In this podcast episode, Josh and Aaron discuss the different phases of personal injury cases, how those phases are tied to how long the case takes, and what they do at FVF to make sure their clients get the best possible outcome. Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.
Intro: Thank you for tuning in to Summary Judgment where Austin Personal Injury Attorneys, Josh Fogelman and Aaron Von Flatern of FVF Law discuss the ins, outs and in betweens of personal injury cases.
Aaron Von Flatern: This is Aaron Von Flatern and I’m here with my law partner, Josh Fogelman once again and we are podcasting about the topic, how long does a car accident settlement take? Great question. I always tell my clients, the longer it takes the better your case. Because the really, really small cases tend to be faster. That’s a rule of thumb, right? In reality, these things are like snowflakes, like I’ve said before, we did a podcast about how car accident settlements work and touched on this topic a little bit. Today, we want to get a little deeper and talk about the different phases of the case and sort of what happens in each phase. So Josh, let’s just start with this idea that there are phases of the case, so what do we mean by that?
Josh Fogelman: Sure, some cases, as you mentioned earlier, Aaron, are fairly simple. If the liability is clear, it’s obvious who caused a crash, insurance company is throwing up their hand saying, “Mea Culpa, we did it. We’re going to pay on this.” The injuries are very minor and person might have a few medical bills, and they’re able to get the case wrapped up. Other cases, on the other hand, can involve extraordinarily complex insurance situations. They can involve incredibly complicated injuries with dire and significant long-term consequences.
We handle wrongful death cases that open up a discussion with an entire family of people about what their rights and options are. So when we talk about phases, we’re sort of helping to give a general idea of what steps we have to go through in a normal personal injury case before a person should expect to be in a position to start the actual negotiation with an insurance company. Because in my experience, that negotiation is not something that should start right away, or even within the first few weeks or months of many personal injury cases.
Aaron Von Flatern: So, what is the minimum that has to be done before anyone should be thinking of trying to get a settlement accomplished?
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, and again some cases are so bad and the insurance situation is so bad that oftentimes, it’s just about getting the insurance company to pony up the money as quickly as they can so that we can beat some of the medical bills or hospital liens to the table. But generally speaking, in most cases, at a very minimum, a personal injury case is all about the injury. The essence of the case and the essence of what our client should be seeking to recover for is going to depend on how badly they are injured and what their short and long-term harms and losses are going to be. In addition to that, we have to understand some of the other circumstances surrounding the case, the very basic fundamentals of the case, and things like, what does the liability insurance situation look like? What are the liability facts and how much money is there to go after? Does the person who caused the incident have their own assets? Are they accepting responsibility or are we going to have to go out and do a thorough investigation and prove it?
Every case is very different in that regard. So, we have to spend a fair amount of time in many circumstances, trying to just learn those very basics before we can have an educated discussion with our own client about what our recommendations are going to be as to get the case settlement ready.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, now I would say, from a nuts and bolts perspective, if someone asked me, “Well, how fast can I get the settlement done?” Even if it’s a 100% ready, the day that they asked that, maybe they just called us and they’re already healed from their injury, for example, we still got to order the medical records. It’s going to take time for those medical providers to get those back to us. We might have to speak to the experts and get them to document better than they’ve documented in their clinical notes, exactly what’s wrong. Because doctors are focused on getting you healthy, they’re not necessarily focused on documenting what this all means.
So sometimes we have to go out and get them to document, that takes some time and that’s the time well spent. People that are rushing out and getting those settlements. In my opinion, they’re getting shortchanged almost every time. So, I hate to say it to people because I know that we’re in an instant gratification world and I think people are expecting to get their checks right away and a lot of times they really need them. From my perspective, we are going to go as fast as humanly possible to get this done for them. Client satisfaction is job one for us, but a lot of times you have to slow down to make it right.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, and Aaron, I know, you and I have worked on a number of cases together, where what you’re saying is definitely the general rule. It takes time, we have to really do the front end work to make sure that all the pieces are going into place. But there are situations, very rarely, I could probably count on both of my hands, the number of times this has been the case in my career. In the hundreds of cases that we’ve handled, where someone calls you and they’ve got their hospital records already on hand or the discharge paperwork that demonstrates the severity of an injury, where they’ve had surgery at an emergency room or something like that and we evaluate the case and we say, “Guys, there are just too many people who were hurt in this incident. The insurance policy limits are going to become a problem, if we don’t act quickly. The hospital is going to try to assert a lien and try to have a priority claim in the client settlement. We need to just get this case resolved. We need to get the money in the door and in our client’s own pocket as soon as possible,” because that was the best thing to do under those circumstances before they got completely left out of the recovery and ended up upside down as a result of the case that wasn’t their fault to begin with.
Aaron Von Flatern: So yeah, we sometimes call that a race to the policy limits, right? Like where you’ve got a lot of people injured, there’s only so much insurance that the at fault party has and if they’re a normal person, they’ve got exempt assets, they don’t have anything but their insurance policy to cover your harms and losses. For me, I’ve sworn an oath to get as much for my client as possible. I have to drop everything and go beat everyone else to that insurance company with my demand and get that settlement. Does it push other potential claimants out of the way? Yes. Is that rude? Not when you’ve sworn an oath as a lawyer to do your best for your client. That’s the way I look at it. My clients can always tell me they want less money, but it’s my job to give them that option, at least.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, that’s right and in most of the cases, once we have a clear picture, and you don’t have to always know every single detail about what the insurance situation is. But generally, we can get a big picture idea of what the circumstances are and once we had kind of a good idea of what the injuries are, and what the long term, if any, consequences are going to be. That’s really the time in most cases, when you’re right, when you’re actually at a point, where we can look at the case and say, “Okay, we’ve taken verdicts in cases like this that ranged from x to y,” or “We believe that your case valuation should be from anywhere between x and y and we can start the process of opening the doors to a settlement negotiation.” But I think what a lot of people don’t understand is, sometimes you don’t just negotiate a settlement and move on down the road.
In fact, many times an insurance company will just fail to understand the severity of the injury that a person has sustained and what consequences it’s having on that person’s quality of life and their economic situation. So what we do quite a bit only when it’s necessary, of course, but what we do quite a bit is, litigate cases, file lawsuits in cases.
I would talk about that as phase two and the phase two is kind of broken down into some sub phases. You’ve got to file the lawsuit, then you’ve got to go through the document and information exchange and take depositions, which is to interrogate somebody under oath but outside the courtroom and we talk more about that in a separate podcast. Trying to get the case resolved during litigation, but ultimately that can result in a jury trial.
Where on that spectrum from getting being able to get the case resolved very early on, to taking a case all the way to a jury trial, where on that spectrum your case lies is really going to depend on the facts and circumstances and the best thing to do in that circumstances is just to get educated about what your rights and options are.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, we’ve never, we’ve told our client, “We’re never going to push you into a lawsuit. But we’re going to tell you, if we think there’s some balls being hidden,” and with insurance companies and corporations, unfortunately, they do that.
We had that massive sleep deprivation case, you and I worked along about five years ago and that thing just kept unraveling, the more we dug at it, the more secrets we found that the corporation didn’t want us to know. We had to have hearings to pull it out of them, to get the judge to order it and when we started that case, neither you nor I knew what we were going to get into. So, a lot of times clients are questioning whether litigation is necessary.
We’re not going to make you do it but we’re going to tell you when we think we should. So when they’re not valuing your case, or they’re hiding the ball for us, that’s go time we got to file a lawsuit.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, and Aaron, I think you’ll agree with this, there are a lot of law firms out there, a whole lot of personal injury lawyers out there that will encourage their clients to settle their case prematurely. They won’t let the medical side of things develop. They’re just looking to turn the case quickly so that they can get it off their books and get the next one teed up and knocked down and that’s just not the appropriate mindset that is not doing your client any services.
Whereas, at our firm, at FVF Law, we actually built our law firm to be the antithesis of that type of personal injury law practice where rather than focusing on getting cases turned and getting as much money in the door as we can at the expense of the client who’s trusted us, we like to take the time to educate our clients every step along the way and help them make informed decisions so that we can make sure that we’re doing what’s best for them in their particular circumstances.
Aaron Von Flatern: Well, that’s what it’s all about putting the client first and at FVF we have always preached that everyone who works for us needs to treat the client like family. That means giving them all the information they need before they even hire us and then keeping our promises once they do hire us. So Josh, been great to talk to you about this, I think we can wrap this one up.