What Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do?

Accidents can happen any time. Experiencing a serious injury is something we hope never happens to us or our loved ones. It is a traumatic event, and you are certainly not prepared for the additional stress of having to deal with a mountain of details and pressure from an insurance company to settle quickly. How do you know to what compensation you are entitled? Hiring an attorney to represent you might be a smart choice to help you get what you are rightly due.

Personal injury lawyers advocate for individuals injured at the hands of someone else. They help people who have been placed in harm’s way recover what they are due from the parties involved and/or the insurance company. Helping injured clients in their time of greatest need is a primary motivator for lawyers who choose this law specialty.

There are a number of practice areas in personal injury law:

  • Motor Vehicle
  • Premises Liability
  • Product Liability
  • Medical Malpractice

A personal injury attorney knows the law in their respective state, along with all the details of opening, managing, and obtaining a personal injury claim. They help people who have been physically or psychologically injured as the result of the negligence or intentional act of another party. Personal injury lawyers are civil lawyers.

When you retain a personal injury attorney, you can rest easy. Someone has your back and acts as your advocate.  Plus, most PI lawyers handle cases on a contingency basis, meaning there are no out-of-pocket expenses to you up front and no bills due until a settlement is reached or there is a jury verdict. They will first listen carefully  as you present the facts and details of the incident and handle them in a methodical, professional, and legal manner.  Then they move on to interview others who are directly involved in the incident. Since they are receiving no compensation up front, they will take your case only after careful consideration and feel that you, the plaintiff, has a case.

The next step is to develop and investigate the facts of your case, which may or may not involve independent private investigators, depending upon the complexity of the case. Your lawyer’s firm will, with your help, find and interview witnesses, obtain police reports, and collect medical records and other information relevant to the case – which may or may not require filing a lawsuite or proceeding to a Jury trail.

Just some of the information for which your attorney will gather:

  • Photo or video surveillance related to the incident
  • Eyewitness Accounts
  • Accident or police reports
  • Vehicle “black box” data (if involving motor vehicles)
  • Mobile device data

Evidence gathered for Premises Liability might include information on construction, maintenance and inspection records. In the case of medical malpractice, any information, depending upon the nature of the claim, might include safety records for a medical facility or medical equipment reviews.

Your lawyer will also function as a liaison to the insurance companies, so you don’t have to deal with them. Insurance companies predictably seek to reimburse the minimum remuneration allowed. He or she will try to maintain a steady flow of needed information from the insurance company. Your attorney will thoroughly read and review your insurance policy and be vigilant to make sure the insurance company is paying out the maximum due to you. Payout may eventually include reimbursement for medical expenses, loss of income, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish and pain and suffering.

Your lawyers, depending upon the complexity of the case, will review applicable statutes, case law, common law, and relevant legal precedents. Thjey use this information to establish a valid rationale for pursuing a claim.

They are also given the tedious task of keeping and tallying your paperwork documenting all your medical treatments and costs associated with them, as well as obtaining requested medical reports.

They will reach out to your employer and physicians to gather documentation regarding your ability to work, how long you will be incapacitated, or if you need to find another line of work or can even work at all.

Then, with a comprehensive understanding of your case, they will reach out to the insurance company to offer a settlement amount. If the other parties disagree in their assessment of the incident, for example who was at fault, the case may need to move to litigation and/or trial. The vast majority (95%) of all claims are settled prior to trial, but sometimes there is such a wide disparity between the parties that going to court is the only way to come to a resolution. In this instance, your lawyers will represent you and guide you through the process, helping you fill out and provide necessary paperwork.

Finding a reputable law firm with solid experience in personal injury law pertaining to your case is your first priority. It is wise to research the lawyer and their firm by going online and asking around. How long have they been in business? Your attorney should be someone with whom you are comfortable. Then, you can relax and let them move your claim forward. It should be a firm that offers personalized attention, and not one that just “pushes you through the system.”

Prince, Schmidt, Korte & Baca offers not only decades of expertise in many practice areas, as well as civil litigation, but also treats each client individually and with the upmost respect and care.

PSKB is a Northern New Mexico institution, founded in 1954, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Call for an appointment today at 505-982-5380.


New Mexico Must Prepare as Future of Autonomous Vehicles Coming Soon

Semi-autonomous vehicles are already operating on New Mexico roads! This article by Matthew Reichbach, published in the NM Political Report goes into New Mexico’s preparations for the Inevitable driverless takeover.   Senator James White, Republican, of the New Mexico State legislature will be introducing legislation that will bring New Mexico up-to-date in the self-driving space.  California has already passed a law that goes in effect April of this year that allows remote, driverless vehicles on the road, for now with a remote operator “behind the wheel.”

Autonomous vehicles are coming. Soon — and New Mexico needs to be ready.

That was the message from a recent summit on autonomous, or driverless, vehicles organized by the state Department of Transportation. Local officials, technology experts and even industry representatives all agreed legislators need to understand the technology before changing laws or other policies.

Earlier this year, Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque, introduced a memorial asking NMDOT to organize the summit and get New Mexico ready for autonomous vehicles.

While some predict widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles is decades away, White said it could be closer to 5-to-10 years away. And in fact, some semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the road today.

“The industry is fast defining what we do here in this realm,” Charles Remke, director of New Mexico Department of Transportation ITS, told attendees.

Tyler Svitak, the Connected and Autonomous Technology Program Manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation, said states need to define what they want and need from autonomous vehicles — before the fast-growing industry does it for them. Industry is open to partnerships with states, he said, but states must first establish goals and lay out a strategy.

MORE: New Mexico lawmakers discuss self-driving cars

While commercially available vehicles that can safely drive without any human interaction are years away, semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the roads, including on New Mexico’s highways. Automated semi trucks cruise across Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico on regular trips between Los Angeles and El Paso.

Jonny Morris is the Head of Public Policy at Embark, the company which operates those trucks to deliver air conditioning equipment.

“The industry is fast defining what we do here in this realm.”

Charles Remke, director of New Mexico Department of Transportation ITS

He explained that the company uses the automated systems from “exit to exit” on highways, though human drivers still navigate surface streets in cities. Even when automated, those trucks still have CDL-licensed drivers who are required to have their hands on the wheel at all times and to take over if there is a problem.

The SAE, an organization of scientists and engineers in the automotive industry, has five levels of automation with cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which adopted the standards, Level 1 includes vehicles with automatic braking and cruise control. Level 2, or partial automation, cars assist with steering or acceleration, but the driver must stay engaged.

RELATED: Staying ahead of the robot apocalypse

The next big leap is to Level 3, conditional automation, where a driver is needed and expected to jump in and take over. This includes currently available products like “autopilot” modes in cars like Teslas. At Level 4, the vehicle can drive itself under certain conditions, with no input from the driver. The driver would have the option to take over and control the vehicle themselves. At Level 5, the vehicle can drive itself under all conditions — and might not even have the option for the human to take over.

Levels 4 and 5 are what most people think of when picturing fully automated, driverless cars.

It isn’t necessarily personal vehicles where automation will occur first on the roads.

Cruising I-10 already

Like Embark, other trucking companies and manufacturers are already exploring automated vehicles. Budweiser used “Otto,” a self-driving truck, to deliver beer in a highly promoted public relations act.

But in New Mexico, it’s the I-10 corridor that could see big advances in automated trucks. And already, something called “platooning” is being used to make hauling cargo by truck more efficient.

Steve Boyd, the founder and vice president of external affairs for Peloton Technology, talked about the technology that would allow semi trucks to communicate with each other and “draft.” While drafting, trucks sync with those in front of them, allowing them to match the acceleration and braking of the lead truck. Drafting increases fuel mileage and may decrease accidents.

MORE: Many unprepared for the automated world to come

This can already take place on New Mexico’s highways without any needed upgrades to existing systems.

The infrastructure automated vehicles need is in line with what many human drivers want already.

“We need well-maintained roads, well-marked roads,” Embark’s Morris said.

Ed Bradley, a program manager with Toyota agreed and added that connectivity with systems put in place along roads would “help, but it’s not required.”

Colorado is already working on connectivity and has a $72 million connected vehicle network in the works, in partnership with Panasonic. The system will run from Golden to Vail on I-70, 90 miles of the most dangerous road in the country, and will eventually help automated vehicles more safely travel the area by interacting with the vehicles.

The most costly part of this is the new infrastructure — and its digital technology is “invisible” when compared to infrastructure like roads and bridges.

The deadly collision between an Uber autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian near Phoenix is bringing calls for tougher self-driving regulations (March 20) AP

Safety concerns

Shortly before last week’s meeting, an autonomous vehicle from Uber killed a pedestrian it failed to detect crossing the street. The incident hung over the meeting, and a representative from the company, scheduled to speak about Uber’s trucking efforts, canceled.

Still, experts anticipate that accidents will decrease when fully automated cars are on the roads.

“If we have autonomous vehicles programmed to follow the law, what the hell are we going to do?” State Police Chief Pete Kassetas joked.

He said that a reduction in accidents would reduce the work for state police.

Kassetas also said drug traffickers using autonomous cars might no longer be pulled over for traffic violations, such as speeding.

“But the tradeoff is good,” Kassetas said.

RELATED: Tesla working on Autopilot radar changes after crash

Not all accidents would be eliminated. Which brings up its own series of questions: Who would pay for a serious injury or death when an autonomous vehicle hits a pedestrian? And how would liability for crashes between two autonomous vehicles differ from current law?

Those are questions that Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Robert Peterson studies. And there are no real answers yet.

Right now, 94 percent of crashes are due to human error or judgement, he said. That would change with autonomous vehicles, as would the liability for manufacturers. Currently, accident claims go through auto insurance. In the future, they may go against the manufacturer — which has higher caps than auto insurance claims. And damages to equipment would also be more expensive, since expensive equipment would be placed behind the bumper, causing potentially thousands of dollars of damage in relatively minor accidents.

Despite the negative attention from the fatal Uber accident and the uncertainty facing the technology’s future, White doesn’t see any opposition to legislation that comes from the summit and other meetings before next year’s legislative session.

“This is kind of a bipartisan issue,” he said. “Usually the pushback comes from social issues and not technology stuff like this, improving safety. “

White expects to introduce legislation in next year’s legislative session to bring New Mexico into the autonomous vehicle future.

Matthew Reichbach writes for the The NM Political Report.