injuries from the accident is unique, and the facts surrounding your individual case determine the worth of your case. A knowledgeable Orange County injury lawyer will be able to evaluate your case after hearing all the facts. We cannot tell you the worth of your case in a set dollar amount until we evaluate your situation, determining things like whether you suffered a similar injury previously, if the other driver was negligent, if you require surgery, and the extent of your injuries. Once we have all the facts, we will sit down with you and provide you with options and inform you of the worth of your case.

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?

Symptoms of a herniated disc can vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury, size of the herniation, and position of the herniated disc. If the herniated disc is pressing on a nerve, it could create immense pain throughout a person’s body. Every person’s pain will be different, depending on whether or not the disc places pressure on or pinches a nerve.

If the herniated disc is located in the lower back, pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks, leg, ankle, or foot. This could be a sharp pain or a dull, aching pain. If the herniation is in the neck, then the individual could have pain in the shoulder blade, neck, chest, and shooting throughout the arms and fingers. If the herniated disc places pressure on or pinches a nerve, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness may occur.

Should I give a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company?

If you have been in a car accident, and you are getting pressure from the other driver’s insurance company to give a recorded statement – don’t do it!

You should never give the other driver’s insurance company such a statement, since you are not required by law. However, sometimes insurance companies will try to pressure you to provide a recorded statement. If this happens, please consult an experienced accident attorney.

If you give a statement to the insurance company of the driver who hit you, your words could get used against you. Most of the time, such a statement will do more harm than good. We don’t ever advise anyone to give an insurance company a recorded statement without first consulting a knowledgeable attorney. For more information, order John P. Burns’ FREE book: 9 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your California Vehicle Accident Case

Do I need a lawyer to represent me in my legal case?

You are not required to hire a lawyer for representation in any legal case. However, many complicated areas of the law make hiring a lawyer crucial for getting your desired outcome and compensation. Many people represent themselves, but since they don’t know what compensation they deserve, they end up getting an insufficient amount. An experienced injury attorney will know the worth of your case and will be able to fight for you. You will most likely receive a noticeable difference in compensation for your damages by having an attorney on your side.

Is it important to ask the police to do an accident report if I am in an accident?

It is very important to ask the police to come to the accident scene and do a report if you have been in an accident. One of the biggest reasons is so that the officer records the other driver’s name, address, phone number, insurance company, insurance policy number and other information you need for your claim. In addition, the officer will usually take a statement from the other driver or drivers. If the other driver admits fault but then later has a change of mind and says you were at fault you will be able to prove he is being untruthful.

For more information on what to do when you have been in a car accident, order John P. Burns’ FREE book: 9 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your California Vehicle Accident Case

What should I do at the accident scene after I have been in an accident?

If you are in a car accident, stay in your vehicle until it is safe to get out. If possible, drive to the side of the road and out of traffic. Call 911 and ask for police or highway patrol to come to the scene. Ask for paramedics if needed. If an officer does not come to the scene, get out pen and paper and start writing the following things down:

1. The license plate numbers of all the vehicles involved plus the make, color and model of each vehicle.
2. Ask to look at the driver’s licenses of all the other drivers. Write down the state that issued it, the license number, date of expiration, if the driver was required to wear glasses and any other information you can. Also look to see if the driver looks like their photo on their driver’s license or looks like someone else.
3. Ask for proof of insurance and carefully write down the insurance company name and the insurance policy number. Be sure to get the policy number correct.
4. Ask any witnesses for their business cards and get their name, address and phone numbers, as well as their license plate numbers.

Get more information by ordering John P. Burns’ FREE book: 9 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your California Vehicle Accident Case

How do I know if I have an accident injury case?

These are the things to look for to see if you have a case. First, was someone other than the injured person at fault in the accident? Second, is there a source of payment for the injuries and losses suffered by the injured person? For example, did the person who caused the injuries and losses to the injured person have liability insurance? Third, were the injured person’s injuries bad enough to warrant filing a claim? Examples of such injuries are: fractures to arms or legs, spinal injuries such as ruptured or herniated spinal discs, facial scars, brain injuries, sprains or strains to the neck or back requiring medical care, physical therapy or chiropractic services. If the case has those three things, chances are you can open a claim and obtain a substantial award. Consult an experienced injury attorney immediately.

What factors make a strong personal injury case?

The factors that make a good personal injury case are the following:

1. Someone else other than the injured person was the cause of the accident and injuries.
2. The person who was injured has significant injuries or needs surgery due to the accident.
3. There is a source of payment for the medical care, loss of income, disability and pain and suffering damages, both in the past and anticipated to continue into the future.
4. The injured individual is a nice person that a jury will see as a regular person like them.
5. The injured individual is reasonable and will listen to an attorney’s advice as to the handling of the lawsuit and realistic evaluation of the total value of the case.

My mom was killed in an airplane crash. Can pilot error be to blame?

Yes. Pilot error remains one of the main reasons for the occurrence of private and commercial airplane crashes. Most of the time, pilot error accidents occur during the final approach and landing stages of the flight. Sometimes, neglect, oversight, and bad weather, such as foggy conditions, cause the pilot to overshoot the runway and crash the airplane.

If the crash happens in midflight, the pilot can be held responsible, especially if he flies the airplane directly into a severe storm. Other reasons pilot error can occur include: heart attack, health issues, mental state of mind, lack of sleep, and lack of experience.

A passenger in my car was seriously injured after a truck crashed into us. Who pays for her injuries and medical care?

Truckers are required to have extensive insurance policies. However, understanding and dealing with these policies through your insurance company alone can be difficult. In addition, the insurance companies for truckers fight hard to avoid paying victims properly.

If your accident was the trucker’s fault, then you will have to deal with his insurance company. You shouldn’t try to handle this on your own. Insurance policies are difficult to understand, and the insurance company is not going to freely offer you money. You will need the help of an experienced attorney to review your insurance policy and help you recover damages from the trucker responsible for the wreck.

If the accident was your fault, then your auto policy will need to be reviewed. The minimum liability coverage in California is $15,000. If your passenger’s medical bills exceed that amount, then your under-insured motorist coverage can kick in for the difference, depending on your policy limits. Everyone in California is offered uninsured motorist (UM) and under-insured motorist (UIM) coverage. Unless you have declined this coverage in writing, you should have it as they are often sold as part of your package.

To get more information, request a copy of John P. Burns’ FREE book: 9 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your California Vehicle Accident Case

I was involved in a car accident and have some pain in my neck. Should I see a doctor, even though I can bear the pain?

If you were involved in a car crash but only slightly injured, it is still wise to seek medical treatment immediately. You should go to the urgent care or emergency room at your local hospital directly after the crash. Even if you have minimal pain, you should still get checked out by a doctor.

You should seek medical attention for two main reasons. First, your health and well-being are critical, and you will want to make a full recovery as soon as possible. Sometimes, a slight pain can turn into something worse later down the road. Secondly, doctors will document your pain complaints and injuries, which can help your case if you choose to make a claim. If another party is at fault for the accident, you may be able to use this documentation to get compensated for your medical bills and damages.

I have been in an accident that wasn’t my fault, who will pay my medical bills?

One of the first things we do when we evaluate a personal injury case is help our client determine what sources are available for payment of their medical expenses. While the liability claim, such as the claim against the driver who was at fault in an automobile accident, may eventually cover the medical expenses, there are often other insurance policies available which will pay the medical expenses immediately, without regard to who was at fault, and in addition to the recovery on the liability claim.

If you were injured in an automobile accident, many auto policies include medical payments coverage often referred to as “med-pay.” This coverage will pay your medical expenses right now without any concern for who was at fault in the accident. Your own automobile policy may provide med-pay benefits. Additionally, if you were a passenger or driving someone else’s car, the driver or owner’s policy may provide med-pay benefits.

Next, your own health insurance policy will usually provide coverage for medical expenses incurred as a result of an accident. Many people are concerned about using their own insurance when the accident was someone else’s fault. The payment of your medical expenses, by the insurance you bought and paid for, generally won’t reduce your claim against the liable third party. Using your own health insurance or med-pay coverage will not, in most cases, cause your insurance rates to increase, as long as the accident was not your fault.

Some auto and health insurance policies do provide that the company is entitled to reimbursement if and when you settle your case against the responsible driver or other party. This is called “subrogation” and depends largely upon the terms of your own policy.

If you fall and are injured on someone else’s property, there’s a good chance that they will have liability insurance and, in addition, medical payments coverage which will pay your medical expenses, without a determination of fault or liability. There are a variety of other sources of payment of medical expenses, each of which applies to a specific situation. As lawyers, we deal every day with insurance policies, what is covered or not covered, and how to best get the expenses paid for our clients. Please call for a free consultation if you have additional questions.

How much is my claim worth?

The most natural question our clients ask is, “How much is my claim worth?” Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to explain, briefly, how we evaluate a claim. With a personal injury claim, you are entitled to recover for all the damages which you have suffered.

These damages may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income, both past and future
  • Damage to your personal property, such as your car
  • Rental car and other expenses
  • Reasonable compensation for permanent disability or impairment caused by the accident
  • An award of “general damages” for pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment which often accompanies physical injury

You can see that the value of a claim may be different for each and every claim. There is no magic formula which can be applied to arrive at a value For example, two people suffer the same injury – Let’s say that it is the loss of use of the left hand. The medical expenses are identical, yet the value of the two claims will be substantially different, because one is an office worker, while the other is a professional pianist whose career was destroyed.

After considering all of the factors, including the effect upon your life as an individual, we place a value on a case using our knowledge of the law and our experience from having handled numerous personal injury cases. We help our clients by identifying the right parties to pursue and locating the available insurance coverage or assets from which the claim can be paid. At the appropriate time, we help each client determine the value of his or her claim, and then take the correct legal steps to recover that value.

It is important to be sure that your claim is fairly and fully evaluated, because in most cases once the settlement is made, you will sign certain documents relinquishing your right to any further recovery on your claim.

Is there a time limit for collecting after an accident?

Once an injury has occurred, you have only a limited amount of time to take action. If you fail to do so, then your right to bring a claim may be lost forever. There are both absolute time limits and practical limits. The absolute time limit is fixed by law and establishes the amount of time within which a legal claim for injury must be filed with the court. This time limit is known as the Statute of Limitations, and varies depending on several factors, specifically the type of claim, who is bringing the claim, and who the claim is against.

Practical time limits are slightly different. The foundation of any case is the ability to prove the facts. While the injured person’s testimony is important, the best proof often comes from independent witnesses who need to be interviewed as soon as possible after the accident, before their memories fade. It’s equally important to promptly inspect the scene of the accident and to take the right photographs before changes are made. These “practical time limits” urge you to move forward with your case as quickly as possible so that the evidence can be preserved and the case properly prepared well in advance of the statute of limitations deadline.

Do I really need a lawyer?

In the United States, you have the right to represent yourself in most cases. You, therefore, have the ability to choose whether to be represented, and who should represent you. In some cases the decision to be represented is painfully obvious, such as when you’ve been seriously injured, the hospital or medical bills are mounting and you’re unable to work, and need to be sure that you recover the full value of your case. But in other situations, the decision is not so obvious, and there are cases in which you can adequately represent yourself.

For instance, where the accident only caused minor damage to the cars and the passengers were not physically injured or have recovered fully within just a few days, you may be able to settle your own case directly with the insurance company, assuming that you feel they are treating you fairly. But some cases which, at first, don’t appear too serious or complicated, can quickly get out-of-hand. Such as when the injuries don’t go away easily or actually get worse instead of better. You also may find the situation where the insurance companies are just giving you the run around.

Keep in mind that insurance adjusters are trained professionals whose job it is to settle claims while paying the least amount of money possible. You, on the other hand, are interested in having your claim settled within a reasonable amount of time, and being sure that you are fully and fairly compensated for your injuries.

As lawyers, we act both as advocates and negotiators on behalf of our clients. We handle personal injury claims on a daily basis, ranging from simple whiplash injuries to catastrophic injury and death claims. We handle claims from start to finish, including a professional evaluation of the claim, meeting the legal deadlines, all dealings with insurance adjusters and other lawyers, and taking care of a lot of the details which accompany any injury claim.

While some people are themselves skilled negotiators, and could handle their own case, they either are not comfortable with their knowledge of the court system, the legal deadlines, or would simply prefer to have their case handled professionally.

How much will the legal fees be to handle my case?

We believe that legal fees should not be a mystery, and that the fee must fairly represent the value of the work which is being done for our clients in the matters which are important to them.

There are two basic ways in which we get paid for legal services. The first is called the “hourly plan” in which the client pays for the amount of time our attorneys and legal assistants work on the client’s case. The hourly rate varies depending upon the nature of the case and who is doing the work. On the hourly plan, the client receives a detailed descriptive statement once a month outlining the work done, the amount of time spent, and the charge for that time. On the hourly plan the client will usually be asked for an initial retainer. The amount will vary depending upon the nature of the case.

The second method is known as the “contingent fee plan.” Under this plan the client pays a fee which is based upon the results obtained. The fee is a percentage of the total amount recovered for the client, whether by way of settlement or by obtaining a judgment after arbitration or trial of the case. If there is no recovery, for any reason, then the client owes us no attorneys’ fees. The exact percentage varies, depending upon the nature of the case.

Remember, on the contingent fee plan we are paid only if and when the client receives payment on the case. This means that if there is no recovery, for any reason, the client owes us no fee. Most of our personal injury clients choose the contingent fee plan.

In some cases we do incur out-of-pocket expenses for things such as court filing fees, witness fees, and deposition transcripts. By law, these costs are the client’s responsibility and may be paid at the time they are incurred or, in appropriate cases, taken out of the ultimate settlement.

We’re glad to discuss our fees openly at any time. In fact, our fees will be explained in writing and signed by both the client and the attorney when we decide to work together. Should you have questions at any time, we’re glad to answer them.

How Can I Choose The Right Lawyer?

In today’s world, the lawyer who is a general practitioner and will represent you in every situation is rapidly vanishing. Due to the increasing complexity of the law, most lawyers today focus their efforts upon a few selected areas of the law. The lawyer who handled your friend’s divorce will, in all likelihood, not even attempt to handle a serious personal injury claim.

So how do you choose the right lawyer? All lawyers in California must be licensed. You can verify the lawyer’s status by calling the State Bar Association. But that, unfortunately, doesn’t tell you a lot about the individual lawyer. There are a lot of lawyers who will handle personal injury cases. Some lawyers handle only simple accident cases and others will only handle your case if it looks like the case will settle easily, without going to trial.

At the Law Offices of John P. Burns, we handle a substantial number of accident and personal injury cases, and have been doing so for a number of years. Each client is treated with respect and as an individual. We prepare each case carefully for trial or arbitration. As a practical matter – and largely as a result of thorough preparation – most of our cases are settled before going to trial.

We believe that most people are genuinely interested in having their case resolved as soon as possible and for a fair value. For that reason, we invest substantial time and energy in preparing and negotiating the case. But, if we can’t reach a fair value, we are prepared to file a lawsuit and pursue the case through arbitration or trial.

Even beyond skills and abilities, you need a lawyer you feel comfortable with, can trust, and in which you have the most confidence. Please meet with attorney John P. Burns and find out if he is the right lawyer for you. The initial conversation is always free.

What About Products That Cause Injuries?

Just think of the myriad of products which you use every day which have the potential, if improperly designed or manufactured, to cause serious bodily harm. The tools and electrical appliances we use, the cars which we drive, and the food which we eat all have the potential to create serious injury. With product liability claims we are concerned with injuries which have occurred or are caused by products as opposed to injuries that are caused by other people.

When an injury has occurred by or through the use of a product, one of the most important steps is to preserve the product which caused the injury and the evidence which surrounds the way in which the injury was caused. For example: The ladder which gave way and caused the fall to occur must be preserved so that the specific product can be identified, and then analyzed by a trained professional to determine the cause of the failure. It may also be necessary to show that the product was not altered after the time it was manufactured. The product and the scene of the accident should be photographed as soon as possible after the accident, and it may, depending upon the case, be appropriate to take statements from certain witnesses.

Product liability cases generally fall into three categories. The first are products which are defectively designed. For example: The child’s toy soldier which, when its head is removed, exposes a sharp nail, becoming a dangerous weapon in the hands of a child. Another example might be a saw which is dangerous enough when used normally, but which could have been guarded to prevent the injury which occurred.

The second type of product liability claim arises from the defective manufacture of products. These are products which, through some flaw in the manufacturing process, are defective and thereby create injury. As an example, the jar of instant coffee, which during the manufacturing process created glass spikes inside the jar which were then swallowed by the purchaser. In these types of cases, preservation of the evidence becomes even more critical because we are often dealing with a product which is not like the products which the company normally manufactures.

The third category involves cases where the manufacturer had a duty to warn the consumer of a known hazard or necessary precaution, but failed to do so.

In most product liability cases, the manufacturer and other parties in the chain of distribution may be held responsible for the injuries suffered, including medical expenses, lost wages, permanent disability or disfigurement, pain, suffering, and emotional distress. If it can be established that the company knew of the defect in the product and had an ample opportunity to correct it but failed to do so, then the company may additionally be held responsible for punitive damages. These are damages which are designed to deter the company and others from knowingly making or selling products which are unreasonably dangerous to the consuming public.

Product liability claims are generally not easy to settle for a very simple reason. In most cases the company has its’ reputation at stake. The company will be concerned about establishing a pattern of paying damages for injuries which are caused by their products. For this reason you will find that companies take these claims seriously, investigate the cases thoroughly, and generally will not enter into a monetary settlement unless it has been demonstrated that the claim is valid, that the evidence has been properly preserved, and the case thoroughly prepared.

In any case involving a defective or dangerous product, we urge you to have the case reviewed and investigated as soon as possible by an attorney who is familiar with this area of the law.

What Is A Wrongful Death Claim?

The term “wrongful death” means a death which has occurred through the wrongful act or neglect of another. Legal liability for a wrongful death may arise from an intentional act, such as a shooting, or from a negligent act, such as an automobile accident. In any wrongful death claim there are two essential questions. Who is entitled to bring the action and what “damages” are they entitled to receive?

The first question, who is entitled to bring the action, is governed by state statute. The action is generally brought by or on behalf of the relatives of the deceased. These include the spouse, children and, in certain situations, other relatives and individuals.

The damages which are recoverable depend upon the closeness of the relationship and the amount of support which the deceased provided. Generally, damages can include awards for funeral expenses or the loss of financial aid expected in the future. These damages will then be apportioned by the court amongst the survivors who are entitled to recover under the statute.

In addition to the wrongful death claim, the decedent’s estate may, in certain cases, have a claim for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering up to the time of the person’s death. The person’s spouse may also have a separate claim for what is called the “loss of consortium.” That is, the loss of that person’s love, companionship and services.
The law in this area is fairly complex. Additionally, the amount of damages can be difficult to assess, because they depend upon such a variety of factors which are often hard to value.

This is also an area in which you need to be careful of the statute of limitations and other critical dates.

Are Aviation Injuries Different than Other Accidents?

An injury or death which occurs in relation to aviation calls for sound knowledge of aviation and the particular laws which apply. Important legal rights can be lost if these rules are not closely followed. For example, one of the shortest deadlines arises when someone is injured or dies due to the negligence of an air traffic controller. Since they are employees of the United States Government, the claim is made against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act and must be filed within 180 days from the date of injury. If this short claim filing deadline is missed, the right to recover may be lost forever. Claims against the pilot may have longer deadlines which vary depending upon the facts of the individual case.

After an aircraft injury occurs, a prompt investigation is critical to determine the cause, whether the accident was the fault of the air traffic controller, the pilot, the manufacturer, or was caused by improper maintenance. The right investigation and evaluation often leads to a prompt resolution of the claim. An aviation injury or death requires specialized knowledge. Make sure you have the right representation by an attorney who is truly qualified in aviation law.