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2131 The Alameda, Suite C-2
San Jose, CA 95126
Phone: (408)293-5050
Fax: (408)293-5056

info@zazuetalaw.com
 
     

Frequently Asked Questions

Costs/Consultations

    I'm not sure I can afford a lawyer. Can you help me?

    We offer free consultations on personal injury cases. Come in and see us, and we'll discuss your individual situation. Call first so we can suggest the documents and information you will need to bring so we can more readily answer your questions. We charge fees only if we win your case and only out of the amounts recovered from the defendant.

Personal Injury

    If I was injured in an accident, how do I legally prove how it happened?

    You need witnesses, facts, photographs and, if you were the driver involved, you must have insurance on your vehicle. Try to get a police officer or some authority to prepare a report of the incident. We can tell you how to do this. Initial negotiations with an insurance company take place in letters and on the phone with an insurance adjuster, not in a courtroom. You need a believable argument as to how the accident happened -- in plain language -- to show that the other person (or company) was careless, even if the other side has plausible arguments against you. If you make a good argument why the other person was at fault, the adjuster may conclude there is a good possibility its insured person might be found legally responsible. Some adjusters will try to settle with you before you call a lawyer. Just remember, they are not in business to help you get the maximum compensation for your case. We are.

    Can I get compensation if an accident might have been partly my fault?

    Even if you might have been contributorily negligent and partly caused an accident yourself, you can still receive compensation from anyone else who was careless and partly caused the accident, if the other person has insurance. The degree of another person's responsibility is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own. For example, if you were 25% at fault and the other person was 75% at fault, the other person must pay -- through the insurance company -- 75% of the fair compensation for your injuries. This rule is called "comparative negligence." The question of whether your carelessness actually contributed to the accident is a point we can help negotiate with the adjuster. There is no formula for assigning a particular percentage. During settlement negotiations, we might suggest one percentage number; the adjuster will come up with another, explaining why you bear greater responsibility for the accident. It takes experience and familiarity with the process to deal effectively with seasoned adjusters.

    What if my physical limitations made the accident more likely or made my injuries worse?

    All people, regardless of physical ability or disability, have a legal right to go about their business and activities without having some negligent person create an unnecessary danger which results in your injury. Owners and occupants of property must permit no unnecessary danger which causes injury to any person who might reasonably be expected to be on the property. The same goes for drivers and everyone else -- whoever creates an unnecessary danger to anyone and that danger causes you injury, you are entitled to be compensated, if that person has insurance. We can help find out the answer to that question.

    How do insurance companies decide how much they'll pay to compensate someone for an injury?

    Insurance companies and their lawyers require certain specific documentation and information to calculate a range of compensation for an injury. The final payment figure, though, is the result of negotiations with the injured person and his/her attorney.
    The formula is no secret. In general, an injured person will be reimbursed for:

      • Medical care - reasonably necessary, reasonable in cost and incurred reasonably close in time to the date of the accident
      • Lost income, pain and other mental and physical discomfort or suffering cause by your injuries
      • Loss of family, social and educational experiences.
      • Property damage - up to a certain determinable value

    A claims adjuster begins with the medical expenses, out-of-pocket costs and property damage. Then the intangibles -- pain and other non-economic losses -- are added in. Finally, lost income is added to that amount. Several factors raise the damages and value of your case: more painful, serious or long-lasting injuries; more invasive or long-lasting medical treatment; clear medical evidence of the nature and extent of injuries; and obvious evidence of the other person's fault. The more serious the injuries, the more you should receive, The less serious, the less money you will get. We can help you understand the range of compensation for your injuries, and will handle negotiating a final settlement, with your involvement and participation throughout the case.

    Will my health insurance coverage or paid sick leave from work limit my compensation for an accident?

    Whether you paid for medical care out of your own pocket or your health insurance covered it is irrelevant to the other side's responsibility and is really none of a claims adjuster's business. The same goes for whether your lost time at work was covered by sick leave or vacation pay. In fact, it is improper for an adjuster even to ask about such payments. None the less, many adjusters will try to get this information from you. Don't let them. The insurance company of the person who caused the accident has to pay you. If your own health insurance made payments, it may require reimbursement out of your settlement for some or all of the amounts it has paid to treat your injuries. We can help you understand your insurance contract's reimbursement rights provisions.

    I have just been in an automobile accident, what is the first thing I should do?

    Get as much information about the accident as soon as possible: photographs of the damages to the cars involved and of any injuries; statements and contact information of any witnesses. Do not rely on police or your insurance agent to get you these. If you are injured in an accident, it is important to seek treatment immediately. Sometimes serious injuries do not cause immediate pain. If you experience even minor pain after an accident, seek treatment immediately so it can be documented. Stoic people who have a high tolerance for and pain and do not seek treatment will not get paid as well as others who document every doctor's visit. Remember to obtain the name, address, license number, and insurance information from the other driver(s) involved, even if the police are getting that for an accident report. Also, it is usually advisable to have a police report. You must get a copy to make certain it is accurate and contains information you think is important. Also, to make certain nothing is included which you believe is incorrect.

    Should I tell my version of what happened to anyone or should I "remain silent?"

    Obviously, you must answer questions asked by an investigating police officer. What you say to an officer is usually summarized, sometimes inaccurately. If the accident is serious, or if you are partially or totally at fault in the accident, you should contact us as soon as possible and certainly prior to speaking to anyone else, if practical. We can review the facts with you to ensure your statement is clear and factually correct. If necessary, we can help you fill out any required DMV reports and insurance claim forms. Remember, the other side's insurance carrier can and will use what you say in your statement to defeat or cast doubt on your claim. We advise our clients never to give a statement other than by deposition.

    If I have been injured, who will pay my medical bills?

    California requires drivers to carry automobile liability insurance. If you have medical payment provisions in your own policy, your insurance company should pay your medical bills up to the limit of your protection, regardless of who is at fault. But they sometimes pay only what they think is "reasonable and necessary". Ask us. If you have health insurance, you may also have coverage under your that policy. Most health care providers have different billing procedures depending on whether your treatment is being covered by your auto or health insurer.

    Who will pay for the damage to my car?

    If you have purchased collision insurance, your insurance company will pay to have your car fixed or will pay you the estimated value of the vehicle if it is declared a "total loss". A "total loss" only means the repairs cost more than the car is worth. Try to get a written estimate of the repair costs anyway. Most repair shops will do that at no cost. If you are not at fault in the accident, your insurance company will seek to be reimbursed by the insurer of the driver at fault. If you do not have your own collision insurance, and you are not at fault, the insurer of the driver at fault should pay for your property damage. But don't be surprised if they delay and don't answer your phone calls.

    Can I get money for my lost wages and pain and suffering?

    Most insurers will usually pay your lost wages upon proper proof of the loss and liability. Your employer should be asked to indicate your wage rate and time taken away from work because of your injuries. This is true even if your employer does not deduct from your pay the time lost from work because of your injuries. The other negligent party is not entitled to be benefited by such arrangements.

    If I decide to sue, will I have to go to court?

    The vast majority of car accident cases settle out of court. In many cases, it is clear who was at fault in the accident. Upon proper proof of damages and medical documentation, insurance companies may settle the claim without the need for filing a lawsuit or having a case go to trial. However, in some cases, the insurance company may deny liability on a claim and a lawsuit will be necessary. Also, some carriers make pursuing a claim so difficult and stressful that people give up and do not contact a lawyer. In California there are 6-month limits to sue a governmental agency and 12 months if you are an adult suing a non-government agency. We can go over the facts to help answer this question. If you wait too long, you may wind up not being able to file a lawsuit at all.

    What happens in a lawsuit?

    A lawsuit begins by filing a complaint in the proper court. Unless yours is a very small case, with little damages and minor injuries, you should at least consult us. It costs you nothing. The person filing the complaint is called the plaintiff and person against whom the complaint is filed is called the defendant. The defendant must file an answer addressing the allegations contained in the complaint and must raise any defenses the defendant may have. The defendant's insurance company will hire an attorney to represent the defendant (and the insurance company) and will pay any provable or awarded damages, up to the policy limits, that the plaintiff is awarded in the lawsuit.

    What happens next after a complaint is filed?

    The defendant may submit written questions called interrogatories to you to be answered under oath and may ask you to provide documents which support your claim. We will assist you in the preparation of these materials. You may also be called for a deposition, where the defendant's attorney will ask you a series of questions in the presence of a stenographer, who writes all of the proceeding into a booklet or transcript. Again, we will help you prepare for the deposition and will attend the deposition with you. During the deposition, we will object to any improper questions asked of you and may ask questions ourselves to clarify anything you said that may be unclear. We will also submit questions, request documents, and conduct the deposition of the defendant. As a party, you are entitled to be present during the defendant's deposition. Witnesses to the accident may also be called in for depositions, but this is not usually done in smaller cases. Usually, the case will have to go through some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, such as mediation or arbitration. We can explain these to you. Most cases resolve by this point. If not, the case will be set for trial.

    What happens at trial?

    If the case goes to trial, the plaintiff testifies first and we will present your witnesses, documents and any other evidence which helps prove your case. The attorney for the defendant then presents his or her witnesses, documents and any other evidence in defense. The case may be heard by a judge only, or by a judge and jury to decide who has won the dispute. If the plaintiff wins, the judge or, if it's a jury case, the jury decides how much money the plaintiff should receive. Sometimes, especially in larger cases, the losing side may file an appeal of that decision. Some appeals can even go to the California Supreme Court if they present a unique point of law that requires review. That is relatively rare but it does happen.

    If I receive other benefits, such as payments by my health insurance as a result of the accident, will I have to repay those benefits from my settlement?

    Yes, if your health insurer has filed a lien on your case or if a government agency has passed any of your bills. If so, you will be required to pay these liens from your settlement. We can help negotiate these liens to help you optimize the amount you receive for your case after all is said and done. Remember, we do not charge for consultation and we can help you handle these issues at a time when you most need us.

 

  
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