7 Documents to Bring to Your First Meeting with an Auto Accident Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident in northern Virginia and are interested in seeing an attorney to pursue your personal injury case, there are several documents that you’ll want to bring to your first meeting with a lawyer, including:

Pictures of your Car and the Accident Scene

It is important in a personal injury case to see pictures of the cars after the crash. Though property damage is not necessarily an indicator of the severity of the crash and the injuries from the crash, insurance companies do use minor property damage to justify lower offers. For most rear-end accidents, the pictures of the scene are not that important. But if your crash happened at an intersection or at a bend in the road, pictures of the scene can give your attorney a good idea of how the crash happened.

Any letters you’ve received from the auto insurance company.

These letters give us the contact information for the other driver’s insurance company as well as the claim number for your case. While most adjusters are careful to use form letters and not to put too much argument into their letters, some will let on in their writing that the insurance company is not taking your case seriously. Your personal injury lawyer needs to know that from the beginning of the case.

A copy the declarations page from your own car insurance policy.

This document will tell us whether you have MedPay on your policy and what the uninsured/underinsured motorist limits are, in case you need them.

A list of all medical providers you’ve seen for the crash.

So that your Fairfax auto accident lawyer knows where to send the medical records requests.

Any medical bills that you’ve received as a result of the crash.

A list of any doctors that you’ve seen previously for similar injuries.

The accident report.

We can track down the police report after a crash if you don’t have one. If your auto accident was in Fairfax, a police report can be obtained from the police department.

This list is not all-inclusive but bringing the documents we’ve listed will let you begin to tell the story of your accident case and give your attorney and his staff a start in collecting all of the relevant documents to get to the insurance company in an effort to settle your case.

Negotiating your Virginia Car Accident Case with State Farm

If you’ve been involved in a car accident in Virginia and are attempting to negotiate your personal injury settlement with State Farm, you may find that they are not the good neighbors that their jingles say they are. State Farm, in 2010, had the 34th largest revenue of Fortune 500 companies and is one of the largest insurers in Virginia.

In the insurance world, State Farm is infamous for being hit with a $145 million punitive damages verdict in Utah. The case, State Farm v. Campbell arose out of the company’s bad faith negotiation of a wrongful death case. Though State Farm’s driver, Campbell, only had a $50,000 liability policy, State Farm refused to negotiate the case. Campbell lost at trial and a verdict of just over $180,000 was rendered. Campbell later brought a case against State Farm alleging bad faith and fraud for not properly negotiating his case and simply offering his policy limits. A jury awarded him $145 million in punitive damages and the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. The Supreme Court, when reviewing the case, found that “State Farm repeatedly and deliberately decieved and cheated its customers,” by setting monthly caps for their insurance adjusters and individually rewarding those adjusters who paid less than market value for the claims.

How Does State Farm Evaluate Cases

Like just about every large insurance company, State Farm uses a computer program to assist their adjusters in evaluating your case. The computer program provides fairly rigid standards about how long you’re “allowed” to treat for certain injuries and cuts off medical bills for any treatment after that time period.

State Farm in Virginia

State Farm uses a “team approach” to handling your case. During the negotiation of your case, you may have one person that routinely makes calls to you, but your incoming calls can be handled by anyone on the team.

We have found that State Farm is more likely than most insurers in Virginia to claim that your medical expenses are “too high” and reduce the figures charged by your medical provider to what State Farm believes to be “reasonable and customary” for the area.

State Farm utilizes staff counsel in Virginia. This means that the defense attorneys who we work with on cases with State Farm are salaried employees and are not paid by the hour like outside defense counsel might be. This allows State Farm to allow more smaller cases to go to trial than an insurance company paying a defense trial attorney by the hour would be able to. State Farm’s offers, even after a lawsuit is filed, tend to support the idea that State Farm is not afraid to go to trial.

Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America (#1-5)

As Virginia personal injury attorneys, we deal with auto insurance companies all the time. We’ve got our share of horror stories about companies denying claims and making ridiculous low-ball offers. So does the American Association for Justice (AAJ), which recently posted it’s list of the ten worst insurance companies in America.

1. Topping the list is Allstate, who has made it clear that their goal is to earn profits and not to protect their insured’s. In fact, Allstate’s CEO Thomas Wilson is on record as having said “our obligation is to earn a return fo rour shareholders.” According to the AAJ survey, Allstate does this by offering it’s policyholders unjustifiably low settlement offers cranked out by their claim-evaluation software called Colossus. One former agent said that Allstate’s effort is to make the claims process “so expensive and so time consuming that lawyers would start refusing to help [Allstate] clients.”

2. Unum. Unum is one of the nation’s largest disability insurance companies. They have gained a reputation for unfairly denying and delaying the claims process. Unum has been constantly followed by federal and state regulatory officials and was even forced in 2005 to settle a battle with insurance commissioners from 48 different states over their claims-handling procedures. As a result, the company reopened more than 200,000 cases and paid $15 million.

3. AIG. Another large insurer, AIG has come under increased scrutiny for raising their prices during catastrophies. In 2006, AIG was forced to pay $1.6 billion to settle claims for a financial mess that commentators began to describe as “the new Enron.” In 2008, five of their executives were found guilty on criminal fraud charges.

4. State Farm. The “good neighbor” company made AAJ’s list. The largest property casualty insurer in America, State Farm has gone to great lengths to avoid paying claims. At the advice of McKinsey & Co., a large consulting group, State Farm has been known to use the “three D’s” of insurance claim handling: deny the claim, delay payment, and defend the lawsuit.

5. Conseco. This company sells long-term car policies. Their typical company is the elderly American. Conseco made the list because of their habit of using the deteriorating health of their insureds to their advantage. If they can deny claims for long enough, eventually the insured will pass away and so will the obligation to pay a claim. In May of 2008, Conseco settled claims brought by 39 states and the District of Columbia over the pattern of abuses for their long-term care insureds. As part of the settlement, the company paid $2.3 million in fines and returned $4 million in restitution to its policyholders.


Check out #6-#10 here!

Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America (#6-10)

Continuing our list of the American Association for Justice’s list of the Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America, with companies six through ten.

6. WellPoint. WellPoint is one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. According to the AAJ report, WellPoint has a history of decreasing their costs by cancelling the policies of pregnant women and chronically ill patients. 7. Farmers Insurance. This insurance company once created an employee incentive program called “Quest for Gold.” THe program offered things like gift certificates and pizza parties to adjusters and offices for meeting certain goals – such as making the lowest payments and having the highest rate of settling cases before a personal injury attorney became involved (because insurance companies know that people who hire an attorney recover, on average, about three times as much as those without one). 8. UnitedHealth. Another one of the larger health insurance companies in America, UnitedHealth made the list for having physician reimbursement rates that are so low that physicians often complain that patient health is compromised. UnitedHealth has also been known to use their relationship with AARP to raise premiums on products geared towards senior citizens. 9. Torchmark. According to former CEO Frank Samford, Torchmark was actually founded as a scam in 1900 designed to funnel money to its founders. Initially founded as a fraternal organization (in order to side-step Alabama’s insurance laws), the company was reorganized in 1929 and now utilizes tactics like race-based underwriting, refusing insurance to non-English speakers, and deliberately overcharging premiums. 10. Liberty Mutual. This is another big player in the auto insurance field who hired the firm of McKinsey & Co. to do consulting work and is following the deny, delay, defend advice. Insurance regualtors have also accused the company of systematically “bid-rigging.”

The Four Steps From Filing a Lawsuit to the Courthouse

If the insurance company refuses to offer you fair compensation after you make a demand for your Virginia personal injury case, you may end up filing a lawsuit. In northern Virginia, you can usually expect that your case will go to trial within one year of filing the lawsuit itself. When we recommend to the client that a lawsuit should be filed in their case, we typically get two questions: (1) Does filing a lawsuit mean that I have to go to trial? And (2) what is the extent of my involvement?

The answer to the first question is “no.” While we prepare every file as if we are going to trial, the reality is that the vast majority of cases are settled without having to be tried in front of a jury. This is because at some point during the discovery process.

You should expect to be involved in the litigation process. The process of personal injury pre-trial litigation can really be broken down into four stages in Virginia circuit courts.

Complaint & Answer

The Complaint is a legal pleading that tells the Plaintiff’s version of events. It lays out the facts of how the auto accident, dog bite or medical malpractice occurred and describes how and why the Plaintiff believes the Defendant was negligent. The Complaint is drafted by your Virginia accident attorney.

The Answer is a pleading that is required to be filed by the Defendant within twenty-one days of receiving the Complaint. The Answer lays out the defense case. It either rejects the Plaintiff’s version of facts, rejects the allegations of negligence, or – in most cases – rejects them both.


Interrogatories are the first part of what lawyers call the “discovery process.” It’s a way for one side to find out what the other side is going to say at trial. After filing the initial pleadings, the two lawyers from the two parties will send each other documents called Interrogatories. These are sets of written questions that are looking for more information. They ask the other party to explain, in their own words, what happened and why it happened. Interrogatories are generally accompanied by Requests for Production of Documents – the legal demand for one side to turn over all the medical records, bills, accident reports and photographs that they have.


At some point after the interrogatories are sent, the lawyers from each side will want to take the other side’s deposition. A deposition is the opportunity for the lawyers to sit down with a court reporter and ask questions of the other party and potential witnesses. Again, it is part of the discovery process. The goal is to try to figure out not only what the other side and their witnesses will say at trial, but also to judge how the other side will present at trial.


In most personal injury cases in Virginia, each side will retain expert doctors to testify on their behalf. Each side is required to file a designation for the court detailing what they expect their experts to say.

The Plaintiff’s doctor is typically his treating physician who will describe to the jury the Plaintiff’s injuries, the treatment he rendered, and any future treatment that is necessary.

The Defense expert is hired by the insurance company to review the medical bills and records. While this is billed as an “independent review”, the reality is that in most cases, the defense expert will say that the medical bills are excessive, not related to the accident, and caused by some pre-existing condition.

The Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit

It is important, from the outset of a discussion on frivolous lawsuits, to understand what a frivolous lawsuit is. A frivolous suit is one that has no legal basis or has so little merit that it has a very small chance of success.

Just as important to understand isn’t a frivolous suit. Cases with “wild results” are not necessarily frivolous. These kinds of cases make for great headlines and make great fodder for the tort reform crowd at cocktail parties, but you have to remember that a jury sat and listened to all of the evidence and all of the instructions of law before rendering their result. And then a Judge signed off on the result that the jury rendered.

Virginia Has a Way to Deal with Meritless Suits

If a suit truly has no legal merit (meaning that there is no basis in the law, as it exists, for the lawsuit to stand), the defense attorney can file a legal pleading called a “demurrer.” A demurrer essentially says “Ok, Judge, let’s assume that every fact that that Plaintiff stated in his Complaint is absolutely true. Even if that is the case, there is no theory under the law on which the Court can rule in the Plaintiff’s favor.” If this is true, and there is no way that the Judge can do what the Plaintiff is asking him to do (award a sum of money, award a piece of property), then the cases is dismissed right then and there.

But it Doesn’t Cost the Plaintiff anything to Sue…

We hear this a lot. “Because personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, it does not cost the Plaintiff any legal fees to sue the Defendant, and so there is no disincentive to bringing the lawsuit.” This statement is true, but based on a couple of false premises. First, it ignores that while the Plaintiff will not owe his attorney money for legal fees, he may still be responsible for costs. And the costs can be high. In a typical auto accident case in Virginia, the costs of filing a lawsuit include:

  • Fees to medical providers to collect all of the medical bills and records
  • A few hundred dollars to actually file the lawsuit
  • Close to a thousand dollars in a deposition transcripts
  • Several thousand dollars in expert witness fees

If the case is lost at trial, the Plaintiff himself may still be responsible for all of these costs.

That argument also ignores the fact that the Plaintiff’s lawyer spent hundreds of hours working on the case and preparing it for trial. The justice system is not a dart board. There is no “jackpot justice,” especially in northern Virginia where the juries tend to be conservative. Plaintiff’s attorneys simply do not work on cases that we think we’re going to lose at trial.

But Juries Do Crazy Things…

This argument almost always goes back to the McDonald’s coffee case. Stella Liebeck has become the posterchild of the frivolous lawsuit. But not because her suit was actually frivolous… she’s famous because the insurance industry did a great job of spinning her case. Read about the actual facts of Stella’s case here. To summarize, this was a woman who suffered third degree burns to 6% of her body from coffee that McDonald’s purposefully brewed at a temperature above the industry standard because brewing coffee at a hotter temperature requires fewer beans and saves money. McDonald’s knew this was a problem because there were more than 700 claims brought against them for the exact same thing in the past ten years and they chose to do nothing about it. The jury, when presented with these facts, awarded Stella $200,000 in compensatory damages (medical expenses and pain and suffering) and $2.7M in punitive damages (equal to two days of McDonald’s coffee sales). Even so, the trial court checked the judgment. The Judge in Stella’s case reduced the verdict to $480,000.

What to Expect in Your First Meeting with a Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in a car crash in northern Virginia and you’re meeting with a lawyer for the first time, there are a number of things that you should think about beforehand. First of all, you should gather as many of these documents as you can and bring them to your first meeting with the lawyer.

Your Version of Events

The first thing that the we’ll will want to discuss with you is what happened. You were in an auto accident. You were injured. We want to hear from your mouth exactly how the crash happened and how you were hurt. We’ll want to know what kind of treatment you’ve had and what kind of treatment your doctors have told you to expect to have. We’ll want to know whether you’ve ever been in any other car crashes and whether you were injured in those. We’ll want to know whether you’ve been dealing with the insurance company at all and, if so, what the adjuster has told you about your case.

We’ll Explain How the Process Works

You shouldn’t feel like you’re in the dark with your case. You shouldn’t feel like the attorney is just handling your case and wants nothing to do with you. We’ll explain the whole process to you – from accident to injury claim to settlement offers to trial. It won’t be in depth (unless you want it to be), but we’ll provide you a basic overview of the system.

You’ll Have Questions

If you’ve never been in an accident before and never hired a lawyer, you’re going to have questions about the process and questions about your lawyer. Usually, the first questions that we get are:

  • How long is this going to last?
  • What do you think my case will settle for?

Unfortunately, at the outset of a case, it is very difficult to answer either of those questions. But there are other questions that you might not be thinking about that should be on your mind:

  • What is your fee in an auto accident case?
  • How many cases have you taken to trial in the last year and what results have you gotten?
  • Does your firm process my MedPay and PIP payments for free?
  • Do I need a lawyer for this case?

You Shouldn’t Feel Pressured

In the vast majority of cases, there is no reason to rush into hiring a lawyer. The exceptions to this are when the statute of limitations is coming up in your case or when you have collections companies beating down your door. If the statute of limitations is approaching, you’ll need to hire someone quickly to file the lawsuit. If the bill collectors are threatening suit over your medical bills, we can sometimes step in between you and them and get the collectors to withhold suit until your case is settled.

In all other cases, there is no hurry to hire an attorney. You should avoid attorneys who tell you otherwise or who make you promises about the result in your case. You should feel free to take any documents that the attorney is asking you to sign home with you to review and return if you want. Just remember that no attorney-client relationship exists until the retainer agreement has been signed by both parties.


We only take on cases we believe in and think we can win. Let us win for you.

No matter what you are going through, we are here to help. Timing is critical, so contact us as soon as possible to tell us what happened.


Law Offices of David L. Marks
10513 Judicial Drive, Suite 204
Fairfax, VA 22030
703-385-1983 fax

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