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Frequently Asked Questions

YOU PAY NO FEE UNLESS WE COLLECT FOR YOU

Q:

I have been seriously injured or I have lost a loved one due to another’s carelessness. I don’t have enough money to hire an attorney. What can I do?

A:

In injury and wrongful death cases you NEVER pay a fee unless we collect money for you or your family.

Q:

Does Nolan & Shafer have a Guarantee?

A:

In personal injury cases, you never pay an attorney fee unless we collect money for you. That’s the Nolan & Shafer Guarantee.

HIRING LOCAL IS THE BEST OPTION

Q:

I was seriously injured or my family member was killed in an auto accident, motorcycle accident, or trucking accident in West Michigan. Should I hire a local lawyer or one that is located an hour or more away in a larger city?

A:

This is a common question. The Michigan Court Rules and Statutes require where a case must be filed and handled. If your accident occurred in Muskegon or along the Lakeshore, there is a high likelihood that the case will need to be filed here. We are very familiar with the local judges and the members of the community who could serve on your jury. Many of the lawyers who advertise a bunch are in the Metro Detroit area or Grand Rapids. Often these attorneys are nothing more than referral sources. They want to sign you up so they can get a portion of a fee by referring you to another attorney from another firm.

Many times they will not even be the person who actually meets with you the first time. Some of these out of town lawyers have been known to send non-lawyers to meet with you during the crucial first meeting. We were born and raised here. We know the important people involved in your case: police officers, paramedics, doctors, witnesses, and others. We are able to obtain instant access to crucial information to properly represent and take care of you. We handle more injury and wrongful death cases in this community than any other firm.

HOME AND HOSPITAL VISITS

Q:

Should I call David Shafer immediately? What if I am still in the hospital or confined to my home?

A:

Yes. You should call immediately. There is no fee for having us come out to talk to you and inform you of your rights. Remember, we only get paid if we collect money for you. We routinely travel all over the state to meet with our clients who are often injured and unable to travel to our office to meet with us.

We spend a great deal of time in hospitals and clients’ homes addressing their concerns and advising them of their rights. We can also meet you in the evenings or on weekends.

OTHER QUESTIONS

Q:

How is it that you and other law firms can afford to take cases in which you agree that you will not receive a fee unless a client makes a recovery?

A:

Most personal injury lawyers handle cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that the attorney or law firm agrees to pay the costs (filing fees, record fees, deposition fees, etc.), which can be substantial, and then agree to be reimbursed for those costs at the end of the case. We then typically take 1/3 of the settlement after reducing the total settlement by the costs. This means that the client pays no money to the lawyer unless we secure a recovery. This allows seriously injured clients to hire the best lawyers to handle their cases without the concern of having to pay some hefty fee even if they happen to lose their case.

Q:

I was seriously injured in a car accident. I was a passenger in another person’s car. I did not own a car at the time of the accident. I am receiving many medical bills and I am losing my wages every week. What can be done if I had NO insurance at the time of the accident?

A:

Since you were not driving your own car, as you did not own one, you would first ask yourself, “Do I live with any relatives?” If the answer is “yes” then your medical bills and wage losses will be paid for by that person’s insurance carrier. If you did not live with any relatives on the date of the accident, and you were not married to someone that did own a car with insurance in effect, then you would seek payment of your medical expenses from the insurance company for the owner of the automobile that you were in at the time of the accident. If that person does not have insurance, and the driver was someone other than the owner, then you would seek payment of your benefits from the driver’s insurance company.

If no one has insurance you would seek payment of all of your medical expenses, wage loss and other no-fault benefits from the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan, a governmental entity that assigns insurance carriers to claimants in your situation. The good news is that you will receive payment of your medical expenses and wage losses that were incurred as the result of the accident. This is a very complicated area of the law. We specialize in handling these claims. Please call us for a free consultation.

Q:

I was bitten by a dog.  What are my rights?

A:

If you were bitten by a dog you are generally entitled to money damages. As long as you were lawfully on the property where the dog bite occurred; you did not provoke the dog; and the dog BIT you, you are entitled to compensation. The compensation typically is paid by the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance company. You are entitled to payment of your medical bills, wage loss, pain and suffering, scarring, and other damages. The insurance company for the dog owner will likely contact you to attempt to settle the case or obtain a statement from you. You should contact us before you speak to the insurance company, as we look out for your best interests, while the insurance company will look out for its best interest.

Q:

What is personal injury protection?

A:

Personal Injury Protection or First Party No-Fault coverage is insurance that pays, regardless of fault, for medical bills, wage loss, in-home nursing care, home modifications, medical mileage reimbursement, funeral/burial expenses, and other benefits.  There is a statutory system in place that sets forth the order in which insurance carriers are required to pay these benefits.  Almost everyone is entitled to these benefits. PIP benefits typically cover medical and other associated costs after an auto accident, including, but not limited to:     

  • Doctor bills
  • Lost wages
  • Hospital stays
  • Childcare
  • Funeral expenses
  • etc.

Q:

How much to ask for in a personal injury settlement?

A:

So much is dependent on how your injury was caused, who caused it, and to what extent your injury has impaired your life.  Recently, one of our clients was offered $30,000 by the insurance company for her auto accident.  With assistance from Nolan & Shafer, a jury awarded her a verdict of $2.6 million.  It’s important to talk with an experienced attorney that can ask the right questions and guide you through the process of getting everything you are owed.  There is no standard answer and everything is dependent on the details of your case.  Unfortunately, those with the most serious injuries have cases with higher values.  Navigating the often complex avenues of bodily injury insurance coverage, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, excess or umbrella coverage, corporate coverage and other issues relative to insurance coverage also often dictate personal injury and wrongful death settlements.

If you have experienced serious impairment of body function, permanent and serious disfigurement, or you’re suing for the wrongful death of a loved one, you will be entitled to noneconomic (also called “pain and suffering”) damages.  In Michigan, because your own automobile insurance company typically pays for your medical bills and wage loss, it is often the case that your claim against a negligent driver’s insurance company is only for “noneconomic” or “pain-and-suffering” damages and excess wage loss (wages lost due to an injury that exceed the three year maximum coverage for wages paid by the no-fault carrier, and/or wages that are lost more than three years after the accident). The amount of damages (i.e. money compensation) you can reasonably ask for or expect a jury to award depends on several factors.  These factors include, but are not limited to, the seriousness of your injuries, the amount and frequency of treatment you have received, whether you have missed any work, how fully you recover from your injuries, and the amount of insurance funds that are available to recover.

No two cases are alike. Unless an attorney handles a large number of these cases, he or she is unlikely to have enough experience to know what a particular case is worth.

Q:

What counts as a personal injury?

A:

You should speak with an attorney if the actions of another person resulted in pain and suffering, disfigurement, temporary or permanent disability, medical expenses, wage loss, having to secure replacement services, and/or having to hire attendant care services.

In motor vehicle accident cases, in addition to first-party no-fault or PIP benefits a person or family may be entitled to non-economic damages:  pain and suffering, loss of life’s enjoyments, disfigurement, bystander (negligent infliction of emotional distress) damages, loss of the society and companionship of a loved one (wrongful death cases), and many other damages.  One must suffer a serious impairment of body function, permanent and serious disfigurement, and/or death in order to be able to pursue a claim for non-economic loss damages in a motor vehicle accident case.  The types of injuries that constitute a serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement are very fact specific.  All cases are unique.

Q:

Are personal injury settlements taxable?

A:

It depends. If you received a settlement for lost wages, you will most likely need to pay income tax, just like you would have if you hadn’t been injured and had earned the income at your job.

If you claimed a deduction on your taxes for medical expenses and are then awarded damages in the amount of your medical expenses, the expense is eliminated and becomes income which is subject to income tax.

However, there are exceptions when it comes to personal injury settlements. CLICK HERE for an IRS breakdown of taxable and non-taxable personal injury settlements.  Ultimately, we recommend seeking the advice of an income tax professional to get more specific advice for your situation.  The general rule, currently, is that damages paid for non-economic loss damages (eg pain and suffering, loss of life’s enjoyments, scarring/disfigurement, loss of a loved one and many other damages) are NOT taxable.

Q:

How are personal injury settlements paid out?

A:

Funds received from an insurance company or defendant are deposited into a law firm’s trust account.  Once the funds have cleared, medical bills, liens, legal fees, and costs will have to be settled and paid.  After this process is completed, your attorney will be ready to disburse your funds to you, in the form of a check.

Q:

How long does a personal injury lawsuit take?

A:

Every situation is different.  Some cases can be settled in a few weeks.  Other cases take a period of years.  An experienced personal injury attorney will help you navigate the process. 

For example, if the case can be settled with an “adjuster” who works for the insurance company without having to file a formal lawsuit, a personal injury case can be completed in a relatively short period of time.

However, the reality is that most cases have to be filed in the courts and the injured party needs to go through the “litigation” process.  Depending on how the case is defended, including whether or not the case has to go to trial, this process can take anywhere from nine months to two years or more.  Most cases take a year or less to be brought to a conclusion.

Q:

Do I need a personal injury lawyer?

A:

Absolutely. 

According to a survey by Lawyers.com, settlements or awards were $60,000 higher, on average, than those who were unrepresented.  91% of respondents who were represented by a personal injury attorney received damages, but only 51% of those who went unrepresented were awarded damages. 

Moreover, Michigan no-fault insurance law is complicated. The law has changed as of July 2, 2020, making it even more complicated.  Unless an attorney practices in this area of law regularly, it is unlikely that he or she will know how to effectively investigate a claim or ensure that all of your rights are protected.

You can be sure the other side will have an attorney who will try to minimize your compensation. The other side may even try to make you feel like you were at fault or that your injuries are trivial.  Insurance companies and their lawyers will NOT explain to you the nuances between no-fault benefits, coordination with your health care insurance/Medicare/Medicaid, and failure to address all of these items prior to settling your motor vehicle accident case could cause the uninformed/unrepresented many headaches and even the loss of their entire personal injury settlement.  

Being injured is enough of a burden without having to navigate the complexities of personal injury law. You deserve a personal injury lawyer who will stand up for you and ensure your case is treated fairly and properly. 

Q:

Is it worth hiring a personal injury attorney?

A:

Yes. According to a survey by Lawyers.com, respondents were much more likely to receive a settlement if they were represented by a personal injury attorney. Settlements and awards were, on average, $60,000 higher for those who were represented by a personal injury attorney. 

Hiring a personal injury attorney will cost a portion of your compensation, however it also ensures you are getting everything you are owed.  This often results in a higher level of compensation than if you were to take what is being offered by those that have a financial interest in minimizing what you are given.  For example, one of our recent clients was offered $30,000 by the insurance company for her auto accident.  After seeking assistance from Nolan & Shafer, she was awarded a jury verdict of $2.6 million.

If the other side considers it worth it to hire an attorney who will work to minimize your compensation, you should seek the advice of a personal injury attorney who will work to maximize your compensation. 

Q:

What does a personal injury lawyer do?

A:

A personal injury lawyer meets with clients,  investigates the case, hires experts, hires investigators, orders medical records, reviews medical records, interviews witnesses, meets with treating doctors, files paperwork with the court, collects evidence, corresponds and negotiates with the opposition attorney, handles witness depositions, and more.  In short, a personal injury lawyer fights on your behalf.  Personal injury law is complex and a competent lawyer knows how to navigate the system.  They also know the tricks attorneys use when trying to minimize your compensation, and know how to combat them.  

If you’ve been injured, you are dealing with pain, loss of work, among many other consequences of your injury.  At the end of the day, a personal injury lawyer’s job is to make the process easy and stress free for you, and to fight so that you receive maximum compensation given your injuries and situation.

Q:

How do I file a personal injury lawsuit?

A:

First, we do not typically advise that people file lawsuits on their own.  That being said, if you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is typically filed in the county where the accident occurred. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, and the law of regarding which county has jurisdiction over the case is complicated.

Usually, a lawsuit starts with the “plaintiff” filing a document with the court called a “complaint.” Typically, there is a filing fee, which in Michigan is $260.

The complaint must lay out what happened in the accident, what injuries the plaintiff sustained, and why the plaintiff feels that the negligent party/defendant is responsible.

The rules regarding what must be in a complaint are technical and can be confusing.  Great care must be used to make sure that all of the right points are covered and the right language is used.

Q:

How do I find a personal injury lawyer?

A:

Look for an experienced attorney who specializes in personal injury and has been practicing in personal injury law for several years. 

We think it best to typically hire an experienced personal injury/wrongful death attorney who is familiar with the area and the people who live there.  Often these attorneys have the best connections with law enforcement, witnesses, familiarity with the location, knowledgeable about treating physicians, and the makeup of the potential jury pool and disposition of the local judges.

It is also important to verify with the attorney that he or she has handled cases similar to yours, and has secured favorable verdicts or settlements under facts similar to your case.  You will also want to determine if your attorney has any trial experience.  Lastly, you want to ensure that your attorney has secured large verdicts or settlements for clients in the past.

The last thing you want to call a law office with its main headquarters located hours away.  Often many TV lawyers just refer cases to other attorneys and take a cut of the fee.  You should only hire an attorney who is willing to meet with you personally and to also handle your case, personally, versus simply referring it out to another office.

Typically, the best way to find a qualified and competent attorney is to ask others for references. Internet searches and research can also be helpful.  Law enforcement officers who investigate crashes, doctors who treat accident victims, and members of the community often have excellent knowledge about who does a good job handling these types of cases.

Also, it is imperative that you have an attorney that is local to where the accident occurred and where the lawsuit needs to be filed.  This is critical to ensure that your attorney knows the court system, the medical providers, and is familiar with past verdicts or settlements in your jurisdiction.  Hiring an out of town attorney is rarely a good idea, no matter how many commercials you have seen on TV.

Q:

What is the average payout for a personal injury claim?

A:

It’s difficult to know the average because many personal injury claims are settled out of court and are protected by a non-disclosure agreement.  A lot depends on the type and severity of the injury.  No two cases are the same.  It is really best to at least meet with a qualified, competent personal injury attorney to get a better idea of the value of your potential case.

The largest jury verdict awarded to an auto-accident victim in Muskegon County was 2.6 million dollars.  The victim was represented by Nolan & Shafer.  Nolan & Shafer is responsible for securing the largest personal injury settlement, which was well over $14 million dollars, in Muskegon County too.

Q:

How does personal injury law work?

A:

Personal Injury lawsuits are a type of civil law.  They are a dispute between two individuals, as opposed to a criminal case where the government is deciding if an individual should be punished.  There may be a criminal case that goes along with the personal injury case: the County prosecutor handles the pursuit of the criminal case (example:  drunk driver collides with another motorist and is charged with drunk driving causing serious injury or death).  We do not handle criminal cases.  We only pursue the civil claims on behalf of the injured party or the family of a loved one who has been killed by another’s negligence).

Personal Injury claims fall under tort law.  When a person does something, or fails to do something (for example, failing to stop at a red light) that causes harm to another person, that person has committed a tortious act.  If you sustained injuries that resulted in pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of life’s enjoyments, medical expenses, wage loss, having to hire replacement services, or attendant care services, the wrongdoer and his/her insurance company may have a legal liability to pay damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit.

Q:

How much do personal injury lawyers charge?

A:

The industry standard in Michigan is about ⅓ (33%) of the settlement or amount awarded, after costs are reimbursed.

Q:

How do I win a personal injury claim?

A:

Personal injury claims are very document intensive.  Before any claim can be successfully pursued, the plaintiff must have documentation pertaining to how the accident occurred, medical records concerning the injuries claimed, and statements from medical providers about how the injury occurred and what the prognosis for the injury is.

In many cases, you must also have obtained all medical records, bills and wage loss records to support the claims for economic damages and even non-economic claims.

You must provide the other side a list of witnesses and be prepared to call these witnesses at trial if the defendant’s insurance carrier is not willing to provide fair compensation.

Discovery occurs, and during this period each side must not only disclose witnesses and records, but also meet with and depose fact witnesses and expert witnesses.  

An experienced personal injury attorney can assist you with these tasks.

Q:

Can I claim personal injury if it was my fault?

A:

Michigan is a “no fault” state when it comes to auto accidents, so each party in an accident files a claim with their own insurance company for first-party no-fault benefits.  Personal injury lawsuits are often disputes between the injured person and the person or company that committed a careless act that caused a person to be injured.  Often the other party will attempt to claim that a person that he/she injured was at fault.  Your personal injury attorney will pursue this claim, prove that the other party was at fault if the facts support it, and also defend the defendant’s claim that you were at fault.  Of course, if you intentionally harm yourself, you cannot sue yourself for damages.

Q:

Can I sue for pain and suffering?

A:

Yes, but not in the way you might be thinking.  Because your own automobile insurance carrier typically pays for economic damages like medical expenses, wage loss, attendant care services, etc., you are often only able to sue the other driver for noneconomic (aka “pain and suffering”) damages.  The law regarding the pursuit of medical bills and wage loss changed in July of 2020, and this can change things in terms of what can now be pursued.  In motor vehicle accidents in Michigan, typically, according to Michigan Personal Injury Law, an injured party can only sue for pain-and-suffering damages if he or she sustained a serious impairment of body function, permanent and serious disfigurement, or wrongful death.  You cannot sue for pain and suffering alone if you suffered very minor injuries or receive very little medical treatment.  Again, you should always talk to an experienced attorney to determine if your injuries satisfy this threshold in motor vehicle accident cases.  There is no threshold of injury in non-motor vehicle accident cases (i.e. dog bits, falls, boating accidents, motorcycle accidents that do not involve a car, construction accidents, etc.).

That being said, if you were injured in a motor vehicle accident, you should always consult with an attorney to determine whether or not your injuries are sufficient for you to get pain-and-suffering damages from the at fault driver’s insurance company.

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MUSKEGON INJURY ATTORNEYS

There is no other firm on the Lakeshore that is better than Nolan & Shafer, PLC.

"DAVID SHAFER IS THE ONLY ATTORNEY TO WHOM I REFER PEOPLE WHO CALL ME FOR REFERRALS TO AN INJURY ATTORNEY."
Jim and David, Attorneys on the Lakeshore

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