FAQ Personal Injury

The attorneys at the Law Offices of William Cafaro answer questions clients frequently ask about personal injury cases.

How much do I have to pay for legal fees?

The fees our firm charges are on a standard contingency basis, which means one third of the amount recovered before subtracting out of pocket disbursements (costs) which have been advanced by the attorneys during the case. I was injured on the job. How will I pay my medical bills?

Although you are generally not allowed to sue your own employer, (or anyone who is an employee of your own employer), every employee who is injured on the job has an absolute right to make a worker’s compensation claim. To make a compensation claim, there is no need to prove that the injury was the employer’s or anyone else’s fault, as long as the injury occurred in the course of employment, and with rare exception, this is true even if the accident is the worker’s own fault. If the employer has no policy of worker’s compensation insurance in effect, the injured worker has a choice of making a claim against the UEF, a state fund which will provide compensation benefits, albeit very slowly, or suing the employer.

I was injured on the job. Can I bring a lawsuit in addition to a worker’s compensation claim?

In many cases, yes. In many construction accidents, particularly, the owner and the general contractor are liable for certain safety violations even where they were not directly responsible. In all types of cases, lawsuits may be brought against any party responsible for the injury except the injured person’s employer or a co-worker employed by the same employer. One example of this is the factory employee injured by a defective machine. He has the right to sue the manufacturer, but not his employer. Another example is the employee in a van, which is driven by his co-worker. He has the right to sue the other driver in the accident, but he cannot sue his co-worker or his employer.

I am an undocumented immigrant. Can I bring a lawsuit if I am injured?

Definitely, yes, you can. Anyone who is injured can sue regardless of their immigration status. Under current law, people who are in the country illegally can also sue for lost wages without a valid social security number, but problems can arise in cases where false documents, such as a forged social security card, were furnished to the employer at the time of hiring, and the employer generally did not know that the employee was undocumented Even in such cases, however, if the right to bring a lost wage claim is lost, a lawsuit for pain and suffering can still be brought for the injury, as well as for past and future medical costs, which can be very substantial in some cases.

I fell on the sidewalk. Is this a case against the City?

Usually, it is against the private owner. These cases used to be against the City of New York, but this was changed as of September 14, 2003, when responsibility for keeping the sidewalk in good repair, as well as clean and free from snow and ice, was shifted to the private owner of the property adjoining the sidewalk. The City is still responsible, however, for the sidewalks in front of private homes which are three families or less which are owner occupied, and which are used exclusively for residential purposes.

I was in an automobile accident. What should I do first?

DO NOT REPORT THE ACCIDENT TO YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY OR ANY OTHER INSURANCE COMPANY WITHOUT SPEAKING TO AN ATTORNEY FIRST. Conversations with representatives of insurance companies will generally be recorded. The person asking you the questions knows much more about accident inquiries than you do, and it is his/her job to defeat or minimize your case. THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE OF YOUR OWN INSURANCE COMPANY. You have nothing to gain by speaking to these people, but you can do great harm to your case, or even lose your case completely without being aware of the significance of some of the things you have said. While your insurance company will tell you that you have an obligation to cooperate with them, which is true, you have every right to have your attorney do this without them speaking to you directly. You should definitely take advantage of this right or the insurance company will certainly take advantage of you.

I was in an automobile accident. How will I pay my medical bills?

Under the New York No-Fault law, the insurance company of the vehicle you were in, (or struck by, if you were a pedestrian), is obligated to pay up to $50,000 in combined claims for medical billing and lost wages up to a maximum of $2,000 per month.

However, no fault insurance companies will generally require you to go to their doctor for a physical examination and that doctor will almost inevitably say that there is nothing wrong with you and that you do not need any further medical treatment. These are additional reasons why you should not be dealing with the insurance companies directly, since they will run right over you if you do not have representation. People think that “their own” insurance company will not treat them so harshly, while other people think they will be treated well because they have had their coverage with the same company for many years. THIS IS INCORRECT. Insurance companies do not want to pay for their own insured’s medical treatment any more than they want to pay for anyone else’s and they have no loyalty or compassion. Remember that all insurance companies increase their profits by limiting what they pay out.

How does the jury decide how much my injuries are worth?

You will be called to testify in front of the jury with respect to your injuries, your medical treatment, your pain and suffering and the various ways in which the accident has affected your life. If you are married, your spouse should usually be called as a witness, since no one else is more aware of how the injury has affected you. If you played sports or recreational activities before the accident, the people you did these things with, (we call them “before and after” witnesses), should be called to get this across. Many times your physical limitations and difficulties can be presented much more effectively and more convincingly through others than by talking about it yourself. Photographs of activities you engaged in can also be blown up or projected on screen for the jury and can often forcefully express the value of what has been taken away from you. You will also testify about your work history and your prospects for earning more money in whatever job, trade or profession you were involved in have been affected. Other witnesses that we need to form the basis for the economist’s projection also have to testify.
Obviously, the medical testimony is a critical part of every personal injury case. You need attorneys who will take the time to meet with your treating doctors in their offices to get a good idea of what their testimony will be while your case is in progress, instead of waiting right before the trial to talk to them.

The jury is not given any formula to calculate the amount that you will be awarded and all types of jury awards are broken down into those damages incurred in the past, that is, up to the date of the verdict, and the future, which is the time starting with the date of the verdict and covering your life expectancy. The typical damage verdict sheet looks like this:

1. State separately the amount awarded for the following items of damages, if any, from the time of the occurrence up to the date of your verdict:

Medical Expenses _______________

Loss of Earnings ________________

Pain and Suffering up to the date of your verdict _________________

(1) State separately the amount awarded for the following items of damages, to be incurred in the future:

Medical Expenses ______________

Loss of Earnings _______________

Pain and Suffering, including the permanent effect of the injury, from the time of the verdict to the time plaintiff could be expected to live. _____________________________

(2) If you do decide to award any amounts intended to compensate the plaintiff for damages to be incurred in the future, then for each item for which an award is made, state the period of years over which such amounts are intended to provide compensation.

It might seem that the jury is being asked to pull a number out of the air, and some people would agree with this. However, experienced trial lawyers know that good results on verdicts come from the painstaking preparation of the client and the witnesses in order to make the best possible impression on the jury. First, because any juror is making a very subjective decision when he or she decides how much you should be awarded, the jurors must like you. Every client has likeable aspects to his/her personality, as well as some aspects that might be downplayed. The same is true of the spouse or “before and after” witnesses we might call. The medical testimony must not only be credible, but it must be properly illustrated. Medical illustrations lend a certain reality to serious injuries, and they can be much more readily understood with blow-ups of MRI’s or CAT scans, artistic renderings of fractures or hardware that has been placed, or animated illustrations of surgeries you have had. The testimony of the economist must also be credible, particularly when his/her projections are in the millions of dollars. The attorneys you have retained to represent you are the ones who will speak for you. The most important thing is that your attorneys maintain credibility with the jury in order to get a verdict that will give you the fair compensation you deserve for the serious injuries you have suffered.

Law Offices of William Cafaro


108 West 39th Street
Suite 602
New York, NY, 10018


Fax: (212) 583-7401

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