Personal Injury FAQ

Personal Injury FAQs

Only For The Injured

Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake, L.L.P.'s accident lawyers handle personal injury cases in the Des Moines and central Iowa area, including Polk County.

For the past 6 decades, our law firm has been offering over 118 years of combined experience to people injured by somebody else's disregard. We answer all possible questions and go over every detail involved with your unique case to ensure awareness and that you are fully informed and prepared.

We have gathered important questions frequently asked by the majority of our personal injury clients over the years as reference.

What is important to understand is that we only represent injured people. We do not ever represent employers and insurance companies. Call us at 515-224-4400.
Is it important to gather available evidence shortly after an accident? 
Yes. You put yourself at a tremendous disadvantage if you do not gather evidence right away. The most important thing is to take care of any injuries, but as soon as you have control of that situation, start thinking about the fact that you will probably be dealing with an insurance company that is in the mood for a fight. An aggressive insurance company will make you prove everything. Did you have a green light? Were you distracted? Do you have any witnesses? These are the questions they are going to ask. Go back to the scene, take pictures, look for witnesses, and collect any items of physical evidence. If you need suggestions on what type of evidence to collect, just give us a call — it's free! 

What type of evidence should be gathered after an accident? 
Collecting and preserving evidence is critical to an injured person's ability to receive justice through our tort system. We live in a time when injured victims must prove all aspects of their case, even the obvious aspects. If an injured victim delays gathering evidence and simply depends upon the insurance company or law enforcement to gather evidence, serious harm can be done to your case.

As soon as possible after an accident, you or your attorney should start the process of gathering evidence. In personal injury situations, this would include:
  1. Taking photographs of the accident scene.
  2. Taking photographs of both vehicles.
  3. Photographing your injuries, if visible.
  4. Taking statements from the other party.
  5. Taking statements from witnesses.
  6. Learning about the law that will control your case.
  7. Documenting your wage loss.
  8. Starting the process of collecting your medical bills.
  9. Getting reasonable and necessary medical care for your injuries. 
Although this list looks simple, in practice, it is hard to do a complete job when gathering evidence. Taking statements and photographing vehicles require that you know what you are doing. If you need suggestions on what type of evidence to collect, just give us a call — there is no charge for talking to an attorney! 

Are icy roads in Iowa an "Act of God?"
When the roads are icy, there can be a large number of accidents. Insurance companies sometimes deny responsibility under these circumstances claiming it was an "Act of God" and not their insured's fault. Injured people need to know if this is correct.

In almost all circumstances involving ice and snow, the answer is NO. Although the law in Iowa does recognize an "Act of God" defense, a storm or ice on the road will not usually insulate the driver from responsibility. The reason for this is that in order to escape responsibility, the insurance company must show that its insured was faced with a sudden emergency, not of his own making. The Iowa Supreme Court has consistently held that when the road is ice-covered, all drivers have a responsibility to adjust speed and distances between vehicles. In other words, there is nothing sudden or unexpected about the fact that a car will not have good traction on ice and snow. 

These cases will often turn on the issue of whether or not the particular weather problem was unexpected. The good investigation will start with an examination of the weather records at the time. If you need suggestions on what type of evidence to collect, just give us a call — there is no charge! 

What about nursing home injuries? 
As Iowa's population ages, there are more and more cases involving injuries to residents of nursing homes. These cases usually arise as a result of the nursing home failing in its many duties to provide care for its residents. Sometimes, injuries are caused by cost-saving measures that result in understaffing, lack of training or lack of supervision. Other times, injuries arise because the home operator is careless about the needs of its dependent residents. Under these circumstances, the nursing home is legally responsible for the damages that result.

The responsibility of a nursing home to its residents is based both in contract law and in the law governing negligence. Most of the time, the nursing home has agreed in the contract or in the Patient's Bill of Rights to provide a high degree of care to its residents. Iowa law makes the operators of nursing homes responsible for its own negligence. These duties apply whether the resident is a child, a young adult, or elderly.

The investigation of these cases can be very difficult. The difficulty arises because the victims of neglect are almost always unable to speak effectively for themselves. In some cases, despite obvious neglect, the nursing home and its staff attempts to cover up the wrongdoing or tries to lay blame on the dependent resident or even the family. Other times, the nursing home admits nothing and forces the family of the injured resident to come up with proof of what really happened. 

The amount of damages in these cases is not always easily determined. The nursing home/insurance lobby is strong in the Iowa Legislature. Basically, these groups can get what they want from the legislature. What these groups want is to avoid paying claims, regardless of how negligent they are. In some cases, this results in nursing homes not having to pay the medical bills that it caused by injuring its residents. 

Despite these troubling advantages, in recent years there has been a growing trend to hold these businesses liable for harmful conduct. In some cases, where the neglect is inexcusable, punitive damages may also be appropriate. Call to discuss these and other issues — there is never a charge for a consultation. 

Can I get lifetime medical bills paid from my car accident? 
Yes, but only if you can get your doctor to make reasonable estimates about the amount of your future medical bills, and to also provide a detailed explanation as to why the future medical care would be necessary. This is not an easy task and you will need to trust your doctor's judgment in this regard. Once you have this, the amount of future medical bills can be included in an eventual lump sum settlement with the insurance company. 

However, once you settle your case, the claim will be closed forever, so you will need an allowance for your future medical bills in any settlement. The elements of damage that need to be considered in any car accident settlement include: 
  1. Past medical bills
  2. Lost wages
  3. Past pain, suffering and mental anguish
  4. Past physical impairment and inability to do physical activities
  5. Future medical expense
  6. Loss of future wages
  7. Future pain, suffering, and mental anguish
  8. Future physical impairment
  9. Disfigurement caused by the injury and
  10. Value of all property (car) lost
Proof of loss of these damage elements is necessary in order to receive payment from the insurance company. In the case of future medical expense, this proof can only come from your doctor's estimate. Sometimes this is very difficult to obtain so feel free to give our office a call and speak with one of the partners about the particular angles in your case. There is no charge for a consultation. 

What is underinsured motorist coverage? 
Underinsured motorist coverage is insurance designed to protect you and your family from the negligent acts of an underinsured or even uninsured driver. Here is an example: 

Assume that you are at a high school athletic event. After you park your car, you are injured while walking in the parking lot when another vehicle knocks you down. If that vehicle is uninsured or underinsured (meaning, the vehicle does not have enough insurance to cover your total damages) you can make use of underinsured motorist coverage from your own vehicle, (even though it was parked) to be fully compensated for your damages. 

The key to underinsured motorist coverage is whether or not your injury arises as a result of the actions of an underinsured driver. It makes no difference if you are in your car or outside of your car when the injury arises. Again, the test is whether you are injured by an underinsured driver, not where you were when the injury happened. 

The question of how much insurance you should carry on your own vehicle is one involving personal choice. Iowa law allows insurance companies to sell uninsured and underinsured coverage in small amounts. The current minimum of underinsured coverage is $20,000 for a single injury accident. 

Most insurance agents do not understand that uninsured and underinsured coverage is excellent coverage for the customer. Therefore, insurance agents tend to recommend low limits of underinsured coverage. In an effort to save on your total car insurance costs, the insurance agents sell you more liability insurance (where you protect other persons from your own negligence) and sell you less uninsured or underinsured coverage (where you protect yourself and your family from the negligence of other drivers). It makes little sense that a customer would purchase less insurance on themselves than they would on strangers, but this happens often. 

You should immediately look at your own insurance policy, or talk to your agent and determine if you have adequate uninsured and underinsured limits. An immediate tip-off that there may be a problem will arise when your agent tells you that your uninsured or underinsured coverage is less than your liability coverage. That is the time to start asking questions and thinking carefully about what is best for you and your family. 

These cases can be the most difficult to understand and often require the help of an experienced attorney to navigate your way through the traps and pitfalls. There's no charge for talking to us about any of these types of problems. In fact, it's very difficult for us to predict what type of problem you will have with underinsured coverage so just give us a call — it's free. 

Car accident time limits for starting the lawsuit — two years! 
This question involves an understanding of the legal concept called the "statute of limitations." A "statute of limitations" (SOL) is a rule of law that requires the victim to take affirmative action to settle a legal conflict within a set time period, or to at least put the conflict into the appropriate court system within the same time period. Failure to take the appropriate action within the allowed time period can result in a valid claim being lost. 

Under Iowa law, most automobile accident victims have a two-year time period (statute of limitations) in which to either resolve the claim on a negotiated basis or to place a lawsuit on file in the appropriate court system. Generally, if an accident victim allows this two-year period to pass without taking one of these two steps, the claim may be forever barred regardless of its merit, and regardless of the reason for failing to preserve the statute of limitations. Automobile accident victims approaching a two-year anniversary of the accident should exercise caution to make sure that the time period does not lapse without settling the case, or placing the case on file. Just make sure you know the correct date of your accident, and give your attorney enough time to properly put it on file. 

In some specific circumstances, an automobile accident victim may have a longer period of time in which to settle or bring a lawsuit. Examples would include auto property damage claims, claims involving children under the age of 18 and some uninsured or underinsured motorist claims. Furthermore, if the accident is governed by the laws of another state, the general statute of limitations could be much longer or shorter than two years. These situations are usually complicated enough that the victim should proceed with caution and be fully advised concerning the correct statute of limitations. Pick up the phone and give us a call to help evaluate your case for problems of this nature. There is no charge for talking to an attorney.

Call our law firm at 515-224-4400 or send us an email to arrange a FREE consultation.
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