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Personal Injury Attorneys in Oregon

When you consider making a claim against someone who has caused personal injuries or death, you probably have two goals in mind. First, you want to be compensated for medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering you have endured. Second, you want wrongdoers to realize that what they did — whether negligently or recklessly — was wrong and you want to keep wrongdoers from doing it again.

We understand those goals. We know that money cannot really compensate someone fully for their injuries. Our commitment is twofold: We will work to recover the fullest compensation possible and we will work to deter similar conduct in the future.

Some injuries are caused by true accidents. Hence, in some cases, where no one is at fault, there is no compensation recoverable (except for medical bills and some lost wages in some circumstances). But in most circumstances, one person has been negligent by doing something wrong or unreasonable under the circumstances (whether it is driving too fast, not paying attention, etc.). In some situations, the conduct is more aggravated. For example, injuries caused by drunk drivers. In those cases the conduct is more than just negligent; it is reckless and indifferent to the rights of all members of society.

Compensation is generally recoverable where one party has done something wrong or unreasonable. Negligence essentially means either not doing something a reasonable person would have done or doing something a reasonable person would not have done. The specific facts of your case may need to be evaluated by an experienced personal injury lawyer in order to determine whether compensation can be recovered.

In an injury case where the other party is at fault, you can recover two, or maybe three, kinds of damages: economic damages, non-economic damages, and maybe punitive damages. “Economic damages” are those compensating for medical bills, lost wages, and other “objectively verifiable” expenses. Non-economic damages compensate the injured person for pain and suffering, for interference with the injured person’s usual activities not related to work (such as recreational activities, sports, family activities, yard work, household responsibilities, etc.), and other damages which cannot be “objectively verified.”

Finally, in some cases “punitive damages” may be assessed.

Punitive damages go beyond compensating the injured person. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and to deter such conduct in the future (by the wrongdoer and by others who will hopefully learn from the example). Punitive damages are not awarded in cases of mere negligence. In order to warrant punitive damages, the conduct of the defendant must be intentional or so reckless and wanton as to be in disregard of the rights of society. Drunk driving is an example of conduct for which punitive damages may be awarded.

Oregon law once provided that if the injured person was even a little bit at fault, he or she was barred from recovering any compensation. That very unfair law changed decades ago, and now Oregon law compares the negligence of the wrongdoer and the negligence of the injured person, if any. If the wrongdoer was 75 percent at fault, for example, he pays 75 percent of the injured person’s damages. This is known as comparative negligence. Only if the injured person is more negligent than the wrongdoer (more than 50 percent if there is one injured person and one defendant) would the injured person be barred from recovering compensation.

In an automobile collision, insurance typically plays two roles: First, the company insuring your vehicle should promptly pay your medical bills and some of lost wages; second, the wrongdoer’s insurance company should ultimately pay economic damages (medical expenses, lost earnings) as well as non-economic damages (for pain and suffering, limitations on usual activities, etc.).

It is seldom easy to recover fair compensation from the wrongdoer’s insurance company (even if you were totally without fault). Insurance companies make a profit by paying out less than they take in.  Also they earn money by holding on to, rather than paying out, money they’ve received in premiums.  Consequently, it can take time to recover fair compensation even where it is obvious that the other person was in the wrong.

PIP stands for Personal Injury Protection insurance. This is a type of no-fault insurance required by Oregon law to be provided in all automobile insurance policies. Thus, every driver or passenger in an accident in Oregon should have such coverage (because all drivers are required to carry liability insurance).

PIP coverage covers three different types of out-of-pocket expenses for a limited period of time. PIP pays medical bills, up to a maximum dollar limit and for a limited period of time (usually two years). PIP pays some of your lost wages, subject to a specific formula. And, if you are not losing income from work outside the home, PIP may provide money to help you pay some other expenses.

The minimum amount of PIP coverage in Oregon is $15,000 for medical bills incurred over the first two years after the injuries. (In other words, minimum PIP coverage would not pay more than $15,000 if the bills were higher than that. And even if the $15,000 is not used up by the end of two years, most PIP coverage would stop providing medical benefits after two years.) Payments for lost wages are subject to a formula. Essentially your insurance company will pay 70 percent of your lost wages for 52 total weeks (up to a limit per month); in Oregon, you must be “disabled” for 14 days in order to qualify for wage loss under PIP.

Some companies offer higher PIP benefits such as $25,000 coverage for medical bills and an extended period for which they will be paid. In addition to what the policy says (and what the insurance company may tell you), you should have a lawyer look into the possibility that additional PIP coverage is available due to court rulings.

Unfortunately, it has become all too common for your own insurance company to try to cut off your medical PIP benefits (or your wage loss PIP payments). If you are informed that your insurance company wants you examined by a doctor it chooses (what insurance companies call “independent medical examinations”), you should have legal advice about the situation.  We have successfully sued major insurance companies (Allstate, Progressive) for damages for failing to be fair by cutting off payment of our clients’ medical bills. No insurance company should be “playing God” or “playing doctor” with the health needs of the persons who paid premium dollars to the insurer.

Sometimes the wrongdoer does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance to adequately compensate you for your injuries. In these cases, we are called upon to find other sources of compensation. This may be from uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage on the vehicle you were in, or from other persons or entities whose conduct was wrongful and substantially contributed to cause your injuries, or sometimes from another UM or UIM policy.

For example, if you are involved in a collision caused by someone who is driving a vehicle on behalf of his or her employer, the employer is liable for the driver’s negligence if driving was within the course and scope of his or her employment. Another example is where a driver uses someone’s car and the owner was negligent in permitting the driver to use the car.

Many injuries and deaths are caused by drunk drivers. All too often the drunk driver has been served alcohol while visibly intoxicated at a tavern, a bar, a restaurant or by a social host.
We look hard for ways to recover all of your fair damages.

It is not uncommon for wrongdoers to have either no insurance or inadequate insurance. In traffic accidents, the amount of damages frequently exceeds the minimum insurance required to be carried by Oregon drivers (the minimum requirement is $25,000 per individual and $50,000 per accident). Of course, some drivers have no insurance. Their licenses may have been suspended or they are otherwise irresponsible. In automobile cases, you should have some coverage (under your own insurance policy or the car owner’s policy) for damages caused by an uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM). In such cases, the insurance company insuring your vehicle acts as if it were the insurer for the wrongdoer. The insurance company is responsible for the compensatory damages that the uninsured or underinsured motorist would be legally liable to pay. We have to prove your case to a UM or UIM insurance company just as we would to the wrongdoer’s insurance company.

In some motor vehicle cases, the injuries are serious enough that auto insurance (whether the negligent driver’s or your car’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage) is insufficient. In those cases, we look into the negligence of others who may have caused the injuries. Perhaps the wrongdoer’s personal assets may be used to compensate you. Or the owner of a vehicle who negligently entrusted it to the driver may be liable. Remember, too, that in cases involving a drunk driver, one who provided alcohol to the drunk driver while visibly intoxicated may also be liable.

In cases not involving any motor vehicle, there were will be no such coverage as “uninsured” or “underinsured” insurance. In these cases, it is even more critical that all of the facts be investigated and examined immediately. We must search out all the persons whose negligence makes them responsible for your injuries. Remember, under Oregon law more than one person may be legally responsible for your damages.

It is impossible for any personal injury lawyer to exactly assess the value of your case early on. Those who try may be promising you more than they can deliver. Experienced personal injury attorneys know that it is necessary to wait until the facts are in. The facts include who is at fault, how aggravated the conduct was, what the injuries are, and what the long-term effect of the injuries will be. Usually one does not know the full impact of the injuries until the period of medical recovery is over. At that point, we obtain medical records from your doctor(s) and evaluate your damages.

Most cases (by far the majority) are settled, in which case you do not end up going to court. However, every case must be approached with the idea in mind that it will go to trial. We believe that good settlements come more easily when your attorneys have a reputation for being ready to take a case to trial if necessary. If we can settle your case for a fair amount, that’s great. If we can’t settle it for a fair amount, we will take your case to trial if you want. For example, in a case Peter handled for a deputy sheriff injured on a freeway, we would have settled for $300,000 but the insurance company wouldn’t agree.  We started the jury trial and, after two days of trial, the insurance company made an offer of more than $300,000 to settle (and we did).

The key to winning your case may well be a good, complete investigation. Ordinarily, the investigation should commence promptly after the accident. Often, by getting a quick start, the investigation can turn up witnesses who later would never be found. Some witnesses, who might later change their stories for some reason, can be recorded with their accurate versions.

Serious injury traffic accidents are usually investigated by the police. Unfortunately, many police agencies do not write reports, or even respond to the scene of some accidents. Even when there is an investigation and the police do an excellent job of gathering evidence of the negligence of the other driver, they may not investigate any other persons potentially at fault (because that would usually not lead to further criminal prosecution). Our investigation may well include different things that were covered by the police, as well as taking some more detailed statements from witnesses interviewed by the police.

As an example, in one case, we sent a private investigator to talk to dozens of people about the events leading up to a serious injury collision. The police had done an excellent investigation at the scene but had not spent the many hours required to look into the background of the situation.

In some cases the information we develop as your civil case attorneys is important to the police and the district attorney in proving the criminal case against the wrongdoer, with your permission, we’ll share our investigation results with the DA for the public good.