Over the years, I’ve found that many clients and potential clients have similar questions. The following should get the conversation started. Feel free to call me if you have questions.

Catastrophic Injury and Wrongful Death Cases

How much is the attorney’s fee?
If I accept your case, then we will enter a written fee agreement. You will have the choice between a contingency fee and an hourly fee. The vast majority of clients choose a contingency fee agreement. A contingency fee means that I will not earn any fee unless you receive a recovery. In other words, my fee is contingent on your recovering money for your loss. The contingency fee system is important to our justice system because it gives people access to justice who cannot afford to pay an attorney by the hour.

How much extra does it cost if you bring in attorney experts from around the country?
There is no extra fee to client when I bring in attorneys from Oregon, California, or any other state to assist with your case. The fee stays the same as we originally agreed. The attorneys will split the single fee according to their agreement, client consent, and the rules of professional responsibility.

What’s the difference between “fees” and “costs”?
An attorney’s fee is the amount of money earned by the attorney for providing legal services to a client. Costs are the money it takes to pursue a claim, including but not limited to, accident scene investigators, expert reports, medical records charges, etc. The amount of costs can vary widely in a case but there are some reasonable predictions that can be made depending on the facts and law in a particular case.

Who pays the costs of pursuing a claim?
Under Oregon law, the client is ultimately responsible for all costs incurred in pursuing a claim. While costs are allowed to be “advanced” in certain cases, my practice is to sit down and talk to each client about a strategy for paying costs that meets the client’s needs and all standards of professional ethics.

Do the costs and liens come out of the client’s recovery or the attorney’s fee?
Under Oregon law, the client is responsible for costs of pursuing a case. This is because the attorney’s contingency fee is for the legal services rendered on the case – that amount doesn’t change just as it doesn’t change when a client pays for legal services on an hourly basis.

What qualifies as a “catastrophic” injury?
The dictionary defines “catastrophic” as, “bringing about ruin or misfortune”. In law, there is no special definition for catastrophic injury. In my experience, catastrophic losses may include: Paralysis and Spinal Cord Damage, Crushed and Broken Bones, Amputation, Permanent Scarring and Disfigurement, Severe Burns, Dangerous Chemical Ingestion and Inhalation, Traumatic Brain and Head Injury, Brain damage and Birth Injury, Concussions, Herniated Discs in Neck and Back, Surgery, Chronic Pain, and Permanent Harm. Catastrophic injury takes many forms so this list is not exhaustive.

How do I pay for a doctor to see me now?
A catastrophically injured person needs medical care immediately. Who pays your initial doctor bills mostly depends on where you were injured. For example, if you were injured in a car or as a pedestrian, then Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits apply up to the policy limits. If you were injured on private property, such as a commercial building, then the property owner may have “no fault” insurance to cover at least the first few thousand dollars of medical bills. Of course, if you have private health insurance, then they must pay the bills after the other benefits exhaust. If you don’t have private health insurance, you still have options. For example, you can ask your doctor to not send bills to collections and treat you anyway.

How do I pay for medical care for the rest of my life?
Catastrophic injuries require settlement plans that account for the lifetime medical care and special needs of the client. Frequently, this requires a collaborative approach using the professional services of certified life care planners, financial planners, Medicaid experts, and structured settlement professionals, as well as folks from various other disciplines depending on the nature of injury.

Do my health insurance company and the PIP medical insurance company get paid back out of my recovery?
Sometimes. As a general rule, any party not responsible for causing your injury wants to get reimbursed by the at-fault party for any money paid on your behalf, including health insurance and PIP benefits. The company’s right to reimbursement from your recovery is often called a “lien”. However, there are instances when the law does not allow a health insurance company or PIP carrier to take an injured person’s recovery. In addition, all liens are negotiable.

What insurance company works for me?
None of them. They all have various contractual and statutory duties to various parties including sometimes you—but the insurance companies do not work for you.

Who works for me?
The only person in the entire claims process who actually works for you is the attorney you hire.

Does the law say I have to give the other person’s insurance company a recorded statement?

If I make a claim against the insurance company, will I have to go to trial?
Maybe. It depends on many factors. I always prepare a case as if trial will be necessary. Being fully prepared strengthens your case and increases a client’s chance of obtaining a fair settlement.

What’s arbitration?
Arbitration is a formal proceeding where your case is decided by an arbitrator, who is usually an attorney. Generally, arbitration is less expensive and less formal than trial. There are pros and cons to using arbitration to resolve a case.

What’s mediation?
Mediation is an informal way of resolving disputes. It is very different from trial and arbitration. Mediation is basically when opposing parties sit in different rooms while a neutral mediator (usually an attorney or retired judge) talks to both sides of a case and tries to promote settlement. Mediation can occur before or after a lawsuit is filed.

What are “damages”?
Damages is a word that attorneys use to describe the amount of money that’s reasonable and appropriate to compensate a person for their loss. There is no magic formula for determining the amount of damages. Ultimately, a jury, judge, or arbitrator decides what’s reasonable. In terms of a reasonable settlement, that depends on many factors after full review and preparation of the facts and law in your case.

What are “economic damages”?
Economic damages are losses that can be added up by looking at documents like medical bills and income records. Technically, they are defined by law as, “objectively verifiable monetary losses”. Frequently, this means past and future medical and household expenses as well as past and future income losses.

What are “noneconomic damages”?
Noneconomic damages are authorized under law to help you make up for what you lost in monetary terms. Sometimes people call this type of damages pain and suffering or disruption of life damages. If your injury never heals, then you are entitled to recover money to help make up for having to live the rest of your life with a debilitating injury.

What are “punitive damages”?
Punitive damages are an amount of money that a wrongdoer must pay to punish their reckless choices and deter future conscious disregard of human life. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the misconduct is particularly dangerous, such as drunk driving.

When People Start Thinking About Making a Will

How are the attorney’s fees paid?
I enter a written fee agreement with clients to be paid either on an hourly basis or a flat fee. I will give you the option and leave the choice to you.

Do I have to pay costs in addition to attorney fees?
Yes. Usually costs are less than $75. Costs include expenses like photocopying, postage, and long distance phone calls if necessary.

Do I need a will?
No, but you should consider it. If someone dies without a will, there are legal rules that decide who raises a person’s children and who receives remaining property. However, those rules are not always an adequate substitute for a person’s actual wishes. A will makes it much more likely that a person’s wishes will be carried out after they die.

Why can’t I just use a “fill in the blank” form from the internet?
You can. However, I don’t recommend that because the laws regarding language, succession, and validity do vary from state to state. It may be hard to tell if the form you’re using is good in your state or reflects changes in the law. Also, each family’s situation is different than what’s contained in “boiler plate” forms.

What’s an “estate”?
An estate is a legal fiction that is created when you die. Everyone has an estate when they die. One way to think of an estate is the “place” where all of your money, property, rights, obligations and worldly possessions go after you die. Then your belongings are distributed to people pursuant to your will if you have one.

If my spouse and I die, won’t my parents take care of my children automatically?
Possibly. It depends on several factors. Many people are motivated to set up “estate plans” simply because they want to make sure their children are taken care of the way the parents intend.

Isn’t it enough to tell my husband or wife if I want “heroic measures” to save my life?
The most likely guarantee that your wishes about end-of-life care are followed is to have a valid Healthcare Advance Directive.