Fighting For Boston Families For More Than A Decade

Frequently Asked Questions

Personal injury cases are complicated. And, they tend to unfold at a difficult time in your life – right after an unexpected accident and as you’re struggling to recover from painful injuries. So, it’s entirely normal – and to be expected – that you’d have questions.

The Boston personal injury lawyers at Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP are here to help. Here, you’ll find answers to some of the questions we receive most often from prospective clients and clients alike at different stages in the personal injury claims process. 

If you additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our Boston law office to schedule a time to sit down with a member of our team at no charge. We’re always here to help – 24/7/365.

What is a Personal Injury Case?

A personal injury case arises when one person suffers an injury for which another person is legally and financially responsible. Personal injury cases can take different forms, including claims for insurance benefits (including workers’ compensation) and civil personal injury lawsuits. 

The person who initiates a personal injury case is known as the plaintiff, and they’re the person who has suffered an injury of some sort. The person against whom the personal injury case is filed is known as the defendant, and they’re the person that is being blamed for causing the plaintiff’s harm.

By filing a personal injury case, the plaintiff is asking to be compensated for the injuries, harm, and suffering they’ve endured. The compensation that can be awarded in a personal injury case varies, depending on the circumstances, but often includes money for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. 

What Are the Grounds for Filing a Personal Injury Case?

In Massachusetts, there are several grounds on which a personal injury case can be based, including negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and strict liability.

  • Negligence: Negligence means that you’ve suffered an injury because of another person’s careless and irresponsible behavior. In order to establish negligence, you must prove that another person owed you a duty of care, breached it in some way, and, in turn, caused you to get hurt.
  • Negligence Per Se: Negligence per se means that a person is presumed to have been negligent because they violated a safety law that was intended to keep others safe. As a consequence of violating the law, they caused another person to suffer an injury. If, for example, you were injured in a car accident that involved a drunk driver, you might be able to argue that the drunk driver was negligent per se because they were intoxicated behind the wheel – a violation of Massachusetts state law.
  • Gross Negligence: Gross negligence is conduct that is more than mere carelessness. It’s a gross deviation from the behavior that a reasonable person would exercise. If someone drove 100 MPH down a road in Boston that had a speed limit of 25 or 30 MPH, it might be said that their conduct was grossly negligent. Gross negligence is typically most relevant when a plaintiff seeks an award of punitive damages.
  • Strict Liability: Strict liability means that liability for injuries attaches, regardless of the degree of care or caution a person exercises. In Massachusetts, strict liability is most often seen in cases involving defective products and dog bites. Manufacturers and dog owners can be strictly liable for harm caused by their products or canines, regardless of measures taken to prevent harm.

It’s possible that a personal injury case could be based on one or more of these legal theories. After reviewing your case, our experienced attorneys will be able to explain your options for pursuing compensation.

What Are Personal Injury Protection Benefits?

Personal Injury Protection benefits (commonly referred to as PIP benefits) are “no fault” benefits that provide up to $8,000 in coverage for anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of who caused the accident. PIP benefits may be used to pay for medical expenses, replacement services, and 75% of lost wages. In order to obtain PIP benefits, an application must be filed with the insurance carrier, otherwise no payments will be issued.

Medical Expenses: The first $2,000 in PIP benefits are used exclusively for medical expenses. The amount of coverage for medical expenses is determined by what type of health insurance the injured person has. If the injured person has a private health policy (Non-ERISA funded health plan), then the injured person has at least $2,000 in medical expense coverage and possibly more depending on what bills are covered by the private health policy. If the injured person has an ERISA funded plan or a non-private health policy (Massachusetts Health, for example), then the injured person has up to $8,000 in medical expense PIP coverage.

Lost Wages: PIP benefits will cover 75% of lost wages incurred as a result of the accident. These benefits exist to the extent that the injured does not receive benefits through a disability plan.

Replacement Services: PIP benefits may be used to pay reasonable expenses to non-family members. This is designed to perform services an injured person would otherwise have performed for the benefit of himself/herself and/or family members of his/her household. Examples include child-care or cleaning services.

NOTE – PIP benefits are NOT available in the following circumstances:

  • Injured motorcyclist or motorist whose vehicle is not subject to motor vehicle registration, or a motorized bike
  • Injured motorist who caused own injury by operating under the influence
  • Injured motorist who caused own injury by committing a felony or seeking to avoid arrest
  • Injured motorist who caused own injury by intending to injure self or others
  • Injured motorist who was injured in the course of employment and entitled to worker’s compensation
  • Injured motorist who violates the PIP policy’s cooperation clause
  • Injured motorist who has elected a deductible under the relevant PIP policy
  • Injured motorist who has already recovered claimed medical expenses

How Much Is My Personal Injury Case Worth?

Many attorneys, insurance companies, and others may try to tell you what your case is worth before they know much about it. The real answer to that question can only be answered after a thorough case analysis. This requires investigating every fact, medical bill, medical record, and most importantly, evaluating your personal story and your personal experience.

Much of the case value analysis cannot be completed until your treatment is complete or you have reached a medical end result. Quite simply, at Sweeney Merrigan Law, we create case value by developing YOUR story based on your injuries and treatment. Our goal is to maximize that value for each person we represent.

The value of a case is personal in every sense of the word.

A leg injury caused by a slip on ice to Mary Sue who lives in a downtown Boston basement rental apartment, who loves to run and swim, and works at an office desk is very different from the value of a leg injury caused by a drunk driver to Mike Smith who lives in a suburban home nestled on large piece of property, whose passion is to read when he isn’t laboring away at the construction site. These examples are used to illustrate the unique ways in which people get injured and how their injuries affect them differently.

We want to know your story.

Each of our clients has a different story involving a different set of facts, circumstances, and injuries that affect each person differently. Therefore, in order to determine how much your case is worth we must take the time to develop a personalized case management plan that is specific to you and your needs.

One of our former clients identified the personalized nature with which we approach every case when he said:

“I feel that my legal needs are important to them and that I am a person and not just a file number or court date” ~Janer, Dorchester, MA

What is a “PIP deductible”?

The PIP deductible trap is one to be wary of any time you are purchasing automobile insurance. More and more insurance companies are cutting their rates to induce customers to assume the responsibility of PIP coverage. This form of self-insurance often saves the customer very little on their annual rate, while compromising some of the most important and vital coverage afforded through automobile insurance.

In basic terms, the customer agrees by contract with the insurer to self-insure the first $8,000 in medical expenses, lost wages, and replacement services. Even worse, your health insurer will often not pay a penny until the $8,000 in medical expense threshold has been reached.

Who pays my medical bills?

Once retained, we will coordinate the payment of your medical bills, whether that is through the applicable automobile NO FAULT (PIP) insurance benefits, your health insurance, or simply by pursuing the person/entity responsible for having caused you to incur medical bills. You no longer need to stress about whether your bills will be paid. Instead, your only job is to do what you doctor tells you: get better. Forward all of your medical bills to us.

The insurance claims process involving medical expenses requires constant coordination and monitoring. Our office will be sure that any available insurance policies and benefits are applied in order to minimize your risk of out of pocket exposure.

Very often people will brag or boast that they received a large settlement or verdict at the end of a case, but those numbers are meaningless if the attorney handling the case leaves his/her client with large outstanding medical bills. As with every case we handle, we will provide a complete account for all medical expenses, with the goal that all balances will be paid in full, which maximizes the settlement/verdict value to you.

How much does it cost to hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?

We work on our cases through a contingency fee, which typically is 33.33% of what we are able to achieve on your behalf. Therefore, the cost of hiring our attorneys to work on your case is determined by the outcome. As we say: “NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL.”

The purpose of the contingency fee is to accommodate people who are injured and would otherwise not have the means or be in a position to dig into their savings to hire an attorney. The function of the contingency fee is symbiotic — the attorney is incentivized to achieve the highest possible outcome he/she can on behalf of his/her client. Moreover, because the fee is determined by the outcome of the case, clients do not need to be concerned that when they have a question or with every phone call, text, or email they will incur an hourly attorney’s fee.

Should you have any specific questions on how a contingency fee works, please contact our office for a free consultation and take comfort knowing that you do not have to pay us to evaluate your claim.

Do I need to give a statement to the insurance company?

In the days or weeks following an accident, you are not required to answer any questions from anyone. Insurance companies and the investigators they hire will work quickly to obtain your statement and encourage you to sign documents, which release your very personal information.

You are not obligated to say anything or sign anything. Remember, insurance companies are in the business of collecting monthly premiums on their policies, while paying as little as possible when claims are made. If you have been injured, you need an attorney who can protect your rights and fight your case. Talk to one of our lawyers before you talk to anyone else.

Once we become your attorneys, you can tell anyone who contacts you to call and speak to us.

How long will my case take?

The timetable of your case depends on how long it takes for you to get better. When injured, our bodies respond and heal differently and, as a result, there is no universal schedule for any one case. Our goal, however, is to move your case along as quickly as possible, while keeping you informed of every step along the way. There are different moments throughout your case where negotiations will be had and offers will likely be made – you are the decision-maker and the boss when it comes to accepting or rejecting those offers.

Although we are here to make recommendations as to whether we think they are fair or reasonable, our primary job is to prepare for trial. The court system is slow and it often takes many months before a trial date will be secured. In the meantime, should there be any offers to settle, you will be the one who ultimately decides whether to settle or continue to trial.

I am not able to work because of my injury. Can I recover lost wages?

Yes. We will pursue any and all lost wages you have incurred as a result of your injury. Lost wages are pursued within the scope of one’s lost earning capacity. Lost earning capacity is the loss of opportunity to earn income as a result of one’s injuries. This includes both direct lost wages as well as the opportunity costs suffered by loss of employment based on one’s professional earning capacity, age, experience, industry, etc.

If you have been injured in an automobile accident, you will be able to pursue up to $6,000 in lost wage PIP benefits regardless of who was at fault for the accident. This coverage provides reimbursement for 75% compensation for your gross lost wages. In order to obtain lost wages, a doctor must provide a note documenting that your missed time from work was due to medical incapacity (rather than for things like scheduling to attend medical appointments). You will also need to provide a statement from your employer as well as prior tax returns in order to detail the amount of your lost wages. If you are self-employed, tax returns and your business accounts will be the primary method for detailing your losses.

I have been hit by a hit-and-run driver, what do I do?

Although hit-and-run accidents are devastating, almost anyone who has been injured in a hit- and-run accident (who is not at fault for the accident) will be able to recover for their injuries if they own an insured vehicle or a family member that they live with does. These claims are made through what is called uninsured coverage.

Insurance is a type of contract. A contract for automobile insurance provides that the insured pays the insurance company every month and in exchange for those payments, the insurance company agrees to pay a much larger sum of money should an accident with injuries occur. Uninsured coverage is a contractual benefit that exists to cover someone who has been injured by an uninsured vehicle or a hit-and-run driver.

Uninsured coverage exists in every automobile insurance contract in Massachusetts. Therefore, if you have been injured in a hit-and-run accident and you (or a family member you live with) own(s) an insured vehicle, you will be able to pursue a claim through uninsured coverage, even if the person who hit you is never identified.

Whenever someone is injured in a car accident, it is our job to investigate all forms of insurance coverage that may be available for recovery. For that reason, make sure you don’t leave any stone unturned and call our office to see if you are eligible to make a claim. Remember, we do not charge a fee unless we are able to recover something on your behalf.

Once a lawsuit has been filed, then what?

  • After the decision to file a lawsuit is made, the attorney will draft a Complaint, detailing the nature of the lawsuit and the underlying allegations that are being made against each defendant.
    • The lawsuit is filed when the court “dockets” the Complaint, which means receives and records the Complaint along with the appropriate filing fee.
    • The filing of the lawsuit is the first step toward going to trial before a jury or a judge, who will decide the outcome of the case.
    • It is important to know that every state has a “statute of limitations,” which defines the time period within which a lawsuit must be filed. The time period varies depending on the type of case; however, if that time period passes, the case will be forever barred.
    • The Complaint will then be “served,” which means delivered to each defendant, who will then be required to file an “Answer” whereby the defendant admits or denies the allegations contained in the Complaint.
  • The Discovery Proces

    • The discovery process is the period of time whereby each party has the opportunity to learn more about the adversary’s case.
    • While there are a variety of tools the parties use, almost every case involves interrogatories, which are written questions the opposing party must answer, and depositions, which are formal interviews conducted by the lawyers in the case.
    • The discovery process can last many months to a year (or more), depending on the order of the court and complexity of the case.
  • Alternative dispute resolution

    • At any time throughout the case, but typically at the conclusion of discovery, the parties may voluntarily engage in alternative dispute resolution.
    • Alternative dispute resolution is primarily seen in the form of mediation, arbitration, or negotiations.
      • Mediation is a voluntary process in which both the clients and lawyers meet with a mediator, who is a trained professional charged with the job of facilitating meaningful and effective negotiations. Mediations can be as short as a half a day or multiple days. Mediations are non-binding, which means that if the parties do not reach an agreement, the case will proceed to trial in the manner it would have had the mediation never occurred.
      • Arbitration is also a voluntary process; however, the outcome of the arbitration is binding and cannot be challenge absent unusual circumstances. An arbitration functions similarly to a trial where the parties present evidence, testimony, and argument to a hired arbitrator who will make the final decision concerning the outcome of the case.
      • Lastly, parties might engage in direct negotiations throughout the course of the case and sometimes even during the course of trial. Any offers to settle during negotiations do not constitute an admission of guilt or liability, but instead are efforts to compromise in order to avoid an unpredictable outcome with a jury.
  • Trial

    • We are trial attorneys and going to trial is what we prepare to do at all times, from the moment you retain us as your attorney.
    • Typically, when alternative dispute resolution agreements are not met, the case will proceed to trial. A personal injury trial can be as short as a day or as long as a couple of weeks. The length of the trial will be determined not only be the complexity of the case, but also by the court’s schedule and whether the court allows the trial to span over the course of consecutive full days or if the trial will be held on consecutive half days.
    • Trial can be delayed unexpectedly for a number of reasons, which include the schedules of the court, the attorneys, the parties, and/or the witnesses.
    • Personal injury trials are typically before a jury; however, if both parties prefer, the case may be presented to a judge.

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