Lawsuit Questions: 

How do I choose an attorney?

Choosing the right attorney requires thought and care. In most cases you’ll work closely with your attorney for a long time, and you may need to discuss matters that are personal and, sometimes, painful. Take time to find the right lawyer—one that you feel comfortable working with.

Don’t just search the yellow pages for a big advertisement. Ask friends or professionals that you know or work with. If you already have a lawyer for estate or other matters, he or she might make helpful recommendations. You also can use your computer to go online and find out what you can about attorneys in your area who handle the sort of case you want to bring.

Once you’ve begun to consider an individual attorney, take time to meet the lawyer and his or her staff and get a feel for them as people. Any attorney worth hiring will be glad to meet with you and answer your questions about the merits of your case, attorneys’ fees and other costs.

You also need to make sure you hire an attorney who is qualified to handle the issues involved in your case. Most lawyers focus their work on certain areas of practice—and it’s usually best to find an attorney who is experienced in the sort of claim you are considering. What sort of cases has the attorney handled in the past? Does he or she have the resources—staff, partners and monetary—to handle your claim? What sort of success has he or she had?

How does the litigation process work?

The litigation process is divided into four phases.

Stage One: The first stage involves the investigation and filing of the complaint. During this stage, the attorney and staff investigate the factual basis of the claim and legal theories of liability. The attorney may hire investigators, expert witnesses and obtain documents that are necessary to evaluate and pursue the claim. After the complaint is filed, the defendant files what is known as an "answer." The answer denies the factual allegations stated in the complaint and denies any liability for the claim.

Stage Two: The second stage of the litigation process is known as discovery. Discovery allows both the plaintiff and defendants to send written questions to the opposing party (called "interrogatories") that need to be answered under oath. It allows production of documents from the other side. It allows for out-of-court testimony called a "deposition." As a plaintiff, you and your lay and expert witnesses (such as treating physicians) will be deposed. The discovery phase allows the parties to subpoena third parties who are not part of the lawsuit to obtain documents or testimony.

Stage Three: The third stage is known as pre-trial motions stage. During this stage, the parties bring pre-trial motions in order to (a) have the case dismissed or the issues narrowed; (b) to obtain discovery that was not allowed; (c) to establish the procedures to be used at trial.

Stage Four: The fourth stage is the resolution of the case. Most cases settle at a mediation, or following an exchange of demands and offers. Cases that don't settle move forward to an arbitration or trial. During this phase, the parties present their case to a judge or jury by way of live testimony and submission of exhibits. After hearing the evidence from all sides and listening to the instructions of law given by the judge in the case, the jury renders a verdict. There is a right to appeal from a verdict that can be exercised by either party. The appeal process generally takes two years.

How much will it cost for you to represent me in a litigation case?

This is an important question, and the answer can be different in each case. Most lawyers in personal injury or wrongful death cases will agree to handle a case on either an hourly fee or a contingency fee basis. An hourly fee involves paying a retainer of a certain amount, and then being billed on a monthly basis for work that is done. The more hours worked by the lawyer, the more the fees involved in the case. Lawsuits are expensive, and a successful lawsuit requires a tremendous investment or time and cost. There is never any guarantee of a successful outcome in such an arrangement and, if the case were lost, the client is out all fees paid to the lawyers. Most people just can't afford to pay a law firm to represent them in a case.

Fortunately, our civil justice system still allows lawyers to charge what's called a "contingency fee."

A contingency fee is a fee that is based on the outcome of the case. If the case is lost, no fee is charged. If the case is won, a percentage of the recovery is charged. Sometimes that percentage reflects the amount of work that has to be done. In other words, the percentage may be lower if the case settles early, a higher percentage if the case settles close to trial or after trial starts.

A separate issue involves the costs of the lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit requires payment of a filing fee. Securing medical records results in charges. Taking depositions requires payments to a court reporter and payment of doctors when they testify. Hiring expert witnesses can be expensive. Copying charges, fax charges, telephone charges, travel expenses, etc. may also be involved. There are many other potential kinds of costs that may be associated with the handling of a given case. These costs are ultimately your responsibility as the client. However, most lawyers will agree to advance those costs during the litigation and then secure reimbursement for them at the end of the case.

I want to file a lawsuit. What is the first step?

The first step in filing a lawsuit is selecting and then meeting with your attorney to prepare the lawsuit. The attorney will help you investigate the case, determine what parties may be liable to you and select the theories of liability that will be included in the lawsuit. Once this process is completed, the attorney will file and serve a "complaint.". The complaint will name you as the plaintiff and the parties that are at fault as defendants. The complaint will state the facts of your claim and the legal theories of liability you are pursuing (for instance, negligence, product liability, consumer protection, etc.). The complaint will set forth the kind of damages you are asking for but will rarely set the amount of damages that you are claiming.

How does the process of bringing a claim work?

Bringing a claim usually involves filing a lawsuit with the courts and having it served upon the Defendants, or people that you are suing. However, much work must be done before the filing of such a lawsuit.

An appropriate investigation needs to be done to establish the basis of the lawsuit. Records need to be secured, witnesses may need to be interviewed, legal research may become necessary, and experts may need to be hired who can express opinions on the issues involved in the case. Only after proper due diligence has been done to establish the basis for a lawsuit, can a complaint be filed with the courts.

In some instances a claim can be filed with the insurance company by letter. It is sometimes possible to exchange information directly with the insurance company in order to reach an agreement on a proper evaluation of the case and a settlement of the matter without the need for filing suit. However, in today's climate and with the attitudes of most insurance companies, this is seldom possible.

Estate Planning Questions: 

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan is composed of two parts: asset planning and personal planning. With regard to asset planning, an Estate Plan is simply an arrangement for the management and disposition of a person's property during lifetime and at death. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways…by a will, trusts, gifts made during life, or a combination of these. With regard to personal planning, an estate plan is similarly an arrangement for the care and management of a person and his or her assets during life. Although different people might have different documents that make up their estate plan, for most people, an estate plan is composed of one or more of the following:

  • Community Property Agreement
  • Will
  • Powers of Attorney for medical and financial decisions
  • Health Care Directive (also called a Living Will)
  • Authorization for Disclosure of Protected Health Information
  • Trust Agreements
  • Insurance Contracts
  • Business Agreements
  • Other Contracts

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal instrument that authorizes someone to act as the principal’s agent…to act in the principal’s place as if the principal were making the decision. If the power of attorney survives the incompetence of the principal, it is called a durable power of attorney. A power of attorney that gives the agent the broadest powers is called a general power of attorney. Alternatively, if the Power of attorney is only for specific acts, it is a special power of attorney. 

Will I have to pay estate taxes?

There are two potentially applicable estate taxes for Washington residents: federal and Washington state estate tax.

Currently the federal estate tax applies to estate valued at over $5 Million. The State of Washington also imposes an estate tax on estates that are valued at over $2 Million. In the event your estate is nearing $2 Million (including insurance proceeds), you should consider additional tax planning that a good estate planner can provide.

What is the difference between probate and non-probate assets?

Your estate is made up of probate and non-probate assets. And, different devices control the disposition of the probate and non-probate assets. For example a Will can control who receives your house upon your death, but it generally cannot control who receives your IRA which is a non-probate assets. An estate planner will need to implement devices to control the disposition of both probate and non-probate assets. 

What is a Will?

The use of a Will in estate planning is the primary method for passing property in Washington State. A will generally covers all probate property and generally does not apply to non-probate property. In a will, you can name a guardian for your minor children, specify how you want your property to pass, and even set up testamentary trusts for your spouse or children. Often times a parent desires to keep their assets in a trust after their death until their children reach a certain specified age to help the children use the money wisely. All of this can be accomplished by a will.

The distribution scheme in your will can be as varied as your imagination. However, the most typical distribution scheme is where a person gives everything to his or her spouse and if the spouse is not alive, then the estate passes to the children. And, the property can pass to the children either in trust or outside of trust. Another provision in most wills addresses where your property goes should a child of yours predecease you. This type of distribution concerning the children is called Per Stirpes or it is also referred to as distribution by right of representation. It provides that in the event a child of yours predeceases you then his or her share will instead go to his or her own children to be shared equally. If your deceased child has no children, then his or her share is reallocated equally among your remaining children. 

What is a living trust?

The living trust is an alternate means to dispose of your estate. The benefits of a living trust is that it allows your estate to avoid probate and it is more private because it need not be filed with the court like a Will. However, the living trust is generally more expensive to establish and more complex to administer because it requires a person to transfer all of his or her assets into the trust. No longer would you own your house outright. Instead, you would own your house as the Trustee of your trust. Additionally, in some states like California, the cost of probate is determined as a percentage of the estate which can make probate very expensive. In Washington, this is not the case. Though your choice, in Washington, in most cases a will works better for most people. Also, probate can be avoided by the use of a community property agreement. However, you must also seek competent legal advice as to which process be it a will, a trust or a community property agreement, will best meet your estate planning needs.

What is a community property agreement? Isn't all property in Washington community property?

Washington is a community property state. However, this is different from two spouses signing a Community Property Agreement. A Community Property Agreement is an agreement that specifies three things: (1) all property owned by the husband and wife is community property; (2) all property acquired in the future by the husband and wife is community property; and (3) it provides for the disposition of the property at the death of one of the spouses. Even though this might sound similar to the provisions contained in the will, the use of the community property agreement generally allows the spouses to avoid probate when the first of the couple passes away. Without some form of estate planning there is no requirement that all of one spouse's property goes to the surviving spouse at death. Planning is necessary. Before using a community property agreement, competent legal advice should be attained.

What are beneficiary designations and how are they important in my estate plan?

As discussed, your estate consists of both probate and non-probate assets. Non-probate assets such as your retirement accounts and life insurance are not generally covered by a will nor by a trust. When you set up those accounts, you listed beneficiaries. In order to fully integrate your estate plan, your estate planning attorney must provide you with beneficiary designations for those non-probate assets. Then, you will need to update the beneficiary designations with your plan provider in order to make the estate plan fully integrated. 

How has estate tax planning changed recently?

In 2001, then President George W. Bush enacted sweeping tax legislation under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief and Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA). In terms of estate planning, EGTRRA ostensibly provided for the phase-out of the estate tax. However, under that law, one year after the phase-out of the estate tax, the 2001 estate tax laws were set to go back into effect. More specifically, in 2010, the law provided that there would be no federal estate tax. However, in 2011, the estate tax would revert to its 2001 levels: taxes imposed on estates valued at over $1 Million (including life insurance proceeds). For this reason, many estate planning attorneys continued to use the $1 Million mark to determine when and if estate tax planning was necessary for an individual or a couple. The tax rate was roughly 45% of anything over $1 Million. Accordingly, if a person had a gross estate of $1.5 million, for planning purposes, estate planners would often prepare for the fact that the amount over $1 Million ($.5 Million) would be subject to the estate tax at a rate of 45%. And, if a person had less than $1 Million (say, $800,000), then that estate would be subject to no estate tax.

Fast forward to 2010: there was no federal estate tax. But, before the law reverted back to 2001 levels (tax on any estate over $1 Million) in 2011 (as it was slated to do), Congress made a change which provided for a $5 Million exclusion (unified credit). However, this change was only effective for two years. And, under the law at the time, the estate tax rates would again revert to 2001 levels in 2013. Again, many estate planning attorneys continued to use the $1 Million threshold for estate tax planning because of that law.

On January 1, 2013, the so-called “fiscal cliff” was avoided. As part of that avoidance, the estate tax was resolved. The current law enacted on January 1, 2013 provides that an estate will not be subject to federal estate tax unless it is valued at over $5 Million (technically $5.34 million for 2014). More importantly, the new law provided no reversion back to the 2001 levels (of $1 Million) as had been the case for the previous decade of planning. Plus, the new law allowed for portability…allowing one spouse to use his or her deceased spouse’s unused unified credit, effectively making the unified credit $10 Million for a couple. So, for the past decade, the federal estate tax had been the primary concern of estate planning attorneys in Washington. That all changed on January 1, 2013.

The Washington state estate tax is imposed on estates valued at over $2 Million. It was always less of a concern for estate planner because the federal estate tax was pegged so low. However, now that that federal estate tax is not imposed until an individual has more than $5 Million ($10 Million for a couple), estate planners in Washington are looking to the Washington estate tax for primary planning purposes.

Washington’s estate tax is structured differently from the federal counterpart in several ways. First, Washington’s estate tax does not generally tax gifts like the feds do. Second, Washington does not allow portability like the feds do. Third, Washington allows a generally more favorable deduction for qualified farm property which is included in the estate. Fourth, our estate tax rate begins at just 10%. This changes the landscape tremendously for Washington residents and especially eastern Washington farmers.

Estate planning attorneys previously relied on credit shelter trusts to allow more assets to pass to the next generation free of the estate tax or to reduce the estate tax. This technique is less important now. While it is true that the credit shelter trust is still necessary to be able to fully leverage and avoid Washington’s estate tax, another consideration is the income tax. That is, upon the death of one spouse, all of the community property gets a “step up” in tax basis. This reduces the overall income tax which might be due upon the sale of an asset. That same step up in tax basis might also be available upon the death of the second spouse, but not for any assets held in a credit shelter trust. This means that although an individual can use the credit shelter trust to avoid the estate tax (imposed at 10%), he or she may be subjecting the same assets to income tax on any gain at a rate of generally at least 15% and maybe as high as 23.8% (with the new Medicare surtax). It appears then that a more thoughtful approach to estate tax planning is required. The standard credit shelter trust plan that has been the hallmark of estate planning attorney for years no longer fits every tax situation.

In many cases, the better approach to the credit shelter trust is to allow the use of the trust to be optional at the direction of the surviving spouse. This allows the surviving spouse and his or her planning professionals to evaluate the factors at the time of the first death, such as: (1) what is the gross value of the estate; (2) what are the current tax rates imposed by the federal and state government; (3) are there other estate tax planning techniques the surviving spouse would prefer to a trust; (4) does the surviving spouse mind the additional complexity of an irrevocable trust; (5) what are the surviving spouse’s spending habits; (6) what are the assets of the estate, etc.

Probate Questions: 

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process through the court system by which the affairs of a deceased person are handled which include settlement of debts and expenses and the transfer of title of the deceased person to his or her beneficiaries. In Washington, the probate process need not be a lengthy process. Each estate probate process is different based on the estate (the property held in the estate and the debts of the decedent) and the documents involved. If there was a will, then a person is said to have died testate and the will controls the disposition of the property and the appointment of who will handle the estate. If a person dies without a will, then the person is said to have died intestate and state law controls who will handle the probate process and the disposition of the property. The probate process in each state is different with a process in Washington being one of the most efficient processes in the United States. 

My relative has recently passed away? Do I need to do anything with a lawyer?

When a person dies, necessarily there must be some time of administration to take care of the decedent's assets. It could be very simple or it could be more complex. Generally, probate is required unless one of the following three exceptions exist: (1) the decedent died with no real property (land or house) and less than $100,000.00; (2) the decedent is the first to die between two spouse who have a valid Community Property Agreement; or (3) all of the decedent's assets were placed in a Revocable Living Trust.

Still, even though "probate" may not be necessary, some type of administration is always necessary. For example, state law requires that every Will must be filed with the county courthouse after a death (RCW 11.20.010). Furthermore, state law requires that, upon death, both the Department of Social and Health Services and the Washington State Department of Revenue (RCW 82.32.240) must receive notice of the death. 

What are the duties of the Personal Representative?

Generally, the Personal Representative is charged with collecting all of the decedent’s assets, verifying and paying all of the decedent’s legitimate debts and distributing the assets of the estate in accordance with the decedent’s will or in accordance with state law.

The Personal Representative is responsible to verify the value of all assets that pass through the probate process and the value of all assets that pass outside of the probate process.  For example, the proceeds of life insurance paid directly to the beneficiary of the life insurance as a value that the personal representative must take into consideration and value in the estate, however, the insurance proceeds are not part of the probate assets and pass directly from the insurance company to the named beneficiary outside of the probate process.  Similarly, bank account that are titled joint tenancy with right of survivorship pass to the surviving named joint tenants outside of the probate process. 

The Personal Representative is responsible for taking into possession all assets that pass through the probate process.  The Personal Representative is also responsible to verify the decedent’s debts and make arrangements for payment of those debts.  Generally, the probate estate assets are responsible first for payment of those debts, however, if the balance of the estate is not large enough to pay the debts, then certain assets that pass outside of the probate estate such as joint tenants with right of survivorship bank accounts and the recipients of those accounts may need to reimburse the estate for their proportionate share of those debts.

The Personal Representative is responsible at all times during the administration of the estate to account for the assets received into the probate estate, all income received and all expenditures made during the probate process. It is essential that the personal representative maintain accurate records.

Personal Representatives are generally granted “non-intervention powers” meaning that the court will not intervene or interfere with the administration of the estate.  Non-intervention powers are available in estates that are solvent.  This is the reason why the probate of Washington State estates are generally no more complicated than the settlement of a living trust.  However, Personal Representatives are advised that when proceeding with major actions in the estate, that there are notices required to be given to the beneficiaries and often times it is advisable to seek Court approval for those major actions.  Therefore, before any major action is taken by the Personal Representative, he or she should seek advice from legal counsel.
The Personal Representative is required to prepare an inventory of all assets of the estate. It is also the Personal Representative’s duty to fairly value all of the assets of the estate for tax purposes.

Further, a Personal Representative needs to be fully apprised to the legal process and their duties and should seek legal advice in defining those duties and the process.

Administration of living trusts

In Washington State the administration of a living trust is substantially the same as the administration of a probate estate wherein the Personal Representative has been granted non-intervention powers.  The duties of the Trustee in settling the estate are substantially the same as the duties of the Personal Representative as set forth above and the notice requirements and the advice to seek the advice of legal counsel in major transactions and the process of settling the trust is likewise applicable to Trustees.

Wherein the Personal Representative is to prepare and inventory of the estate, a Trustee is required to prepare an accounting of the assets in the trust.  The end result is the same.  Likewise, the Trustee, if there is no probate estate it is responsible to have the estate valued for tax purposes.

How are Living Trusts Administered?

In January of 2012, the Washington State legislature made sweeping changes to the Washington Trust Act. Now, in Washington State, the administration of a living trust is substantially the same as the administration of a probate estate wherein the Personal Representative has been granted non-intervention powers. The duties of the Trustee in settling the estate are substantially the same as the duties of the Personal Representative as set forth above and the notice requirements and the advice to seek the advice of legal counsel in major transactions and the process of settling the trust is likewise applicable to Trustees. The most important change to trust administration is the duty to provide notice of the existence of all irrevocable trusts (a revocable living trust typically becomes irrevocable upon death) as well as periodic notice of the administration of the trust. Whereas the Personal Representative prepares an inventory of the estate, a Trustee is required to prepare an accounting of the assets in the trust. The end result is the same. Likewise, the Trustee, if there is no probate estate, is responsible to have the estate valued for tax purposes.

RCW 11.97.010 provides, in pertinent part, the necessary notice to all beneficiaries a trustee must make:

Within sixty days after the date of acceptance of the position of trustee of an irrevocable trust, or the date the trustee of a formerly revocable trust acquires knowledge that the trust has become irrevocable, whether by the death of the trustor or otherwise, the trustee shall give notice of: (a) The existence of the trust, (b) the identity of the trustor or trustors, (c) the trustee's name, address, and telephone number, and (d) the right to request such information as is reasonably necessary to enable the notified person to enforce his or her rights under the trust, to all persons interested in the trust, as defined in RCW 11.96A.030, and who would be entitled to notice under RCW 11.96A.110 and 11.96A.120 if they were a party to judicial proceedings regarding the trust. If any such person is a minor and no guardian has been appointed for such person by any court, then such notice may be given to a parent of the person. If a person otherwise entitled to notice under this section is a charitable organization, and the charitable organization's only interest in the trust is a future interest that may be revoked, then such notice shall instead be given to the attorney general. A trustee who gives notice pursuant to this section satisfies the duty to inform the beneficiaries of the existence of the trust. The notice required under this subsection (2) applies only to irrevocable trusts created after December 31, 2011, and revocable trusts that become irrevocable after December 31, 2011, provided that all common law duties of a trustee to notify beneficiaries applicable to trusts created or that became irrevocable before such date are not affected.

Once the initial notice is sent to beneficiaries, RCW 11.96A.070 instructs the Trustee to also send periodic reports about the trust that include the following:

  1. A statement of receipts and disbursements of principal and income that have occurred during the accounting period;
  2. A statement of the assets and liabilities of the trust and their values at the beginning and end of the period;
  3. The trustee's compensation for the period;
  4. The agents hired by the trustee, their relationship to the trustee, if any, and their compensation, for the period;
  5. Disclosure of any pledge, mortgage, option, or lease of trust property, or other agreement affecting trust property binding for a period of five years or more that was granted or entered into during the accounting period;
  6. Disclosure of all transactions during the period that are equivalent to one of the types of transactions described in RCW11.98.078 or otherwise could have been affected by a conflict between the trustee's fiduciary and personal interests;
  7. A statement that the recipient of the account information may petition the superior court pursuant to chapter 11.106 RCW to obtain review of the statement and of acts of the trustee disclosed in the statement; and
  8. A statement that claims against the trustee for breach of trust may not be made after the expiration of three years from the date the beneficiary receives the statement.

What is a Notice to Creditors and must I file one?

The Personal Representative of the estate or the Trustee of a revocable living trust has an election of either filing a Notice to Creditors, or not filing a Notice to Creditors. 

Not Filing Notice to Creditors

All creditors are required to notify and make claim against the estate for their claims due.  If no Notice to Creditors is filed, then the creditor must present their claim within 24 months after the decedent's date of death for the creditor to collect payment, otherwise, the creditor will be barred.  The filing and service of claims, within the 24-month period, follows the same procedure as the filing and service of claims with the four-month procedure (below).

Filing Notice to Creditors

If a creditor’s claim notice is filed and the publication required is made, then there is a four-month creditor’s claim period.  During that four month period of time, all claimants must file their creditor’s claims with the Personal Representative or notice agent.  The Personal Representative and notice agent shall exercise reasonable diligence within the four month time limitation to discover reasonably ascertainable creditor’s of the decedent.  The Personal Representative or notice agent should review the decedent’s correspondence (including correspondence received after the date of death) and financial records (including checkbooks, bank statements, income tax returns, etc.). The Personal Representative and notice agent should also inquire if the deceased heirs or relatives whether they are aware of any creditors.  If there is a known creditor, the Personal Representative or notice agent must notify the creditor in writing with all of the information concerning the creditor’s claim period and advising them that they need to file a claim within the four month period.

Does the estate need to pay tax? When?

Whether estate taxes are owing is determined based upon the decedent’s assets at date of death. For deaths occurring in calendar year 2013 or after, under federal law, there is a $5 Million exemption meaning net estates having a value in excess of $5 Million will be taxed for federal purposes. The State of Washington also imposes an estate tax on estates that are valued at over $2 Million. The estate tax return must be filed within nine months of the decedent’s date of death. In addition to the estate tax, an estate or trust must also pay income tax for income received. It is generally necessary for the Personal Representative or in the case of a trust, a Trustee, to file federal income tax returns for the decedent and for the decedent’s estate (or the trust estate). Typically, the Personal Representative or Trustee will retain an accountant to assist and comply with these requirements.

What are the fees and costs associated with probate?

A Personal Representative is entitled to a fee from the estate for his or her services. Both the Personal Representative’s fee and the legal fee are based on reasonable compensation for services rendered, taking into consideration the degree of responsibility involved, the work necessary, the complexity of the case, and other factors, and all fees are subject to review by the heirs and by the court. Court costs in connection with the probate are governed by law and include such required expenses as the $230.00 filing fee charged by the Clerk of the Court and publication of the Notice to Creditors.

In the administration of a trust, similar services and the charging of fees are based on the same factors as are charged in a probate estate.

Personal Injury Questions: 

I have been injured and I may have a claim, what is the first thing I should do?

If you have been injured, the first priority is to care for your health. Your health is the most important asset you have and, if your injuries are severe, you should seek medical attention immediately.  Follow your provider’s instructions and recommendations to stabilize and manage your injury.

If you are dealing with a less serious injury you should still seek medical attention. While some injuries appear to be simple bumps or bruises, they could potentially be more severe. It is important to be evaluated so you understand what needs to happen to fully recover. 

How long do I have before I can bring a claim for personal injury?

You should immediately contact a personal injury attorney. Generally, Washington State personal injury claims have a statute of limitations of three years. This means you have three years from the date of the injury to bring your claim. Often times, pursuing a personal injury claim can be a long process. It is important to make sure you are completely healed before bringing suit so is recommended that you are done with all treatment and are sure there are no residual injuries before bringing a claim or beginning with settlement negotiations. It is important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible to avoid losing, or failing to properly develop evidence critical to your claim. Your personal injury attorney will work with you throughout this process. 

I have been injured in a car accident, who will pay for my medical bills?

In the state of Washington, your insurance provider is required to provide you with Personal Injury Protection, commonly referred to as “PIP.” Personal Injury Protection is always available to you unless you sign an agreement waiving the coverage. This is not recommended. Personal Injury Protection is a no-fault policy that will pay for your medical costs up to your PIP policy limits. This means that your insurance provider will pay for all reasonable medical bills and treatments related to the accident up to the amount in your policy. They will do this regardless of who is at fault.

If you do not have personal injury protection, you should rely on your health insurance coverage. If you have no health insurance, you should seek help from other potential sources of coverage such as Medicaid or Medicare. On some occasions, certain providers will treat you under an agreement that they carry a lien on any potential settlement you may receive. This is an arrangement you must discuss with the particular provider. 

How do I select a good attorney?

Personal Injury is a common practice of the law so there is generally no shortage of personal injury attorneys. Your attorney should display an understanding of the law as well as an understanding of the personal injury practice. A good attorney in this field will be more concerned with your health than with a potential settlement. Personal injuries can cause a tremendous amount of difficulty and disruption in your life. You should seek an attorney who will take charge in your claim, understand how to deal with the insurance companies and insure the proper treatment and care for your health.

How much will an attorney cost?

It is customary practice in personal injury law that attorneys will dedicate their services in exchange for what is called a “contingency fee.” This is a fee that amounts to a certain percentage of any award the client may receive. Usually, the fee consists of 1/3rd of an award plus fees and costs associated with the award. Fees and costs can consist of filing fees, costs for investigators and costs for experts.

I have been contacted by the insurance company from the person responsible for my injury, what should I do?

You should never be dishonest while dealing with insurance companies. However, you should be aware of their objective in making contact with you. Insurance adjusters are seeking information from you so they can set their “reserves.” Their “reserves” is the amount of money they are setting aside in anticipation of settling your claim. Some insurance adjusters may be eager to settle, even before you are complete with your treatment. Keep in mind; their goal is to settle for less, regardless of the pain and suffering you endured through your experience. One of the most important jobs of your attorney is to negotiate with the adverse insurance carrier. Also, keep in mind that the attorneys here at Leavy, Schultz, Davis & Ruff, P.S., will be upfront and provide their honest assessment of whether the Insurance company settlement is reasonable or whether you should engage the services of an attorney to enforce your rights.