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Filing Claims Under Personal Injury Law : PRACTICAL VIEW

Klein is an attorney and president of The Times Valley and Ventura County editions. Brown is professor of law emeritus at USC and chairman of the board for the National Center for Preventive Law

Many of the questions we receive from readers have to do with personal injury law: If you are hurt in an accident, who is at fault and who should be liable to compensate you for your injuries? If you are partially at fault, can you still collect? How much is your pain and suffering worth? Do you need a lawyer to pursue your case? When should you negotiate with the other party’s insurance carrier directly?

Finally, there is a book that answers these and other related questions, written in understandable language. Attorney Joseph L. Mathews’ “How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim” takes the mystery out of personal injury law.

Its practical, pragmatic approach is seen in a list of topics from one chapter about settling your claim: The first 72 hours--protecting your rights; writing everything down; preserving evidence of fault and damages; determining who might be responsible; writing notification letters; sample notification letter; first contact with another’s insurance company.

A sample of how Mathews explains a fairly complex legal doctrine that says “the law takes you as it finds you”:

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“What happens if you have a bad knee which makes one leg a bit unsteady and it sometimes buckles if you make a sudden turn? Does that mean that the slippery floor you fell on is not legally considered dangerous because someone with two stronger legs might not have fallen? Absolutely not. An owner or occupant must permit no unnecessary danger to any person who might reasonably be expected to be on the property. That means little kids as well as older people, folks with good eyesight and bad, strong knees and weak knees . . . “

One of the most common questions we receive has to do with the worth of a possible injury. Briefly, the law says that a person who has a valid claim is entitled to receive compensatory damages--the amount for medical attention, the value of destroyed property or the cost of repair, and lost wages.

The law usually includes an additional element of damages for pain and suffering. But the method of calculating the proper amount for a specific injury is a mystery to most people, except perhaps insurance claims adjusters, personal injury lawyers, and judges.

Using examples ranging from $1,000 to $35,000, from sore backs (hard to prove, less valuable) and torn ligaments (more valuable than a sprain) to broken bones (X-rays prevent any disputes) and a whiplash (insurance companies suspect exaggeration), Mathews takes the reader through a step-by-step process that an insurance adjuster might use in determining a fair settlement amount for pain and suffering (anywhere from 1.5 to 5 times the medical costs).

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There is a lot of public outrage at the amount of excessive litigation in the field of personal injury law. Lawyer advertising that encourages people to sue for the slightest injury doesn’t help.

We hope this book will not be seen as a way to help build a falsely inflated case.

In fact, it may do the exact opposite. By helping consumers legitimately assert their rights without having to use a lawyer, who often takes up to 40% of the settlement, perhaps more reasonable settlements will be available. Mathews properly recognizes that lawyers are useful in specific situations, and helps guide the reader to find and use the right one.

Next week, we’ll summarize some of his other comments about the entire personal injury process.

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This book is priced at $24.95. You can order by phone (800) 992-6656 or write No Lo Press, 950 Parker St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710.


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