NOWALSKY & GOTHARD

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Auto Accident Injury

I was in an accident. Do I need an attorney?

No, you do not need an attorney. Many people handle claims following an accident directly with the insurance company for the at fault driver, or with their own carrier. If you have not suffered any personal or bodily injury, it is often the case that the responsible carrier will agree to pay for your property damage, and a rental vehicle while yours is not driveable and/or in the shop for repairs. If you are completely satisfied that all of the damage has been properly repaired and paid for, there may be no need for an attorney. If you are unsure as to the amount of fair compensation for your property damage, especially if your vehicle is considered a total loss, you may want to consult with an attorney to understand how the process works and what rights you have.

If bodily injuries are involved, you still have the right to handle the claim yourself, but knowing the proper value of your claim can be tricky. There is no exact “menu” as to how to evaluate a personal injury claim, and an experienced lawyer can usually get more recovery than a person handling the claim on their own. The trade off, of course, is that you will owe fees to your lawyer.

A few additional warnings: It is potentially dangerous to give an authorization to an insurance company to obtain your medical records, because they are usually general authorizations which would allow the company to get any and all records from any and all health care providers. It is almost never a good idea to allow the insurance adjuster to speak with any of your health care providers. There are also several important considerations you should discuss with an attorney before agreeing that the auto insurance company can be billed directly by, and pay your bills directly to, your doctor. Finally, there is a rarely discussed claim you may have, if your car is damaged, called “diminished value,” which is money you may be entitled to, above and beyond the actual costs to repair your vehicle.

Should I give a recorded statement to an insurance company after an accident?

After an auto accident, people are often asked to give a recorded statement to an insurance company. You have no obligation to give a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company. Insurance companies, through their adjusters, do need to obtain some information about the accident to determine who is at fault, and the extent of any property damage and bodily injuries. It should be sufficient to provide relevant information without the insurance adjuster recording the statement, and you may politely agree to speak with the adjuster but decline to be recorded. If for any reason you do agree to give a recorded statement, or have already done so, you are entitled by Louisiana law to a copy of that statement, and should request that immediately, preferably before you give the statement.

You have a different relationship with your own insurance company, including an obligation to assist in their evaluation of any claims. You must provide information to your own carrier, but may not be obligated to give a recorded statement, based upon the language of your insurance policy. Again, if you have already, or agree to give, a recorded statement, be sure to request a copy.

A few additional warnings: It is potentially dangerous to give an authorization to an insurance company to obtain your medical records, because they are usually general authorizations which would allow the company to get any and all records from any and all health care providers. It is almost never a good idea to allow the insurance adjuster to speak with any of your health care providers. There are also several important considerations you should discuss with an attorney before agreeing that the auto insurance company can be billed directly by, and pay your bills directly to, your doctor. Finally, there is a rarely discussed claim you may have, if your car is damaged, called “diminished value,” which is money you may be entitled to, above and beyond the actual costs to repair your vehicle.

Can I change lawyers in the middle of a case?

Yes, you can. If, for any reason you are dissatisfied with your attorney, you have the right to terminate the attorney-client relationship and hire new counsel. If you change lawyers in a personal injury case, or any other case involving a contingency fee contract (the lawyer gets paid a percentage of recovery when the case is over), the terminated attorney may have a right to recover his or her costs spent on your case, and may have the right to compensation based upon the actual work they performed on your behalf. You will only owe a single contingency fee, which must be divided between your previous counsel and your new counsel. If the lawyers cannot agree on the division of fees, a court may have to decide.

You should think carefully before changing counsel in the middle of a case. Many times clients are dissatisfied because they do not know what is going on with their case. Communicating your feelings with your attorney, in person or in writing, may alleviate concerns and not require a change. If you feel a change is necessary, speak with any potential new attorney about your specific concerns, to be sure that the new attorney is a good fit for you. Once you decide to change counsel, advise your attorney in writing that you are terminating the relationship, and request a copy of your entire file, including information which may be in digital format.

Medical Malpractice

What is medical malpractice?

It may be easier to tell you what medical malpractice is NOT. It is NOT a claim resulting from a poor outcome from medical treatment or a medical procedure. Medicine is an inexact science, and we are all humans with some inevitable mortality. It is often the case that a bad outcome occurs even though the healthcare providers were competent and provided appropriate care.

Of course, healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, dentists, etc.) can also commit medical negligence in their practice and cause harm to their patient. The legal definition of medical malpractice is a deviation from the appropriate standard of care which caused harm to the patient. In most cases, an expert witness will be required to explain the standard of care for a particular case. For example, if there is an issue with a birth defect, you may need an OB/GYN, or a pediatrician, or a neonatologist, to explain what the healthcare provider should have done, and compare that to what they actually did, or did not, do. This can obviously be complicated, because the practice of medicine is inherently complicated.

General Practice

What is a Notary Public?

A notary public is an individual commissioned by the Louisiana Secretary of State who is authorized to draft, prepare and execute affidavits, acknowledgments and authentic Acts. Most attorneys are notaries, but non-attorneys who pass the state notary exam may also be commissioned. Many important legal documents must be “notarized.” This means that the document must be signed by you in front of the notary, and possibly other witnesses, depending upon the document. Documents which must be notarized include acts of sale or donation for both movable and immovable property, powers of attorney, wills, and trusts.

The compensation you will be asked to pay can vary greatly. Some notaries charge a flat fee for different types of documents. A lawyer-notary at law firm does not necessarily charge more than a commercial notary service. Expect to pay more if you require the notary to draft a document for you, as opposed to simply witnessing your signature.