Interviewer: What misconceptions do you see people have about auto accidents that they tell you when they first see you?
Guy S. DiMartino: The client's misconceptions are usually two-fold. They think because they're in an accident that they're entitled to a whole boatload of money. In certain areas of the country, it's even more prevalent because there are these billboard lawyers out there with the billboards that have pictures of people saying, “Thank you so and so, you got me a million dollars”. I am here to tell you that an insurance company does not give you million dollars unless you've lost a leg, unless you have some significant injury. It just does not work that way. So, the misconception that clients have regarding money, is that what drives the value of a case is the facts of the accident. For instance, if the other side was drinking, that'll add value to the case because that's something that will piss a jury off but in a typical car accident case the facts of the case are usually not so glamorous to inflame or piss off a jury.
The Law Only Allows Compensation For Actual Physical Damages Sustained by a Claimant
Where clients get tripped up, and it's believable because this is personal to them, is that they get tripped up and they'll come in and say, “You know something, the guy almost killed me. They need to pay for that. If it was a split second later, the accident would have happened right on my door. Based on the speed of the accident, I would have gotten killed, and I want to be compensated for that”. The law doesn't allow for compensation for “almost”. It's not like horseshoes or hand grenades. The law only allows compensation for the actual damages. So, the person could have been a jerk, weaving in and out of traffic, going 110 miles an hour. You could have been killed but you know good for the client, you weren't killed, otherwise I would be talking to your spouse. So, that's something that clients really have a difficult time understanding that just because the facts might be bad, if there's no injury that's long-lasting, it's the injury, not the facts of the accident, that drives the value of these cases.
Claimants are Compensated in Accordance with the Severity of Injuries Sustained
Interviewer: In the end, do people usually get a windfall from a case or they just nearly break even and pay their medical bills?
Guy S. DiMartino: That's a loaded question because that depends on the case. There are no windfalls. This whole thing that has been propagated out there that juries are runaway juries. In my experience, a jury awards an amount of money like they did in the McDonalds case, when something triggers them to really piss them off and there were enough things in the McDonalds case to really piss them off. Collectively, jurors are smart and no matter how many times I've walked away sometimes aggravated with the verdict that a jury has come in with; a month or two months later when I sit down and really think about it, a lot of times they're right on. There are no windfalls, there's no free ride in car accident cases or any other type of personal injury case. It just doesn't work that way in 2014. I can't talk about 1972 but I can talk about what's happening in 2014.
Claimants Generally Have a Lot of Misconceptions Regarding the Timing of the Claims Process
Interviewer: Any other misconceptions people have about the process, the claim's process or what they're going to have to do or what will happen?
Guy S. DiMartino: Timing. Clients have a lot of misconceptions regarding the timing or what's going to happen with their case. Because an injury case is actually based on the person's injuries, most of the time the actual case cannot be resolved until the client is done treating or is at a point where they've reached what we call maximum medical improvement or medical quiescence or a Plateau. As the client's lawyer, if there's enough insurance out there, I can't prematurely go ahead and settle my client's case or I can't recommend that they go ahead and settle their case if there still might be some additional treatment. Once a client signs on the dotted line or the release, the claim is over. You can't go back 6 months later and say, “I want to reopen my claim”.
People Mistakenly Believe that Personal Injury Cases are Insurance Determinative
Another misconception that we see regarding personal injury cases is that they're really insurance determinative. Most people, on the roads nowadays, are what we call underinsured. They do not have enough insurance with the cost of medical expenses to actually cover the injured person's medical expenses and give them something for pain and suffering also. So, you see, you're in New York and New York has high PIP limits but there's no PIP, it's not a No Fault state in Indiana. Also, Indiana has a strong hospital lien statute that gives hospitals Super Priority of payment. When you to a hospital after an accident, you spend 4 dollars for each Tylenol pill, and if you're injured in an accident, the hospital is going to be paid the four bucks of the Tylenol. So, for instance, if you go to a hospital and they do an MRI of your neck, the bill just for the MRI is going to be $3,500. The client or the insurance company is going to have to pay that whole $3,500 because the hospital has this law on its side so the hospital doesn't have to negotiate the bill.
It is Imperative to have Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage to Protect Oneself
With the small amounts of insurance available with drivers being uninsured or underinsured, many times, I spend all my time negotiating my client's medical and hospital bills just trying to get some money into my client's hand. Car accident victims get very aggravated by the small amount of insurance available, but a client has to understand that the personal injury lawyer has to protect them from bill collectors. We also have to understand that we, as drivers on Indiana's roads, have a duty to protect ourselves. So, if you're reading this, you need to go out and purchase enough uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to protect yourself if you're injured in a car accident. Remember, the odds are that if you stop at a light and you look to your left or you look to your right, those people are not going to have enough insurance to compensate you if you're injured in an accident and it was their fault.