Please note that these answers are general in nature, are not intended to address a specific legal question, and do not constitute legal advice.

Do I need a lawyer? When you are first contacted by an agent who works for the insurance company, he has the insurance company's interest at heart-not yours-and, more often than not, you will need someone to speak for you. If the case involves only property damage, you may not need a lawyer. However, if you were injured, properly evaluating the injuries and presenting the claim in an appropriate manner is difficult and, as a result, in most cases a lawyer may be needed.

What are the steps in resolving a personal injury claim? After we are retained, we notify the insurance company that we are your representative. We then allow the doctors to do their work. After treatment is complete and you have reached "maximum medical improvement," we gather all medical records and review them. We put together a settlement package with a copy of all relevant documents, including a review of your injuries and all medical records. Upon receipt of the settlement package, the insurance adjuster will review the facts in your case, sort through the medical records and use a damage calculation program to determine the range in which his client will make an offer. After an offer is made, there is some give and take between the adjuster and the attorney which often results in settlement. If the case does not settle at this stage, the case may be sent to litigation.

What can I expect in the way of compensation for my injuries? Compensation for particular types of injuries are usually based on the amount of reasonable medical expenses you have incurred. This does not mean we have a multiple for every penny your doctors have billed; rather, the issue here is reasonableness. The insurance company keeps files of medical providers that are known to inflate figures in injury cases and we generally recommend that you avoid these physicians. However, as you are the patient, we will respect your choice.

If the case goes to litigation, what can happen? The litigation process can take anywhere from 18 months to 3 or 4 years or more. After the suit is filed, both parties ask for "discovery" which usually involves:

a) Interrogatories: Written questions submitted to the other side.
b) Request for documents: Asking for all relevant documents the other side may have.
c) Request for admissions: We try to agree on undisputed facts. For example, it may be undisputed that one driver ran a red light and the other side is willing to admit that.
d) Depositions: After each side has sent and answered discovery documents, the attorneys will ask questions of the parties and witnesses under oath.
e) Motion practice: Sometimes either side may file a pleading asking the judge to make a ruling on a question of law.
f) Trial: The case is set on the trial docket. Because of the extensive number of criminal cases (our constitution requires these to be tried before civil cases), it is sometimes hard to get a personal injury case to trial.