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In this article I 1) provide a quick overview of Nevada car accident law, 2) help you decide if you need a personal injury attorney, and 3) give some advice on how to choose the best Las Vegas personal injury attorney. This article is a general overview not a comprehensive guide.
Overview of Nevada Car Accident Law
If you are injured because of someone else’s negligence you are entitled to compensation sufficient to place you in the position you would occupy had the negligence not occurred. This includes compensation for bodily injury (past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, etc.) and property damage (the cost to repair or replace your vehicle and compensation for reasonable rental vehicle expense in the interim.). Negligence is failure to act like a reasonable person under the circumstances. An inattentive driver who crashes into the rear of another vehicle is a common example.
Sometimes a personal injury claimant is partially at fault for their own injuries in which case the value of their claim is reduced by their percentage of fault. Under Nevada law someone who is more than 50% at fault for their own injuries is not entitled to recover bodily injury compensation.
It is often the case that someone injured in a single car accident is entitled to compensation from multiple insurance policies. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen Nevada attorneys make is failing to find all possible sources of recovery for their client. Consider that a passenger injured in a two-vehicle collision may potentially recover from six or more insurance policies:
- The liability policy for the driver of the vehicle the passenger occupied;
- The liability policy for the driver of the vehicle the passenger did not occupy;
- The UIM or Medpay policy for the owner of the vehicle the passenger occupied;
- The liability policy for the owner of the vehicle the passenger did not occupy;
- The passenger’s personal UIM or Medpay (even though the passenger’s vehicle was not involved in the accident);
- The UIM or Medpay policy of a relative with which the passenger resides
UIM stands for “uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.” A claimant is entitled to UIM compensation if the at-fault-party does not have adequate liability coverage. If multiple UIM policies exist, there are rules to determine their order of application. Medical payments coverage (Medpay) compensates an injury claimant for medical expenses incurred and is not predicated on negligence. This means an injury claimant could potentially recover medpay despite being at fault for an accident. An injury claimant might also be entitled to compensation from one or more umbrella policies. Again, an attorney’s failure to figure out all policies that apply could result in the client not receiving all the compensation they are entitled to.
Two of the most common questions clients ask are 1) how long is my personal injury case going to take? and 2) what is the value of my personal injury case? In general, the more medical treatment a client undergoes, the longer their case will take, but the greater their case value. Loosely speaking, most claims should not be settled before the client is done treating because the client cannot recover compensation for any treatment that takes place after settlement. That said, strategic and practical considerations sometimes justify settling one or more claims prior to conclusion of treatment. A good personal injury attorney can determine the ideal times to settle claims.
Another common mistake I see Nevada attorneys make is not properly advising their clients of the potential benefits of using their health insurance. The alternative- an attorney lien- is an arrangement in which the client agrees to pay their medical providers out of their settlement. Generally speaking, the main advantage of using a lien is that the client may treat with any medical provider (they are not restricted to an insurance network) and they do not have to come out of pocket for co-pays or deductibles. The main advantage of treating with health insurance is that the client’s net recovery is potentially greater.
To illustrate, consider two hypothetical clients who incur $10,000 in medical expenses. The first undergoes all treatment on an attorney lien basis while the second submits all medical expenses to their health insurance for payment. When their cases settle, the first client will owe $10,000 to their medical providers and must pay them with their settlement funds. In contrast, the second client will owe nothing to their medical providers because they have already been paid by the health insurance. Although the second client might be obligated to reimburse their health insurance pursuant to a subrogation clause (standard in most insurance contracts) the reimbursement amount is typically less than what would be owed to the medical providers if the treatment were incurred on an attorney lien basis (even after the providers agree to customary case end discounts). This is not to say that health insurance is always preferable to a lien. There are many factors relevant to that decision, such as whether the health insurance policy is an HMO or PPO, and in many cases it makes sense to use health insurance for some treatment and an attorney lien for the remainder.
Do you Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Generally speaking, anyone involved in a car accident should consult with a personal injury attorney. Most personal injury lawyers do not charge for an initial consultation and most work on a standard contingency fee if you do decide to move forward. This means they do not get paid unless you get paid. The standard fee is one-third of the settlement and increases if the case goes into litigation. Most cases settle without a lawsuit.
Some injury claimants consider representing themselves. This is generally not a good idea because personal injury claimants who do not have adequate legal knowledge typically recover much less than those represented by competent attorneys. To illustrate, consider a hypothetical claimant might recover $10,000 on their own, or $100,000 with the help of a good attorney. Even after paying the standard $33,333 attorney fee, the client recovers $56,667 more than they would representing themself. In other words, a good personal injury lawyer can increase a client’s net recovery by an amount that justifies their fee.
How to Choose the Best Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney
Practice Area is a good place to start. It is best to choose an attorney that handles only personal injury cases. Ideally your lawyer will have lots of experience handling cases like yours. If you were involved in a semi-truck accident, motorcycle accident, or pedestrian accident for example, make sure your attorney has plenty of experience with that specific case type, not just car accidents in general.
Personal referrals and online reviews can also be helpful. If someone you trust had a positive (or negative) experience with an attorney that is worth considering.
Case results should be considered with caution. A recovery amount is not good or bad without reference to context. Consider a firm that advertises a $10 million recovery for a client. Prospective clients might be impressed by this outcome. But maybe $10 million was not a good outcome given the severity of that particular client’s injuries. Perhaps another law firm would have recovered $20 million for that client. To put it differently, it can be more difficult to recover $1,000 in a disputed liability case then it is to recover $1 million in a clear liability case in which the client’s injuries are severe. In this sense comparing personal injury recoveries is often like comparing apples and oranges.
Avoid discount lawyers. My experience in Nevada is that you get what you pay for. Continuing with our example above, you are not saving money if you recover $10 million with a discount lawyer when a “regular price lawyer” would get you $20 million. And be cautious if an attorney promises you will recover a specific dollar amount at the time of your initial consultation. Many of the factors relevant to how much a client will recover, particularly how much medical treatment the client will need and how much insurance coverage is available, are unknown at the time of the first meeting.
Do not be overly impressed by lawyers who appear on magazine covers and “top lawyer lists.” I have appeared on my fair share of magazine covers and top lawyer lists. But based on my experience it is my impression that some attorneys deserve to be featured while others are only included because they pay to advertise with the publication in which they are featured. Similarly, online lawyer rating services are questionable. I know of at least one well known company that gives attorneys a substantially higher rating if they actively engage with their platform.
As far firm size goes, there isn’t anything inherently good or bad about a firm of any size. One advantage of a firm with multiple attorneys is that clients benefit from cumulative experience and multiple perspectives. Larger firms might also have more resources. Whatever the case, make sure to choose a firm that handles litigation and trial work. Many firms say they handle litigation, but few actually take cases to trial. If they do not, this is a deal breaker. Insurance companies do not take non-litigation firms seriously.