Personal Injury Claims Involve Various Steps, Explains Attorney Ralph Charles Chapa
Personal injury claims happen every day. Someone gets hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence. Rather than dealing solely with an insurance company, many people choose to hire a personal injury lawyer. Ralph C. Chapa, a lawyer who has been practicing for over 30 years, explains that hiring a lawyer can ensure that one’s case is being dealt with fairly.
Ralph Charles Chapa identifies that one of the top questions he is asked by potential clients is how a personal injury claim works. While he is the first to say that every case is different, there are a few stages that work the same. What varies is how long each stage will last.
Ralph C. Chapa says that the first stage is to identify that there was an injury. This will, typically, involve filing a report with the police if it was a car crash. If it was a workplace incident, the accident needs to be reported. Regardless of how the injury came about, it needs to be reported in order to generate documentation.
The next stage, explains Ralph Charles Chapa, is that the injured party needs to go to a healthcare professional. They need to receive a full work-up in order to learn the full extent of injuries that are associated with the accident. Such injuries can be anything from whiplash to traumatic brain injury. Ralph Chapa also says that this is the stage that can last the longest. A personal injury claim cannot be closed until a medical professional releases the injured party.
Once the medical aspect has been taken care of, it is easier to establish a request for financial compensation. This is where the personal injury lawyer will draft up a request to the insurance company. Various components go into the request for compensation, including the total cost of medical bills, time lost from work, pain, and suffering, and future earning issues. Ralph Charles Chapa says that the request is sent over to the insurance company for them to pay.
After a request is made, it is often a “back and forth” as Ralph Charles Chapa explains, where the insurance company and the lawyer negotiate a fair rate. When a settlement is negotiated, the case is closed. When a negotiation cannot be established, such as when an insurance company either doesn’t want to accept responsibility or when they believe a case is worth much less, the lawyer can bring the case into litigation.
Ralph C. Chapa, who has been representing cases in Florida and Michigan for over 30 years, recommends anyone who has hurt themselves find a lawyer to represent them to ensure that they receive adequate financial compensation, even if it means moving from a simple settlement to full litigation.
Ralph Charles Chapa Advises Three Points to Ensure Continued Insurance Agency Success
In this new year, whether you call them resolutions or goals, it is important to define what you wish to accomplish, set benchmarks and keep your eye on the prize even when focusing on the required smaller steps. Partner at Kaufman, Payton, and Chapa, Ralph Charles Chapa has several considerations for insurance agents to help grow their business while delivering excellent coverage and superior service.
The first point to implement, according to Ralph Chapa is addressing agency policy as regards errors and omissions claims which can be an incredible financial hit and add stress to employees. The backlash that occurs impacts efficiency, morale, and performance. Ralph Charles Chapa instructs agencies to hire a contractor to perform errors and omissions audits. At the minimum, conduct self-audits which being extremely attentive throughout the process.
Another point Ralph Chapa has identified is to ensure there is a big picture mindset by investing in education and training. Ensuring all employees are updated on industry advances and best-practices is one of the smartest moves an agency can make, explains Ralph C. Chapa. Often, smaller agencies are penny wise but pound foolish, especially regarding education and training. Agencies feel they cannot bear this expense due to the actual training cost or lost productivity. However, Ralph Chapa urges agencies of all sizes to remember that this is an investment.
Reevaluate & Refresh Company Metrics | Ralph Charles Chapa
The final point Ralph C. Chapa recommends is taking the time to reevaluate and refresh company metrics. This allows for the measurement of the success of the company and agents. It also ensures that these two approaches are aligned. Ralph Chapa advocates for reviewing metrics and benchmarks as soon as possible to ensure all employees and management are on the same page so necessary adjustments to the current state of business can be made. Ralph notes that one critical measure to track is response time. Consumers have high expectations regarding a response from agencies, which continues to skyrocket.
In the recent past, response time was measured in hours or days, but it is now crucial for staff to respond to complaints, queries, and requests within a matter of minutes, with fewer being better. Ralph Charles Chapa further notes that even if the agency is unable to resolve the issues in such a short time, a simple acknowledgment of the client’s inquiry is an essential block of relationship building.
According to Ralph Chapa, in the event that an owner is uncomfortable handling errors and omissions cases, thought should be given to hiring an outside contractor to handle and manage errors and omissions claims. Agency owners should always invest in employee development and education and regularly reevaluate and refresh agency metrics.
Many people fall victim to accidents, especially ones that are caused by negligence. If you have been injured in an accident or mishap, such as slipping and falling on a wet floor at a store or being burned while at a fireworks display, you may have a valid claim for a personal injury suit. A suit of this type with a good chance of being decided in your favor includes liability, damages, and collectability. An attorney well-versed in personal injury law, such as Ralph Charles Chapa, possesses the experience and knowledge necessary to prove all three of these elements during a trial or settlement proceeding for you to be able to be compensated.
Ralph Charles Chapa has represented parties on both sides of personal injury lawsuits and has the knowledge to inform others of the ins and outs of the process of personal injury claims and if you have a fair opportunity to collect for damages owed to you or not.
Liability for Injury
Liability means that someone, in your case the defendant or group of defendants, is recognized by a court of law as being wrong in the situation that caused your injury or injuries. One example of liability is as you purchased a product that is defective and it caused you to have an injury. Ralph Chapa has given another example in a scenario in which a motorist runs a stop sign and hits your vehicle, sending you the hospital with injuries. In most states, there is a statue of limitations of three years working against you. This means you need to enlist the help of a personal injury attorney right away so he or she can file your lawsuit.
If you own a business and are on the receiving end of a personal liability claim, Ralph Chapa provides a wealth of information and advice on how to defend against claims that may be bogus or simply not necessary.
Damage or Injury Requirement
When it comes to damages, you need to have incurred things like medical bills, lost wages, physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, physical impairment, loss of consortium, wrongful death, loss of household services, and punitive damages. It can also include attorney and court costs fees you incur and prejudgment and post-judgment interest. You can also include damages that can occur in the future due to the extent of the damages sustained in the accident or mishap. An attorney like Ralph Charles Chapa can assist you in determining which damages you can claim in your personal injury lawsuit.
Collectability is based on whether the defendant or group of defendants in the case can afford to pay a judgment that is awarded. If the driver that ran the stop sign and hit your vehicle, sending you to the hospital with injuries, did not have insurance or was underinsured, and does not have a large income, you may never collect the money that is owed to you in a judgment entry from the court or it may take you years to collect it. Attorneys like Ralph Chapa can help you determine if your chances of collecting from a personal injury lawsuit against certain parties are worth your time and energy or not. If the person or group you need to sue has very little resources, you may be advised not to bother with a lawsuit.
If you reside in Michigan or Florida, Ralph Charles Chapa is one attorney that understands personal injury law better than most. Ralph Chapa has been a practicing attorney for 32 years and specializes in professional liability, product liability and general liability, along with insurance agents errors and omissions claims. He is licensed to practice law in both states of Michigan and Florida.
Ralph Charles Chapa earned his Bachelors Degree from Michigan State University in 1983 and his Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University in 1987 and passed the Michigan Bar in 1987 and the Florida Bar in 1988.
We’ve discussed liquor liability coverage before, but that was in the context of a bar, pub, restaurant, or other business that serves alcohol. What about the legal complexities that arise when someone drinks too much at a house party or backyard BBQ, tries to drive home, and ends up injuring or killing someone in an accident? Ralph Chapa discusses this type of liability and how to make certain your family is protected.
Host liquor liability is generally covered as part of a standard homeowner’s insurance policy. It falls under the category of home liability insurance, which also safeguards the homeowner and their family if guests or other visitors to the house are injured in a non-alcohol-related incident. According to litigator Ralph Chapa, these could include a dog bite, a slip and fall, or really any other type of injury that incurs medical treatment — and medical payments.
When booze is involved, however, things can get even more complicated. Isn’t that always the case? So let’s set the scene: you are hosting your weekly Sunday afternoon football-viewing party. There’s chili, there are Buffalo chicken wings, and of course, there’s plenty of beer. Your coworker, Jason, drinks a little too much beer and doesn’t eat any chili or wings. Ralph C. Chapa gets pretty drunk and you are planning on calling him an Uber, but he goes out for a smoke and suddenly decides to drive home. The next thing you know, he’s in jail and an innocent person — let’s call her Kelsey — is in the hospital with a broken leg.
Can Kelsey sue you for serving Jason all that brewski? Well, she could, says Ralph Chapa, at least in some areas of the country. But before such a lawsuit would even get off the ground, your host liquor liability coverage will kick in. It will pay for Kelsey’s hospital stay, her physical therapy, and other expenses she incurs as a result of the accident.
Not only that, but the insurance will also cover any settlements with Kelsey, as well as your legal fees.
Naturally, homeowner’s policies vary from company to company, and Ralph Chapa advises that you check with your agent before signing on that dotted line to make sure you understand what is covered, and what isn’t. You may have many questions, and your insurance agent should take all the time necessary to explain things to you.
If your family enjoys entertaining and does it often, Ralph Chapa adds that you may also want to consider hiring a professional bartender for any party or event where alcohol will be served. This is another layer of protection for you, your guests, and the public at large.
If you watch courtroom dramas on television or like to read legal thrillers by the likes of John Grisham or Lisa Scottoline, you’re probably familiar with at least some basic concepts of criminal law: Miranda rights, what a district attorney does, how a mistrial happens, how jurors are selected, and so on, explains Ralph Chapa. In books and on TV, trials are exciting. But the vast majority of legal procedures take place outside the courtroom, and may not involve criminal charges at all.
There are essentially two main branches of law: criminal law and civil law, also known as torts. Experienced litigator Ralph Chapa explains some of the key differences.
How Is a Crime Defined?
Crimes — assault, burglary, tax evasion, driving under the influence, theft, and drug trafficking, just to name a few — are wrongful acts that have been deemed a crime by the government. In criminal cases, the “plaintiff” is usually the federal government or the state in which the crime took place, Raph Chapa says. (That’s why you sometimes hear a bailiff, attorney, or judge speaking of “the State vs. Jane Doe.”)
However, Ralph Chapa explains, they are bringing the charges as a representative of the people of that jurisdiction. The person who makes the opening and closing statements, presents the State’s evidence, and performs the direct- and cross-examination of witnesses is the District Attorney (or multiple lawyers from the D.A.’s office).
In a criminal case, the defendant can make a plea deal, go to trial before a jury of his or her peers, or have what’s called a bench trial, in which only the judge is present and makes the determination of guilty or not guilty, explained Ralph Chapa. If the accused is found guilty, they may face incarceration, fines, and other punishments depending on the crime. These include but are not limited to mandatory community service, the revocation of a driver’s license, registration as a sex offender, drug or alcohol treatment, or probation or parole.
What Is a Tort?
Like a crime, says Ralph Chapa, a tort is also a wrongful act, but in this instance, it’s one that injures or harms a person or property. Civil proceedings may be settled out of court or go to trial; however, the vast majority — some 95% percent — are not tried. They are intended as a way for the victim, or plaintiff, to be compensated for the harm they have experienced. If the defendant is found guilty in a civil case, they will be ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff.
In order to win a civil case, the plaintiff must prove two things. First, that the defendant did commit the wrongdoing, or tort; second, that the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s property was harmed or injured.
The Burden of Proof
According to Ralph Chapa, one of the key differences between civil and criminal proceedings has to do with the burden of proof. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused committed the crime. Reasonable doubt exists when a juror or other party cannot claim with moral certainty that the defendant is guilty.
In civil cases, the burden of proof is quite different — in fact, it is much lower. Here, the plaintiff must convince the opposition that there is a greater than 50% chance that the defendant committed the act in question.
Crimes and Torts Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Interestingly, crimes and torts are not mutually exclusive. An individual can face both types of charges for the same incident, explains attorney Ralph Chapa. A famous example of this is O.J. Simpson. In 1995, the former football star was acquitted — found not guilty — in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The families of the victims then filed wrongful death suits against Simpson, and two years after the criminal acquittal, the jury in his civil trial unanimously found him guilty. The families were awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the tune of $33.5 million.
Naturally, there is much, much more to understand about the differences between civil and criminal charges, settlements or trials, and verdicts. Is there any particular facet of the law that you’d like to learn about in future blog posts? Drop a comment below and we’ll ask Ralph Chapa to put your question on his to-do list!
Most Americans are at least passingly familiar with the legal concept of liability; it’s the responsibility borne by all citizens, companies, agencies, and other entities to act in a certain manner. Negligence is a similar term that describes a person’s failure to exercise reasonable care in order to avoid hurting another individual or damaging property.
But what is product liability? How can an inanimate object be responsible? Attorney Ralph Chapa, who specializes in product liability as well as other types, explains the topic in simple terms.
Of course, no one actually thinks that a hoverboard, a bottle of facial cleanser, or an over-the-counter heartburn remedy has liability or is “responsible” in the same way we consider humans to be responsible. In fact, there are people behind every manufactured item, and they are the ones who are ultimately held accountable for their negligence. By allowing the product to be sold or distributed, whether or not they knew of any potential damage, defect, or danger caused by that product, they are failing to exercise reasonable care.
The law stipulates that any product that is sold or otherwise distributed must meet the consumer’s ordinary expectations, explains Ralph Chapa. If there is a problem with the product and it presents a danger to the consumer or any other user, it cannot be said to meet those ordinary expectations.
Ralph Chapa goes on to say that there are three types of problems that might give way to liability. They are, defectively manufactured products, products that are defectively designed, and failure on the part of the manufacturer or distributor to provide adequate warning or instruction.
Products that are defectively designed are dangerous right from the get-go. They can be described as poorly designed. A top-heavy SUV that has a tendency to roll over when it drives around a tight corner is an example of a defective design. All the SUVs of this type have the same problem.
According to Ralph Chapa, defectively manufactured products have been well-designed, but are put together incorrectly, due to human or machine error. They could include a medicine that contains a poisonous substance or a shelving unit that is missing several screws.
Marketing defects are improperly labeled, may fail to warn users of potential danger, or have insufficient warnings. Some examples include: a topical ointment or salve that fails to print a warning on the tube telling consumers not to ingest it; a coffee cup from a fast-food restaurant that doesn’t have the words “Caution: Coffee Is Extremely Hot” printed on it; or a doll that is intended only for children ages 8 and up, because it contains small parts that could pose a choking hazard, but that doesn’t include a warning about keeping it away from younger kids.
Product liability, in the opinion of Ralph Chapa and his colleagues, is one of the most fascinating branches of law. Proving that a company or individual was negligent in designing, manufacturing, or marketing a product can be difficult to prove. However, doing so in a court of law can lead not just to a tremendous payout for the plaintiff and a great deal of satisfaction for the attorney, but also to a safer society for everyone.
The year was 2006, and certain aspects of insurance law in Michigan were under scrutiny. Ralph Chapa poised the question: “What happens when a policyholder suffers a loss that is not covered on their limited policy?” Ralph Chapa goes on to explain that in many cases, people that are insured will attempt to place the blame on the insurance company, or the insurance agent who sold them their current policy. He goes on to explain that despite this, Michigan law at the time did not require insurance agents to advise insureds in this capacity, regarding the adequacy of the policy they were purchasing.
Ralph Chapa then brings up two important cases that helped solidify the courts’ decisions in this matter: Bamal Corp. v. Chassis Powder Coating, Inc. (the more recent court case), and Harts v. Farmers Insurance Exchange (which initially set forth the test that was later applied by the Bamal Corp. v. Chassis Powder Coating, Inc. case).
Ralph Chapa goes on to reference a third case, which took place earlier than the afore-mentioned cases: Bruner v. League Gen. Ins. Co., which had set the previous precedent for how the courts viewed insurance agents’ duties regarding advising insureds on their policies. According to Ralph Chapa, this case established the precedent that “an agent owed no duty to recommend coverages until a ‘special relationship’ existed”.
The nature of a “special relationship” was described thusly: “a special relationship existed either by an express agreement or when a long-established relationship of entrustment from which it clearly appears the agent appreciated the duty of giving advice, and compensation for consultation and advice was received apart from the premiums paid by the insured”.
Ralph Chapa points out that this was the norm until the Harts v. Farmers Insurance Exchange case in 1997, which fundamentally changed the way a relationship between the insured and an insurance agent is viewed. According to Ralph Chapa, The Court, in this case, established the ruling that “an insurance agent owes no such duty to an insured”, and further clarified that “the agent functions as simply an order taker for the insurance company”.
Ralph Chapa wraps up by pointing out that these cases did not answer one important issue: “does the same standard of care imposed upon insurance agents govern insurance counselors?”, and concludes that until the courts make a solid ruling on this subject, an insurance counselors duties would still be up for debate.
Ralph C. Chapa, partner, Kaufman, Payton & Chapa, is an aggressive, experienced litigator. His practice concentrates on insurance coverage and commercial litigation, as well as professional, premises, products and general liability.
No invention or development in technology has affected the legal landscape quite like the internet and, more specifically, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Attorney Ralph Chapa says that the legal challenges and rulings surrounding social media are fascinating-and ever-evolving.
“Many people think that their social media posts, tweets, and chats are private,” says Chapa, who is an experienced litigator and former president of the Association of Defense Trial Counsel. “They believe it’s sufficient to have their Facebook settings locked down tightly so that only a limited number of trusted friends and family members can access the content they share. But what they fail to understand is that this content, even if it is as private as a direct message conversation, is discoverable in legal situations.”
Discovery, explains Ralph Chapa, is the pre-trial process that allows all parties involved in a lawsuit to obtain relevant information from the other party or parties. This includes documents, photographs, depositions or interviews with anyone involved, and, in recent decades, all content posted to social media sites, including content that has been deleted.
“It may seem surprising that courts can subpoena Facebook, for example, to recover deleted posts or even material that is password-protected,” says Ralph Chapa. That means individuals, companies, agencies, and all other entities that utilize social media need to be very cautious about what they post. Anything shared online has the potential to be recovered and used against them in a court of law.
Ralph Chapa offers some advice for using social media in a way that safeguards privacy.
Never share anything online that you would not want to be publicly disseminated. Most people understand that personal and financial information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, and home addresses should never be shared. But the same policy applies to anything that might be incriminating: complaints or potentially slanderous comments about an employer, photographic evidence of illegal activity such as drug use or the sale of illicit items, and the details of financial transactions like business deals or real estate agreements. If you would not want content to be seen by your HR rep, your grandmother, your children, or your neighbors and acquaintances, keep it off social platforms.
Businesses that use social media for marketing and advertising purposes should also exercise extreme caution when dealing with customers, clients, and anyone who has the potential to become a customer or client. Details of transactions, credit card information and the like should never be shared, even in a so-called “private message.”
“A seemingly innocent detail posted at the time of a transaction can appear incriminatory when viewed in the light of litigation months or years after the disputed event,” warns Ralph Chapa.
Navigating the social environment can be tricky, especially since people are increasingly turning to social to voice opinions, troubleshoot issues with companies or services, and contacting businesses to request information. The sites themselves facilitate such contact. Facebook, for example, now immediately opens a chat window when a user clicks on a company’s page and even suggests questions and inquiries that are commonly communicated.
Just as you would never write and mail a letter that included incriminating information or any content that might compromise your integrity, so too should you keep such content off your social media profiles. “Social media communication is similar to email and hard-copy letters, and thus will likely be analyzed under similar legal standards in the event of litigation,” cautions Ralph Chapa.
Go ahead and wish your former classmates a happy birthday, share those cute kitten videos, or solicit recommendations for reliable mechanics, but beware anything personal.
Ralph C. Chapa, partner, Kaufman, Payton & Chapa, is an aggressive, experienced litigator. His practice concentrates on insurance coverage and commercial litigation, as well as professional, premises, products and general liability.