Auto accidents are jarring, and often, people can sustain significant, even life-threatening injuries in them. If you were hurt in an auto accident, contact an experienced San Mateo County motor vehicle accident lawyer from the Law Offices of Allister R. Liao to schedule your free case evaluation with our dedicated personal injury law firm.
Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer | Fighting for Clients in San Mateo County & throughout CA
Injured in a motor vehicle collision due to no fault of your own? The time to act is now, and our legal team is here to help. Don’t hire just any law firm to represent you at this critical time; hire us to fight for the full and fair compensation to which you are entitled.
Our Motor Vehicle Accident Services
The Law Offices of Allister R. Liao proudly fights for those who’ve been harmed in a wide range of auto accidents, including the following:
- Bicycle Accidents
- Bus Accidents
- Car Accidents
- Drunk Driving Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Delivery Driver Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Uber Accidents
- Hit & Run Accidents
- Reckless Driving Accidents
- Scooter Accidents
The Timeline of an Auto Accident Case
Accidents happen. It’s a fact of life. In our day-to-day lives, there are many ways that an accident can happen such as car collisions, slip-and-fall, dog bites, exploding products, contaminated food, etc. Not all accidents, however, result in injury or harm. But, when they do, a possible claim(s) for personal injury is born. The best practice is to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible and discuss what happened. The conversation(s) you have with an attorney is protected by the attorney-client privilege — regardless of whether you retain the attorney for legal representation.
Your Legal Consultation
Knowledge will empower you to make the right decisions. Consulting an attorney is the fastest way to learn about the law as it applies to the facts of your situation.
You are encouraged to conduct your own research, whether online or at the law library. In fact, we encourage you to speak to as many attorneys as you can to absorb as much knowledge as possible. The more information you have the better off you will be, and the less intimidated you will feel in dealing with your situation.
California Evidence Code, Section 950, et seq. specifically protects all confidential communications with an attorney by virtue of the attorney-client privilege. This protection exists even if you do not hire an attorney. California law has evolved in this manner to encourage complete candor and honesty when speaking with an attorney.
It’s important to be complete in your discussions with an attorney. What may appear to you as a minor detail may actually make a big difference in the legal analysis of your case. If you want solid legal advice, you must be open, honest, and complete. The more information you provide an attorney during the consultation the better advice you will receive — even if the information/document/recording appears to repeat something already mentioned.
Attorneys are also commonly known as “Counselors.” A counselor is a person trained to give guidance on a particular subject matter. Here, attorneys are counselors at law.
Attorneys are trained to aggressively prosecute or defend clients’ best interests throughout the legal process. But, attorneys’ ability to guide clients is equally important.
Why? Because the case does not belong to the attorney. The case belongs to the client. The attorney’s role in any case is to guide the client to make the right decisions.
For the client to make the right decisions, attorneys must be prepared to (1) lay out the options, (2) explain the pros and cons, and (3) recommend the best course of action. With the proper guidance, clients are empowered to make the right decisions.
After the client has made a decision, it’s the attorney’s job to professionally execute and accomplish that chosen goal.
- If that means pursuing an insurance claim, then the attorney should prepare a demand package, argue your claims, and attempt to negotiate a settlement.
- If that means going to litigation, then the attorney should properly initiate the lawsuit, exercise the right to discovery, and prepare the case for trial.
- And, if that means going to trial, then the attorney should be prepared to argue the case in court and martial the evidence to persuade the trier of fact.
The Insurance Claim
The insurance company’s investigation is handled by a claims adjuster assigned to your case. Invariably the adjuster will do the following:
- Request a recorded statement.
- Ask for your authorization or release of protected/private information.
- And, request that you submit supporting documentation.
You are NOT required to sign any papers, provide any information, or even speak with the adjuster. In fact, the insurance claim process is completely voluntary. Therefore your attempt to settle the claim(s) without first consulting a competent motor vehicle accident lawyer can be very risky.
Keep in mind that anything you say, anything you provide, and anything the insurance company finds out can (and most likely will) be used against you both during the insurance claim process and later in court.
A recorded statement can be pre-arranged or spontaneous. Regardless of how the scheduling takes place, the insurance adjuster must ask for your permission before recording. You don’t have to submit a recorded statement. In fact, you don’t have to the insurance adjuster at all.
The recorded statement has no rules. Everything is fair game. If the insurance adjuster asks a question and you answer, then your response becomes part of the recording and you’re stuck with what you said – even if you made a mistake.
A lack of preparation, lack of understanding, or lack of focus during a recorded statement can result in serious problems for your case. In fact, it is not a good idea to submit a recorded statement without first consulting a motor vehicle accident lawyer.
Authorizations & Releases
Insurance companies commonly send paperwork to you requesting your authorization to release certain protected/private information. This can include medical/health, employment, and financial records.
Often times these forms are not limited as to time, type, or scope. In other words, signing a medical release form can mean that you’ve authorized the insurance company to access your protected health information since your birth, for all types of treatment, and for all areas of your body. Allowing the insurance company to sift through your private records is impermissible in court, so why would you allow them to do it during the insurance claim process?
The better practice is to request these protected records on your own and filter through the documents to make sure that they relate to the claim, can be discovered in litigation, and do not contain mistakes before submitting them to the insurance company.
In other words, it’s not a good idea to sign an authorization or release form to grant an insurance company access to your protected/private records.
An insurance adjuster will ask for supporting documents for your claim(s). They may ask for tax returns, pay stubs, photographs, video recordings, letters, etc.
Some of these supporting documents are protected from disclosure in litigation. However, if you’ve already given the insurance company a copy of the documents, then there’s nothing to protect because they already have a copy.
For example, California recognizes what is called the “Tax Return Privilege.” Tax returns, both state and federal, are protected from disclosure in personal injury litigation. This extends to all types of tax returns – both personal and corporate. And, this protection even extends to related tax documents such as W-2 forms that employees receive from their employer before filing taxes.
Tax returns and related tax documents contain an incredible amount of private financial and personal information. Other supporting documents requested by the insurance adjuster may also contain confidential or protected information. Make sure you know what you’re doing before handing over any supporting documents.
Insurance companies will investigate your claim(s) to make a fault determination (also known as “liability”).
The insurance company’s fault determination is an opinion – just like you have an opinion. And, it’s common for these two opinions to be completely opposite.
When your opinion and the insurance company’s opinion are different it can be incredibly frustrating. During these times it’s far more beneficial to try and understand why the insurance adjuster thinks this way, rather than raise your voice and yell. Yelling at someone won’t make them change their mind.
Statute of Limitations
In California, there are strict deadlines (called “Statute of Limitations”) that you must follow in all types of personal injury cases. Think of it as the due date.
In some cases, the due date can be as short as 6 months. And in some instances, the due date may require that you first accomplish a previous task. For example, claims against a California public entity or employee must follow the California Tort Claims Act and/or Federal Tort Claims Act, which require the proper submission of a governmental claim.
Whatever the due date is, you must have drafted the right documents, filed the documents at a court with proper jurisdiction, and paid the correct filing fee. A failure to properly and completely follow the rules may result in you losing your case before it even gets started.
Speak to a seasoned motor vehicle accident lawyer early and save yourself the headache of losing your claim(s) because of the Statute of Limitations.
A lawsuit is initiated by filing a civil complaint, along with other documents, at the court. The complaint will lay out the general facts of what occurred and state all your theories of liability (also known as “Causes of Action”).
The California Judicial Council (the policymaking body of the California courts) has approved forms that can be used instead of drafting a Complaint from scratch.
Depending on the type of case, the issues involved, and the attorney’s preferences, the Judicial Council Form Complaint can be used in lieu of drafting a Complaint. Often times attorneys have a working template in their office that they build upon in drafting a customized Complaint for your case.
The insurance claim process is voluntary. Civil discovery is not. Discovery is a legal right.
Once a lawsuit is initiated and discovery has begun, plaintiffs have a legal right to request the defendant to produce certain documents and things, to answer written questions, and to submit to a deposition. These rights are equally shared by the defendant in that your adversary can request the same things from you.
The discovery process is a set of tools that allows the parties to “discover” information and evidence from the other side that they would otherwise not be able to obtain. Through the process of discovery, the parties will learn new information, confirm their beliefs, and sometimes contradict what they thought to be true.
Sometimes the parties will have a dispute about the rules of the game. In other words, defendant may argue that he is entitled to all of plaintiff’s medical records, while plaintiff thinks not.
If the parties can’t work out their differences, they can ask the court to step in and make a decision. The method that the parties do this is through a “Motion.”
The party asking for the court to do something will file a motion, and the other party is entitled to file a response. The court may make a decision based on the papers, or the court might entertain oral arguments at a hearing. Ultimately the court will make a decision that the parties are required to follow.
Not all motions are related to differences between the parties. Sometimes the rules of the game require (or encourage) that a motion be filed so that the court can issue an order. In other words, it could be just a formality.
Before a jury trial begins, there’s a process called jury selection (also known as “Voir Dire”). The term “jury selection” is misleading because the parties don’t actually pick and choose the jury. It’s actually the opposite. The parties can only remove people from the jury pool – not select who they want.
There are two ways that parties can remove a potential juror:
- Peremptory Challenge
- Challenge for Cause
A peremptory challenge entitles a party to remove a potential juror for any reason, except discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. Parties are entitled to a limited number of peremptories.
Separately, parties can remove a juror by raising a “Challenge for Cause.” That means that a potential juror can be removed because of a general disqualification, implied bias, or actual bias.
- General Disqualification – Not a US citizen, under 18 years old, not domiciled in California, not a resident of the jurisdiction, etc.
- Implied Bias – Related by blood or marriage to party or witness, fiduciary/domestic/business relationship with party or witness, stock ownership, etc.
- Actual Bias – Everyone comes from different backgrounds and holds different beliefs. It’s when these beliefs are strong beliefs, long-held beliefs, beliefs not easily set aside, or a party starts at a disadvantage that it becomes an actual bias.
The opening statement is an opportunity for the attorneys to speak directly to the jury at trial. The opening statement, however, is limited to outlining the facts and evidence that will be presented in the case. In other words, the opening statement is a road map for the jury to understand what is probably going to happen as witnesses testify and as evidence is admitted.
During the opening statement, the attorney is not permitted to argue the case.
Direct examination is the questioning of a “friendly” witness during trial. In other words, the questioning by the party who called the witness to testify in court.
Generally, a party cannot ask leading questions during direct examination. That means a party cannot ask questions that suggest a particular answer or contain the answer in the question.
Cross-examination is the questioning of an “adverse” witness during trial. In other words, the questioning of a witness called by your opponent.
Leading questions are permitted during cross-examination. That means a party can ask questions that suggest a particular answer or contain the answer in the question
A closing statement is the final opportunity for the attorneys to speak directly to the jury during trial. At this stage, the jury has heard all the testimony and seen all the evidence introduced at trial.
The attorneys are permitted to argue and persuade the jury on their version of what happened.
Deliberation is the final step in a jury trial. After hearing closing statements and jury instructions, the jury will enter a private room where they will start discussing the case.
There is no set way on how a jury should discuss the case during deliberation. Some juries will go around the room and each person is invited to voice their opinion. Others will begin to discuss without any particular order. Then there are others who take a vote at the beginning and never end up discussing anything because everyone immediately agrees.
While there are no rules on how deliberations are required to take place, there are rules that state whether a majority or unanimous vote is required – and what constitutes a majority.
Contact a Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer for Help
As you can see, the process of bringing a personal injury claim can be a long and complex one, which is why anyone hurt in an auto accident shouldn’t proceed without a knowledgeable San Mateo County motor vehicle accident lawyer in their corner. Contact the Law Offices of Allister R. Liao to schedule your free case evaluation with our personal injury law firm today.