The Ultimate Guide to Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Accident Cases
If you are reading this, you or someone you know has probably been injured in a Wisconsin car accident. Even if you have not been involved in a car accident, we are providing you with a lot of information you will find useful. After reading this guide, you will know more than most people (and some attorneys) about what to do if you have been involved in a car accident in Wisconsin. If, after reading this, you have any questions that have not been answered, feel free to contact us. We would love to talk to you.
People have come to our office who have signed documents giving up their injury case without understanding what they signed. Others have come to our office who did have a good case, but they waited too long and the statute of limitations expired. These people can no longer pursue their case. Still others have hurt their case by talking to the other driver’s insurance company, giving the insurance company overly broad access to medical records and failing to receive proper medical treatment.
This guide has been written with the knowledge we gained after our law firm has handled hundreds of Wisconsin car accident cases. Even if you are well-intentioned, there are many things you can do, without knowing it, that will hurt your car accident case. This includes everything from waiting too long to hire an attorney, taking your case to the wrong attorney, settling your case too early, mistakes you can make when talking to your doctor and many other things you can do to hurt your Wisconsin car accident case.
Table of Contents
Because this process is long and complex, so too is this guide. Click the links in this table of contents to jump to a specific chapter or section.
- CHAPTER 1 – AT THE ACCIDENT SCENE
- CHAPTER 2 – WHAT TO DO AT THE EMERGENCY ROOM
- CHAPTER 3 – THE CALL FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY
- CHAPTER 4 – HOW MUCH IS MY CASE WORTH?
- CHAPTER 5 – INSURANCE COMPANIES AND COVERAGE
- CHAPTER 6 – HOW TO HIRE THE RIGHT LAWYER TO HANDLE YOUR CLAIM
- CHAPTER 7 – WHAT OUR CLIENTS HAVE TO SAY
- CHAPTER 8 – LAWYER ADVERTISING
- CHAPTER 9 – UNDERSTANDING THE INSURANCE COMPANY
- CHAPTER 10 – WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE MY LAWYER?
- CHAPTER 11 – DO I NEED A “LOCAL” ATTORNEY?
CHAPTER 1 – AT THE ACCIDENT SCENE
Your car accident case begins at the accident scene. Stay calm. No one makes good decisions when fear and anxiety take over. There are important decisions to be made at the accident scene and the calmer you are, the better your decisions will be.
Keep your priorities straight. Your number 1 priority is always your safety and well-being and that of anyone else who was in your car. If you think you are seriously injured, try not to move and immediately call 911 or have someone make the call for you.If you are safely able to move about at the accident scene, check on others in your car.
The other driver may suggest that there is no need to call the police. Never agree to that. The police should always be called to the scene of a Wisconsin car accident so that an accident report is properly prepared and filed. The seemingly-friendly driver who admits to you at the accident scene that he ran the red light and the accident is his fault may have a different story a day or two after the accident and after he has an opportunity to speak with friends, family, and perhaps an attorney. If you are able to call the police, then immediately do so. If for some reason you are unable to call the police from the accident scene, make sure someone else does.
If the accident occurred in a parking lot or on other private property, the police may not come to the accident scene. If that is the case, you should drive to the closest police station as soon as you can and ask for a form to prepare your own report. If you have to self-report the accident, make sure you obtain the name, address, telephone number, and license plate number of the other driver. Also, make sure you get the correct name of the other driver’s insurance company. If the police come to the scene of the accident, they will obtain all of this information for you and it will be included on the police accident report once filed.
10 THINGS YOU MUST DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT
- Check for Injuries – Check yourself and your passengers for any serious injuries. If you believe anyone in your car is seriously injured, call 911 or have someone else call as soon as possible. Try to avoid moving anyone who is seriously injured unless they are in a position of danger. Moving someone who is seriously injured can cause further injury.
- Call the Police – Never let the other driver talk you out of calling the police. That friendly driver who admits to you at the accident scene that it was his fault may later decide that it was you who ran the red light.
- The Great Escape – Get the license plate number from the other car and the make and model of the car. Many clients have told us how the other driver left the scene of the accident while waiting for the police to arrive. In fact, this is exactly what happened to me. When I tracked down the driver who left the scene, I learned he was a former Wisconsin Governor. Needless to say, he was surprised to hear from me.
- Insurance Information – Obtain the name, phone number and insurance information for all drivers involved in the accident.
- Witnesses – Check for witnesses and obtain their contact information if possible. Many times witnesses are unable to wait for the police to arrive. Witnesses can be very helpful to your case, especially if the other driver’s story changes.
- Pictures – If you can do so safely, and you are not seriously injured, take pictures of the cars involved in the accident. The position of where each car came to rest following the accident may be helpful later if there is a question of how the accident occurred.
- Vehicles – If the cars do not pose a threat to safety, leave them where they came to rest after the accident and turn on your emergency flashers. Then move to the side of the road where you are safe while waiting for the police to arrive. The police will record the position of the vehicles and place that information in the accident report. They will then have you move your car to the side of the road if it is drivable.
- Notify Your Insurance Company – If time permits, notify your insurance company of the accident while waiting for the police to arrive. Many insurance companies have a mobile phone app you can use to report an accident. Information about how to report an accident to your insurance company can also be found on your proof of insurance card. If you are unable to notify your insurance company from the accident scene, notify them of the accident as soon as you can.
- Medical Treatment – If there is any indication at all that you have been injured, get medical attention as soon as possible. Even small aches and pains can turn into serious injuries in the days to come. When your personal injury claim is presented to the insurance company for the at-fault driver, one of the first things the insurance company will look for is how soon after the accident you sought treatment. The longer you wait to receive treatment, the more likely it is that the other driver’s insurance company will challenge your claim.
- Ambulance – If you have any reason at all to think you are seriously injured, have the police call an ambulance or call an ambulance yourself. If you are seriously injured, receiving prompt medical attention as soon as possible can have a big impact on your recovery. The cost of the ambulance can be recovered as part of your settlement.
THE 8 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER DO FOLLOWING A CAR ACCIDENT IN WISCONSIN
- Never Leave the Scene of an Accident – In Wisconsin it is a crime to leave the scene of a car accident. If you leave the scene of an accident you risk being fined, facing jail time or both.
- Never Admit Fault – Determining who is at fault for an accident can be complicated. Your thoughts and emotions will be running high following a car accident. There is nothing to be gained by admitting fault and possibly a lot to lose. After a proper investigation is completed, you and your attorney can make a determination who is at fault.
- Never Speak With The Other Driver’s Insurance Company – Many times the insurance company for the other driver will contact you shortly after the accident to obtain a statement from you and to have you sign a Release of Medical Information. Generally this contact is made very soon after the accident before you are able to hire an attorney. Once you retain an attorney, it is improper for the other driver’s insurance company to contact you. Many car accident victims have hurt their personal injury claim by giving a statement to the other driver’s insurance company. That statement can be used against you at a later date.
- Never Sign Any Documents Following a Car Accident Without Having The Documents Reviewed by an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney – We have had Wisconsin accident victims come to our office not understanding that they had signed a Release before consulting a lawyer and now could no longer bring a claim.
- Never Accept An Insurance Company’s Settlement Without Having an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Review the Settlement – It is virtually impossible to know the value of your case until you have plateaued from your injuries and have had your case reviewed by an experienced personal injury attorney. We provide this service free of charge. If the settlement is fair and reasonable, we advise the accident victim to accept the settlement. If the insurance company offer is not fair and reasonable, we will explain that to the accident victim and we will explain what we believe the case is worth.
- Never Allow The Insurance Company Unrestricted Access to Your Medical Records – If the insurance company believes you have been injured in an accident, one of the first things they will send you is a Medical Release of Information form. The form the insurance company sends you will always be open-ended and unrestricted. This allows an insurance company complete access to all of your medical records, going back as far as the insurance adjuster wants. Once they obtain your medical records, the insurance company will look for anything possible to devalue your claim. Keep in mind that an insurance company – even if it turns out to be your own insurance company – is a business. It is their business objective in every case to pay the injured party making a claim the least amount of money possible. Your personal injury lawyer’s job is to neutralize that business objective and make sure that your interests are properly protected and that you receive all the compensation you are entitled to.
We never allow our clients to sign an open-ended Medical Authorization. The insurance company is entitled to relevant medical records at the appropriate time. What is relevant depends on the facts of the case and the type of injury or injuries being claimed. That determination is best left in the hands of a skilled personal injury attorney.
- Never Hire a Personal Injury Attorney Who is Not Highly Skilled and Experienced in Handling Personal Injury Cases – Personal injury litigation has become a highly complex area of the law. Insurance companies and their attorneys know who the skilled personal injury lawyers are. How your attorney is perceived by the insurance company and their attorneys has nothing to do with how often the attorney advertises on TV. Some of the attorneys who advertise the most carry very little weight with the insurance company. The insurance company knows that lawyer may need to turn over cases quickly in order to fund the next TV ad. A personal injury attorney’s experience and tested ability to try cases when necessary is what makes an insurance company sit up and take notice. The attorney you hire very often has a direct impact on how much you eventually recover.
Once you hire an attorney, and then realize you have hired the wrong attorney, it can be difficult to obtain a new lawyer. The original lawyer you hired, even if he turns out not to be an experienced personal injury attorney, may have a lien on any future attorney’s fees which can make it difficult to find a new lawyer. While it is possible to switch attorneys, the best rule of thumb is to hire the right attorney to begin with.
- Never Post Anything About your Accident or Your Injuries on Social Media. The at-fault driver or his/her insurance company may try to gain access to your social media posts and use that against you.
CHAPTER 2 – WHAT TO DO AT THE EMERGENCY ROOM
One of the first records the insurance company will look at in evaluating your injury claim is the hospital emergency room record. Always be truthful with your doctors. First, that is just the right thing to do. Second, the truth almost always comes out somewhere along the way.
Being truthful does not mean making sloppy or careless statements to your doctor or his staff that the insurance company can later use against you. Many people hurt their injury case by what they say to their doctors. For example, a car accident victim may go to the emergency room and tell the ER physician “my neck hurts, I hurt it 10 years ago.” What the patient meant is that he first hurt his neck 10 years ago but has not had any problems with his neck since then. However, the insurance company will interpret this statement to mean you were already having neck pain right before the car accident and therefore they are not going to pay you for that injury.
One of our clients told her employer that her “back started to hurt at work” and she needed to go home. What she meant was that she had injured her back earlier in the car accident and when she tried to work the injury from the car accident flared up. The insurance company, however, interpreted the statement to mean that she hurt her back at work and therefore they were not going to pay her because the injury had nothing to do with the car accident. We won that case for our client but this is a good example of why it is important to be accurate when speaking with your doctor.
Often we will see an entry in the medical records where a car accident victim tells her doctor that her back pain is at a level 1/10. When we ask our client if that pain level rating is accurate, she tells us that her pain was actually much worse but she did not want to sound like a “complainer.” The insurance company later reviews the medical record and sees a pain rating of 1/10. It then concludes this was only a minor injury.
The lesson to be learned is that you must be both truthful and accurate when speaking with the emergency room physician and any follow-up physician. If you had an injury 10 years ago, but no problems since then, make it very clear to the doctor that you have not had any pain for the last 10 years and what you are experiencing now is due to the car accident. If your pain is really an 8/10, make sure you tell that to your doctor. Do not give a lower pain level rating for fear that you may seem like a “complainer.” Not only is your doctor unable to treat you properly if you are not accurate in recording your pain, but the insurance company will take advantage of any weakness they can locate in your medical records. A good personal injury lawyer can overcome many of these mistakes but it is best not to put yourself in that position to begin with.
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CHAPTER 3 – THE CALL FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY
Following a car accident, you can expect to receive a phone call from the other driver’s insurance company. If you do not respond, there will be follow-up phone calls as well as letters from the other driver’s insurance company.
It is important that you understand why the other driver’s insurance company is trying so hard to contact you as soon as they can following a car accident. All insurance companies understand that once you hire an attorney for your injury claim, the insurance company is no longer allowed to have direct contact with you. All contact from the insurance company must then come through your attorney.
If the other driver’s insurance company is successful in making contact with you before you retain an attorney, they will want to take a statement from you. The statement is almost always taken over the phone. Keep in mind that the insurance company representative who contacts you is experienced in defending personal injury claims. Their goal is to settle your claim for the least amount of money possible and then move on to the next claim.
When the insurance company representative contacts you, he or she will have a list of carefully worded questions they will read from. You will be told that the questions and answers are being recorded, will be transcribed, and can later be used in a Court of law. The main objective in taking a statement from you before you retain an attorney is to reduce the value of your claim, often without you realizing it.
It is never a good idea to give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company without your attorney being present. There is nothing to be gained by giving a statement to the insurance company and many people hurt their case by giving a statement. Even with an attorney present, it is only on rare occasions that you should give a statement to the insurance company. On those rare occasions, we insist that we be part of the telephone conversation and we require the insurance company to confirm in writing that the statement cannot be used for any purpose in any future legal proceeding.
There are circumstances where you may be making an injury claim against your own insurance company. This is usually in the form of either an uninsured motorist claim (where the at-fault driver has no insurance) or an underinsured motorist claim (the at-fault driver has insurance but not enough to cover the value of your injuries). When making a claim against your own insurance company, the rules are different. Your insurance policy requires you to cooperate with your insurance company and this includes giving a statement if you will be making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim. In those instances you should always have your attorney present when you are giving a statement to your insurance company. Even though you may be dealing with your own insurance company, the objective of the insurance company is always to pay you as little as possible to resolve your injury claim. Taking a statement from you is one part of reaching that objective.
One of the main factors in determining the amount you will eventually receive from your injury claim is the length of your medical treatment and type of treatment you receive. Many people seriously hurt their injury case during the medical treatment process. There are red flags that the insurance company will always look for when evaluating your injury claim following your Wisconsin car accident.
First, the insurance company will always look to see how soon after the accident you began your medical treatment. If you wait weeks or months to begin your treatment, the insurance company will conclude that you were not seriously injured. Rightly or wrongly, the reasoning by the insurance company is that if you were badly injured, you would have started treatment shortly after the accident.
Next, the insurance company will always look for gaps in treatment. For example, a car accident victim may receive treatment regularly for six months. Then they receive no treatment for three months and after the end of the three-month period began treatment once again. The insurance company will take the position that they will only compensate you for the first six months. Again, rightly or wrongly, the reasoning by the insurance company is that if you were badly injured you would continue with regular treatment unless your doctor instructs you otherwise.
Accident victims also hurt their case when they do not follow their doctor’s advice. For example, if your doctor recommends that you start physical therapy after the accident, it is important that you follow your doctor’s advice. Following your doctor’s advice will help you heal in the shortest period of time. From the insurance company’s perspective, the insurance company will take the position that the amount you should receive for your injury claim is less because you did not follow your own doctor’s advice.
What you say to your doctors when you visit them is also important. Remember, when evaluating your case the insurance company will have a copy of your relevant medical records. It is important that when you go for treatment, you tell your doctor or physical therapist about all of the injuries you are having from the accident. If an injury is not documented in the medical record, the insurance company will take the position that it did not exist.
Under no circumstance should you ever fabricate an injury or try to make an injury sound worse than it is. Maybe it is because of the type of clients we represent, but we very seldom see a client who is exaggerating his or her injuries. What we do see very often is that clients will downplay their injuries when they see their doctor. A very common thing we see when reviewing our client’s medical records is that doctors will often ask their car accident patients to rate their pain on a scale of 0 – 10 with 10 being the worst pain imaginable. Clients often rate their pain at a level 1 or 2 and when we ask them about that they tell us the pain was much worse but they did not want to seem like a “complainer.” The problem is that the insurance company will evaluate your claim based on what is entered in your medical records not on an explanation you give afterwards.
Always be truthful with your doctor, follow your doctor’s advice and remember that what you tell your doctor is what the insurance company will see when they review your medical records.
If you made any of the mistakes listed above, do not panic or give up. A good personal injury attorney knows what to do if you did make any of these mistakes. Of course, it is always best not to make the mistakes to begin with.
CHAPTER 4 – HOW MUCH IS MY CASE WORTH?
If you are like most car accident victims, one of the first questions you will have when meeting with an attorney is “how much is my case worth?” If it is early on in your case, or if you have not yet reached a healing plateau from your injuries, no lawyer should pretend to know the value of your case. If they do, you should run and never look back.
Even if you have not reached a healing plateau, some lawyers will still pretend to know the value of your case. They may place a high value on your case with the hope that you will hire them as your lawyer. Once hired, the lawyer will then come up with excuse after excuse as to why your case is not worth what they told you it was. It is similar to the situation that exists when you go to sell your home. The first real estate agent may place an unreasonably high value on your home so that you hire them. Once you sign the Listing Contract with that agent, the agent will tell you why your home is not worth nearly as much as you were originally told.
A good attorney should be able to give you a rough estimate as to the value of your claim depending upon how certain factors play out. As your lawyer collects more and more information regarding your pre-accident medical status and reviews your actual treatment records, your lawyer should be able to provide an accurate settlement value for your case.
Some of the main factors that go into the calculation of how much your car accident injury case is worth in Wisconsin include the following:
Past Medical History
Each time you visit your doctor, or receive medical treatment of any kind, a new medical record is generated. Your written medical history is made up of the sum total of all of your prior medical records. Some people have a very extensive past medical history. Other people seldom see a doctor and their past written medical history may consist of nothing more than records from their yearly exam. Either way, your past medical history will play an important role in determining the value of your case.
For example, we recently settled a case for a man who lives in Michigan but was injured in Wisconsin. When we met with him, he told us that he injured his low back in the Wisconsin accident and would require future surgery. He did tell us that he had problems with his back before the accident. When we obtained his medical records, we learned that before his accident in Wisconsin, he had back problems for more than 20 years. He also had undergone two back surgeries before his Wisconsin accident. The insurance company initially denied the claim and took the position that his current back pain, and any need for future surgery, was unrelated to his Wisconsin accident. The insurance company characterized his back problems as pre-existing based upon the medical records.
Through a lot of hard work, including working very closely with the doctors who treated our client for his prior back condition, we were able to establish that the Wisconsin accident created a new injury and that the need for future surgery was unrelated to our client’s past medical history. We were able to settle our client’s Wisconsin injury claim for $750,000.
It is important that you be completely honest with your attorney from the very start regarding your past medical history. It is important that your lawyer learn of anything in your past medical history that may affect the value of your claim before that past history is discovered by the insurance company. A good personal injury attorney will work on separating your past medical history from the new injury you received in your car accident. The more successful your lawyer is in doing this, the less negative impact your past medical history will have on the value of your case.
One final word of caution. Never try to hide your past medical history from your attorney. Your past medical history will almost always be discovered and it is important that your lawyer learn of the information before the insurance company does. A good lawyer – and an ethical one – will not try to hide your pre-existing conditions from the insurance company. Instead, your lawyer should work with your doctors to distinguish any pre-existing condition you have from injuries caused by your car accident.
Past Medical Bills
You are probably entitled to recover for your past medical bills. Often, but not always, the greater your medical bills are the higher your settlement will be.
If you have health insurance and your health insurer paid all or part of your medical bills, they are entitled to be reimbursed out of any recovery you receive. A good personal injury attorney will know how to compromise or reduce the amount you are required to pay back to the health insurer. This is important because every dollar you do not have to pay back to the health insurer is another dollar you receive from the recovery. This often results in our clients receiving thousands of additional dollars from the settlement.
Future Medical Bills
You are entitled to recover the reasonable cost of future medical bills caused by your Wisconsin car accident. The future cost of medical bills can greatly increase the value of your claim.
A claim for future medical bills must be supported by your doctor. Your attorney should work closely with your treating doctors to insure you recover the full amount you are legally entitled to for the reasonable cost of future medical treatment.
Past Pain and Suffering
You are entitled to recover for your past pain and suffering caused by the car accident. Past pain and suffering is the pain and suffering you suffered from the date of the car accident up until the date of your settlement or trial.
As a general rule, the greater your injury, the greater your pain and suffering will be. If your activities are limited or impaired in any way as a result of the accident, that is also part of your claim for pain and suffering.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to advise you on the value of your pain and suffering claim. We recently had a client come to our office for a second opinion on the value of his claim based upon his past and future pain and suffering. He disagreed with the value placed on his claim by his original attorney. We ended up taking over the case and settling it for more than four times what his original attorney told him the case was worth. Although a lawyer may be skilled in a certain area of the law such as family law or estate planning, it is difficult for an attorney who does not regularly practice personal injury law to accurately value your claim.
Future Pain and Suffering
If your injury from your Wisconsin car accident will affect you in the future, you are entitled to recover for any future pain suffering and disability you may have. Your future pain and suffering may be for a specific period of time, depending upon your doctor’s prognosis. For example, your doctor may believe you will have pain and suffering from the accident for a period of five years into the future. Your claim for future pain and suffering will then be limited to a five-year period.
In more serious cases, your doctor may conclude that you have a permanent injury. A permanent injury is one of the most significant factors increasing the value of your case. If one or more of your doctors state that you have a permanent injury from the accident, we then use life expectancy tables to determine your projected future life expectancy. If your doctor concludes that you have a permanent injury from the accident, you are then entitled to compensation based upon the length of your future life expectancy.
Because a permanent injury can greatly increase the value of your claim, it is important that your attorney carefully consult with your treating physicians to determine whether one or more of your doctors believe you have a permanent injury.
Past Wage Loss
If you missed any time from work as a result of your Wisconsin accident, you are entitled to be compensated for lost wages. Under Wisconsin’s collateral source rule, you are entitled to recover for lost wages even if your employer paid you in full while you were off due to the accident.
If you received disability payments through a disability policy while you were off work, your disability insurer may be entitled to reimbursement for any amounts paid under the disability policy. An experienced Wisconsin car accident attorney may be able to reduce the amount you are required to pay back.
If you received worker’s compensation benefits for lost wages or lost income, there is a state statute requiring that the worker’s compensation insurer be reimbursed from any recovery your lawyer obtains for you. Reimbursement is based upon a statutory formula. In some cases, your attorney may be able to convince the worker’s compensation carrier to accept less than the amount it is entitled to receive under the statutory reimbursement formula.
Future Loss of Earning Capacity
If your injuries impair your ability to work in the future, you may have a claim for loss of future earning capacity. This can greatly increase the value of your claim.
The claim for loss of future earning capacity is best explained by way of example. We took a case to trial where our client was a steam fitter. According to our client’s doctor, injuries from the accident prevented our client from returning to work as a steam fitter. His doctor felt he could return to work in a different occupation where he was not required to exert himself physically. The light-duty job, however, paid less than half of what our client was making as a steam fitter before the accident. We retained a vocational loss expert to testify as to the difference between our client’s ability to earn before the accident compared to his reduced ability to earn because of injuries he received in the accident. The jury awarded our client over $1 million and one of the largest components of his injury award was the claim for loss of future earning capacity.
If your injuries result in you being totally disabled from all forms of employment, you will have a claim for loss of future earning capacity based upon your capacity to earn before the accident compared to what it is now (presumably $0 if you are unable to work).
A claim for loss of future earning capacity can be a very significant component of your overall recovery following a car accident. A loss of future earning capacity claim can be complicated. It requires that your Wisconsin car accident attorney work closely with one or more of your treating physicians and a vocational loss expert. A vocational loss expert will look at the restrictions your doctor has placed on you as a result of the accident and make a reasoned determination as to how those restrictions impact your ability to earn for the remainder of your work-life expectancy.
Liens and Subrogated Interests
Most people do not know that when your health insurer, disability insurer and/or worker’s compensation carrier pay your accident-related medical bills or wage loss, the party making the payments is almost always legally entitled to be reimbursed for those payments. Reimbursement comes out of any settlement or jury verdict your lawyer obtains for you. The most common parties entitled to be reimbursed are your health insurer, worker’s compensation carrier if the accident happened while you were in the scope of your employment and your disability insurer if you receive disability payments to cover any wage loss you sustained. If your own insurance company paid some or all of your medical bills under your medical payments coverage, your insurance company will want to be reimbursed for those payments.
Different rules apply depending upon what insurer or other entity made the payments on your behalf. If Medicare or Medicaid made payments on your behalf due to the accident, an entirely different set of rules apply.
Medical liens or subrogated interests must be satisfied out of the settlement proceeds can be complicated. Too often attorneys do not address, or properly address, the right to reimbursement that a third party may have. That puts the client in a bad situation. The party who made the payments on your behalf may file a claim or lawsuit against you if they find out that you received money by way of a settlement or verdict and you did not satisfy their right to reimbursement. You may be subject to additional penalties as well.
Upon settling a case or obtaining a jury verdict, your attorney should be careful to properly protect you against any future claims by parties who have made payments on your behalf. A good personal injury attorney should be able to work out a compromise with these third parties so that you only have to pay back part of what you actually owe.
CHAPTER 5 – INSURANCE COMPANIES
Most people think insurance is boring. While they may be right, having the correct insurance is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family and yourself if you are involved in a serious accident. Very few people understand what their auto insurance policy actually covers. Even fewer understand what kind of insurance, and how much insurance, they need to properly protect themselves and their family if involved in a serious Wisconsin car accident.
Advertising by insurance companies is everywhere. Insurance companies advertise on television and their names are on major sports stadiums across the country. The problem is that insurance company advertising can be very misleading and does little, if anything, to educate the public on how to buy car insurance so they are fully protected. One insurance company blankets the airwaves with ads telling you that they allow you to “customize your car insurance.” This is a meaningless ad because every insurance company allows you to “customize” your insurance. What they don’t tell you is how to customize your insurance so you are properly protected.
Almost every insurance company claims that they can save you money. The strong message insurance companies send with their marketing is that the public should shop for car insurance based solely on cost. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Having cut-rate insurance without the proper protection in place is a flat-out waste of your money. It does no good to have cheap insurance that does not protect you when you need it. We have represented clients with claims worth many millions of dollars who could not fully collect what they were owed because there was insufficient insurance to protect them. Insurance companies like to sell small policies at relatively high premiums so as to limit their exposure in the event one of their insureds is involved in a serious accident.
Aside from insurance coverage that covers damage to your car, there are three main types of insurance coverage contained in your automobile insurance policy. In addition, it is imperative that you understand why you need an umbrella policy and that you understand the proper way to have your umbrella policy written.
Automobile Liability Coverage
Automobile liability coverage provides you with insurance coverage, and pays for an attorney to represent you, if you injure someone while you are driving and the injured person files a claim or lawsuit against you. Typically this is the situation where you are the at-fault driver and injure someone else.
Liability insurance is mandatory in Wisconsin. The mandatory minimum liability insurance limits are $25,000. This means that if you are at-fault for the accident and injure someone, you have insurance coverage up to $25,000 ($50,000 for injury to more than one person) if a claim or lawsuit is brought against you.
No one should operate a motor vehicle of any kind with $25,000 in liability limits. If you do, you are taking a significant risk in the event you cause injury to one or more persons while driving. You are personally responsible for the amount of any claim or lawsuit which exceeds your policy limits. You need to have liability limits high enough to protect you if you are at fault for a Wisconsin car accident and a claim or lawsuit is brought against you. In order to be properly protected, you need an umbrella policy on top of your liability policy. More about umbrella policies below.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured motorist coverage protects you if you are injured by another driver who has no insurance or if you are injured in a hit-and-run accident.
In Wisconsin uninsured motorist coverage is mandatory. The minimum required limits for uninsured motorist coverage are $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident for you and your passengers.
This means that if you purchase the minimum uninsured motorist limits required, and are hit by a driver who has no insurance, you will have coverage under your own policy but only up to $25,000. This leaves you significantly unprotected if you are seriously injured by a driver without insurance.
In order to properly protect yourself and your family, you need to purchase uninsured motorist coverage with policy limits high enough to compensate you for your injuries if the at-fault driver has no insurance. The minimum uninsured motorist coverage required by law is not enough to adequately protect you in many accidents. If you are seriously injured by a driver with no insurance, you will want to have additional uninsured motorist coverage under your umbrella policy. Keep reading and you will find out more about how you need to purchase an umbrella policy to properly protect yourself.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Underinsured motorist coverage protects you if you are injured by another driver who has insurance but whose insurance is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. In that event, your underinsured motorist coverage applies after the liability limits for the at-fault driver have been exhausted.
Underinsured motorist coverage is not required in Wisconsin. While not legally required, underinsured motorist coverage is necessary to properly protect you and your family.
Because of so-called reducing clauses, if you elect to purchase underinsured motorist coverage the minimum limits required are in the amount of $50,000 per person and $100,000 if you and your passengers are injured.
Even though underinsured motorist coverage in Wisconsin is not legally required, it is required to properly protect you and your passengers in the event you are injured by a driver who has inadequate insurance. Your umbrella policy should also provide additional underinsured motorist coverage.
Personal Umbrella Policy
A personal umbrella policy is one of the most important purchases you can make to fully protect yourself, your family and any passengers in your car. We have seen clients lose millions of dollars in compensation they were entitled to because they did not purchase an umbrella policy.
Umbrella policies are inexpensive to purchase and typically provide you with additional coverage starting with limits of $1 million. Those limits can be increased in varying amounts depending upon the insurance company.
If your umbrella personal umbrella policy is written properly, it will provide you and your passengers with at least $1 million in additional liability coverage, uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage. For example, if you are injured by a driver who has no insurance, your underlying uninsured motorist coverage will apply to $100,000 or whatever your underlying limits are. If you are seriously injured by the uninsured driver, and the value of your claim exceeds $100,000, your personal umbrella policy compensates you for your injuries in excess of $100,000.
It is important that your umbrella policy provide you with not only liability coverage, but with uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage. We have clients who were badly injured by either an uninsured or underinsured driver, and who have an umbrella policy, but their umbrella policy only provided liability coverage. This leaves you unprotected if you are injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Some insurance companies will not issue an umbrella policy with uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage. Our advice is to go elsewhere to purchase your insurance coverage. An umbrella policy that provides you with liability coverage, but not with uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage, provides you with only half a policy and leaves you unprotected in many instances.
CHAPTER 6 – HOW TO HIRE THE RIGHT LAWYER TO HANDLE YOUR WISCONSIN AUTO ACCIDENT INJURY CLAIM
Choosing the right lawyer to represent you in your Wisconsin car accident case makes a big difference in how much you actually recover from the insurance company after you have been injured in a car accident. As stated on our website, “Your Injury Case is Only as Good as the Lawyer you Hire.”
There are many considerations that go into hiring the right attorney for your injury case. Some of the most important factors to consider when hiring an attorney to represent you for your car accident injuries include the following:
- EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Make sure that the lawyer you hire is skilled and experienced in handling car accident injury cases. There are many lawyers who will take your case but far fewer that will do a good job representing you. Hiring the wrong lawyer can cost you thousands of dollars and sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of your case. You do not want to hire a lawyer who only occasionally handles car accident injury cases. Our firm has focused on Wisconsin car accident cases for over 30 years. We would love the opportunity and responsibility to represent you in your car accident injury case.
- HIRE A TRIAL LAWYER: Make sure the lawyer you hire is actually experienced in trying cases in the Courtroom. Many attorneys never enter the Courtroom but will still accept your injury case. The problem with that is insurance companies, and insurance company lawyers, know the relatively few attorneys who actually try cases and are good at it. If the insurance company does not respect your lawyer as being a good trial attorney, the insurance company is unlikely to pay you what your injury case is really worth. Why should they if the insurance company knows your attorney is not going to go to trial and will eventually accept whatever is offered? Hiring a good trial lawyer actually helps to keep you out of the Courtroom while still getting top dollar for your injury case.
- BOARD CERTIFICATION: Most of us choose to see a doctor who is board certified. We understand that a physician that is board certified has achieved a high level of expertise in his/her field. What many people don’t know is that lawyers can obtain their board certification through the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC). Board certification requires rigorous testing along with judicial and peer review, holding a lawyer to a higher standard of professional and personal conduct as required by the NBLSC. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has commented upon the value of board certification. The NBLSC itself states: “All trial lawyers are not created equal. Don’t settle for someone else’s word when you require a lawyer’s services. Demand an NBLSC board certified attorney. There is not substitute.” Unfortunately, the NBLSC reports that less than 4% of all practicing lawyers are board certified. When you hire us, you are guaranteed that a board-certified injury lawyer will personally represent you in your Wisconsin car accident case.
- PEER REVIEW: There are objective, independent entities that have a rigorous system for rating lawyers. Make sure that the lawyer who will be handling your case, not someone else in the firm, is highly rated on an objective basis and make sure they have consistently received that highest rating not only once or twice, but year after year. Some of the most widely recognized entities that independently rate lawyers include:
- Super Lawyers – you may have seen the Super Lawyers listing in Milwaukee Magazine or other publications. Super Lawyers selects attorneys annually using an independent, rigorous multi-phase rating process. Inclusion in the Super Lawyers listing is limited to the top 5% of attorneys in the State. Check to see if the lawyer you are hiring has consistently been selected to receive the Super Lawyer designation on an annual basis.
- Martindale-Hubbell is one of the oldest and most respected objective rating publications for attorneys. Check to see if the attorney you are considering hiring has received the AV Preeminent rating by Martindale-Hubbell. The AV rating reflects the highest rating available in both legal ability and ethical standards. Only 5 % of all lawyers receive the AV Preeminent Rating.
- AVVO ranks attorneys based upon a mathematical model, evaluating all lawyers using the same set of standards. AVVO’s top ranking is a 10/10 meaning “Superb.”
When you hire us, you are guaranteed that the attorney who will actually handle your case has been selected to Wisconsin Super Lawyers every year from 2008 through the present, has received Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV rating for over 20 years and is ranked by AVVO as 10/10. In addition our firm received the AVVO Client Choice Award in two separate years.
CHAPTER 7 – WHAT OUR CLIENTS HAVE TO SAY
While we appreciate all of the awards we have received, it is what our clients have to say that is most important. Here is a sampling of what our clients have to say about us. These are real words, from real clients with absolutely no edits or alterations.
“As a practicing attorney for 30 years, I have had the opportunity to work with and refer numerous clients to Mark. As a former President of the State Bar of Wisconsin, I believe Mark is the best litigation attorney that I have encountered. As a former Supreme Court Referee appointed to resolve ethics issues, I can say without reservation that Mark exhibits the highest standards of ethical behavior in representing his clients.”
“Mark represented me in several complex personal litigation cases over a period of 12 years. He is definitely one of the hardest-working and knowledgeable attorneys I have ever known. He is extremely bright, always prepared, and the most dedicated attorney there is. His skills at negotiating during mediation or settlement are unsurpassed. His dedication to your case is equal to the dedication he would exact of himself if he were representing his best friend. If he is representing you, and not the other party — you are lucky, or you chose well. — Mark, Thank You for all that you did for us!”
“He was the right man for the job, kept me informed on his progress, picked up the ball ran with it. If I ever need legal help, he’s the man I will call. Thank you Mark J. Mingo, you made a friend, super job, superman.”
“As a client of Mark Mingo I cannot say enough of how Professional and thorough he is as an attorney. Mark and his team go into representing a client 110%. I received a settlement of over $1,000,000 dollars because I followed their advice and trusted them to the end. As far as my wife and I are concerned there is no other firm in Wisconsin that I would recommend! So if you need representation for any problems you can’t handle all I can say is to contact Mark Mingo !!! :-)”
“Working with Attorney Mingo it is immediately obvious that he is extremely competent and knowledgeable in his profession. Not once did he give me reason to question his expertise or his ability to successfully represent me in my personal injury case. He is quick to reply to questions, is very straightforward in his answers, and will guide you through each part of the process, advising you along the way. . . . .
Legal matters are often a lengthy and complicated affair, and it is because of this that you need a smart, qualified, and determined attorney representing you. This why I fully recommend Attorney Mark Mingo.”
“Mark Mingo was able to procure a settlement over 18 times what the insurance company offered to settle our injury claim, and we were able to resolve our claim through mediation rather than having to endure a trial. After my experience with dealing the insurance company for almost 3 years my advice is to at least consult with Mark about your case and as soon as possible after the incident occurs.”
Stephen and JoAnn P.
“Mark has represented my husband and I for several years. Our cases were not typical, and required vast amounts of research and discovery. Mark was always prepared, never intimidated and represented us well. We got great results. I am forever grateful that he handled our case(s).”
“For never being in a situation like this before, I was scared going into it. Mr. Mingo made every step easy for me to understand and breaks everything down for you. He would contact me anytime there was any progress or changes in the case, which was nice not to be left wondering what was going on. Anytime I had a question about something, he would respond in a timely manner. Very friendly and easy to work with. I would highly recommend him!”
“In January of 2014, my husband and I were in a serious accident. We had no idea where to turn or who to turn to. A friend recommended Mark. From day one Mark was so easy to work with. He explained to us step by step the process we were about to go through. Throughout our entire case he was always honest about what was going on. Any time I had a question or concern, he was only an email or phone call away. He always responded in a very timely manner and had all the information needed. Mark also has an incredible staff within his office. Any time I called, the people I spoke with were very polite. They take the time to get to know you and go out of their way to help in any way possible. Mark went above and beyond to get us the best possible settlement as well as helped lower our out-of-pocket medical bills. We were very, very pleased with the service we received and would definitely recommend Mark to family and friends in the future.”
“Automobile accidents can be scary and confusing! Having someone who could answer my questions knowledgeably and address my concerns was such a comfort. Though my injuries were not severe, navigating the insurance companies and medical bills was difficult and being able to place it in the hands of someone far more capable than I was a huge blessing!”
“Mark Mingo represented me as a result of a personal injury that I sustained during an automobile accident. Throughout the case I found him to be thorough, knowledgeable, responsive, and trustworthy. It became obvious very early that he was committed to a successful outcome for me. Mark would advise me of potential actions to be taken or make recommendations, ensure my understanding and gain agreement and then deliver on what was agreed upon – EVERY TIME! In the end, I know that I was treated fairly throughout the settlement process and well compensated for my injury and suffering. I am confident that this would not have happened without his involvement and hard work on my behalf. Mark is respectful & honest and I appreciated his efforts in ensuring that I was treated fairly. If I ever have another need for legal services he is the attorney that I will call. Thank you Mark!”
CHAPTER 8 – LAWYER ADVERTISING
Although it is hard to remember a time when you could turn on your television for more than five minutes and not see a TV lawyer, lawyer advertising did not always exist. In fact, until 1977 the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibited lawyers from advertising. That changed in 1977 when two Arizona lawyers sued for the right to advertise. While the Supreme Court acknowledged that lawyer advertising can be harmful to members of the general public in need of legal services, it concluded that any such harm was outweighed by the First Amendment Right to Free Speech.
The Supreme Court that allowed lawyer advertising would be quite surprised at what lawyer advertising has turned into. It is hard to turn on the television without hearing a TV lawyer, or their paid actor, telling you how much they care and that they want to fight for you. Lawyer advertising is painted on the side of buses and plastered over every part of the phone book imaginable.
We hear it from our clients all the time. Lawyer advertising is out of control. It is everywhere and to make matters worse lawyer advertising provides little, if any, help in choosing the right attorney for your injury case.
Lawyer talk such as “free consultation”, “no fee unless we win”, or “we care” tells you nothing about who you should hire. All personal injury attorneys offer, or should offer, free consultations and a contingency fee agreement where no fee is paid until the lawyer obtains a settlement or verdict for you. And if your lawyer doesn’t “care”, then there is a real problem.
We believe that the criteria set forth in Chapter 6 of this guide is a much better way to hire the right attorney for your injury case.
CHAPTER 9 – UNDERSTANDING THE INSURANCE COMPANY
It has become fashionable for some TV and radio lawyers to portray all insurance companies in a bad light. The truth is that different insurance companies have different personalities, just like you and me.
Injury claims are presented to an insurance company with the goal of settling the claim on a favorable basis for every client. Creating a confrontational relationship with the insurance company does not help the client get his or her case settled on favorable terms. Just like you and me, insurance companies are more likely to work well with an attorney they have had a positive relationship with in the past rather than an attorney who is confrontational and with whom they have had a negative past experience. The goal is to get your case settled at an early date, for the largest amount possible, and to keep you out of Court. Having a law firm that the insurance company respects, and that the insurance company knows will take them to Court if necessary, helps you do just that.
The insurance company’s interests are not the same as your interests, even if you end up bringing the claim against your own insurance company. An insurance company is a business. Its business model is to pay as little as possible on each injury claim and then move on to the next claim. You have an interest in only one claim and that is your injury claim. Your goal, and that of your attorney, is to maximize the compensation you receive to the full extent the law allows. That goal is not achieved by bashing the insurance company in an effort to give potential clients the impression you are “tough”. The best way to obtain a favorable result in your case is to hire a law firm that the insurance company respects and a law firm that the insurance company knows will take each case to trial if necessary. That will actually keep you out of Court most of the time while leveraging the law and the law firm’s reputation to maximize the compensation each client receives.
CHAPTER 10 – WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE MY LAWYER?
If you hired your lawyer before reading this and have now lost confidence in your lawyer, we recommend the following. First, try to work things out with your current lawyer. Many times the relationship breaks down simply due to poor communication. Demand to meet with your lawyer and let your lawyer know of your concerns. Most of the time this solves the problem and allows you to continue with your original attorney.
If you try to work things out with your original lawyer but are still unsatisfied, you may want to consult with a new lawyer. When someone consults with us because they are dissatisfied with their attorney, we will first obtain and review the file. If we believe the original lawyer is handling the case appropriately, we let the client know that he or she should stay with their original lawyer.
If, on the other hand, we believe the client is not being properly represented by the original attorney, we may take over the case. This recently happened when a client was unhappy with the original attorney’s settlement recommendation. We agreed the settlement recommendation was too low and agreed to take over the case. We ended up settling the case for 8 times what the original attorney recommended. As soon as we took over the case we notified the original attorney. We then worked out a fee-sharing agreement which cost the client no more than he agreed to pay the original attorney.
In the end, our advice is not to switch attorneys unless absolutely necessary. If necessary, make sure it is done correctly and that you are not paying extra attorney’s fees by changing lawyers.
CHAPTER 11 – DO I NEED A “LOCAL” ATTORNEY?
We receive phone calls from the northern and western parts of the State asking if we can handle their injury claim or whether they need to hire a “local” attorney. For many years we had a second law office in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. We found that to be unnecessary in this day and age where everything is handled electronically and where many insurance claim representatives we deal with are out-of-state.
We represent Wisconsin car accident victims and victims from any accident throughout the entire State of Wisconsin. It is easy for us to travel to meet with a client. In today’s world, many clients prefer to meet virtually and ask us to set a Zoom call which we are happy to do. The claims office for insurance companies are often located out-of-state. We can represent an injury victim in the northern or western parts of the State, or anywhere else in Wisconsin, just as effectively as we represent Wisconsin accident victims in Southeastern Wisconsin.
If you are injured in Wisconsin you probably want a Wisconsin lawyer to handle your injury claim. Select a lawyer who is experienced handling injury claims like yours and make sure the lawyer is someone you feel comfortable with handling your case.