What is Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury law covers cases where a person is physically injured by someone else's negligence or recklessness. The most common kind of personal injury case is the car collision, but these cases also frequently come up when someone is injured on someone else's property by an unsafe condition. Other kinds of personal injury cases exist. If you are unsure whether you have a personal injury case, call our office to speak to an attorney.

I was in a car collision. I did not think I was hurt on the day of the collision, but the next morning I woke up with serious pain. What should I do?

See a doctor as soon as possible. Your body produces adrenaline and other chemicals during car collisions that can mask pain, so it is not uncommon for people to fail to realize they have soft tissue injuries until a considerable time after the collision. The insurance company will attempt to use any delay in medical treatment as an excuse to reduce your compensation, so it is important that you get treatment as soon as possible. Be sure to tell any medical providers that you were in a motor vehicle collision, and contact your own car insurance company so they can pay any Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments you may be owed.

I was in a car collision and the other driver did not have insurance. Is there anything I can do?

If you are a Washington resident you most likely have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) as part of your auto insurance. With this coverage your own insurance company is required to pay for any damages caused by the at fault driver that cannot be collected from that driver (up to the policy limit). That means you still have a case even if the other driver has no insurance and no money. Dealing with your own insurance company can be just as difficult as dealing with another insurance company so you should seek experienced legal representation if you have this kind of case.

What is subrogation and why does it come out of my award?

This one is complicated and always frustrating. When your car insurance company pays you out of your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage for medical bills or wage loss, they have a right under your contract to be reimbursed for those payments if you succeed at a personal injury case against the at fault driver. This is true even though you have been paying your premiums for years and this may have been the first payment you ever received from the insurance company. If you hire an attorney to help win your personal injury case the insurance company has to reimburse you a proportionate share of your attorney fees because you and your attorney obtained their subrogation payment for them.

I had a medical procedure and I am worse now than I was when I started. Do I have a medical malpractice case?

Maybe. Things go wrong during medical procedures more frequently than any of us would like, but you only have a malpractice case if the doctor performed outside of the standard of care and if you suffered injuries/medical expenses as a result. In these kinds of cases it is always necessary to do some investigation and often get an expert opinion before coming to a firm conclusion about whether or not the standard of care was violated and you suffered injuries as a result. We can review your information and make arrangements for the right kind of expert to prepare a report on your case.

My surgery didn't go well but now the surgeon wants me to let him/her operate again to fix it. Should I agree?

If you are no longer confident with your surgeon you do not have to allow the person to operate on you again. You should see another doctor, however, to see if you do require corrective surgery or some other procedure. If you delay necessary treatment it can have reduced effectiveness and the court may conclude that you failed to properly mitigate your damages (reduce them by means within your control) which could impact any medical malpractice case.

The other parent left home with the children and cut off my contact with them. What can I do?

You need to hire an attorney and file a petition (for dissolution, custody, or paternity, depending on your circumstances) as soon as possible, along with a motion for a temporary parenting plan. The court will establish a temporary plan saying where the children will live primarily during the action and what visitation the other parent will have. If you leave things the way they are too long, the court will conclude that a status quo (a normal course) has developed where the children live with the other parent most of the time, which can hurt your chances of getting custody, if that is your goal.

My spouse left and cut me off from bank accounts and/or family income. I can't pay my bills. What can I do?

If you file a petition for a dissolution (a divorce) you can also file a motion for temporary orders and ask the court to order your spouse to pay you spousal support or child support, pay bills, or allow access to community assets like bank accounts. Temporary orders can be used to address other issues as well. Whether and to what degree a motion for temporary orders is successful depends on the specific circumstances of your case.

Which parent is allowed to claim the children on their federal income tax?

Federal tax law determines who can claim children, but the local domestic courts routinely enter child support orders that include provisions requiring parents to sign waivers of those requirements so that the local court can determine who receives the tax benefit. Most of the time the court will allow each parent to claim an even number of children (if there are an even number of children) or rotate years when they can be claimed so it is roughly even. If there are unusually significant tax benefits to one parent or another the court might allow that parent to claim more children each year. If the parent paying support is behind that parent will often be prohibited from claiming the children for that year.

I need to be separated from my spouse but I don't want to get divorced. Do I have any options?

Washington allows you to file a Legal Separation action instead of a divorce. It follows the same process as a divorce, with division of property, a parenting plan for children, and establishment of spousal and child support, but you are not formally divorced at the completion of the proceeding. If either party decides that they want to be divorced after entering into a legal separation they can do so by waiting six months and filing a simple motion.

My ex has custody in the parenting plan and wants to move out of town. What do I do?

If the custodial parent wants to move out of the children's school district they normally have to give you sixty days formal notice and you have an opportunity to object. If you object with the appropriate procedure it can start an expedited modification action to determine whether and how the parenting plan should be modified.

I have a parenting plan already, but my ex refuses to follow it. What do I do?

It is very common for parents to have conflict over sticking to a parenting plan. Sometimes there is something in the plan that is not working with your lives and the plan should be adjusted. In other cases, one of the parents just refuses to follow the court order. It is usually best (and often required by the parenting plan) to go to mediation first to see if there is a way to resolve the dispute or make a small agreed adjustment to the plan. If mediation doesn't work, you can file a motion for an order of contempt against the other parent for violating the court ordered parenting plan. If you are successful the court will sanction them and order them to pay a portion of your attorney fees, but contempt motions often breed more conflict and may prompt the other parent to file their own contempt motions against you, so be wary.

What age do children have to be before they can pick which parent they want to live with?

Eighteen. In Washington State children do not get to decide which parent they want to live with. If the case progresses to the point where a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed to investigate, the GAL will ask the children their wishes, but the children's wishes are only one factor among many, and the court will not take them into account if it concludes that the children are too immature to know what is in their best interests.

My ex and I agreed that there would not be any child support, but the court will not accept the order. Why not?

The State has a formula for child support based on your income and you are not allowed to change it by agreement. You must meet specific requirements and have court approval. Even if you each have the children for the same amount of time, you may have to pay some child support if there is a large difference between your income and your ex's (though you may qualify for a reduction in the amount in those circumstances).

If I'm arrested or told I'm under investigation, should I speak to law enforcement?

Not without an attorney present. You have a right to remain silent and a right to counsel. Both of those rights exist for a good reason and you should exercise them.

I have not been charged with a crime, but I think prosecutors are thinking about charging me. Do I need an attorney now?

There are benefits to having an attorney even before you are charged. We can advise you to avoid activities that will make a charge more likely, and we can help you put yourself in the best position to resolve your case if you are charged.

Officers never advised me of my rights. Does that mean my case gets thrown out?

Not necessarily. Officers are required to advise you of your Miranda rights before any custodial interrogation (questioning you when you are not free to leave). If they fail to give those rights then information from the interrogation may be suppressed by the court. If that weakens the prosecution's case against you enough that it cannot go forward, the judge will throw it out, but if there is evidence in the case other than custodial statements the case can still go forward. Some kinds of cases do not rely on custodial statements at all. A failure to give Miranda rights in those kinds of cases may have little to no impact.

I missed a court date and now I have a warrant for my arrest. Is there anything I can do?

It may be possible to get the warrant quashed based on your promise to appear at a new court date. Call our office as soon as possible.

I need a contract. Can I use forms I found online?

You can, the question is whether you should. Having any sort of written contract is usually (though not always) better than having no written contract at all. The problem with using a pre-generated form is that it may not have certain kinds of contract provisions that would be useful to you, and it may have provisions in it that either do not apply to your situation (making it confusing) or which can harm your position.

My neighbors are using part of my land for their personal or commercial use. What do I do?

Border disputes can be heated and complex. There are often covenants or easements on land that allow for some uses by neighbors or the public but not others. It is not uncommon for that access to be abused but there are things you can do. You can ask the court for temporary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the neighbor from continuing certain uses of your land, and, if appropriate, you can seek a monetary judgment for damages caused in the meantime.

I'm unsatisfied with work a contractor did in my home. Should I pay the full amount?

The best response will depend on the terms of your contract (often minimal with contractors) and the facts of the case. You should speak to an attorney before taking any action.

I'm not sure I can afford an attorney. Can I file a case myself?

You are always better off with an attorney than without one, but there is no requirement that you have an attorney to file a case. We understand that legal fees are not always affordable for everyone. If you are thinking about going without an attorney ("pro se" in legalese) consider our unbundled legal services to help you with part of the case. We can advise you on procedures, prepare documents for you, review documents you prepare, or appear in only part of the case as a way of assisting you while keeping costs down.

Someone knocked on my door and handed me court documents. What do I do?

You have probably been served with initial pleadings. You have a limited period of time to respond (usually twenty days from the day you were served, but it can depend on a number of factors) so you should contact an attorney immediately. If you do not respond a default judgment may be taken against you. If you have been served then you are now involved in a court case and you will likely need legal representation or, at the very least, some legal advice.

How long do court cases take?

That depends on the particular aspects of each case. Some cases of every variety are resolved quickly. In personal injury, medical malpractice, and other civil damages cases that can be in the form of an early settlement. In a family law case it might be in the form of a quickly agreed parenting plan (among other documents). In a criminal case it might be a plea deal with the prosecutor or a treatment arrangement that does not involve a conviction.

Other cases take longer. That can be because the issues are more complex, there is more contention between the parties, or just not quite being able to reach agreement on a settlement amount. There are some aspects of different varieties of cases that affect how long they take as well. In personal injury and medical malpractice cases it is not uncommon for the case to sit for months before being filed while you are still being treated by doctors and while settlement discussions are ongoing. Once the case is filed it could be resolved in a few months at an arbitration, but it could also proceed to a full trial and that may take over a year, depending on court scheduling.

Most domestic cases are resolved at mediation or settlement conference four to eight months after they start. Those that do not are scheduled to go to trial less than a year after their filing date in Benton and Franklin Counties, but it is not uncommon for those trial dates to be bumped for court scheduling reasons, which means it is not uncommon for trials in these cases to occur more than a year after they are filed.

Criminal cases are a different matter because a criminal defendant has a right to a speedy trial (which, if you are not in custody means trial within 90 days). As a practical matter, however, it is common practice for criminal defense attorneys to advise their clients to temporarily waive their right to a speedy trial in order to get more time to investigate the case, work on deal options with a prosecutor, or set up a treatment arrangement. Most criminal cases take several months to resolve.