Personal Injury / Wrongful Death
Personal injury and wrongful death cases are a primary focus of the firm and are handled by Attorney Jason A. Orndoff. These claims involve situations where a person has been injured or killed as a result of someone else’s negligence. These types of claims most often arise as a result of a motor vehicle collision, but our practice also includes claims arising from defective products, tractor-trailer collisions, dangerous conditions on land or in stores, attacks from animals and intentional injury by other persons.
A case involving personal injury or wrongful death is always an important matter, and depending upon the facts of your case there may be things which immediately need to be done. For example, some situations require the involvement of an accident reconstruction expert and this is best done when physical evidence is still available. Also, over time, witnesses may be difficult to locate and may not have a clear memory of what they observed. Frequently, clients or families have urgent questions immediately following an injury or death. Who will pay for the medical bills? How can I make sure I get the medical treatment I need? What about my lost income from work? My vehicle is damaged or destroyed – who pays? Can I get a rental vehicle? The person at fault didn’t have any insurance – what do I do? What do I tell the insurance adjusters who are calling me? Do I even need a lawyer to help me?
These questions are natural, and we are happy to provide an initial consultation about your claim at no charge to you. To learn more, you may wish to review the Q&A below.
Important: We do not charge a fee to talk to you by phone or in person about your case. If necessary, we will come to you if you are unable to come to us. Please call us to schedule a free consultation.
PERSONAL INJURY AND WRONGFUL DEATH – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Does the firm charge a fee to talk to me about my case?
A: No, there is no consultation fee for personal injury or wrongful death inquiries. We are happy to discuss your situation and see if we can be of help.
Q: Will you talk to me on the phone or come see me if I am unable to come to the office?
A: Yes. We are happy to talk to you by telephone about your case and when necessary will travel to wherever you are to discuss your case.
Q: How much is the attorney fee? How is the attorney fee paid?
A: The firm accepts personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis. That means that clients only pay an attorney fee if there is a recovery, whether that recovery is by settlement, arbitration or trial. The standard attorney fee is 1/3, or 33 1/3%, of the recovery. In certain instances, the firm accepts clients on a lower or higher percentage based upon specific factors involved in that particular case.
Q: I have been injured or a loved one has been killed as a result of someone else’s negligence during a motor vehicle collision. What happens now? What do I need to do?
A: You should be completely honest with law enforcement officers and provide as much information as possible regarding how the collision occurred. If possible, you should make note of any witnesses including names and contact information and obtain pictures of vehicles involved and the scene of any collision. You should also take pictures of any areas of injury on your body, such as cuts, bruising, scarring, etc. In those instances in which a loved one has been killed, it is important for a family member or friend to take steps to document evidence (such as photographs of the vehicles, the scene, etc.) pending the establishment of an estate and the appointment of a personal representative.
It is very important that you be honest with medical providers about the problems you are experiencing, without overstating or understating your injuries. This is important first and foremost so that your medical provider can appropriately treat you. It is also important that your injuries are properly and fully documented in the records.
Also, it is very important that you seek medical treatment as is necessary and that you follow your treatment plan as directed by your doctors.
Finally, in certain situations it is important to quickly involve engineers known as accident reconstruction experts to evaluate the scene, document and process physical evidence and to examine vehicles involved in the collision in order to assist with determining how and why the collision occurred. Whether or not this needs to be done is dependent upon the specific facts of your case, and you may need to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your claim and any potential work which needs to immediately be performed.
Q: What does it mean to say “Wrongful Death” claim?
A: In a situation where someone has lost their life due to the negligence of another, the claim is referred to as a Wrongful Death claim. The person authorized by law to bring and prosecute a Wrongful Death claim is the person qualified and appointed by the Clerk of Court as the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. In other words, the personal representative is the person with authority to retain legal counsel and pursue such a claim.
Any monetary recovery from a Wrongful Death claim passes outside of the estate and via the laws of intestacy. “Intestacy” refers to North Carolina law which provides for how a person’s estate is to be divided if they did not have a Last Will & Testament. Even if the person who passed away has a Will, North Carolina law states that Wrongful Death proceeds are distributed in the manner provided by law for persons who did not have a Last Will & Testament. There are also other provisions in the law which apply to how Wrongful Death proceeds are disbursed, such as who is entitled to the proceeds, who must consent or agree to any settlement of a Wrongful Death claim, how funeral and medical expenses are paid, and other factors.
In a Wrongful Death claim, the estate by way of the personal representative is allowed to present evidence of damages including, but not necessarily limited to, medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering, reasonable funeral expenses and the present monetary value of the loss of reasonably expected net income, services, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, and the society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent. See N.C.G.S. §28A-18-2.
Q: An adjuster or employee of the at-fault driver’s insurance company is calling me or wants to come visit my home. What are my rights? What should I do?
A: Generally speaking, most claims arising from a motor vehicle collision involve both a “property damage claim” and a “bodily injury” claim. “Property damage” claim involves damage to your vehicle and/or personal property in the vehicle at the time of the collision. “Bodily injury” involves your claim for your physical injury, medical bills, lost wages, scarring and the like. These two categories exist because auto insurance policies are sold with different policy limits for different types of coverage. These are the two types of coverage typically involved.
Often, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will assign two different adjusters, one for each type of claim. Most folks involved in a motor vehicle collision claim will deal with the property damage adjuster first as this adjuster’s role is to determine the damage to your vehicle and to attempt to resolve issues such as vehicle repair, towing and storage expenses. You should know that it is not necessary for you to discuss your injuries or medical treatment in order to resolve your property damage claim, and when talking to the property damage adjuster it is recommended that you limit your discussion to the relevant property damage issues.
For more information about property damage claims, please see the Q & A below entitled “My car is damaged or destroyed. What do I do?”
In addition to the property damage adjuster, a bodily injury adjuster typically will contact you relatively quickly after a motor vehicle collision. You are not required by law to speak with the other party’s insurance adjuster or allow them into your home, but if you choose to do so you should be honest, avoid making guesses, and do not overstate or understate your injuries. Many times, the adjuster may wish to make an audio recording of any statement you provide. You should always require that a copy of the statement will afterwards be provided to you before agreeing to make such a statement, and you should be aware that any statement you provide may be used as a basis to deny any claim you may wish to make.
In some instances, an insurance adjuster may ask to come to your home and attempt to resolve your claim in the days following a motor vehicle collision. While you have every right to settle your claim at this point if you choose, you should realize that in exchange for any payment the adjuster may require that you sign a Release of Claims which either limits or bars any future recovery beyond what is provided to you at that time, no matter if you require additional medical treatment or if your injuries are more severe than you anticipated. You should ask yourself this question before resolving your claim as such an early stage: “Do I understand what has happened to me and is this in my best interest?”
Q: What does it mean to say that I may be entitled to ask for compensation for my damages?
A: An injured party is entitled to seek redress for damages from a negligent party. Damages can consist of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of use of part of the body, scarring and other factors. As each case is unique, each case will have different elements which support claims for damages.
Q: My car is damaged or destroyed. What do I do?
A: In most instances, liability or fault of one party is apparent and the at-fault person’s insurance company will assign a property damage adjuster to evaluate your car and authorize repairs or, if your vehicle is a total loss, will negotiate with you to attempt to reach a settlement regarding the fair market value of the total loss vehicle. Rental vehicles are commonly provided by the at-fault party’s insurance carrier during the pendency of any repairs.
If your vehicle is repaired, you may have a claim for diminished value. This concept refers to the fact that a vehicle which has been damaged and repaired may not have the fair market value afterwards of a comparable vehicle which has never been damaged. This potential element of damages is dependent upon the vehicle’s model year, fair market value prior to the damage, cost of repairs and other elements.
It is possible to resolve your property damage claim while maintaining a claim for bodily injury. You should simply make sure than any Release you sign is specifically limited to property damage only and that any bodily injury claim is unaffected.
Q: I have been involved in a motor vehicle collision I’ve learned that the at-fault party didn’t have any liability insurance, or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover my damages. What do I do?
A: If the at-fault party is not insured by any type of coverage (and is therefore an “Uninsured Motorist”) you would make a claim under your own policy of automobile insurance provided that you have purchased and have in effect coverage known as “Uninsured Motorists” coverage. If you have this type of coverage, it typically provides coverage for both property damage and bodily injury claims.
In situations where the at-fault party has an auto liability policy in place, but it is not enough to cover your damages, you would make a claim under your own policy of automobile insurance provided you have purchased and have in effect coverage known as “Underinsured Motorists” coverage. This type of coverage helps to provide additional monies to compensate you for bodily injury and damages in excess of the at-fault party’s policy limits.
The determination of what type or how much insurance coverage which may apply to your claim can require a detailed analysis of the facts of your case and the policies involved. You should obtain a copy of your own auto policy and consult an attorney to assist you in determining the nature and extent of coverage available to you.
Q: My child has been injured as a result of a motor vehicle collision or some other incident. Can you help?
A: Yes, the firm frequently assists in cases involving minor children. Generally speaking, the claim for medical expenses and related damages belong to the parents or responsible parties, while the claim for bodily injury belongs to the minor. Monies which are received for bodily injury must be kept for the benefit of the child, and often are placed into the Clerk of Court or used to purchase guaranteed annuities which the minor receives after reaching the age of majority. Also, in the vast majority of cases involving minors, settlement of the claim must be presented to the Court and approved before becoming final. In these instances, a Guardian ad Litem is appointed to look out for the minor child’s interests and to be present before the Court to answer questions and offer opinions as to whether the settlement is appropriate and best for the child.
Q: Does the firm only handle cases involving motor vehicle collisions?
A: No. The firm has experience handling claims involving animal attacks, claims involving assault or intentional injury, claims involving the use of a motor vehicle to strike a person on purpose (whether on foot or in another vehicle), claims involving dangerous conditions on land or in stores open to the public, and claims involving products which were defective and caused injury.
Q: How do I hire the firm to help me?
A: The firm’s representation begins when the client and firm execute a Contract for Legal Representation. Before asking any client to sign this document, the Contract is reviewed in detail and all questions the client may have are answered. A telephone consultation or email inquiry does not form a contract of representation between the potential client and the firm.
Q: Does the firm accept referrals from other attorneys or work as co-counsel with other attorneys?
A: Yes. It is a pleasure and a privilege to accept referrals from other attorneys and I also am happy to work as co-counsel in cases, pursuant to the Rules of the North Carolina State Bar governing such relationships. I am also happy to provide informal consultations with fellow attorneys who may wish to discuss a potential claim, case or issue which has arisen in any particular matter.