One of the most common questions we get at FVF Law is: Why hire a personal injury lawyer after a car accident? In this episode, Josh and Aaron walk through why you should call a lawyer even if you aren’t sure you want to hire one and what to expect on that first call. 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 into Summary Judgment, where Austin personal injury attorneys, Josh Fogelman and Aaron Von Flatern of FVF Law discuss the ends, out and in-betweens of personal injury cases.
Josh Fogelman: This is Josh Fogelman. I’m one of the founding partners of FVF Law in Austin, Texas. I’m here with my co-founding partner, Aaron Von Flatern. And one of the most common questions that we see is: Why hire a lawyer after a car accident? People kind of wondering whether they should hire a lawyer after they’ve been hurt in an accident. Obviously, as the founder of a personal injury law firm, I think we’re a little bit biased on the subject. But really, the mission of our law firm was built on the principle of educating people and helping them make informed decisions when we know that they’re vulnerable, and we know that there’s a lot of predatory conduct out there. So we’d like to help people become informed to make decisions about really important topics as early as they can. So really, maybe a better question or a better answer, Aaron, would be whether or not you hire a lawyer, you should at least talk to a lawyer after you’ve been hurt.
Aaron Von Flatern: I totally agree. I think that a lot of my family members and friends and neighbors who ask me this question, they’re putting the cart way before the horse. They usually come to me and say, “Well, I kind of not sure what I should do here but I’m not sure if I should take this person to court.” And I always say, “Let’s slow way down. All you need to do is talk to a lawyer and learn about your options and find out what are the decision trees that they’re unfolding before you.” You’re not necessarily going to go to court because you called a lawyer and you certainly don’t have to hire the lawyer you call. Almost every lawyer that does what we do is willing to give out some information. And at FVF, we strive to provide a complete picture of what you’re getting into so that you can make an informed decision.
Josh Fogelman: Right. And one of the things that we really stress when we’re fielding phone calls, because most of the people that call us have never really been down this road before, and they don’t even really know where to start. And a good starting place for us is just to gather all of the relevant information. What happened? When? Where? Who? Why? How? Learn about the nature and extent of the injuries, and then take the time, spending about 30 to 45 minutes, sometimes an hour on the phone with the person, just teaching them, teaching them about the basics of personal injury law, helping them understand what options are available to them, whether it be with regard to receiving medical care, dealing with the property damage of their vehicle, understanding their own insurance policies, so that they can start choosing the best path that’s going to put them in the best position possible down the road to secure the best settlement or the best recovery that they’re able under the circumstances. And one of the big topics that we talk about with the clients also, is helping them understand some of the pitfalls that they potentially face and helping to understand… Helping to teach them about the insurance minefield. What are kind of some of the insurance issues that we educate people on?
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, it’s a good question. There are a ton of variants in the different policies that are out there, and so every policy is unique. But generally speaking, there’s quite a bit of coverage on your own policy that can make up for some of the shortfalls that the other person may have, ’cause you don’t get to pick who crashes into you one day. They may not have insurance at all, they may have a lack of insurance. And most of the time, people were surprised to find out that even when they do have coverage, that that coverage is not a pay-as-you-go insurance, right? So they don’t just pay you one medical bill at a time as you’re injured and treating, they’re going to want to settle everything at the end and they’re going to expect you to figure out how to deal with everything in between. And you don’t have to go at it alone. Obviously, we can help you navigate those waters. And Josh, I think you and I have probably read 50 insurance policies. They’re all a little bit different, but once you know how to read one of them, you can read all of them, right?
Josh Fogelman: Yeah. And one of the things that I find interesting, too, is if you’re just a consumer, just a normal person using their car, you’ve trusted your insurance agent or you’ve just purchased your auto insurance online, and many people just don’t really have an understanding about what their own insurance policy provides, and they don’t really recognize the importance of some of the coverages that they might have when they actually need it because they’ve been hurt in an incident. And I find that many people are surprised to learn about the different types of coverages that are available and really how the law impacts their rights and abilities to access those critical coverages when they really need them the most. And Aaron, I think you would agree with me that from start to finish, one of the most important things that we do as personal injury lawyers and the way that we can really add value to the case is help navigate our clients through the fog of the insurance industry and helping them understand some of the techniques that insurance companies use to devalue their case and to try to short sell their case and get out of the situation as cheaply and as quickly as they possibly can. What are some of the common tactics that you like to explain to people when you’re handling a new client phone call?
Aaron Von Flatern: So I think the first thing is kind of hiding the ball. If there’s multiple members of the household that have multiple insurance policies, you’re probably not going to find that out, right? They’re not going to volunteer that information. It’s going to require an investigation, kind of behind-the-scenes, usually done by lawyers. If the person was working for a corporation that might have some giant multi-million dollar insurance policy, you may not find that out right away. If the person was coming from a bar and maybe the bar has some responsibility for over-serving somebody, you’re not going to find that out. And so the investigation piece is the first part where they kind of let you fall into the holes and don’t actually tell you you’re stepping in them. And then the other big piece, and I think, Josh, you’re kind of the expert in our firm on this, is the medical treatment pathways. I think a lot of people, they don’t have a lawyer, they’re going to go to some strip mall chiropractor. They’re getting treatment that is definitely making the chiropractor some money, may not be making them better and it may not be getting any traction with the insurance companies who are looking at this. Can you speak a little bit about how the insurance companies are evaluating claims? What do they value, and how is it that we help our clients get there?
Josh Fogelman: So one of the big issues that I see insurance companies, how they’re taking advantage of people is not really letting them know at the outset of the case, the importance of securing medical care promptly. Rather, oftentimes, what insurance companies will do is sit silently by while the person who was hurt lets a bunch of time pass, hoping that they’re going to get better, while the insurance company is just watching the clock with a smile on their face because every day that goes by, when the person hasn’t gone and gotten medical care, is a day that they get to use to argue down the road that there’s these some big gap in treatment, so they’re not going to consider the medical treatment or not going to consider the severity of the injury.
So, we oftentimes counsel people… Or not oftentimes, we always counsel people that getting medical care promptly is one of the biggest things that they can do to protect the integrity of their case and take the wind out of the sales of the insurance company’s argument that if they had really been hurt, they wouldn’t have waited some period of time to go and get medical care. And the insurance companies really have a lot of different tactics like this that they like to deploy. They like to make these what seem to be reasonable offers really early on in the case saying, “We’ll pay a little bit of money upfront for you in a lumpsum and we’ll pay for your medical bills for the next three months,” which seems reasonable at first, but it also takes advantage of many people’s optimism about what kind of a physical recovery they’re going to make from their injuries before they’ve had an opportunity to really let sufficient time pass and to actually secure the conservative treatment they need to really figure out whether or not they’re dealing with a long-term injury versus a short-term injury.
So for those clients that do choose to hire us, helping them navigate through the process of receiving the medical care so that we can learn about the full spectrum of the short and long-term consequences of an injury is probably one of the most important things that speaks directly to the entire essence of what a personal injury case is.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah. And I would add that, when you mentioned them running the clock out when there’s a treatment gap, for example, that is one of the key tactics of the insurance industry. [chuckle] We get so many calls from people who were working with an adjuster for years, and they get to the point in Texas where you’re about to be cutoff. Statute limitations here in Texas for car accidents, two years, in most circumstances. And so they’re working with the adjuster, they’re getting some offers, maybe there’s some counteroffers, and in about a week before the statute runs, suddenly, they can’t get a hold of the adjuster. The adjuster won’t call them back and I can promise to you that claims… And having worked on the inside of an insurance company, I can tell you, the claims manager is telling the adjuster, “Do not call that person back.” They don’t know that their case is about to go over a cliff. And luckily, sometimes these people, when they can’t get a hold of the adjuster, they call us and we kind of steer them off the cliff if we can. But that’s just one example of how they’re going to let you walk into some traps.
Now, in addition to avoiding those traps, I would argue that calling a lawyer early is good, so you avoid some of the traps of the medical world. The medical world is complex and if you’ve got a structural injury to your spine, you’re on an investigation. And the clock is ticking on that investigation because your legal rights are going to run eventually. So you’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with you. And sometimes, we get clients who say, “I’m really into yoga and all that.” That’s great, and we want you to treat the way you’re comfortable treating. But that’s different than the diagnostics. And so lawyers who know what they’re doing in this area are going to push you to get to the higher level specialists. Find out exactly what’s going on with your spine because decades from now, you’re going to wake up and regret some cheap settlement that you signed off on not knowing how hurt you really were.
Josh Fogelman: And with any part of the body, I think one of the things that I have just found, whether it’s your spine or some other injury, one of the things that I’ve found in doing this in the past decade is, it’s very common for injuries that will ultimately cause long-term problems or big problems down the road to present as something seemingly minor. And that causes people often to take a somewhat lackadaisical approach to actually getting the treatment that they need. And that’s just something that we like to help, one of the many things that we like to help coach people on. But I think the main reason that we really press on people to call a personal injury lawyer if they have been hurt, is whether you choose to hire that lawyer or not, taking the 30 minutes or an hour that it’ll take to have a good thorough consultation, which is always going to be cost-free, at our firm at least. We never put pressure on people to hire a lawyer or not. We just take the time to educate them, see if it’s a good fit for them and a good fit for us. But if they end up choosing to hire a lawyer, or even if they choose not to hire a lawyer, at least at the end of that phone call, they’ll have a much better understanding about what their rights and options are, so that they can put themselves on an equal playing field with an insurance company, and put themselves in the best position possible to not get taken advantage of.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, I agree. And that’s also the start of a relationship, in my opinion. So even when we don’t… If the client calls us, they just want some advice, we give it to them. Maybe they’re still thinking about maybe don’t hire a lawyer at all. It could be months go by and they’ll call us about something else. Maybe it’s not even an injury case. We just want to establish a relationship with people. We’ve started a mission-based law firm that’s dedicated to education and transparency and simplicity, and we are trying to make those connections in the community with everyone. So if you can find a law firm like ours that is in that mode, it’s not going to be high pressure, just give them a call and they will help get you in the right direction and you won’t have to have this false choice of either going it alone with the insurance company or hiring some sleazy lawyer that you don’t trust.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, that’s right. Well, we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us. And we hope that you found this information to be useful. Obviously, every case is different and has different factors in different variables coming to play in different cases. And so if you have questions or you’re looking for some guidance about where to go next, and you’re looking for some people who are not going to take advantage of you and really have your best interest in mind, please, we’d love to hear from you at FVF Law. We’re available, make ourselves accessible to our clients and potential new clients. There’s no question too big, no question too small. So we hope to hear from you soon.