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Personal Injury FAQs

  • What is a personal injury claim?

    Personal injury claims provide a legal option for individuals seeking compensation for injuries incurred from another’s negligence. These injuries may be the result of an accident, careless or reckless actions, long-term exposure to a harmful environment or a product defect. Examples include personal bodily injury, disability or wrongful death.

  • How is fault proven in a personal injury case?

    Determining who exactly is at fault for an injury can be a complex, but critical, component of any personal injury claim. It may be an individual, a manufacturer, an employer or a corporation. Sometimes it is a combination of responsible parties. Deciphering who is liable is an intricate process requiring investigation and fact gathering. Attorney Joe Mitchell employs investigators and a team of experts to research and examine the details of each of his cases.

  • What damages can be collected in a personal injury case?

    Personal injury claims seek compensation for all types of damages and loss caused by a negligent action. These damages can be physical, financial and emotional. Some of the damages that can be compensated include reimbursements for medical bills, property loss, interruptions to employment, posttraumatic stress and pain and suffering.

  • Do I have to accept an inadequate settlement from an insurance company?

    In one word, no. Regardless of who is the policy holder, either you or the responsible party, you have the right to legally challenge any insurance company if they offer a poor settlement or refuse to pay. Insurers are corporations, primarily concerned with their financial bottom line. In order to keep up their profit margins they will often employ unscrupulous tactics to delay or underpay claims. This practice is referred to as bad faith insurance, and we fight hard against it.

  • Do I really need an attorney to handle my injury?

    Any serious or disabling injury is reason to consult with a reputable personal injury law firm. Injury attorneys understand the legal terrain and the theories of liability and proof, and they have the experience and knowledge to understand the best options for recovering the highest amount for your injury. Your choice of attorney, after an injury, affects the rest of your life, so it is imperative that you seek high-quality legal help.

  • When is the best time to contact an attorney if I am injured in a car accident?

    While there the general time limit to file legal action after a personal injury in Pennsylvania is two years, the best time to seek knowledgeable legal advice is immediately after the accident. Evidence disappears or can be destroyed, and memories can fade quickly, after a traumatic accident. Personal injury attorneys understand the rules of preservation of evidence and proof of negligence, and can obtain fair compensation for you. Contact reputable legal counsel as soon as possible.

  • What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

    Personal injury lawyer Joe Mitchell represents individuals on a “contingency” basis. This means that the attorney fees are a percentage of the monetary awards that are obtained. If we are unable to obtain a settlement or a favorable verdict at trial, you will not be asked to pay any fee, even for expenses which we have expended.

  • What if I can’t afford my medical expenses?

    Attorney Joe Mitchell has had great success making arrangements with doctors so that our personal injury clients can receive the care and treatment they need without worrying about the payment of medical bills upfront.

  • How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

    Under Pennsylvania law, most personal injury claims must be filed within two years of the accident. However, government entities typically must be put on notice of a claim within six months. There are many exceptions that can affect statutes of limitations. We recommend that victims contact us as soon as possible after an accident. After reviewing the details of your case, Attorney Joe Mitchell can determine the best course of action to take.

  • Are there any alternatives to litigation?

    Many claims can be successfully resolved without a lawsuit. Once filed, many suits are settled before reaching the trial phase. Statistically, only 3 to 5 percent of all claims go to trial. At the Law Offices of Joseph Mitchell Office, the client always makes the decision to pursue litigation.

    In some cases, it may be wise to pursue mediation or arbitration. These alternative dispute resolution procedures are heard by impartial third parties, such as private, retired judges or other attorneys. Typically, the defense must consent to mediation or arbitration, but parties can agree to make such procedures binding, and can determine the minimum and maximum limits placed on awards.

  • What is fair compensation for pain and suffering?

    Personal injury victims can obtain damages that include physical pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress. The amount of reasonable compensation for these losses depends upon the specific nature of the impact of the injuries upon the lifestyle of the injured person.

    Many insurers use computer systems based on verdicts and settlements in other similar injury cases to try to calculate a generic number for everyone, but this is only a starting point in determining what a judge or jury would decide is reasonable in any given case. The facts matter, as does your attorney’s knowledge and experience. That said, pain and suffering awards are many times the largest component of a settlement or verdict.

General Criminal Defense FAQs

  • I’ve been arrested, or believe I’m about to be charged with a crime. What should I do?

    1. You have the right to remain silent. Use it! Do not speak to the police or anyone about your case. It’s absolutely true that anything you say can and will be used against you.
    2. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The earlier you have an attorney working for you, the more legal defense options you will have. And you need to have that buffer between you and the government so that you case can move forward without you risking implicating yourself over and over. Anytime you speak about your case without your attorney present, you risk giving the government evidence it can use against you.
  • What are the stages of the Pennsylvania Criminal Judicial process?

    1. Preliminary Arraignment – The defendant is provided with a copy of the arrest/complaint, advised of his rights, and ordered to appear at the scheduled preliminary hearing.
    2. Preliminary Hearing – The Commonwealth must establish that a crime was committed, and the defendant is likely to have committed it.
    3. Formal Arraignment – Defendant is advised of his rights for pretrial pleadings. Motions and discovery must be issued within 30 days.
    4. Pretrial Conference – Defendant, his attorney, and the DA appear before the judge. Pretrial matters are resolved. Defendant may plead guilty or move forward with a trial.
    5. Trial or Plea Disposition – Defendant may elect for a jury or non-jury trial, and a disposition will be arrived at.
  • What happens at a preliminary hearing?

    A preliminary hearing is typically the next step after a preliminary arraignment in the Pennsylvania criminal process. At the preliminary hearing, the state must establish that they have enough evidence to proceed with a criminal prosecution. If the government cannot meet it’s prima facie evidentiary burden to support the elements of the crime, and can’t supply the necessary witnesses, then the case should be dismissed.

  • Should I waive the Preliminary Hearing?

    It depends on the facts of your case, and the advice of your attorney. There may be advantages to simply waiving it, but you may not want to give in without getting something in return.

    If I think the hearing can help us, then the goal is to aggressively defend against the charges at the hearing. We don’t put on any evidence, but go on the offensive and attack the government’s case and witnesses in both fact and law.

    If we are successful at the hearing, then the case should be dismissed. But even when that doesn’t happen, there are positive benefits that can come from the hearing. It it a chance to lay the foundation for the defense, by attacking the government’s case, and the witnesses credibility and reliability. What we learn from the witness testimony and evidence can be used to help us at trial.

    And, worst case, if I determine that the Commonwealth does have a strong case, at least we know that, and can look to work out the best deal possible to plead out.

  • I am ready and willing to plead guilty to the charges and move on with my life. Do I really still need a private lawyer?

    It would probably be in your best interest, yes. A good attorney can be an advocate for you in plea cases, too.

    I consider myself an extremely effective negotiator, and the fact that you want to accept responsibility can help get a reduced and arguably more fair sentence. Getting a charge reduced down from a aggravated assault to a simple assault, for example, or working out a deal for the bottom range or minimum penalty can save you potential jail time or significant fines.

  • When is the best time to negotiate a deal?

    In many cases the best offer comes near the end of the case when the prosecution realizes how weak their case is, and that they are likely to lose at trial.

  • Do I ever have to consent to allow police to search my home or car?

    You never are required to consent to a search by the police. Although you may sometimes be threatened by the thought of being detained by the police until a search warrant is procured, you have the absolute right not to give consent. It is almost never a good idea to give consent to search, despite what law enforcement may say to convince you otherwise.

  • If I’m arrested, do the police have to read me my rights?

    Contrary to popular belief, when a person is arrested, the police are NOT required to “read you your rights.” The reading of the “Miranda” warnings (right to remain silent, right to an attorney, etc.) and the obtaining of the suspect’s waiver of those rights is required ONLY in order for the prosecutor to later use the statements of the accused against him at trial. Miranda warnings are, moreover, only required when you are in police custody AND they want to ask you questions which are designed to elicit an incriminating response. If, for example, you voluntarily go to the police station to make a statement (ie, you’re not “in custody”, or if, while you are in custody, you blurt out statements (not in response to a policeman’s question), these statements come in regardless of a lack of Miranda warnings and waivers. Never agree to speak without first consulting a lawyer. I guarantee that no police officer would if (s)he were asked to.

  • If I refuse to give a statement to the police concerning my potential involvement in an offense, can I be charged and taken into custody because of my refusal to cooperate?

    Absolutely NOT. You cannot be arrested or charged simply because you have exercised your Fifth Amendment right not to give testimony against yourself. Many times the authorities will use this approach to scare an individual into waiving their rights and giving a statement out of fear that they will be placed in jail. The police may threaten you with this, suggesting that you will have a high bail if you don’t cooperate, or that a lack of cooperation will result in your arrest. They may also suggest that cooperation of this kind will result in leniency. Not true. Actually, the judge cannot set a higher bail because you did not cooperate with the police, and when there is justification for an arrest, one will be made. Giving statements usually just ensures that your arrest will more likely result in a conviction. Thus, the police are quite creative in their attempts to persuade suspects to give “voluntary” confessions. It makes the prosecutor’s job much easier.

  • Do I Need A Lawyer To Represent Me Even If I Am Innocent?

    Every criminal defendant needs an attorney. Innocent defendants are perhaps in even greater need of zealous representation throughout the criminal process to ensure that their rights are protected and that the truth prevails. Even innocent people end up in jail, so the best way to prevent that miscarriage of justice is to employ the services of a seasoned veteran of criminal defense law, particularly one with experience defending against drug charges.

  • When do the police need a warrant to make an arrest?

    As long as the police have good reason (called “probable cause”) to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person they want to arrest committed the crime, they can, with just one exception, make an arrest without asking a judge for a warrant.

    The exception? There are few places where the adage “a man’s home is his castle” still applies, and an arrest at home is one of them. The police must have a warrant to arrest a person at home if the arrest is for a nonserious offense — such as a simple assault — and there is no fear that the person they want to arrest will destroy evidence or cause harm to the public.

  • What is the role of the federal government in criminal law?

    Crime has long been considered the concern of state government. States are authorized to protect their citizens from criminal activity by prosecuting criminals. States are also authorized to determine what constitutes a crime statutorily (through the legislature) and through common law. The federal government, on the other hand, has limited jurisdiction and must link any crimes it prosecutes to its powers under the Constitution. The most commonly used powers to support federal criminal legislation are the commerce power, the taxing power, and the postal power. While Congress has used these powers all along to define crimes, there has been an explosion of federally created crimes in the last half of the 20th century. Most of the laws controlling white-collar crime, like the RICO Act and the Victims and Witnesses Protection Act have been passed since 1950.

    In addition, Congress has become increasingly involved in the “war on drugs” with the creation of various drug statutes. Due to the severity of the penalties, often, local prosecutors prefer to have drug charges prosecuted in federal court rather than file state charges. Most federal laws have as their rationale that the particular crime addressed needs a uniform response nationwide, and due to the nature of drug crimes (particularly distribution), it is difficult to prosecute drug crimes on a state-by-state basis.

    Examples of successful federal criminal legislation are the federal gun laws and federal computer laws. The federal gun laws provide uniformity and the federal computer laws make it possible to punish Internet crime.

    The U.S. Constitution has always played a role in criminal law because it defines important individual rights that must be preserved even in a state prosecution involving a state crime. The Constitution guarantees a right to a trial by jury in open court, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to remain silent (on grounds of self-incrimination), the presumption of innocence, the right to be represented by a lawyer, and the right to be free of cruel or unusual punishment. States are required to pay for attorneys for indigent offenders, and federal agencies provide oversight to state prisons to ensure compliance with these constitutional requirements.

  • What is the difference between probation and parole?

    Probation is a criminal sentence; parole is one way of completing a criminal sentence of incarceration. In most jurisdictions, first-time offenders are considered for probation, particularly if their offense was nonviolent. A person placed on probation is typically given a jail or prison sentence that is suspended as long as the person abides by the terms and conditions of probation. Common terms require the person to contact a probation officer once a week and to work, go to school, or look for work. Other terms can include required attendance at alcohol treatment or narcotic-abuse programs and educational classes on such subjects as anger management or good driving. The length of probation and its terms are enumerated at the sentencing and once the person has completed the terms of probation, he or she is free of court supervision.

    Parole is different than probation. Typically, an offender has been sentenced to an indeterminate or range of years in prison. After the offender has served the minimum amount of time authorized, the parole board decides if the offender is ready to be released from incarceration to finish out the sentence on parole. Parole boards consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, the views of the victim, the progress the offender made in prison, how crowded the prison is, and whether the offender has a someplace to go in the community. If parole is granted, the offender will have to abide by terms and conditions similar to those for probation for a specified period of time. If he or she completes the parole period, the criminal sentence is discharged.

    Both probation and parole can be revoked if the offender commits another crime or seriously violates one of the conditions of release. The revocation proceeding requires written notice to the offender, an opportunity to explain and call witnesses, an impartial decision-maker, and a written decision stating the reasons for revocation. If parole is revoked, the parolee goes back to prison and serves the remainder of his or her sentence in jail or prison.

  • How does a district attorney decide which criminals to charge?

    A district attorney or prosecutor has the discretion to decide which crimes should be charged. In a typical case, the police investigate a crime and send a report to the prosecutor. The prosecutor then must decide whether to bring criminal charges against the subject of the investigation. First, the prosecutor analyzes the case to determine if it is legally sound. The case must not have any obvious defects that will get it thrown out of court, such as violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights or destruction of evidence crucial to the defense. Next, the prosecutor decides if there is adequate and reliable evidence of the person’s guilt. The prosecutor must determine that the amount of evidence, and the quality of evidence, makes conviction probable. If offering a plea, such as an agreement by the defendant to undergo drug treatment in return for a suspended sentence, is appropriate, the prosecutor may prefer to dispose of the case in this manner. Additional factors which may influence the prosecutor’s decision include the defendant’s culpability, which may be lacking because he or she acted out of a worthy motive or has mental defects. Finally the prosecutor must decide if he has the resources to pursue the case or if it is a low priority for that particular office.

    The District Attorney of each county in the Commonwealth is an elected official and as such can be voted out of office if the public does not like the emphasis of their office. Some prosecutors, for instance, may focus most of their efforts and the office’s resources combating property crime, while others may focus on domestic abuse. If the electorate does not like the particular goals of the prosecutor, it can end the practice by failing to reelect the individual or by seeking to have them removed from office.