Sometimes people get the idea that personal injury lawsuits are designed to take advantage of a bad situation and that people consider a car accident a “lottery ticket” that means a big payday. While it is true that there are a few people who have tried to milk a car accident to get more than they were entitled to recover, the vast majority of accident victims get less than they should. Some get nothing at all.
How do you know when a car accident victim is genuinely entitled to damages? For the most part, victims who are injured are clearly in pain and often require a great deal of treatment to return to normal. On the other hand, injuries like whiplash can be hard to prove simply because there is often no visible damage.
Should Personal Injury Law Be Reformed?
Periodically there is an outcry for “tort reform.” What this usually means is that insurance companies are capitalizing on the story of some “victim” who has bilked the system and made out with millions of dollars for a very slight injury. Reformers say that by tightening the loopholes of the law that allow for large settlements to people who are not badly injured, everyone’s costs would go down.
As comforting as it might be to believe that insurance companies would lower their rates if they were not being sued on a regular basis that is probably wishful thinking. Insurance companies, like any type of company, are in business to make money. If they were not able to justify high premiums due to lawsuits, they would probably find another way to justify them.
Additionally, just as criminal law has safeguards to protect the innocent, civil law has safeguards to protect the injured. While it is true that some criminals go free due to loopholes in the law, the protections of criminal law exist to shield the innocent from wrongful prosecution. In civil law, the same idea applies: even though a few people may take advantage of the personal injury legal system, for the most part the victims in these cases have been genuinely injured and deserve compensation.
California has had its own brush with tort reform, and this topic has recently come to the spotlight in connection to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 or MICRA. This law was passed due to a perceived crisis in rising health care costs due to lawsuits. However, it was later proven insurance companies continued to raise insurance premiums for doctors even after MICRA was signed into law. In 1988, Proposition 103 was passed which gave the state the power to regulate insurance premiums. It was not until then that insurance companies were required to lower their prices. Trying to balance the interests of business with those of the individual, in the case of MICRA, may have done more harm than good.
MICRA capped the amount recoverable for pain and suffering in a medical injury case to $250,000 back in 1975, an amount that has since been diminished by inflation by more than 75 percent. MICRA caps non-economic damages but not economic damages, giving the wealthy an unfair courtroom advantage, and takes the decision to award damages away from the jury. A recent grassroots movement has sought to overturn or modify MICRA to bring it into line with modern values and economic realities.
However, in spite of all the talk of tort reform, according to recent statistics, the number of tort cases filed each year represents only 4.4 percent of all civil cases in the United States, and between 1999 and 2008 the number of lawsuits declined by 25 percent. Both personal injury attorneys and insurance companies have come to realize that litigation is expensive and risky and prefer to settle cases out of court.
This means that you will most likely never set foot inside a civil courtroom, even if you visit a personal injury attorney like John Demas of Demas Law Group, P.C. Instead, you will probably go through a series of interviews with your attorney, who will talk to the insurance company or their attorneys. Most likely, an agreement will be hammered out that will allow you to collect payment for your medical bills, sums for pain and suffering and money for your lost wages or other expenses. It is highly unlikely that your case will go to court, although that does happen from time to time.
Ultimately, hiring a personal injury attorney is the first step to collecting the money due to you for your injuries.