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Category Archive: Law Blog

Category Archive: Law Blog

  1. How Does Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Affect My Personal Injury Case?

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    Filing for bankruptcy has many different legal implications. If you file for chapter 13 bankruptcy in the middle of a personal injury case, it can change things in one of two critical ways. Either anything won during the claim will become an asset of the bankruptcy estate or the settlement will become a source of income the bankruptcy court can use to pay off your debts. Before you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, consult with a personal injury lawyer about whether this is the right choice for you.

    What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

    There are three different types of bankruptcy filings: Chapter 7, 13 and 11. Chapter 7 bankruptcy will lead to the liquidation of your assets. The bankruptcy court will have the right to liquidate everything you own and use the sale of your assets to pay off your debts. Chapter 13 bankruptcy – the most common type – is the reorganization of an individual’s finances. It looks at the filing party’s disposable income to repay debts. Chapter 11 is the same as Chapter 13, except that it applies to a business.

    What Happens to Your Personal Injury Case If You Declare Bankruptcy?

    Declaring Chapter 13 bankruptcy means you do not have enough money to pay your debts and are requesting a reorganization of your finances. Filing for bankruptcy can clear you of all liability for debts you owe to creditors. Declaring bankruptcy comes with four key principles that can impact a personal injury case: assets, income, discharge of debt and automatic stay. The two that apply to your case will depend on whether you are the injured party – plaintiff – or the defendant.

    When a plaintiff files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the courts examine his or her assets and disposable income. The courts create a bankruptcy estate, which holds all legal and equitable interests of the debtor. If the plaintiff receives financial compensation through a personal injury case, it will automatically belong to the bankruptcy estate. This means it will be legally separate from the plaintiff’s estate.

    If a defendant files Chapter 13 bankruptcy, discharge of debt and automatic stay may come into effect instead. Discharge of debt means the defendant will no longer be financially liable for the debts listed – including a personal injury settlement or judgment award granted to a plaintiff. An automatic stay is an injunction that prevents creditors from seizing the defendant’s property.

    Do You Have to List a Personal Injury Case on a Bankruptcy Filing?

    If you declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy during a personal injury case, you lawfully must disclose the fact that you are involved in the case to the bankruptcy courts. You must list the injury claim on the bankruptcy filing as an asset if your injury claim arose before filing for bankruptcy. If you file a personal injury lawsuit after declaring bankruptcy, you must amend your Schedule B form to disclose the injury claim. Either way, the bankruptcy court must be informed about your injury lawsuit.

    Should You File Chapter 13 Bankruptcy During a Personal Injury Case?

    If you file for bankruptcy during a claim, the bankruptcy courts can use any proceeds from a settlement or jury verdict to pay off your debts. You may still be able to keep a portion of the settlement if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as up to $10,000 from a settlement is exempt from liquidation. With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, however, even the $10,000 exemption may be considered disposable income and used to pay off debts.

    Filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy during a personal injury case may be necessary if you do not have enough income to pay for your bills and debts. Declaring Chapter 13 bankruptcy, however, can have a significant effect on your claim and ability to recover. Whether or not this is the right choice for you is something you and your personal injury lawyer in Houston can discuss in detail.

  2. What Should I Know About Mediation for a Car Accident Case?

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    If you get injured in a car accident in Houston, you may encounter challenges while trying to get an auto insurance company to pay a fair amount for your injuries and losses. The insurance company may be unwilling to accept 100% of the blame or agree with the true value of the claim. If you and an insurance company cannot reach a settlement during negotiations, your case may need to proceed to the next step of the justice system: mediation.

    What Is Mediation?

    Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution in Texas. Alternative dispute resolution refers to legal processes that take place before an injury trial, with the goal of reaching a settlement and avoiding court. Texas Revised Statutes Section 154.023 defines mediation as a forum involving all parties involved in a dispute and an impartial person (call the mediator), who will promote compromise, understanding, reconciliation or settlement.

    Where Does Mediation Take Place?

    Mediation is less formal than a car accident trial. Mediation generally does not take place in a courtroom. Instead, it is held in a conference room, either at a courthouse, a law office or a neutral location. Mediation is generally held in the county where the car accident took place. It only involves the parties named in the dispute, their legal representatives and the mediator. There is no judge, jury or spectators present during mediation.

    What Are the Benefits of Mediation?

    Mediation is typically preferred over a car accident trial in Texas. A trial is expensive from court costs and fees such as hiring experts to testify. A trial can also take a long time to resolve – over a year if the court system in your county is congested. Going to trial also makes the car accident claim part of the public record. This eliminates the ability to achieve a private and confidential settlement with an auto insurance company.

    Mediation is also informal, with a more relaxed environment than a courtroom that saves you the stress of a trial. You will also have more control over the outcome of the mediation. You and your lawyer do not have to agree to anything you do not want to during mediation. You will have no choice, however, but to accept the outcome of a trial.

    Can I Have an Attorney Present?

    Yes, you have the right to have an attorney present during mediation. You can even choose not to attend the actual mediation and send your lawyer as a representative to act in your place. If you do attend the meeting, your lawyer can help you state your position without hurting your case. Having a lawyer represent you during car accident mediation can give you greater peace of mind during the meeting. Your lawyer will make sure you do not agree to a settlement that diminishes the value of your claim.

    Does Mediation End in a Judgment?

    No, mediation does not end in a judgment. A mediator does not have the power to impose a judgment on the issues discussed by the parties. Instead, the mediator’s job is to facilitate communication between the parties and come up with creative solutions. It is entirely up to the parties whether or not to agree to a settlement during mediation. The parties can choose to accept a mediator’s guidance and settle the case or go to trial.

    How Long After Mediation Will I Get My Settlement?

    If mediation for a car accident case succeeds, all parties involved will agree to a suggested settlement. Most settlements stipulate a date by which the insurance company must send you a check. For the most part, you can expect to receive a settlement check within about two weeks of achieving the settlement at mediation. If the insurance company unfairly delays your check, your lawyer can file a lawsuit against the carrier for bad faith.

    For more information about mediation for a car accident case, consult with an attorney in Houston.

  3. Can I Recover More Than the Insurance Policy Limits?

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    If you get injured or suffer property damage in an accident in Texas, state law allows you to collect financial compensation from one or more insurance companies. If the accident was not your fault, you will collect compensation from the insurance carrier of the at-fault party. Otherwise, you will seek damages from your own insurer.

    If you need to file an insurance claim in Texas, it is important to understand how policy limits work – especially if your past and future losses exceed the coverage available. A personal injury lawyer can help you seek compensation outside of insurance policy limits.

    What Are Policy Limits?

    All insurance policies come with limits. Policy limits are the maximum amount of money the insurance company will pay for a claim. Policy limits are listed in the language, terms and provisions of an insurance policy. To understand insurance policy limits during your personal injury case, carefully read the fine print of the policy being used. If an accident happens and you need to seek coverage, the insurance company responsible for your losses will not offer more than the policy limit.

    Can You Collect Outside of the Policy Limit?

    If you get injured in a car accident, the limits on the other driver’s liability policy are most likely $30,000 in bodily injury insurance per person, $60,000 per accident and $25,000 for property damage. These are the minimum required amounts of auto insurance in Texas. These will be the limits, therefore, on your financial recovery during a car insurance claim, unless the driver carries more than the minimum.

    With help from a lawyer, you may be able to seek additional compensation for your accident through other outlets. For example, a lawyer can help you find out if the other driver has additional insurance to provide greater coverage for your losses. If the other driver has optional forms of coverage, such as medical payments coverage, this may provide additional money to pay for your medical bills after the driver’s liability insurance runs out.

    A lawyer can also help you look to your own insurance company for coverage. It may be possible to recover more than an insurance policy’s limit if you seek financial compensation from more than one provider. Your own auto insurance carrier may chip in to pay for the costs of the accident, even if you were not at fault, if you have uninsured motorist, underinsured motorist, comprehensive or collision coverage. A combination of third-party and first-party insurance coverage could provide enough to fully pay for your losses.

    Are You Eligible for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

    Another option to seek financial recovery that exceeds an insurance policy’s limit is filing a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. Bringing a lawsuit against an at-fault party could allow you to access not only that party’s full insurance coverage but also his or her personal assets. A successful judgment award could force the defendant to pay for the full amount of your damages, even if this takes something such as wage garnishment.

    You may also be able to name multiple defendants in your personal injury lawsuit. After a truck accident, for example, you may be able to hold both a truck company and a cargo company responsible for losses. Multiple defendants could give you more opportunities to pursue compensation, as multiple insurance companies may be liable.

    How a Lawyer in Houston Can Help

    It is not easy to collect personal injury compensation beyond the limits of the at-fault party’s insurance policy. It is possible, however, in certain circumstances, if you know where to look for additional compensation. Most injured victims need personal injury lawyers to help them pursue financial compensation outside of an insurance policy’s limit.

    A lawyer can help you explore all outlets for financial recovery after an accident and injury, including your own insurance coverage, a personal injury lawsuit, other defendants or filing a bad-faith lawsuit against an insurance company. Consult with a Houston personal injury lawyer today for more information about your specific case and recovery options.

  4. What Are Interrogatories in a Personal Injury Case?

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    Although most personal injury claims in Texas settle, some require lawsuits to deliver justice and fair compensation to injured accident victims. If your personal injury case has to go to trial in Houston, you will go through what is known as the discovery phase. Interrogatories are a key aspect of the discovery phase.

    What Are Interrogatories?

    The discovery phase is an opportunity for both sides of a personal injury case to find out what the other side knows. The plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney will request information from each other, such as documents and evidence related to the case. They will also submit interrogatories to gather more information.

    Although the word sounds daunting, interrogatories are nothing to fear. They are a list of written questions sent from one party of a civil lawsuit to the other. These questions request basic facts and information about the accident and the victim’s injuries, as well as details about medical treatments and any pre-existing conditions. Filling out an interrogatory clearly, fully and in a way that does not hurt your case is very important as a plaintiff.

    In addition to interrogatories, a lawyer may also submit requests for disclosure, production and admission. A request for disclosure is a written form asking you to disclose basic information about the accident and injury. A request for production is a request to produce requested evidence. A request for admission is a request for one party to admit or deny a fact under oath. These are all tools both sides of a case may use to gather as much information as possible about the accident before proceeding to trial. They make the justice system fairer and more efficient.

    How to Prepare for an Interrogatory

    If your personal injury claim goes to trial in Texas, expect interrogatories. A lawyer can help you prepare the information needed to successfully answer the questions on an interrogatory form. Your lawyer can also help you fill out these forms in a way that will protect you from self-incrimination. A lawyer will know how insurance companies work and how to answer their questions the right way. Questions on interrogatories may include:

    • General information about you, such as your name and Social Security number.
    • Information about your employment history in the last 10 years.
    • A detailed account of the accident.
    • The names and contact information of everyone involved, including eyewitnesses.
    • The amount of any past and future damages you are claiming.
    • A description of all personal injuries sustained in the accident.
    • Information about other accidents you have been in and lawsuits you have been a part of.
    • Information about your medical care, such as the name of your doctor and your official diagnosis.
    • Health insurance information, if applicable.
    • Questions related to the injury trial, such as witnesses your lawyer plans on calling to the stand.

    You are legally obligated to answer the questions sent to you on an interrogatory form honestly. If you knowingly misrepresent a fact during interrogatories, you could face serious consequences, including criminal charges for insurance fraud and/or perjury.

    Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help?

    You do not have to deal with interrogatories in a personal injury case alone. You have the right to hire a Houston personal injury lawyer to represent you during this phase of your lawsuit. Having a lawyer by your side, advocating for your rights and best interests, can provide peace of mind when you need it the most.

    Your lawyer can advise you on what to write in your answers on an interrogatory document, as well as how to stick to the facts of your case without offering too much information. A lawyer can make sure you fill out the document completely, correctly and in a way that will not hurt your case.

    For more information about interrogatories during a personal injury case in Texas, consult with a lawyer near you.

  5. Common Mistakes People Make After a Car Accident

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    Car accidents are one of the most common causes of serious injuries and deaths in Texas. It is often difficult for a car accident victim to cope with the aftereffects of the collision. It is important to proceed with caution if you get into a car accident in Houston, however, as you could make a mistake that ultimately hurts your chances of securing fair financial recovery from the at-fault party. Avoid the following common mistakes to protect your rights.

    Admitting Fault

    Never admit fault for an auto accident outright. Taking the blame for a car accident upfront could automatically eliminate your right to obtain financial compensation from the other driver. An insurance company may accept your admission of guilt without further investigating the car accident, making you financially responsible for the property damage and injuries involved. Instead of admitting fault, allow an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

    Failing to Report the Accident to the Police

    One of the most common mistakes made by car accident victims is skipping the phone call to the police from the scene. Many victims are reluctant to involve the police for fear of getting a traffic citation. However, calling 911 from the scene of a car accident is important. An auto insurance company will request a copy of your police report. Failing to call the police could cast doubt on your reliability as a witness and even result in allegations of insurance fraud. Furthermore, the police can help you build a case by gathering key information and evidence from the scene on your behalf.

    Assuming You Are Uninjured

    Even if you feel fine after a car accident, do not assume you have no injuries. Your adrenaline from the car accident could be masking symptoms in the initial hours after a crash. Do not tell the police or your insurance company that you have no injuries. Instead, say you are not sure whether you are injured. Then, go to a hospital right away so a doctor can check for hidden injuries. Follow your doctor’s treatment plan exactly and request copies of your medical records.

    Not Gathering Evidence

    If you can, collect any available evidence while still at the scene of your car accident. Failing to collect evidence, such as photographs of the crash scene, could hurt your chances of recovering fair compensation. Do your best to take pictures, speak to eyewitnesses and write down what you remember about the accident. If you are too injured to gather evidence yourself, ask a friend to do so for you.

    Trusting an Insurance Claims Adjuster

    When it is time to report your car accident to the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company, do not assume the insurance claims adjuster is on your side. The claims adjuster’s main goal is to save the insurance company money by devaluing your claim. Be careful when speaking to an adjuster. Do not admit fault, agree to give a recorded statement or rush into a settlement.

    Signing Anything Before Consulting With an Attorney

    Do not sign anything given to you by an insurance company without first bringing it to a car accident attorney in Houston. The car insurance company may be trying to take advantage of you by asking your permission to access your full medical records (often to search for pre-existing injuries) or accept a low settlement. Once you sign a liability release form, you generally cannot reopen your case or renegotiate for a higher settlement, even if the amount offered was too low. Before signing anything, consult with a lawyer.

    Missing the Statute of Limitations

    Texas has a statute of limitations, or deadline, on the ability to file a car accident lawsuit. This deadline is two years from the date of the car crash, in most circumstances. Your deadline may be longer or shorter based on the facts of your case. If you are filing a lawsuit against the government, for instance, you may have only a few months to bring a lawsuit.

    It is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after a car accident. Otherwise, you could make a mistake and give up the right to file a lawsuit forever. An attorney can help you avoid all the most common mistakes people make after car accidents in Texas.

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