Practice Areas




Contact



Wendell L. Belknap
411 5th Street
Oregon City, OR 97045

Tel: 503-657-8946
Fax: 503-655-2775

Email Wendell
wendell@belknaplaw.com

Website:
www.belknaplaw.com

Personal Injury / Wrongful Death




Frequently Asked Questions


  1. What types of personal injury & wrongful death cases do you handle?
  2. Will you handle personal injury & wrongful death cases originating from anywhere in Oregon?
  3. How soon after I have been injured should I contact an attorney?
  4. Do you charge for an initial consultation about my case?
  5. Do you value my claim as part of the initial consultation?
  6. Is there a formula for valuing my claim?
  7. How do you charge for handling my claim?
  8. Are there any hidden costs?
  9. Why should I hire an attorney who is going to take a percentage of my damages?
  10. What should I do when I have been in an accident?
  11. What am I legally required to do when I have been in an accident?
  12. Should I give the other insurance company a statement or a signed authorization for medical records?
  13. Should I give my insurance company a statement or a signed authorization for medical records?
  14. Who will pay my accident-related medical bills?
  15. What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance?
  16. What if my accident-related medical bills are more than my Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage limit?
  17. Can you help if the doctors are requiring that I pay their bill?
  18. Can I recover my lost income if I have not been able to work for a couple of weeks due to my injuries?
  19. Do I have to pay back my insurance company for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments it made for me?
  20. Can I recover damages even if the liable party has no car insurance?
  21. Can I recover non-economic damages from the other party if I did not have insurance?
  22. What insurance is available if I am hurt while walking or riding my bike?
  23. How long does it take to resolve an car accident case?
  24. What if I do not want to go to trial?
  25. If I file a lawsuit, who am I suing?
  26. Should I take photographs?
  27. Do you handle cases if I am hurt while on the job?
  28. What is an Independent Medical Examination (IME)?

  1. What types of personal injury & wrongful death cases do you handle?
  2. I handle all types of personal injury & wrongful death cases regardless whether they arise from car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, dog bites, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, or any other accident resulting in personal injury or death.

  3. Will you handle personal injury & wrongful death cases originating from anywhere in Oregon?
  4. Yes. As long as the injury happened in Oregon, I am willing to consider handling the case.

  5. How soon after I have been injured should I contact an attorney?
  6. You should hire an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help with any investigation, as well as make sure that you do not say or do something that will be harmful to your case. An attorney will also make sure that all important matters are attended to, such as taking photographs of the cars and obtaining witness statements.

  7. Do you charge for an initial consultation about my case?
  8. I do not charge for a consultation for personal injury or wrongful death cases. Generally, by the end of that consultation I have determined whether I think you have a claim worth pursuing. If I believe you have a case worthy of pursuing, I will explain my contingency fee agreement and discuss whether you want me to represent you. You are under no obligation to hire me as part of this consultation, even if I determine you have a case worth pursuing.

  9. Do you value my claim as part of the initial consultation?      
  10. Generally not. Not because I am unwilling, but rather because most clients I meet with do so at a time they are still treating with their doctor. You should be skeptical of any attorney who will put a value on your case prior to your completing treatment. Necessary components to claim valuation consist of knowing how long the client treated and with what doctors, knowing how much pain and suffering the client experienced, knowing how the injuries affected the client’s life, knowing whether the client has any residual or permanent injuries, knowing the total lost wages, if any, and a review of all accident-related medical records, among other things. Only then can an attorney honestly and accurately value the claim. Even then, claims consisting of unusual injuries or permanent conditions may require research by the attorney to set a value.

  11. Is there a formula for valuing my claim?
  12. No. Some people believe that your settlement amount is directly tied to the amount of your medical expenses. I have had many clients say they heard that non-economic damages should be three (3) times their medical expenses. There is no such formula. It is possible to have a large personal injury claim with relatively low medical expenses, or a smaller injury claim where a lot of money was spent on diagnostic tests, so this is not an accurate way to truly determine the value of your case. While the value of a claim is based on many factors, multiplying your medical costs by some multiple is not one of them.

  13. How do you charge for handling my claim?
  14. I handle all personal injury & wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis. That means you do not owe me any legal fee unless I recover money for you. Once I have successfully completed your case, I will take a percentage of the amount recovered.

  15. Are there any hidden costs?
  16. No. I do not charge for opening files, copies made in the office, faxes, postage, long distance phone charges, or other such charges. Applicable bar regulations require the client to pay the expenses of the litigation, such as filing fees, expert witness fees, costs to obtain medical records, and other expenses. Ethical rules allow the attorney to advance necessary litigation expenses, which I do for clients in some cases, but those expenses will be charged to you at the end of the case.

  17. Why should I hire an attorney who is going to take a percentage of my damages?
  18. When communicating with the other insurance company you are dealing with a business that wants to pay you as little as possible in order to keep its own profits up. The insurance adjuster is trained to minimize your claim. Right away the adjuster will ask you to sign a medical release and give a taped statement just in case you retain an attorney later. The insurance people will sound sympathetic to your plight, but in the end they will do what they can to settle your case as quickly and cheaply as possible. When you represent yourself the insurance company knows you are unlikely to file a lawsuit. They tend to take your claim more seriously if you are represented and the possibility of filing a lawsuit is more real. Also, an attorney can take the pressure of case management off your shoulders, thereby allowing you to spend time on your own recovery, as well as your other personal pursuits. I will not take your case if I do not believe I can obtain a result for you that will pay my percentage and still provide more money to you than you would have received had you represented yourself. I have sent people away under such circumstances in the past.

  19. What should I do when I have been in a car accident?
  20. If you or a member of your family has been involved in a car accident, there are some steps you should take. These include:

    • Collect all possible information about the accident. Be sure this includes the name, address, phone number, driver license number, and car insurance information of the other driver.
    • Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses who saw the accident.
    • Write down a description of the events immediately preceding and following the car accident. It may be awhile before you have to describe these events exactly. A written record can help remind you exactly what happened and when.
    • Take photographs of the scene, damage to the cars, and any visible injuries.
    • Make sure you visit a doctor if you have been injured. Follow the doctor's advice and obtain all recommended and necessary medical treatments. Unless you do so, the insurance company will argue either that you were not injured, or that your injuries were minor. I have seen clients who worked through their physical issues without treating, so as to keep the costs down for the insurance company, but who were then punished by being offered a nominal amount for their injuries. Get any treatment recommended by your doctor.
    • Report all injuries, even if they are minor. Having a record of the injury will increase your chances of financial recovery if your medical condition worsens.
  21. What am I legally required to do when I have been in a car accident?
  22. In Oregon you must stay at the scene of the accident and exchange names, addresses, and insurance information with all other involved drivers. If there are severe injuries you are required to provide reasonable aid to the injured persons until police and/or emergency services arrive. If there is property damage over $1,500.00 you are required to file an accident report within seventy-two (72) hours with the DMV, even if the police made a report. If you are the victim of a hit-and-run or a party involved is uninsured, then you also must file a police report within seventy-two (72) hours. If you cause damages to another person's property, you are required to notify the property owner as soon as possible.

  23. Should I give the other insurance company a statement or a signed authorization for medical records?           
  24. No. I strongly recommend against giving the other insurance company a recorded statement or medical authorization. I prefer to tell the other insurance company myself what my client’s version of the facts is. Once my client has completed medical treatment, I will assemble the medical records and forward them to the other insurance company with a demand letter prepared by me and approved by my client.

  25. Should I give my insurance company a statement or a signed authorization for medical records?            
  26. I prefer to talk to my client before my client speaks with his/her own insurance carrier. However, because your insurance coverage with your carrier is ultimately covered by the terms of your insurance contract, you have a duty of cooperation with your insurance carrier. This means that you must provide it a recorded statement and/or an authorization to release medical and/or wage records. Failure to cooperate and provide these upon request of your insurance company could be used by it to deny coverage.

  27. Who will pay my accident-related medical bills?
  28. Your car insurance company will. All car insurance policies issued to Oregonians must include Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, which is healthcare coverage that covers your reasonable and necessary accident-related medical expenses for up to one year or $15,000.00, regardless of fault. You will need to contact your car insurance company and obtain a packet generally known as an "Application for Benefits" to initiate your PIP coverage. I can help you with this.

  29. What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance?
  30. In Oregon, drivers are required to have car insurance, and every car insurance policy is required to contain Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. This is insurance to cover three types of expenses or losses incurred as the result of an automobile accident. They are: 1) Medical bills; 2) Lost wages; and 3) A stipend to pay costs of certain types of in-home care expenses. PIP insurance will pay these regardless as to who was at fault for the accident.

    Oregon law requires that the PIP coverage be at least $15,000.00 for medical bills incurred within one (1) year of the date of the accident. Most policies cover only the first $15,000.00, as few people buy coverage above this amount. For these medical bills to be covered by PIP, they also must be reasonable charges for the services provided and necessarily incurred as a result of the automobile accident. Unless excess coverage above $15,000.00 was purchased, which usually it is not, then any bills above $15,000.00 will not be paid, even if they are incurred within one (1) year. The “reasonable” and “necessary” provisions also may result in medical bills not being paid, even if they are incurred within one (1) year of the accident and are below $15,000.00.

    Another part of your PIP coverage is that your insurance company must pay seventy percent (70%) of your lost wages up to a maximum required per month of $3,000.00. This requirement does not start until you have missed fourteen (14) consecutive days and these are supported by a disability slip from your doctor. Once your PIP starts and the insurance company has to pay your lost wages it must reimburse you for lost wages from the first day missed. The state requirement is that your company must pay up to fifty-two (52) weeks of lost wages. It is not required that these lost wages occur during the first year after the accident.

  31. What if my accident-related medical bills are more than my Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage limit?
  32. If your medical bills are more than your available PIP coverage, or your treatment goes on for more than one (1) year, your PIP insurance carrier will no longer pay your bills. If you have other health insurance coverage, it may pay for any treatment not covered by your PIP insurance. Finally, you can recover the amount of any unpaid medical bills from the other insurance company. With rare exceptions, the other insurance company will not pay these bills until you settle your entire claim with that company. While you generally do not have to seek recovery of the medical bills paid by your automobile insurance company as part of the PIP coverage, you will have to seek recovery of the medical bills paid by your health insurance coverage. This is what is known as your "duty of subrogation."

  33. Can you help if the doctors are requiring that I pay their bill?
  34. Generally, I can help if this occurs. Sometimes there is not enough available insurance (Personal Injury Protection [PIP] or other health insurance) to cover the client’s medical expenses. I frequently work with doctors and other health care providers to have them continue treating while also keeping them from sending my clients to collections for unpaid bills. Some doctors will agree to this if the client agrees in writing to pay them first once we receive a settlement or judgment (this is often referred to as providing a “Letter of Protection”).

  35. Can I recover my lost income if I have not been able to work for a couple of weeks due to my injuries?
  36. Yes. All car insurance policies issued to Oregonians are required to include Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Part of your PIP coverage is that your insurance company must pay seventy percent (70%) of your lost wages up to a maximum required per month of $3,000.00. This requirement does not start until you have missed fourteen (14) consecutive days and these are supported by a disability slip from your doctor. Once your PIP starts and your insurance company has to pay your lost wages it must reimburse you for lost wages from the first day missed. The state requires your company to pay up to fifty-two (52) weeks of lost wages. It is not required that these lost wages occur during the first year after the accident. Otherwise, your lost wages are a recoverable damage from the other insurance company, but will not be paid until you settle the entire case.

  37. Do I have to pay back my car insurance company for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments it made for me?
  38. Your PIP carrier can require you to seek recovery of the payments it made, but must pay a fair share toward attorney’s fees. As such, usually the PIP carrier will choose to seek its own reimbursement, thereby relieving you of the responsibility to do so.

  39. Can I recover damages even when the liable party had no car insurance?
  40. Yes. You can recover damages from your own car insurance company through your uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage. Oregon requires car insurance policies to include uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage of at least $25,000.00 per person per accident, up to $50,000.00 in any one accident. I consider this amount of coverage to be inadequate in today’s world. I recommend coverage of at least $100,000.00 per person per accident, up to $300,000.00 in any one accident. Coverage at this level is readily available from your car insurance company. If you are unsure of your coverage amount, or the cost of obtaining increased coverage, you should contact your car insurance agent immediately.

  41. Can I recover non-economic damages from the other party if I did not have car insurance?
  42. No. In Oregon a person who was injured by the negligent driving of another person may not recover for his pain, suffering, and inconvenience if he did not have car insurance at the time of the accident. You may still recover economic damages such as the damages to your car, lost wages, and/or medical expenses. This limitation does not apply to your passenger. A passenger may bring a claim for non-economic damages against the other driver even if the car in which he was riding did not have the state-required insurance.

  43. What insurance is available if I am hurt while walking or riding my bike?      
  44. Most people do not realize that the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits of their car insurance coverage apply to bike and pedestrian injuries caused by cars. As such, your medical bills incurred as a result of injuries caused by a car while you were walking or riding a bike should be covered up to the PIP coverage limits, which are generally $15,000.00.

  45. How long does it take to resolve a car accident case?
  46. The greatest single factor is the length of medical treatment. You do not want to settle your claim until you are done treating and know the full extent of your injuries and the level of your recovery from them. Once you are done treating, I will request medical records from all medical providers that treated you. I can get this request out within days of being advised you are done treating. Some doctors are quick to provide the requested medical records, while some can take a month or more. I generally prepare a draft demand letter within one (1) week of receiving the last of the supporting medical documentation. I then send the draft demand letter to the client for approval. I do not send the final demand letter to the other insurance company until the client approves of it. The adverse insurance carrier generally makes its first offer within thirty (30) days of receiving the demand letter. It generally takes anywhere from two (2) to six (6) weeks to work through negotiations to see if a settlement can be reached without having to file a lawsuit. If negotiations do not settle the case, then the next step is to file a lawsuit. For personal injury cases in Oregon you must file and serve your lawsuit within two (2) years of the date of the accident or it will be barred by what is called the "statute of limitations." The case will generally go to trial within one (1) year of filing, unless it is settled sooner. That means it could take up to three (3) years or longer before a case is resolved. Most cases resolve far quicker than that, but the time frame for settlement depends entirely on the nature and extent of the injuries and the treatment required for those injuries. Smaller claims can be resolved shortly after acquiring all of the medical records and forwarding them to the opposing carrier. Frequently this is six (6) months or less after the accident causing the injuries.

  47. What if I don't want to go to trial?
  48. The decision is yours. That decision is always up to the client, but should be based upon the advice provided by the attorney. However, always remember that insurance companies are concerned about their potential liability at trial. Sometimes it is necessary to file a lawsuit to show that you are willing to proceed to trial, but it does not mean you actually have to go to trial. Settlement opportunities are likely to present themselves after filing the lawsuit but before trial.

  49. If I file a lawsuit, who am I suing?   
  50. The name on the lawsuit will be your name as the Plaintiff and the other driver as the Defendant. However, unless you are suing for more damages than the other driver has insurance coverage, both the attorney for the Defendant and any damages the Defendant is ordered to pay will be paid for by the insurance company. So, while you are suing the other driver in name, you are seeking money from the other driver’s insurance company, and not the other driver.

  51. Should I take photographs?
  52. Yes. The old saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words," is absolutely true in car accident cases. I recommend that you take pictures which show the full extent of the damages to your vehicle, and/or your body. It is my experience these can enhance the settlement value of your claim, or at least bring about a reasonable settlement earlier in the claim process. If you do not take your own photos, the insurance company might send over an adjuster to take pictures that do not show the full extent of the damage to a vehicle and then use those against you later in the case.

  53. Do you handle claims if I am hurt while on the job?                              
  54. I handle injury claims for people who are hurt while on the job, but who are hurt by someone other than their employer or a co-worker. When you are injured on the job by a third person, such as another driver, then in that case you have both a workers' compensation claim through your employer, and a separate injury claim against the responsible party. These claims are a little more complex, as you must work in conjunction with the workers' compensation insurance carrier and protect its interest, as it has a lien over your settlement. I handle injury claims such as these. If you were injured on the job by your employer, a co-worker, or your own negligence, then you are probably limited to a workers' compensation claim. I do not handle claims that are limited to workers' compensation, but know several attorneys who do and can refer you to one or more of these qualified attorneys.

  55. What is an Independent Medical Examination (IME)?    
  56. An IME is a medical examination conducted by a doctor selected and paid for by your car insurance company. Under the terms of your car insurance contract, your car insurance company can require that you submit to an IME. On the surface, the purpose of the IME is for your car insurance company to confirm that the course of treatment recommended by your treating physician is reasonable and necessary and that your company should continue to pay the bills for that treatment. Despite being called "Independent Medical Examinations," it is my opinion there is nothing “independent” about them. You will be sent to a doctor who probably performs multiple IMEs per year for the car insurance company, and is paid a lot of money to do so. As a result, most of these “independent” doctors will write a report which says that you are medically stationary and that no further treatment is needed. Your car insurance company will use the report the IME doctor produces to terminate its responsibility to pay any more benefits under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) part of your insurance policy, including medical expenses and lost wages.