While driving, you've been hit by another vehicle, and you're now hurt.  While walking around the grocery store, your legs slip on something wet, and you fall on the hard surface breaking your arm.  The examples abound with the ways people are hurt by the negligence of others in the daily course of life.  You may have heard the term "personal injury," and had a vague understanding of what it meant in a legal context.  In this article, you should have a better understanding of the nuances of Personal Injury Claims in South Carolina.

        First, certain lawyers, like myself, call themselves "personal injury" attorneys or lawyers.  This means they specialize in bringing personal injury claims on behalf of clients.  It's important to understand that in situations like a car wreck or motorcycle wreck, the personal injury lawyer will normally bring the personal injury claim on behalf of the client.  The property damage involved with the incident is distinct from the personal injury claim, both with the attorneys involved and insurance companies providing coverage.  Normally, clients deal with the insurance companies directly for resolution of the property damage claim(s).  This is normally relatively simple and involves a set amount of money for repair of reimbursement for the total loss.  The monetary limits for the property damages do no effect the limits to cover personal injury.  

        Lawyers may assist with property damage issues.  Just understand that reason lawyers do not normally handle property damage is that they would have to change an hourly to be compensated.  In bringing personal injury cases, lawyers will normally take the case on contingency:  The client does not pay the lawyer for work done, though the lawyer will take one-third of the money coming from the settlement or jury verdict (With some lawyer and some cases, the contingency will be 40%.  This relationship in personal injury is helpful to clients who do not have the substantial personal resources to pay a lawyer an hourly fee.  Additionally, this ties the lawyer directly to the success of the case.

       Many personal injury claims in South Carolina are resolved between lawyers and insurance companies prior to having to file suit.  The lawyer's primary job during the pre-litigation phase of the claim is to gather the necessary information for the insurance company to settle the claim:  Police report(s), hospital bills, medical notes, witnesses statements, etc.  It's important for clients to work with lawyers in gathering this information as quickly as possible.  That helps toward a much speedier settlement.  When the lawyer gathers the information for the insurance company, he will then put together a demand packet and letter demanding the highest amount possible based on the nature of the injuries and medical bills.  In many cases, the lawyer will just demand the policy limits of the available policy.  For example, if the medical bills are $8K, and the policy limit is $25K, the lawyer will likely demand the full $25K and then negotiate if necessary.  If the policy limits won't reasonably cover the medical damages, the lawyer will be looking for additional available insurance policies.  For example, most people have underinsured coverage available if damages exceed liability limits.

      If the parties are not able to settle, the lawyer's next step is to file suit.  This will only happen if the client does not want to settle for what's been offered.  The issue might be the insurance company questioning the liability.  It could also be the insurance company disagreeing with the level of damages.  Outside of broken bones or other serious injuries, a normal settlement might be 2-3 times the total medical bills.  That is to cover the associated pain and suffering and other such damages.  It's important to note that cases are evaluated by actual medical bills, and not what was paid by medical insurance or the co-pays by those injured.  Therefore, even after the attorney collects his 1/3 contingency, the client walks away with a substantial portion of the settlement.  In some cases, medical insurance companies (particularly Medicaid or Medicare) will have a lien on the settlement or jury verdict.  However, this will normally be a relatively insignificant amount of the proceeds.

       Remember to seek a personal injury attorney known for diligence and client communication.  You should be speaking with the attorney and receiving updates, and the attorney should be attempting to resolve the matter quickly.  

The Bill Connor Law Firm handles personal injury claims in South Carolina.