WHAT TO EXPECT

Introduction

First and foremost, a personal injury claim is not always a quick and painless procedure, and any attorney who tells you otherwise is being less than truthful or will resolve your case quickly at your without considering the need to litigate your case. Your case may not be resolved quickly, may involve depositions, time consuming paperwork and occasionally even a trial. Although these burdens can and should be mitigated by your attorney, you must nonetheless be aware of the possibilities. It is our hope that we can assist you in seeking just compensation for your injuries in the most expedient and effective way possible. Even so, our highest priority is ensuring that you receive fair compensation, and we know that such a result often takes time and significant effort.

Dealing with medical providers and insurance companies

After you have been involved in any type of accident, you will immediately find yourself dealing with medical providers such as ambulances, hospitals, doctors, surgeons, etc. These people are there to help you, and they are on your side. You should, of course, always be honest with your medical providers. Be mindful, however, that opposing counsel or an opposing insurance company has the right to demand your medical records for any claim you file related to the treated body part(s). Specifically, you will be required to turn over all medical records related to the injury for which you seek compensation. If you injured your right leg, for example, you would eventually have to turn over all medical records (possibly even unrelated to the accident at issue) regarding to your right leg. To illustrate a potential problem related to your statements to your medical provider consider the following example: If your claim to the insurance company suggests that its insured’s negligence was responsible for your leg injury, but you told the doctor treating your injury that it was caused when you fell down your stairs (even if you were mistaken about the cause of the injury), you will be unlikely to prevail in any lawsuit against the aforementioned insured.

Simultaneous to dealing with medical providers, you will likely be dealing with insurance companies. If you were involved in an automobile accident, you will probably be attempting to get your insurance company or another driver’s insurance company to cover your initial medical expenses. As you are already well aware, these negotiations can be painful to say the least. If you were involved in a slip and fall or medical malpractice situation, you will probably be dealing with your own health insurance company. Although you may have given your medical providers your health or auto insurance information as “payment” for services rendered, it is ultimately your responsibility (not the insurance company’s) to ensure payment. As a result, many people’s first frustrating experience with an insurance company and medical provider occurs when the insurance company denies part or all coverage related to an accident, and the medical provider continues to demand payment. It is also possible that you do not have insurance coverage at all, but you were treated by a hospital as required by applicable medical service laws.

Fortunately, in most cases, an attorney can help here. Most medical providers understand the process of personal injury litigation and are willing to work with you under the watchful eye of your attorney. Medical providers know that the easiest way for them to get paid is to let your attorney collect on your behalf, and it doesn’t cost them anything to let your attorney do his job! They don’t have to hire an attorney to sue you, and they don’t have to worry about you filing bankruptcy which would likely prevent them from collecting at all. Therefore, in most cases, medical providers will agree to send your attorney a lien for services rendered. Upon your attorney confirming receipt of the lien, the medical provider will take no further action against you until your claim or lawsuit is resolved. Because the lien binds your attorney to pay the medical provider upon receipt of settlement, the provider is no longer concerned about being paid. Upon the conclusion of your case, your attorney is required to pay all medical providers who have provided valid liens prior to disbursing funds to you.

Along the same lines, medical providers charge different prices for different consumers. For example, medical providers charge a different price to your insurance company than they charge you directly. In many cases, the difference can be astounding (25-50%). This fact, combined with the fact that your attorney is essentially collecting from a third party on behalf of the medical provider, will oftentimes result in a medical provider being willing to reduce its lien against your claim. Although it is not always the case, many medical providers will reduce their lien by more than 10% in order to secure immediate payment upon the close of your personal injury case. This is a reduction that you would unlikely receive without the assistance of an attorney.

Obtaining and keeping track of medical records

Only you know which medical providers you have been seen by. Your attorney can help you determine which providers are relevant to your claim at hand, but it is ultimately your responsibility to keep track of which doctors or hospitals you have visited. It is extremely important to keep in mind that whenever you settle a claim (or receive a judgment) related to a specific accident, you will be forever barred from suing again for the same accident. This is true even if you accidentally left out certain damages. Therefore, it is imperative that you and your attorney ensure that all damages have been accounted for. At Hollingshead & Dudley, we have a knowledgeable staff, knowledgeable attorneys and a comprehensive interview process to help ensure that no damages are missed. Even so, unless you tell us, we have no way of knowing what treatment you have received and where you received it.

After you have hired our firm to represent you, we will provide you with an extensive questionnaire to fill out regarding your damages. It will ask for the names and addresses of your medical providers as well as information regarding lost wages and other types of damages. After you have returned your questionnaire, our staff will begin preparing to obtain medical records on your behalf. There are two ways we can obtain your medical records. The first is for you to provide the records directly to our office. If you have already obtained your records for another purpose, it will save time and money to provide our office with a copy. If additional records need to be obtained, we can obtain them directly from the medical provider(s). Keep in mind that nearly all medical providers charge to provide medical records, and it is usually by the page. It is imperative, however, that we receive your records. Therefore, it makes sense to avoid re-requesting records that you have already been provided. The second option is for you to sign a HIPAA form which allows us to retrieve medical records on your behalf.

If you are continuing treatment, it is important to keep our office updated with any additional treatment you have received, so we can ensure that we possess all of your up to date medical records. Although is generally not a good idea to settle a personal injury claim until your treatment has been completed, please be patient as you are receiving treatment. This is true, because it is much easier to provide the opposing attorney or insurance company with an actual medical bill than to guess regarding your future medical treatment needs. Your treatment is important to both your legal claim and your health!

How long will my case take?

This is not an easy question to answer, because it depends on a variety of factors often outside your or your attorney’s control. First and most obvious, the length of your case will depend on the complexity of your case. It almost always takes longer, for example, to resolve a complex medical malpractice case with numerous experts and disputed liability that it does to resolve an automobile accident where the opposing party is clearly at fault, and you were clearly injured. Second, the length of your case depends on the opposing party. Like anything in the world, we oftentimes find ourselves at the mercy of those around us. Some opposing parties want to settle quickly and be done with the matter. Others prefer to drag their feet and delay the inevitable for as long as possible. And still others want to have their day in court and try the case. The length of your case largely depends on the opposing parties willingness to negotiate in good faith.

Third, the length of your case depends on how backed up the court is. If you have filed a lawsuit, it takes time to prepare for trial and there will be delays, motions, hearings, depositions, etc. all along the way. If your attorney has advised you that a lawsuit is the best remedy or maybe you have no other option, because the other party refuses to negotiate in good faith, simply be patient. Your attorney has recommended this path, not because it is the easiest path, but because your attorney believes it to be the best path.

Fourth, you play a role in the length of your case. Whenever the “ball is in your court” so to speak, it is important to expediently to your part to help your attorney. Therefore, if your attorney is waiting on you to sign a document, fill out a form or provide information, the quicker you comply with the requests, the quicker your attorney can use the information to your advantage.

Finally, your attorney plays a role in the length of your case. As discussed above, for example, some attorneys are looking for a quick settlement and hope to avoid litigation at all costs. These attorneys will settle your case quickly, but oftentimes haphazardly. A trial firm, on the other hand, will carefully consider all available options in your case and will take more time to make informed and appropriate decisions. Unfortunately, it also sometimes happens that an attorney fails to do his job, and your case gets hung up or “falls through the cracks.” At our office, our staff and attorneys work hard to ensure that your case is given the attention it deserves, and we seek fervently to avoid being the delay in your case.

The short and fair answer to when your case will be finished is that it can take anywhere from a few months to several years to fully resolve your case. The largest factor is the complexity of the case followed by the willingness of the opposing party (or insurance company/attorney) to negotiate in good faith (oftentimes necessitating a lawsuit). In some simple cases with an abundantly fair opposing party, your case can be resolved quickly, but it is not the norm and should not be expected.

What is the process once I contact your office?

Once you contact our office either by phone, email or through a free online case evaluation, we will set up a time for a member of our staff to take down basic information about your case (i.e. your opposing party, when and where the accident happened, etc.) and schedule you a free appointment with one of our attorneys. Because we know how important your case is to you, our attorneys make it a priority to return calls as quickly as possible and schedule appointments at your convenience. If necessary, we will even make ourselves available for an appointment in the evening or on weekends.

If you and our firm believe a legal relationship is a good fit, we will send you several documents to complete at your convenience. The documents include a contingency fee agreement, a HIPAA release form and a questionnaire. It is important that you return the contingency fee agreement as soon as possible, because it allows us to begin working on your case. We also will need you to provide us with any correspondence between you and any insurance company or opposing party. Note that the way a personal injury claim works is that you do not pay any money upfront for the assistance of an attorney. The attorney collects a percentage (typically one third to forty percent) of any settlement or judgment. The contingency fee agreement outlines your and your attorney’s responsibilities and rights. A written agreement is also required by the Missouri Bar for all contingency fee cases.

Once we receive your signed contingency fee agreement along with any insurance correspondence, we will obtain the accident report (unless you already have it) and send a letter to the opposing insurance company notifying it that we represent you. From this point forward, all communication from the opposing insurance company, opposing party or opposing attorney will be sent to our office. Of course, we will forward you all correspondence sent or received on your behalf.

The insurance company will typically send us a letter within 30 days acknowledging receipt of our original letter. In the meantime, we will begin gathering medical records, interviewing witnesses, reviewing medical records, reviewing police reports, etc. At such time as you have completed treatment, and we have had a full opportunity to evaluate the merits and value of your case, we will draft a demand letter to the opposing insurance adjustor. The letter will outline the legal merits of your claim against its insured as well as document any and all damages you have suffered, and the letter will demand a sum of money on your behalf. This letter is important for a number of reasons. First, it provides the basis for negotiations with the insurance company. Second, a properly written demand letter sets you up to receive interest on your claim in the event the case eventually goes to trial, and you recover more than was originally demanded.

In order for the demand letter to preserve your rights to pre-judgment interest, the demand must be sent via certified mail; be written; be accompanied by an affidavit from you describing the nature of your claim, the nature of your injuries and a general computation of any damages; be accompanied by a list of the names and addresses of your medical providers who have provided treatment for the injury; include copies of all reasonably available medical bills; include a list of all employers for which you are claiming lost wages; and must include an authorization to allow the opposing party or insurance company to obtain additional relevant records related to your claim. Finally, the demand must remain open for at least 90 days. If all of these requirements are met, you will be entitled to interest from 90 days after the day your demand was received to the day a judgment is rendered in the event you receive a judgment higher than the original demand. Interest is calculated on the entire judgment not just the amount above the original settlement offer.

In complex cases, much more must be done than a well written demand letter. In such cases, your attorney will likely submit your demand in the form of a settlement brochure. A settlement brochure is a professional packet of information for the insurance company. A typical settlement brochure will include the demand letter, relevant cases or statutes, photographs, medical records, medical bills, letters from family members detailing your pain and suffering, a personal impact statement from you discussing your pain and limitations and any number of reports from experts discussing the merits of your case and damages. For example, if you will require medical treatment for the remainder of your life, you do not want to wait the rest of your life to obtain compensation. Therefore, you will need to obtain the services of a trained medical professional that can properly calculate your future medical needs. Another example is if you are no longer able to work because of your injury. You will need the assistance of an economist/financial expert to evaluate your future lost wages. All of these things will likely be included in your settlement brochure.

After the demand letter (or settlement brochure) is sent, the insurance company has 90 days to respond. The insurance company can 1) reject the demand entirely, 2) accept the demand entirely, or 3) make a counteroffer. It is extremely rare for an insurance company to outright accept the first demand, although in rare instances where a lot is at stake for the insurance company and damages are clear, it is possible. It is relatively rare for an insurance company to outright reject a demand, although this too is possible if the insurance company flatly denies coverage, liability or damages. More commonly, however, the insurance company will make some sort of counteroffer. Typically, the insurance company’s first counteroffer is patently unreasonable. Do not get angry or concerned. Remember, it is the insurance company’s job to protect the insurance company’s pocket book.

After your attorney receives and discusses with you the insurance company’s first counteroffer, your attorney will likely either send another letter to the insurance company (proposing your own counteroffer), or he will call up the insurance adjustor directly and speak with him or her about the case. These discusses can go on for some time until you (with your attorney’s guidance) determine that further negotiations are not worthwhile. In such a case, your attorney will likely file a lawsuit against the opposing party. If negotiations are successful, however, the insurance company will send your attorney a settlement

In the case where your attorney put together a settlement brochure, it will probably make sense for your attorney to set up a settlement conference with the insurance company. At the settlement conference, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance adjustor on your behalf. If an agreement is reached, paperwork will be sent to your attorney. If not, the case will proceed to the next phase, litigation. Keep in mind that just because your attorney files a lawsuit and vigorously litigates your case, does not mean your case will go to trial. According to most available numbers, over 95% of cases are settled prior to trial. This does not mean that you should take the first offer from the insurance company, because you will probably take an offer eventually anyway! It means that, with a formidable attorney, the insurance company may eventually decide that settling on your terms is more profitable than taking the case to a jury and losing.

What is litigation like?

After negotiations have broken down, your attorney will work with you to prepare a lawsuit against the opposing party. In most cases, the lawsuit is NOT against the opposing insurance company. The opposing insurance company’s purpose in the entire process is to indemnify your opposing party in the event he or she is found liable. Once the opposing party has been served with your lawsuit, he or she will have 30 days to file an answer. By this point, the insurance company will have hired an attorney to represent the opposing party. As an alternative to answering your lawsuit, your opponent may choose instead to challenge the validity of your lawsuit on a variety of fronts. Without going into much detail, these initial attacks are rarely successful, but they certainly can temporarily delay your lawsuit from proceeding.

After your opposing party has answered your lawsuit (almost always with a series of denials), the bulk of the work begins. At this point, both parties will begin serving each other with discovery requests. Missouri recognizes several types of discovery. First, you can send your opponent interrogatories. Interrogatories are questions that the other party is required to answer. They can be simple such as “Please state your full name” (important to ensure that the correct party has been sued) to complex such as “Please identify any and all legal claims you alleged to have against the Plaintiff.” The number of interrogatories that can be sent vary based upon the specific venue your lawsuit is filed (i.e. St. Louis County vs. Jasper County).

A second discovery tool available to you is requests for production of documents. Requests for production of documents require your opponent to send you certain items or permit you to inspect certain items. For example, you could ask your opponent to “Submit copies of any and all insurance declarations which could be liable to indemnify you in the event you are held liable to Plaintiff” or “Submit any and all witness statements.”

A third discovery option is request for admissions. Often overlooked, this discovery tool is extremely important. Request for admissions ask your opponent to admit or deny a series of questions. For example, you could ask your opponent to admit or deny “That you are the owner of Betty’s Quilts at XXXX3 First Street in St. Louis, Missouri” or “That in operating on Plaintiff’s arm on April 1, 2016, you were negligent.” You may be thinking, who in his right mind would admit negligence? First of all, it is not uncommon for a party to be forced into admitting important facts such as the first request above. You will oftentimes receive admissions on property ownership, whether a party was aware of a property defect, etc. Assuming a party answers the questions, you will almost never receive an admission to a question like the second one posed above regarding liability. Every once in a rare while, though, a party may admit liability. Such an admission may occur because your opponent admits liability but denies that you were injured. Nonetheless, it is good to have the issue out of they way and admitted as you head into trial. However, occasionally your opponent will either neglect to answer or simply ignore your request for admissions. In Missouri, a party only has 30 days to respond to request for admissions. Failure to respond within 30 days will deem each request to be an admission. Therefore, in the example above, if a party failed to respond within 30 days, the party would have just admitted liability! These tools aren’t meant to be a tricky end to your case. They are genuinely designed to obtain valuable information from your opponent.

The fourth major form of discover (there are other less frequently used forms of discovery) are depositions. Depositions are usually the most dreaded part of trial preparation for a party. It means you will be subjected to questioning by your opponent’s attorney. Depositions are extremely important, however, because they are the only setting where your attorney is able to carry on a dialogue with a potential witness prior to trial. All other forms of discovery (interrogatories, request for production of documents and request for admissions) are one sided. That is, one party sends the discovery to the other side, the other side answers the discovery and sends their own discovery requests back. Although it is possible to send multiple interrogatory requests, it is not real time, and it is burdensome. Whenever you are set to have your deposition taken, your attorney will spend considerable time with you preparing you for the deposition. That does not, of course, mean your attorney will tell you what to say! Instead, your attorney will help you anticipate questions that you should be prepared to answer and help you to ensure that you are communicating the correct facts in a truthful, yet persuasive manner.

When your attorney takes an opposing witness’ deposition, your attorney is seeking to gain information and pin the witness down. You have probably heard it said that “[a]n attorney should never ask a question at trial that he doesn’t already know the answer to.” This is precisely why depositions are so important. Presumably, your attorney will already have asked the same question in a deposition and already know the witness’ answer. What happens, you say, if the witness changes his story at trial? The answer is that your attorney will be able to impeach him with his prior testimony from his deposition. Nothing upsets a jury more than an apparently untruthful witness. Keep this in mind when you are testifying in front of the jury. It is important to keep your story consistent. Even minor, apparently irrelevant, accidental deviations can create significant firepower for opposing counsel.

While discovery is taking place, both parties may be busy filing a series of motions and requesting hearings on a variety of matters. For example, your opponent may not wish to provide certain information to you, or you may not wish to provide certain information to your opponent. In such an instance, the judge will ultimately have to decide whether the information must be turned over, and your attorney will hold a hearing to make that determination. Normally, you will not need to be present at such a hearing, because it will mostly amount to a debate about the law. If you wish to be present, though, you are always welcome to attend.

After all discovery has been completed, the defense will generally file a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment asks the court to get rid of your case prior to a jury trial, because there are no disputed facts, and your opponent is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. What this essentially means is that your opponent is claiming that there is no disagreement as to what happened and, based upon what has been agreed to, you have no case. Overall, if the case has been carefully prepped for trial, few summary judgments will be successful. Good defense attorneys, however, almost always file one. After the summary judgment has been filed, your attorney will respond to the motion for summary judgment and a hearing will be held in front of your trial judge. The judge may take some time to rule on the motion. If he rules in your favor, the case proceeds to trial.

In the days leading up to trial, both parties will file a series of pre-trial motions. These motions, called motions in limine (pronounced “lemon ee”), ask the trial judge to prevent the opposing party from introducing certain evidence at trial. Usually, the judge will take up pre-trial motions at a pre-trial conference. The pre-trial conference involves your attorney, the opposing attorney and the judge, and it is designed to give the parties 1) a last ditch opportunity to settle and 2) an opportunity for the judge to take up motions in limine. Assuming no settlement is reached at the pre-trial conference, the case proceeds to trial.

At a jury trial (which nearly every personal case is), the first thing that happens is jury selection (voir dire). Jury selection involves taking a large pool of citizens from the community and attempting to narrow down the pool to 12 jurors that can be fair and impartial. At this stage, the citizens are not yet a “jury.” Instead, they are called the “venire,” and they are numbered one through however many venire members are present (oftentimes as many as 40 or 50). Obviously, both parties are attempting to get the best possible jurors for their case. However, what both parties ultimately hope happens is that the selected jury is fair.

After extensive questioning by both attorneys, the judge will ask the attorneys to request certain jurors be struck for cause. What this means is that, outside the presence of the future jury, both attorneys attempt to convince the judge to eliminate apparently adverse venire members on the basis that they cannot be “fair and impartial.” It successful, the judge will strike the venire member from the panel. Attorneys are allowed an unlimited number of “for cause” challenges. After the “for cause” strikes, attorneys are allowed a certain number of “peremptory challenges.” A peremptory challenge is a challenge for any reason whatsoever (except certain discrimination). Each party is entitled to three peremptory challenges. After all challenges have been heard, the jury is impaneled. The final jury will be the first 12 numbers (plus an alternate or two) that have not been struck. For example, if a venire consisted of 50 people, and numbers 1-10 had been struck for any reason, the final impaneled jury would be venire members 11-22 plus possible 23 and 24 (as alternates). Strategically, attorneys rarely strike a venire member with a high number (such as 50), because the odds are against that member ever being selected, under any set of circumstances.

Once the jury has been impaneled, the most recognized and highly touted portion of the litigation process begins. You plaintiff’s attorney will begin the process by delivering an opening statement to the jury. The opening statement will set forth the nature of your case, and the witnesses you expect to call to corroborate your story. The opening statement may also discuss the opposing witnesses. An opening statement is NOT an argument. It is your attorney’s first opportunity to speak directly to the jury regarding the merits of your case. After your attorney’s opening statement, the defendant’s attorney will deliver an opening statement. After opening statements, your attorney will put on your “case in chief.” Your “case in chief” is the bulk of your evidence. You will likely testify as will any other witnesses that are beneficial to your case (i.e. doctors, police officers, eye witnesses, etc.). After each witness testifies, the defendant’s attorney will be given an opportunity to cross examine each witness. After cross examination, your attorney will get an opportunity to ask any follow up questions that may have arisen as a result of the cross examination and so on until the witness is excused.

After your entire case has been presented, the defendant’s attorney will present her case. The same process occurs for the defendant’s case as occurred for your case. At the conclusion of the defendant’s case, you will be given an opportunity to present any “rebuttal witnesses.” A “rebuttal witness” is a witness whose primary testimony is rebutting the testimony of a defense witness. You CANNOT simply wait until the defense has presented its case to present all of your witnesses as “rebuttal witnesses”! Although it would be nice to see your opponent’s defense before presenting your case, rebuttal witnesses are only allowed to respond to defense witnesses’ testimony. More importantly, if you failed to put on any witnesses during your case in chief, you would lose the trial for failing to meet your burden of proof, and you would never get to a rebuttal!

After all rebuttal witnesses have testified, your attorney will deliver a closing argument. This is the opportunity for your attorney to really sell your case. The same is true for the defendant’s attorney. After your attorney delivers a closing argument, the defendant’s attorney will deliver a closing argument as well. Since you have the burden of proof, your attorney will get an opportunity to rebut the closing argument of the defendant’s attorney. The length of a closing argument depends on the judge and the complexity of the case. The same can be said for the length of the trial. In certain automobile accident cases, the trial could take less than a day and only involve a few witnesses. In a complex medical malpractice case, the trial could take weeks and involve dozens of witnesses.

After closing arguments, the case is submitted to the jury to decide the winner. In Missouri, 9 out of 12 jurors must agree for a verdict to be rendered. In the event that a jury cannot reach a verdict, the jury is declared “hung,” and the trial must be re-done. As a final note, the standard of proof in a civil case is beyond a preponderance of the evidence. Simply put, you must show more likely than not that the defendant is liable. If all goes according to plan, the jury will return a verdict in your favor!

What is I didn’t have automobile insurance?

Missouri recently passed a law restricting an un-insured driver’s ability to recover certain types of damages in automobile accidents, regardless of who was at fault. If you didn’t have automobile insurance, you are limited to recovering your medical bills. You are not entitled to recover for your pain and suffering. Thus, if you are reading this and haven’t been in an automobile accident, get insurance now! Not only does driving uninsured hurt a potential personal injury case, it is also illegal. If you are in an accident and don’t have insurance, you will likely receive a ticket for driving without insurance. Worse yet, if you are at fault, you could lose your drivers’ license until you pay for the other driver’s damages which could be extensive.

I do have insurance, but is there anything I need to know about my insurance policy?

Yes! Your attorney will ask you for a copy of your insurance declarations page. You can obtain that by contacting your insurance agent. Your insurance policy could have a wide range of provisions that allow you to collect additional compensation for your injuries. For example, you may have what is known as a “med pay” provision. Med pay allows you to collect up to the amount stated in the policy for your medical bills. The best news is that you can collect that in addition to anything you may receive from the other driver. Typical med pay policies allow for the collection of up to $500 or $1,000. However, in some cases, drivers have med pay as high as $5,000 or $10,000.

Your policy also might have underinsured coverage. In the event the other driver is only carrying Missouri state minimum insurance coverage, you would only be entitled to collect a maximum of $25,000 from the other driver’s insurance policy. Likewise, you could only receive $10,000 for damage caused to your car. These state minimums were set decades ago and have not been adjusted for the increased cost of health care or the increased price of modern cars. In such a case, having underinsured coverage can be a life saver. Take, for example, a situation where you were hit by a driver with state minimum coverage. Your car was totaled and is worth $30,000. You rack up $50,000 in medical bills. Without underinsured coverage, you may only receive $25,000 for your injuries and $10,000 for your car. Assuming the other driver lacks the personal assets to cover the difference, you would not be fully compensated for your injuries. Assume, however, that you had a $100,000 underinsured driver’s policy with your insurance company. In that event, you would be able to collect the $25,000 for your injuries and $10,000 for your car from the other driver’s insurance company. Your underinsured coverage would cover the rest. As you can imagine, these policies can be very complicated. Thus, it is in your best interest to contact our office immediately, and let handle the details.

How much is my case worth?

This is the most commonly asked question, yet the most difficult to answer. The short answer is that is largely depends on the size of your medical bills. However, because you can recover for pain and suffering (i.e. the pain and inconvenience caused by your injuries), in many cases, your recovery could be much larger. In most cases, your attorney will not be able to tell you how much your case is worth until after you have completed treatment and your attorney has received all of your medical bills.

It is also important to understand how medical bills are calculated in Missouri. Prior to August 28, 2005, you could collect from your own insurance company and a negligent third party. This was known as the “collateral source rule.” After August 25, 2005, although you are still able to collect from your insurance company and a negligent third party, a major change went into effect. Under the new law, the amount paid by your insurance company is presumed to be the correct total damages for those particular bills. Remember above when we told you that medical providers charge a much lower price to insurance companies than to private individuals? For example, for a procedure that a hospital may charge you $5,000 to perform, it may only charge an insurance company $3,500 for the same procedure. Under the new law, it is presumed that your damages related to that particular bill are $3,500 instead of $5,000. You can certainly see the impact that this could have on your total claim, especially if all of your bills were paid by your private insurance company. This presumption is rebuttable, however by showing that the amount paid by the insurance company is not actually the value of the medical treatment rendered.

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