What constitutes a personal injury claim?
Any time someone has been injured or killed due to the negligence of another, whether that is driving a vehicle, driving an 18-wheeler truck, the defective design of a vehicle or any product, whether made in the US or anywhere in the world that is considered a personal injury claim. Personal injury claims also include fall accidents. We have a lot of slip and falls and a lot of trip and falls. Any time someone has been injured, their body injured or the accident resulted in death due to the negligence of someone else, it is a personal injury.
What kinds of injuries are commonly covered in these type of claims?
We do a lot of auto accidents, trip and fall claims, and slip and falls. We have had many 18-wheeler cases. The amount of accidents on our interstates with 18-wheelers is phenomenal. We have had a number of tragic death cases, even multiple death cases at a time. Also, of course, we have done a lot of product claims, whether it be defective vehicles, defective bicycles, or defective gas grills that blow up. We have had fall accidents on construction sites where there are unmarked areas of excavation where people fall. There are federal rules of safety which guide contractors in undertaking major construction sites. So, we have done a lot of construction site accidents.
Are there catastrophic injuries? What type of injuries usually result from auto accidents?
Typically, the smaller auto accident injuries I have had resulted with a whiplash to your neck or your back. Sometimes, with injuries at the scene of an accident you seem to be fine. Your adrenaline is flowing. However, a day or two later you cannot move your neck or you cannot get out of bed. Often injuries occur to your disc between your vertebrae, or to your spine as a whole, and any number of broken bones, bruises, contusions and those type things, but usually it is more of a spinal and joint injury that result from auto accidents. The same happens with falls, and more so with construction site accidents. Obviously, it becomes more serious with 18-wheelers because they are so big and can do significant damage to property and human beings.
How does your firm handle catastrophic injuries? Do you have Investigators or experts at your disposal?
Yes. We have investigators who we hire to go to the scenes. We have reconstruction experts to act as expert witnesses on the stand to explain how the accident happened. This is usually done with what we call demonstrative evidence. You can do it with an electronic device depicting the accident scene on a screen or the wall, or you can do it with a board-type presentation which shows the intersection site. Also, there are people who excel in accident reconstruction. Some of them have retired out of the state police and some of them are just trained in that area in general.
For eighteen-wheeler accidents, we use a very special expert from Wyoming. He is nationally known for testifying in both sides of cases whether representing the trucking company or the family of the unfortunate injured or killed person. He has expertise in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations, which are the regulations that require and minimize the amount of hours a driver can drive without resting. We use him to track down where that 18-wheeler has been. There will be a record of every time it crosses a state line because they have to stop at a restroom and weigh in. There will be paperwork with the company from every place they got fuel and every place the driver stopped for meals. So, we try to match those records to the logbooks of the truck. In this day and age, there are many logbooks that are fictionalized in order to try to keep the drivers within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations.
Why would someone need an attorney specifically for a personal injury claim?
It really is not a simple process. These days, the insurance companies will call you, will call the victim of an accident and try to get you to sign a paper releasing them and accepting a certain sum of money. They can record you on the telephone without telling you. They can follow you and take photographs and video of you to see if what you are doing physically is consistent with the claim of your injuries. Of course, the more serious the injury, the more important it is to get a lawyer. In regards to smaller accidents, certainly it is very possible for some people to be able to settle their own small accidents if they are not hurt and they only go to a doctor for informal checkup to make sure they are not hurt. Then they probably do not need to pay a percentage of their recovery to an attorney.
One of our attorneys experienced a bad auto accident in 1990. The disc in his neck did not herniate until about a year and a half later. The signs and symptoms sometimes take a while to develop.
What experience do you have with personal injury claims with the firm?
Mr. Gilstrap alone has 40 years of experience. In 1975, he began as an insurance defense lawyer. He tried a lot of cases for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and numerous others. They would hire me to defend their insurers in auto accidents as well as products liability and other type claims. He began doing this work on the defense side and learned a tremendous amount. Then, in 1989 he set up my own firm, and now we exclusively represent people who are injured in these accidents. But, having learned from the defense side in insurance companies is something that very, very few lawyers out there have experienced. This firm is one of the few.
Why choose your firm for personal injury claims?
We know having the experience of working for the defense from both sides would be the reason to choose us. By representing insurance companies and their insurers, we have learned how insurance companies view these accidents; how insurance companies value these accidents; how to deal with insurance representatives and insurance adjusters in a professional manner rather than speaking down to them like you are the lawyer and you know more than they do; and simply the experience in evaluating what the clients are worth. Our firm considers future impairment and future job problems and makes sure clients have the right physician to give an evaluation of their impairment or disability. All those things increase the value of your claims, potentially.
Frankly, there are just too many lawyers these days who do these cases en masse. They have administrative staff that talks to the clients and sizes up the client. They have administrative staff that speaks to, writes to, and emails the adjusters. They have administrative staff that settles claims for the insurance companies. They do not file lawsuits. Some of them admit it, some of them do not. We are not saying they are all bad. There are some very good lawyers out there, but many times you do not know what you are getting.
When Mr. Gilstrap started practicing law, advertising by lawyers was illegal. The most you could have is the name of your firm on a sign on the building you occupy. Now, with television ads and billboards and all the advertising that you see, people just call those lawyers en masse. Some of those lawyers do not file lawsuits or do not go to trial, and they have administrative people settle the claims. And, frankly, insurance companies like that. They will take a lawyer who gets a very large number of claims through his television advertisements and billboards and they may settle 15 or 20 claims at once in a package deal. So each individual client, each individual injured person gets less money, but the lawyer does well. We do not practice that way.