Frequently Asked Questions
- How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
- How much is my case worth?
- How much can I recover in a medical malpractice suit?
- A medical procedure went wrong, can I sue my doctor?
- What types of damages are available?
- I was seriously injured in an accident. What should I do?
- I was in an accident. Who pays my bills?
Injuries or wrongful deaths caused by accidents, medical malpractice, or police abuse can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects. In this emotional time, it is important to be aware of the legal options available to you and the limits to what you may recover. The Law Offices of Steve Gibbins has compiled this page to provide you with answers to frequently asked questions; for more information or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today.
Q. How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
A. In every personal injury case, a statute of limitations governs the time in which an injured party can bring a lawsuit. For example, in Texas, a health care liability claim must be brought within two years of the injury; if the actual date the injury was caused cannot be determined, then the time limit is measured from the last day of treatment or hospitalization. This also applies to both personal injury and wrongful death claims arising out of instances of medical malpractice.
Often an accident victim will not discover an injury immediately, and in some cases lose his or her opportunity to sue and recover damages. However, a statutory time limit is sometimes paused until the injured party has had reasonable opportunity to discover the injury.
Q. How much is my case worth?
A. The value of each case depends on individual circumstances, but there are certain general rules of thumb that allow an attorney to give an estimate, such as:
- Permanent and Long Term Damages
If permanent, long-term, substantial, incapacitating, or disfiguring injuries result from a defendant's negligence, the plaintiff stands to gain the greatest award of damages. All of the elements of damages are generally fully considered, including mental anguish, physical incapacity, disfigurement, pain and suffering, lost earnings and earning capacity, and medical bills. The overall award should generally amount to at least three times the worth of the medical bills, but the argument will be for as much as possible in each element. If the resulting lost wages are substantial, or if the injuries are great, the award is likely to be much greater than the "three times" estimate.
- Negligence without Permanent Injuries
If negligence can be proven but there are no permanent, disfiguring, or disabling injuries, the value of the case is usually dependent on the amount of the medical bills. This is true regarding insurance adjusters' settlement offers before a lawsuit is filed, but the plaintiff may also be eligible for additional recovery for mental anguish, physical incapacity, disfigurement, lost income, and lost earning capacity. Previously, negligent injury cases were worth about three times the resulting medical bills, like in permanent injury cases, but Texas policies have changed. Juries and insurance adjusters have become more conservative, and a case is usually valued at around two times the medical bills. In addition, aggravating circumstances, such as substantial lost wages, may increase any awarded damages.
Q. How much can I recover in a medical malpractice suit?
A. Texas law limits the amount of damages an injured plaintiff can recover in a medical malpractice suit. There are three main limits on a plaintiff's recovery of non-economic damages, such as for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of a loved one. These non-economic total recovery limits are:
- $250,000 against each physician or health care provider other than a health care institution.
- $250,000 against each single health care institution.
- $500,000 total against all health care institutions collectively for an action against more than one health care institution.
In a wrongful death action all damages, including both economic and non-economic, are limited to $500,000 plus medical costs; this cap is adjusted for inflation each year.
Q. A medical procedure went wrong, can I sue my doctor?
A. Just because there is an unfortunate medical result does not mean a doctor or hospital is at fault. However, in some cases a medical procedure goes wrong because the doctor failed to use the standard of care expected of medical professionals in similar circumstances. When this occurs, the doctor may be guilty of medical malpractice and the patient may sue. If a doctor misdiagnosed an illness, committed a surgical error, prescribed the wrong medication, or caused unnecessary harm through negligence, the patient may have a claim.
Q. What types of damages are available?
A. A number of damages are recoverable in tort cases involving accidents and personal injuries, medical malpractice, and wrongful death. Victims may recover for both economic and non-economic damages they have suffered; economic damages include past and future medical expenses; past, present, and future lost wages; and other monetary expenses incurred because of the injury. Non-economic damages include pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Damages are also available for serious personal injuries, such as those resulting in permanent disability, chronic pain, hospitalization, and depression and anxiety
In cases involving wrongful death, the deceased's spouse, children, or other family members are the plaintiffs in the case, and file suit for their own non-economic loss in addition to the victim's medical expenses and lost wages. This loss is usually called loss of consortium, care, or companionship, which is the benefit derived by the family relationship.
Q. I was seriously injured in an accident. What should I do?
A. When you are in a serious accident it can be hard to focus on anything other than the physical and emotional after-effects. However, it is important to obtain as much information as possible for evidence in any later lawsuit or to ensure an adequate insurance settlement. If you have suffered injuries due to a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, move your vehicle out of the road to prevent further accidents, if it is safe to do so. If you are able to, you should gather:
- Names and contact information of possible witnesses
- Contact information and insurance information for other drivers and vehicle owners
- License plate numbers of other drivers involved in the accident, especially if they attempt to flee the scene
- Details about the accident scene, such as the position of the vehicles, weather and road conditions, traffic signs and speed limits
- Photographs of the accident scene, if possible
In addition, it is important to protect yourself. Do not apologize or admit fault. Report the accident to the police, especially if you believe it was caused by another driver's negligence or wrongful act. You should also notify your insurance. If you have been in a serious accident seek medical attention, and be aware that although many injuries will not present symptoms until later, a good physician may discover them early on. If you do not feel injuries directly after the accident but do feel symptoms later, notify your insurance company and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Generally, Texas law allows an injured plaintiff to file a lawsuit within two years of an accident.
Q. I was in an accident. Who pays my bills?
A. In many incidents, your vehicle insurance will pay your bills in whole or in part, depending on your policy and the extent of your coverage:
- Personal Injury Protection
In Texas, Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is a mandatory vehicle insurance policy, unless waived in writing by the policyholder. PIP covers certain medical expenses, possibly including prosthetics, medications, and nursing services; lost wages; substitute services for help performing household tasks; and funeral expenses for accident-related deaths.
- Other Coverage Options
Texas insurers often offer optional Medical Payment, or med-pay coverage, in addition to mandatory PIP. This coverage may pay for medical and dental treatment, hospitalization, nursing, prostheses, and funeral expenses if the insured driver or passengers are injured, regardless of fault. It may also cover family members who are injured on foot, bicycle, or in someone else's vehicle.
Insurers may offer bodily injury or property damage coverage as well. If a policy holder has bodily injury coverage and is at fault in an accident, damages to the policyholder and third parties are generally covered, including legal defense payments.
If your accident is clearly covered by your car insurance policy and the claim is simple, your insurer should cover your bills up to your policy limit. For more complex claims, insurance adjusters will first investigate the accident and issue you either a settlement offer or a denial. An insurer's settlement offer may cover all or only some of your bills, and may be low at first, since adjusters are motivated to minimize damages the company must pay out. In order to ensure that your medical bills are covered, you must get a medical authorization form from your insurer. In the event your claim is denied, it is important to carefully review your policy to make sure your claim hasn't been incorrectly or wrongfully rejected.
If you feel your accident claim was unfairly denied by your insurer, or the insurer's settlement offer was too low, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to take legal action.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
For answers to further questions or for more information on your particular case, contact the Law Offices of Steve Gibbins today.