Personal Injury in California: Basic Concepts

By: LawInfo

Under California law, can I include medical bills in my injury claim?

Yes. Your medical bills are a significant factor when assessing how much you are awarded if your claim is successful. Your medical bills are a reflection of your “pain and suffering” which is directly related to how much compensation you should be owed. (Please refer to “How can I determine how much my personal injury claim is worth in California? for details regarding what your case may be worth) After you have been injured and are considering bringing forth a claim it is important that you keep record of all medical bills you have paid or that you owe in order to be justly compensated.

What is the collateral source rule and how does it affect my personal injury case in California?

California is a state that abides by the collateral source rule, although not all states adopt the rule. The collateral source rule in California states that when you are injured and bringing forth a personal injury claim, a defense attorney opposing your case cannot bring forth evidence of payments by your insurance company or personal health plan (collateral source) for your medical bills or expenses, in order to alter or lessen the amount you may be awarded. If the jury was only allowed to see what bills have not been paid this could significantly lower the amount you could be awarded, as opposed to the entire amount. Therefore, California does not allow such evidence to be presented in order for the plaintiff to receive what may be owed and has already been paid by a collateral source.

What to expect in a personal injury trial in California.

In California, as in most states, there are phases to filing a suit and the trial process. Once you have decided to hire an attorney to assist you in your claim, an Information Gathering phase will begin. Attorneys and experts with investigate the facts and intricacies of your injury, the circumstances, take witness statements, etc. Your attorney will usually send forms to relevant people involved in order to gather information surrounding the claim.

The Negotiation phase usually is the next stage of the process in a personal injury claim. Personal Injury matters rarely reach the stage of trial and most are settled in the earlier stages. This usually occurs when the client has reached maximum medical health or treatments are concluded. Your attorney will use the information gathered to present an offer package to the insurance agency, and their responses will be communicated to the client through the attorney. Attorneys will advise you of their opinions regarding acceptance, counter-offers or rejections, but the decision is ultimately the client’s. Negotiations conclude when the matter is settled or a verdict is reached.

Some personal injury matters may come to litigation, which begins when the client is not satisfied with the settlement they are offered. Litigation may be handled either in court or through arbitration. Arbitration is a form of litigation that is handled in front of a neutral court appointed third party.

How do I choose an injury lawyer in California?

Usually the more serious your injury is, the more important it is to retain an attorney to assist you in your personal injury claim. Smaller injuries can sometimes be handled independently without obtaining counsel, but more serious injuries usually result in better outcomes when an attorney is hired to support you. Many attorneys offer free consultation in order to better assess the complexity of your case, and will help you determine the necessity of hiring an attorney for your matter.

The attorney you choose to handle your claim can vastly affect the outcome and the amount of compensation you may be able to be awarded. Although most attorneys charge a flat fee, not all are as experienced in certain areas as others and therefore may not be able to win you a verdict another may be able to obtain. Ask attorneys questions regarding their background regarding matters similar to yours and research their settlement testimonials in order to get an idea if they are right for your case.

It is also important to hire an entire an attorney who is an expert in the area of injury you have suffered. Whether it is an automobile accident, a products liability or defect case, or a slip and fall, there are attorneys who handle your case specifically and it is important to find one who is an expert in your matter’s area. Please refer to our Prequalified Attorney search in order to find a credible attorney in your area.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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