An Article to Bookmark: Until Your World Comes Crashing Down


Have you ever been struck from the side by a New York City garbage truck going 45 mph? I have. I was the right front seat passenger, and the truck came from the right as our driver failed to see the red light on the corner. Being from WV, we always expected the light to be overhead.

Strangely, as I was in the eye of the tornado, my glasses came off and landed in the foot well, and one tooth was loosened, but I was otherwise unscathed. My friends in the back weren’t so lucky, but we all survived.

But, I learned what the horrendous impact of a serious crash felt and sounded like. Words can’t describe it, but I’ll never forget it, and it happened 50 years ago.

Your crash may be like mine, or you may break a leg, lose an eye, severe a limb, break a back, or suffer a brain injury, leaving you looking just fine but knowing you just are not the same and perhaps never will be.

Please refer to two of my blog articles for information on insurances and how to protect yourself from ruin.; and

So, it was a bad one and now you do not know what to do. You or your spouse is in the hospital. If he is a worker, his paycheck may stop. If a small business person, who will make or sell your product, or pay your employee?

Who do you call first? Will your own insurance carrier protect you. What if the other side’s insurance adjustor won’t call you back? What if the other guy had no or inadequate insurance?! What if he’s throwing the blame back at you. What if he did not get cited? What if you did!

Oh, my! That’s just a fraction of the questions you will have. So, you have heard of me, that I am hands on and nearby, or maybe your will remember this book-marked article and you call me, 304 472-7477.

Here’s what happens:

  1. Faye, Letetia, or Nancy has a short checklist to get your basic information, what happened, where, and what is worrying you. Occasionally they are permitted to mention a range of fees or to make an appointment, or they just put me on the phone.
  2. Or, they send me an e-mail before moving to the next thing, and I try to get back to you within an hour.
  3. Serious personal injury matters cause an alarm to ring. There is usually a component of urgency, and my paralegal of 15 years will usually come on the phone to get more details.
  4. When you and I talk for the first time, I have lots of narrowly focused questions. In 5-15 minutes, I know if I am interested, and I hope I can help, so I begin to answer your questions.
  5. You do not have to scrape up the money for a retainer, because personal injuries are handled on a contingency fee. When the lawyer is skilled at selecting the right cases, he is probably going to make more per hour than he can with a guaranteed hourly fee, so you have his interest. It is no wonder that lawyers are competing on t.v. for your business. These are desirable cases.
  6. If you are in the hospital or laid up at home, we will come to see you!
  7. The keys we look for in deciding if we can do you some good are:
  8. Serious injury:
  9. An insured or solvent “tortfeasor”. That means they have liability insurance, you have uninsured or underinsured insurance coverage, or it is a large entity such as Fed Ex or Wal Mart.
  10. A strong probability of fault by the other guy.
  11. When we meet, I will get more details:
  12. What did the other guy do wrong?
  13. If you did something wrong, was your fault as bad or worse than the other guy?
  14. Do you have a medical insurance plan or auto coverage called “medical payments” or “family coverage”. We call it “Med Pay”. It pays for your bills, regardless of fault, up to its limit, usually $1000-$25,000. Med pay is your first line of defense. Use it first!
  15. Where did this happen?
  16. When did it happen?
  17. Who investigated it?
  18. Did the officer assess fault? He can’t assess liability, but his opinion matters.
  19. Personal Data:




Able to work?

Immediate concerns, questions?

Insurance coverages? Med Pay, Uninsured or Underinsured coverage, group medical plan from work, personal resources, and whether you have “Umbrella Coverage.

It is very important for us to help allay your fears, to try to cancel your erroneous preconceptions, to answer your questions, and to deal with immediate concerns.

The adjustor often tries to dictate your auto rental company and to apply an arbitrary rule such as one week of rental. Truth is the tortfeasor is responsible for all reasonable damages incurred as a result of their insured’s mistake. Your lawyer can help make that clear to the adjustor.

If we hit it off, and you decide to entrust your claim(s), yours, your spouse’s, and your children, to us, we are off and running:

  1. We have you sign a contingent fee agreement, 20% for clear fault settled out of court, 25% if liability is contested but still settled out of court, 1/3 (33 1/3 %) if suit filed, and occasionally 40% (but these are usually the medical negligence or industrial accident cases).
  2. We order a police collision report.
  3. We order your medical records and bills.
  4. If there is any serious question of fault, we visit the scene with you and photograph it. Mr. Hunter is an amateur photographer and has been taking many of his own photos for 40 years. He knows just what he wants to highlight, to show the court or the jury.
  5. He writes to the adjustor, setting out his working theory of the case and asking for written confirmation of his representation.
  6. His paralegal sets up a schedule, to suspense the ordered documents, to follow up with the client, and to keep the adjustor informed.
  7. And, this is important. Since the adjustor has to establish and maintain a “reserve fund” for each case, we send him each wave of new bills and records and send him a short narrative of the challenges and progress of our client. That way the reserve can be nudged up gently, perhaps 20 times. This critical, as an adjustor who set and insufficient reserve is going to have a lot of explaining to do, so better to get the reserve up in increments.
  8. When we see the symptoms have persisted and the client is suffering, we send out a request for “lay witness letters”. These are letters from people, usually, who are close to our client, spouse, children, and siblings or parents, and close friends and co-workers. It helps if they knew the client before the collision.
  9. These “lay witnesses” can observe the claimant when she or he isn’t aware they are. Often the letters are poignant and compelling.
  10. When the adjustor learns we can provide 10-15 witnesses to our client’s suffering, struggles, and stoicism, I think it motivates him to settle without requiring us to sue.
  11. Sometimes we encourage the client to ask their doctor about referral to a specialist. With something subtle, like a closed head injury, I consult colleagues who work with lots of such cases.
  12. If the claim is large enough to challenge the resources of our office, I have the luxury of calling any of several of the best firms in the state to associate. The shared fee is often no more than the original agreed fee, and if it is larger, we had better have a reason.
  13. If we have trouble reaching a negotiated agreement, I will sometimes suggest pre-litigation mediation to the adjustor. That give the adjustor some cover while keeping costs down. I have received over $1 million in such pre-litigation settlement meetings.
  14. If we have no choice, we file suit. That results in more expense, and the client is not expected to pay those expenses unless we recover.
  15. The trial process is a subject for another day.

Above all, the client must be kept informed and be involved. This is not a problem where you can hire me and have me call you two years later to give you your check. One client advised that she and her postman had to say goodbye and hug after we settled her father’s case, because they knew they wouldn’t be delivering and receiving mail every few days from Burt Hunter.

When the time for recovery has come, we attend to the subrogation claims and unpaid expenses, we look at the possibility of a “structured settlement”. When it is an infant’s settlement, we consider a structured settlement, or something called a special needs trust which can help a recipient of avoid losing eligibility for means tested benefits.

Where a financial advisor is needed, we are happy to make a referral.

It is always are relief when these difficult matters conclude, but they are not; I repeat, are not, matters you can do by yourself.

So, stick the URL of this article into your “bookmarks”, hope you and yours never need it, but use or share it if you do. Be well.

This post was written by Burton Hunter


  • Jessica Justice Stolarik says:

    Great, great article, Burt! I am going to share it with some of our law students.

  • Jessica; next to bring in new clients, which is always a consideration of course, I cannot think of anything better for my articles than to share them with law students and young lawyers, both for ideas of how to approach our profession and mistakes to avoid. Feel free to share with anyone. And thanks; Burt

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