Posted 7/31/2008 12:10 AM (GMT -6)
First, I'm really sorry to hear about how much pain you're in & how much PT hurts.
As for your attorney's recommendation, there could be a couple of reasons why he would recommend to settle early:
1. The person who hit you might not carry much insurance & you might only be able to get a very small pay-out.
2. If the pay-out is small, your best hope is to minimize the amount you have to pay to your attorney. If he's working on contingency, it doesn't much matter. If he's working on a fee-basis, it could increase the amount you receive since he would be billing you for fewer hours.
3. As you've seen, medical bills pile up quickly & court cases can drag on for years. If you can't continue to self-finance or work with your medical providers to accept partial payment until a settlement is reached, then you would need money now just to keep yourself afloat.
It really depends on which insurance company insures the person who hit you. If they are a large, reputable company, there is a small chance that perhaps your attorney could get them to authorize payment above and beyond the coverage limits of the policy. If they are a smaller company, that almost never happens. The insurance information, including policy limits, would likely be provided during interrogatories, if not sooner. Perhaps you can see if your attorney has already discovered that information so you have some idea about what the best case for your settlement would be.
If your attorney can't answer your questions about why he is recommending a quick settlement to your satisfaction, or if he continues to take your case in a direction that is not satisfactory to you perhaps you should look into getting a different attorney. You can look up on the ABA (American Bar Association) site, your state bar site or Charleston might even have a city bar association. They can provide you with an appropriate referral based on the basic details of your case & the level of experience you are looking for (more years of practice = higher fees, but also might increase your chances of getting a better settlement). The attorney or someone at his/her office ought to be willing to address concerns you have about getting adequate legal representation from them for no fee (e.g., asking about experience, education, specializations of the practice, fee schedule, communications with clients, etc.).
Also, "totaled" should mean that damages to your car would cost more than 50% of what it would cost to return your car to the general condition of your car before the accident. You can look on Kelly Blue Book's website to find out what your car should be worth -- for the condition, put in the condition it was in prior to the accident. If your car is totaled, you should get the KBB replacement cost, based on the location, mileage & condition of your car prior to the accident. Often if there's a question about condition, you can show your last service report to prove your case on that. Depending on the state laws, you might be able to get a settlement on the car separate from medical expenses.
Also, as far as your medical expenses, perhaps you could try to get an educated guess from your various medical providers as to what it might cost over the long run to improve your condition as much as possible (hopefully, that's to as good as you were before the accident, but if your doctors say that doesn't seem likely to happen then let your attorney know that, too because if that affects your ability to provide for your family you might be able to get some money added to the settlement, again, though, only if the people have a big enough policy).
Remember that typically health insurance companies negotiate price reductions with medical providers. Since the bills are being covered by an auto insurance policy, you won't automatically get that. Once you get a settlement, call your health care providers' billing offices & explain the situation & ask if there is any sort of negotiated price they can extend to you, or if the hospital has grants you can apply for to cover some of your medical bills, or if you can work out a payment plan (preferably, interest-free).
Double-check with your attorney, but I'm pretty sure that in all states if you get a reduction in cost from the medical provider, you get to keep the difference. That way you can apply it to other medical bills, future medical expenses, or even just taking care of your kids.
One more thing -- some states provide state-funded Personal Assistants for persons who would otherwise end up in a state nursing home. I used to work as one for a lady in a wheelchair. She had to find, interview, recommend and train her PA's, but the state gave her so many hours of help each week for all sorts of tasks from personal hygiene to meal preparation to house cleaning to running errands. They could probably even help, unofficially at least, with some of the tasks you would normally do for your kids. If it gets really bad & looks like it could continue for several more months, perhaps you could check with your state to see if it offers something like that. In my state it is called the Office of Rehabilitative Services. If you can't get a PA, maybe they could at least get you a free advocate to help you find ways to pay all your bills & stuff. Also, check with your utility companies. I found out -- too late last time, I'll get it right this year -- that ComEd offers a once-per-lifetime break for people who are on disability (or off work because of a disabling condition) to get a one time credit on your utility bill -- I think it was something like $150. People's Gas offered a deferred payment plan where I could skip a few months' payments & have those amount spread out over the next 12-15 months. There might be others, so perhaps it would be worthwhile to check.
I hope this helps. I know it can be overwhelming to navigate insurance settlements. Often I tell my friends that if they can wait, they should wait as long as possible to see how their medical condition progresses and to collect as many bills as possible to give the most accurate and complete picture. If, however, the insured is only carrying the minimum amount of insurance and you've already hit that amount with your current medical bills, then you may as well get your money now -- again, though, check with your lawyer.
I know that's a lot of information. I hope it's not too overwhelming. I really wished someone could have just told me everything to do when I was on disability & overwhelmed with bills last summer so I thought maybe you would like the same. If not, my apologies.
Best Wishes & Stay Strong! I will be praying blessings for you & your children & that everything works out.