On this dynamic page we continue to list frequently asked questions (FAQs) that prospective clients often have about their personal injury, worker’s compensation, Social Security, family law, or criminal/DUI cases. We will continue to add both text responses as well as videos to provide you information about your legal needs. If you have questions you would like us to answer, you can call us, email us, or even use the Contact Us form on our web site. We welcome suggestions for future FAQs and videos.

Personal Injury

 

  1. Do I Really Need A Lawyer?
  2. What do I have to prove to have a successful personal
    injury case?
  3. What “potholes” do I need to avoid in
    my personal injury claim?
  4. Do I need to have my own auto insurance?
  5. Who pays my personal injury claim?
  6. What do I do if I have a wreck with a hit and run
    (unidentified driver)?
  7. I don’t understand all the different coverages
    on my auto insurance policy. What are “liability,” “uninsured
    motorist” and “medical payments?”
  8. I haven’t hired a lawyer, and the insurance adjuster
    wants me to give a statement and sign some papers. What do I do?
  9. I was in a wreck where there was very little damage
    to my car, but I was badly injured. The insurance company is offering
    me almost nothing for my claim. What do I do?
  10. What can I recover for in a personal injury claim?
    How much can I get?
  11. What fees does the lawyer charge in a personal
    injury case?

Social Security Disability

 

  1. What is “disability” and what do I have
    to prove to get Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security
    Income (SSI)?
  2. When should I apply for Social Security Disability
    or SSI?
  3. What is the process for deciding whether I will
    be awarded Social Security Disability or SSI?
  4. How long does the disability process take?
  5. What do I do if my Social Security Disability or
    SSI claim is denied?
  6. How do I survive financially while waiting for
    my SSD or SSI disability benefit case to be settled?
  7. Can anyone help me financially while I wait for
    a decision on my disability case or supplemental security income case?

Family Law

  1. My child is 12. She wants to live with me after
    the divorce. Can she freely choose which parent she gets to live
    with?
  2. How much will I owe in child support?
  3. What property belongs to me and will not be divided
    in the divorce?
  4. Is alimony automatically given to the wife in a
    divorce case?
  5. How much should I expect to pay a lawyer to get
    a divorce?
  6. How long does the divorce process take?
  7. When can I get remarried after a divorce?
  8. Can I move out of county or out of state with my
    child after my divorce?
  9. Who gets to live in the house while the divorce
    is in progress?
  10. My spouse took all our money out of our accounts
    and hid it. What can I do about that?

Personal Injury

Do I need a lawyer?

One question you may be asking yourself is, “Do I really even need a lawyer?” Well, the answer to that is fairly simple. If your injuries are minimal, if you recover after a few days, if the damage to your vehicle is very slight, then the odds are you’re probably not going to need a lawyer. However, if the damage to your car is extensive, if your injuries are more than just a couple of days in duration, then it’s something you really ought to think about. A lot of people try and handle their personal injury cases by themselves, and the problem is the insurance company loves that, because they’re professionals and they’re dealing with amateurs. The bottom line is having a lawyer means that you’ve got somebody that knows how to work with the insurance companies, not necessarily work against them, but to work with the insurance company in such a way as to maximize your gain as the client.

So think about it carefully, if you need a lawyer, call a lawyer.

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What do I have to prove to have a successful personal injury case?


What do you need to prove to have a successful personal injury case in Tennessee? First you have to prove that there was negligence. Well, what is negligence? Negligence means basically the other fellow did something he shouldn’t have done, or failed to do something he should have done. So, if you can prove that, then you can prove negligence. For instance if you are sitting at a red light and another fellow plows into the rear end of your car, he was negligent because he failed to do what he should have done which was to avoid running into the back of your car. That’s how it works for instance in an automobile accident case.

The next thing you have to prove is that as a result of the accident you suffered injury. Okay, so what does this mean? Personal Injuries, it means that you suffered some sort of bodily injury or even possibly a psychological injury as a result of this car wreck How do you prove that. You have to go to the doctor. You have to get treatment. You have to document your injury. The insurance company, the opposing lawyer, the judge, the jury are not going to take your word for it that you got hurt. What they are going to look at is: whether or not you obtain medical treatment, whether or not you obtained it promptly, and how you went through this course of treatment. If you just testify or tell somebody that you are hurting, and you did some exercises at home to stretch out your back, unfortunately nobody’s going to believe you. You have to document it with doctor’s reports, physical therapy notes, if necessary testing from X-rays, MRI’s, or CT scans. Those are the kind of damages we talk about in automobile accident cases and other personal injury type cases.

The final thing that you really have to show is that the damages or injuries you suffer from were caused by the negligence. We call this Causation. You have to prove that the negligence caused the injuries.

So those are the 3 things that you basically need to know about in terms of proving a personal injury case. Negligence, Damages, and Causation.

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What “potholes” do I need to avoid in my personal injury claim?

We have spent decades trying to figure out how to avoid problems in personal injury cases before they become problems. Here are a few of the most common pitfalls for the unwary:
If you have been in a wreck, don’t wave off the police. If the wreck is the other fellow’s fault, you want a police report that places the responsibility on the other party. That goes a long way toward getting the insurance company to accept liability, or responsibility, for its policyholder’s negligence.
Make sure you have insurance. There are a lot of Tennessee drivers who have no auto insurance. If you also are uninsured, then there is no effective way of collecting any personal injury compensation. Sure, you can go to trial and get a judgment against the at-fault driver, but if there is no money from which to collect a judgment, then it is a hollow — and expensive — victory.
Get medical treatment promptly. If you are injured in a car wreck — even if it just feels like bumps, bruises and soreness — go to the emergency room or your family physician immediately. A common tactic insurance adjusters use against you is to minimize your personal injury claim because you didn’t seek treatment for a long time after the wreck occurred. The reasoning is: if you were actually hurt, you would have found a way to get treatment. Because you didn’t get treatment for a long time, you must not have been hurt.
Don’t have your lawyer refer you to a doctor. Defense lawyers will argue that your lawyer sent you to a hired gun to hustle up an injury where there wasn’t one. While there is nothing technically wrong with the lawyer referring you, it does not play well at trial.
Be honest with your lawyer. The attorney you hire to represent you will be your best friend. He needs to know everything about your prior accident and prior injury history. You’ve got to assume that the insurance company will know about prior accidents or injuries. If you fail to tell your lawyer about them, both you and he are going to get sandbagged at some point by the insurance company or defense lawyer. It will do major damage to your case, and you will have no one but yourself to blame.
Don’t be a hero. You should assume that at any moment when you are outside your home, the insurance company will have an investigator videotaping you. If you push your level of physical activity despite your doctor’s restrictions, you will destroy your case, because that extra activity will very possibly be on video for the jury to see. Don’t fake any limitations; just don’t push yourself beyond the restrictions your doctor has imposed.

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Do I need to have my own auto insurance?

Yes, it’s crucial that you have all the auto insurance you can afford. We always recommend that you get the highest possible policy limits for the liability, uninsured motorist, and medical payments coverages that make up your auto insurance policy. Considering that you are paying most of your premium dollar for the minimum limits coverage, then it doesn’t cost that much more to get higher policy limits. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use the coverage, but it’s better to have too much than too little.

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Who pays my personal injury claim?

If the at-fault driver has liability insurance, then his insurance company will handle your claim. If the at-fault driver is uninsured, then your uninsured motorist coverage will step in and handle the claim, as if it was the other fellow’s insurance. By state law, the insurance company cannot raise your rates or cancel your policy if you use these “first party” coverages (uninsured motorist and medical payments). If neither of you have insurance, then you are probably out of luck. Technically, you could sue the defendant, go to trial in about a year, and get a judgment against him. The problem then is collecting the judgment. And, if the defendant files for bankruptcy, you likely will never see a dime in compensation.

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What do I do if I have a wreck with a hit and run (unidentified driver)?

If the hit and run vehicle comes into contact with your car, then your uninsured motorist endorsement covers the claim. Be sure to promptly report the accident and the hit and run to the police, as that usually is a requirement under the policy.

If a phantom vehicle drives you off the road but never actually strikes your car, you have to have evidence or a witness — outside your vehicle — to prove the existence and involvement of the phantom vehicle. Without this extrinsic evidence, your uninsured motorist claim will probably fail.

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I don’t understand all the different coverages on my auto insurance policy. What are “liability,” “uninsured motorist” and “medical payments?”

My dad used to joke, as a life insurance salesman, that you ought to try dying without it. That’s the same way with automobile insurance coverage. You ought to try having an accident without it.
Most people don’t understand automobile insurance and they don’t want to understand it. As lawyers we deal with it every day, so we are always available to try and explain to you the in’s and out’s of automobile insurance coverage. Basically, auto insurance comes under several categories all wrapped up into one policy.

First you have liability coverage. That is if you are in an accident and you are at fault, it protects you if somebody makes a claim against you. Second, is uninsured motorist coverage. This type of coverage is where you are in an accident with somebody else, who is not only at fault, he’s also uninsured. This coverage protects just as much, if not, more than the liability coverage, because the insured motorist coverage steps in to protect you just as if that coverage belonged to the uninsured driver. It’s very important to have, especially in Tennessee where so many people do not carry automobile insurance coverage. They’re suppose to, but many people don’t have it.

The third type of coverage to talk about is called medical payments or med pay, as we call it. Medical payments is medical coverage. It pays for medical bills, hospital bills, doctor bills arising out of a car wreck, and it pays 100% up to the limits of the coverage. We see med pay coverage in the amounts of 1,000.00, 2,000.00, 5,000.00, sometimes even as much as 10,000.00 or 20,000.00 dollars. I think it’s a great deal, because it cost relatively little added to your insurance premium to make sure you have med pay coverage, but it pays 100% of accident related medical bills. So it’s a good thing to have.

So those are the 3 types of coverages you really ought to know about.

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I haven’t hired a lawyer, and the insurance adjuster wants me to give a statement and sign some papers. What do I do?

Remember that the adjuster for the other fellow is not your friend. She has a job to do: find a way to pay as little as possible to you. She wants to be able to freely obtain your medical records, so she wants you to sign a medical authorization. She wants to get a recorded statement from you to find some way of lowballing your claim. You’re not a lawyer; you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. This quandary is why it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer if you have any injuries from a wreck. We recommend that you say nothing and sign nothing without speaking to your lawyer first.

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I was in a wreck where there was very little damage to my car, but I was badly injured. The insurance company is offering me almost nothing for my claim. What do I do?

these cases are known as Minor Impact Soft Tissue (MIST) cases. Defense lawyers have found that, where the vehicle damage is minimal, then juries tend not to believe the humans inside were damaged, either. If the insurance company is playing hardball and offering little or nothing, then about your only option (other than taking the lousy offer) is to hire a lawyer who is willing to go to court on what might be a small case. In making this decision you should discuss the expenses involved, as well as your chances of getting more than the lousy offer.

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What can I recover for in a personal injury claim? How much can I get?

We get asked this question all the time. Each case is different. In years past, we have tried to negotiate for a multiple of the medical bills, plus any loss of income or other quantifiable damages. Sometimes, insurance companies like Allstate will offer only the medical bills plus a very small amount on top of that. What we have learned about “Big Insurance” is that they care nothing about doing the right thing; all they want is to maximize their profits by paying little or nothing on all claims, legitimate and otherwise. Generally speaking, the more serious your injury, the more serious the vehicle damage, then the more serious the claim value.

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What fees does the lawyer charge in a personal injury case?

Most lawyers in a personal injury claim will charge a contingency fee, which means that they don’t get a fee unless you get a money recovery. The percentage fee usually is in the one-third to forty percent range. When you hear a lawyer say “no fee if no recovery,” this is what he’s talking about.

In addition to attorney’s fees are the case expenses, including the cost of getting medical records, filing fees, court reporter fees, expert fees, administrative expenses, and the like. Many lawyers will advance those expenses on behalf of their clients. When the case is over, the client pays back the lawyer, either out of pocket or out of the settlement/judgment check.

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Social Security Disability

What is “disability” and what do I have to prove to get Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

When talking about Social Security Disability there are 5 steps that the Social Security Administration goes through in terms of deciding whether or not to award you disability. The first step is asking whether or not you are working. If you are engaged in what is called substantial, gainful employment then you will be denied disability and your claim is over at that point. If you’re not working, or have attempted temporary work or have made what they call an unsuccessful work attempt, but are unable to sustain that work attempt, then you are not considered to be working for Social Security Disability purposes.

Second, they asked if you have a severe medical or psychological impairment? Severe means something that alters your activities of daily living. Normally, the Social Security Administration looks at that and decides in your favor when asking if you have an impairment that is severe.

Third, do you have a listed impairment? A listed impairment means types of impairments that are listed in Federal Regulations. For some reasons, the Social Security Administration almost never finds that a claimant has a listed impairment. If they say, no, you don’t have a listed impairment, then the Social Security Administration looks at the fourth element.

Can you perform you past relevant work? They look back at the kinds of work you did, what the doctors say you are able to do at this point, and make a determination on whether or not you can return to any sort of work you have done in the past.

Now, if the Social Security Administration finds that you are unable to do your past relevant work, then the burden of proof shifts to Social Security to prove that there are no other jobs in the national economy not local, but the national economy that you can perform based on any physical impairments or mental impairments you might have, etc.

So those are basically the 5 elements of a Social Security Disability case.

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When should I apply for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Because the decision process takes so very long, you should file an initial application for disability the day after you become unable to work or the day after you earnings drop below $900 per month. Call you local Social Security office and get an application to fill out. You may also ask them to take an application over the telephone in some cases.

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What is the process for deciding whether I will be awarded Social Security Disability or SSI?

Here is the process, in a nutshell: your first application will almost certainly be denied. You then have 60 days to file a Request for Reconsideration with SSA. Reconsideration will almost certainly deny you disability. You then have 60 days to file a Request for Hearing before Administrative Law Judge. This step is your best chance at getting approved for disability. you get to have a lawyer present testimony and evidence before a live human being. You or your lawyer have the chance to cross-examine any vocational experts that SSA calls to testify. If you are denied at this level, you may file an appeal within 60 days to the Social Security Appeals Council, which likely will be denied. At that point, you may file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, and ask a federal judge to review your case and overturn the SSA denial of benefits.

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How long does the disability process take?

It is not at all uncommon for an initial application to exceed the 90-120 days commonly “estimated” by the social security administration and take as long as 6 to 8 months to complete. With all the appeals described above, it can easily take two to three years to get through the entire process.

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What do I do if my Social Security Disability or SSI claim is denied?

If your claim is finally denied all the way through to the federal court level, you may always re-file your claim and start all over again. Keep in mind that you may receive benefits beginning just one year prior to your application date. So, if you became disabled in 2007, you have just been fully and finally denied, you could start all over again. If approved this time, however, you can only get benefits dating back to 2009, one year prior to your new initial application date.

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How do I survive financially while waiting for my SSD or SSI disability benefit case to be settled?

There is no easy answer for this question.

Social Security and SSI cases take a very long time — up to a couple of years or longer to go through the whole process. If you have no money coming in, then your financial situation can become desperate quickly.

Knowing that these cases can take such a long time, you should try to plan ahead financially as much as possible. Don’t take on new debt (for instance, don’t go buy a new car right before you file for disability). Try to work out payment plans or other restructuring of current debts you might have.

Claimants should also consider filing for other benefits which they might be eligible for when the time arises, such as food stamps or other public assistance. Seeking help from family and friends, while a hard thing to do, might be considered as a last resort. Just remember that your lawyer is prohibited by the ethics rules from giving you financial assistance for your living needs.

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Can anyone help me financially while I wait for a decision on my disability case or supplemental security income case?

Unfortunately, there are few public sources of assistance for those seeking Social Security Disability or SSI benefits based on disability.

Consider getting in touch with your local Department of Social Services to see what help is available in your area. Often, there are great differences between what individual counties are able to offer.

A good way to start is to contact an adult services social worker at the local Department of Social Services. These workers can often point you in the right direction, regarding available sources of help and assistance.

If you own a home and have equity in it, you may consider refinancing their home payment, refinancing their total debts, or drawing on an equity line of credit while their disability case is pending.

Just remember that a Social Security claim is a marathon; you have to be prepared to wait for years before even the possibility of seeing any benefits.

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Family Law

My child is 12. She wants to live with me after the divorce. Can she freely choose which parent she gets to live with?

A child does not have the right to decide which parent they want to live with after a divorce. However, the older the child is at the time of the divorce, the more input the child will have in persuading the judge in a custody dispute.

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How much will I owe in child support?

Tennessee is now a shared income state and child support is based on a standardized formula that all courts in Tennessee now use. This form includes both parents’ income, day care expenses, time spent with the child, cost for health care, and some other issues pertaining to expenses for the child. This form can be found at the following web site: www.tennesseeanytime.org.

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What property belongs to me and will not be divided in the divorce?

Any property that was acquired by the spouse prior to the marriage will remain with that spouse. Also, all property acquired through inheritance, and any gifts will belong to the spouse receiving the property. These gifts would in include any property given from one spouse to the other spouse.

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Is alimony automatically given to the wife in a divorce case?

No, alimony can be awarded to either the husband or the wife. Alimony is based upon two elements: need and ability. The spouse seeking alimony must present proof that they need the alimony for such reasons as to better their ability to earn a living, sickness prevents them from employment, to maintain a standard of living they had before the separation, or for moving expenses and to relocate. These are just a few examples of needed alimony. The more difficult element to prove is that the other spouse has the ability to pay the alimony sought.

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How much should I expect to pay a lawyer to get a divorce?

If both spouses agree to all issues and there is nothing contested in the matter, then the cost for an attorney is reasonable. For an uncontested divorce, without children and with little property, the cost would be from $350.00 to $500.00. If there is one or more children, the cost for an attorney would be from $500.00 to $700.00. In the case where the parties cannot upon the division or their property or the care and custody of their child or children, or any other matter, this would be considered a contested divorce, and the cost for a divorce can be astronomical. Typically, the cost for a contested divorce can be from $3,000.00 to $25,000.00.

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How long does the divorce process take?

Once the spouses file papers for an uncontested divorce, they can complete the divorce process in 60 days. If they have a child or children, the process takes 90 days. If the spouses are parties to a contested divorce, the process could take one to three years.

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When can I get remarried after a divorce?

The court instructs all spouses getting a divorce to wait at least 30 days from the date the judge signs the final judgment for divorce. The reason for this waiting period is that within 30 days from the date that the judge signs the final judgment either spouse could appeal the filing of a final divorce judgment. If an appeal is successful and the Court of Appeals dismisses the final judgment or sends the judgment back for further review by the judge, then the spouse that has remarried would be guilty of bigamy and the new marriage would be void.

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Can I move out of county or out of state with my child after my divorce?

Yes, so long as certain legal procedures are followed. The procedures include certified notice to the other parent, a waiting period, and several other steps are required by the law to secure the relationship of the child with the parent who will be living away from the child. Ultimately, if the parents cannot resolve the issue of moving, either parent may seek a hearing in court and a ruling by the judge.

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Who gets to live in the house while the divorce is in progress?

Either or both spouses can occupy the home during the divorce, but the court will discourage a living arrangement with both spouses in the same house. However, if there are no issues of physical or mental abuse between the spouses and neither spouse agrees to vacate the home, the court will not force either one to relocate.

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My spouse took all our money out of our accounts and hid it. What can I do about that?

Upon filing for divorce, a spouse may seek an accounting of the other spouse’s actions regarding the finances of the parties. This is called discovery. If quicker action is needed, a spouse can file a motion in court to ask that the money be returned and placed in a secure account where neither spouse will have access to this money without permission from the court.