Frequently Asked Questions about Car Accidents
Q: Can I recover even if the accident was my fault?
A: Whether you can recover if the accident was your fault depends on the laws of your state. Some states do not consider fault with regards to some damages, and in those states some of your economic losses may be paid by your own no-fault policy. Other states consider fault, but you may still be able to recover for your injuries, even if the accident was partially your fault. However, in that case, you may be required to prove that the other party’s fault was greater than yours or to reduce the amount of your compensation by your percentage of fault.
Q: Who can I sue to recover my damages?
A: In some cases, an accident victim may be able to sue parties other than the at-fault driver. For example, if the at-fault driver did not own the car, the car’s owner may also be liable for your damages. If the at-fault driver was impaired from consuming too much alcohol, you may be able to bring a “dram shop” complaint against a business that served alcohol to the driver even though he was visibly impaired. In some cases, you may be able to bring an action against another party, such as an automobile manufacturer or construction company, if a defect in the vehicle or the roadway caused the accident. If the accident involved a tractor-trailer, the driver’s violation of rules and regulations may be the basis for a lawsuit against the driver or his or her employer.
Q: What is my case worth?
A: The value of a case depends on a variety of factors and cannot be determined without analyzing information regarding the injury, medical bills, loss of income, and permanency of the injury. There is no rule of thumb, and each set of facts results in a different amount of damages.
Q: Will I have to go to court?
A: Not necessarily. Many motor vehicle accident cases are concluded without even filing a lawsuit. Most lawsuits are settled without an actual trial. A settlement avoids the costs and delay of a trial and may result in a greater net recovery. However, if the case cannot be settled on satisfactory terms, it may be necessary to try it in court.
Q: Where will the money come from to compensate me?
A: The at-fault party’s insurance typically pays for your damages in many states. If you are in a no-fault state, your own insurance may pay for some of your damages. If the at-fault party is not adequately insured, your own insurance policy may contain coverage that will compensate you for your injuries.
Q: How long will it take me to receive my money?
A: The length of time necessary to conclude your automobile accident injury case depends upon a number of factors. For example, if you received a serious injury, you do not want to settle your claim until you have received sufficient medical care so that either your physician has released you or your future medical expenses related to the accident can be determined with reasonable certainty. Therefore, the amount of time you need to heal may determine the length of time necessary to conclude your claim. The amount of time before you recover also depends on whether your case is settled or goes to trial.
Q: What should I do if I can’t afford an attorney?
A: Many law firms will agree to pursue a personal injury claim for a contingency fee, which means that the law firm’s fee is subtracted from any amount that the firm collects for you. If no amount is recovered, then the firm receives no fee, but the client is typically responsible for actual expenses, such as court filing fees or witness fees, whether he or she wins or loses.
Q: Do I have to see a doctor?
A: If you are injured in an automobile accident, you should seek medical attention. Whether or not you have a claim, you should be examined by a doctor, both for your own peace of mind and to document the injury in order to support your claim. Frequently, an automobile accident injury will not appear immediately. Whenever symptoms first appear, go to your family doctor, a hospital emergency room, or another medical professional to obtain medical help.
Q: How soon must I bring my claim?
A: Each state sets a time period during which a person must bring a personal injury claim. Both the length of that period and the way it is measured in motor vehicle accident cases varies from state to state. Even within a state, the time period may vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, such as the plaintiff’s age, the type of personal injury claim, the particular facts giving rise to the injury, and when the injury is discovered. You must be absolutely certain that you know the time limitation period that applies to you, or you risk jeopardizing your legal rights.
Q: Should I accept a check from the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company?
A: Accepting a check may be construed as a settlement that prohibits you from obtaining any additional amounts from the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company. Therefore, you should not accept a check or sign a release from the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company until after you have conferred with an attorney. Typically, an attorney will encourage you to wait to accept a check until you have completed your medical treatment and have been released by a doctor, so you know you have received an amount that adequately covers your medical bills and other damages. An insurance adjuster may push you to settle the claim for the lowest possible amount and may discourage you from contacting an attorney. If so, you should ignore his or her advice, and consult an attorney immediately before accepting any payment, signing any release, or otherwise settling your claim to insure that you are receiving fair compensation and not jeopardizing your right to a full and fair recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions about Drug Charges
Q: What does a “grand jury” do in a drug case?
A: A grand jury is a group of people called together by the prosecutor to gather information about suspected criminal activity by listening to testimony from witnesses and examining documents and other evidence. At the end of the proceeding, the grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to put the defendant on trial for the drug charges. Grand juries are more likely to be convened in connection with more serious and complicated drug crimes, like conducting a drug-related criminal enterprise.
Q: How does the prosecutor decide which drug cases to pursue?
A: The first thing the prosecutor looks for is a legally sound case, or one without any obvious defects that will get it thrown out of court, such as violations of the defendant’s constitutional rights or destruction of evidence crucial to the defense. The prosecutor next decides if there is enough evidence, with regard to both the quantity and the quality thereof, to make conviction probable. Finally, the prosecutor decides if prosecuting the case fits in with the office’s policy objectives, or whether a more informal disposition, like drug counseling or treatment, may be in order.
Q: Can a defendant plea bargain in a drug case?
A: Plea bargaining, which involves negotiating with the prosecutor to get the charges reduced and the punishment minimized, is allowed in drug-offense cases. For example, a person charged with three separate drug charges-possession, possession for sale, and transportation of drugs-may be able to negotiate the charge down to simple possession in exchange for an agreement to plead guilty to that charge. The prosecutor agrees to plea bargains in appropriate cases because the government simply does not have adequate resources to try every case, so both sides benefit from the bargain.
Q: What defenses can be raised in drug cases?
A: The most common defense raised in drug cases is to challenge the search and seizure that resulted in the police finding the drugs. If the police violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights, the court will suppress, or throw out, the drugs as evidence. The prosecution will then have far less evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and the case could even be dismissed.
Q: Can a defendant be acquitted if he or she was on drugs when the crime was committed?
A: Defendants who commit crimes under the influence of drugs sometimes argue that their mental functioning was so impaired that they should not be held accountable for their conduct. Generally, however, voluntary impairment does not excuse criminal conduct, since people know or should know that drugs affect mental functioning, and they should therefore be held legally responsible if they commit crimes as a result of their voluntary use. An exception to this rule may exist in cases involving a crime that requires “specific intent,” in which the offender must have intended the precise result that occurred but arguably could not have formed that intent in his or her drugged state.
Q: What is the difference between parole and probation?
A: Parole and probation are employed in the punishment phase of the criminal justice process. Parole comes into play after a person has been imprisoned and is released subject to supervision by an officer of the court. Probation, by contrast, refers to a criminal sentence separate and distinct from incarceration. Probation is the most frequent sentence imposed for less serious or first offenses and typically involves releasing the convicted offender into the community subject to a list of terms and conditions. Both parole and probation may include additional conditions, like attending drug education classes or receiving drug treatment.
Q: Are children charged with committing drug-related crimes prosecuted in the same manner as adults?
A: Children are subject to a separate judicial system called the juvenile court system. Generally, the focus of the juvenile court system is more on rehabilitation than on punishment. In some cases, however, older juveniles who commit more serious crimes will be charged as adults and tried in the regular criminal courts. In such cases, their sentence, too, will be more in accord with adult punishment, whereas in juvenile court any incarceration is usually in a more rehabilitative setting and generally ends when the juvenile attains the age of majority.
Q: Do I need a lawyer to represent me even if I am innocent?
A: Every criminal defendant needs an attorney. Innocent defendants are perhaps in even greater need of zealous representation throughout the criminal process to ensure that their rights are protected and that the truth prevails. Even innocent people end up in jail, so the best way to prevent that miscarriage of justice is to employ the services of a seasoned veteran of criminal defense law, particularly one with experience defending against drug charges.
Q: If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?
A: Even if you are guilty of the drug crime with which you are charged, it is imperative that you seek the advice of experienced counsel so that you can minimize your sentence and maximize your opportunities to move ahead toward a brighter future. Criminal defense attorneys are needed to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and to ensure that the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all criminal defendants, whether guilty or not, are preserved.