You had your entire day planned out, from the moment you got up this morning to when you put the kids to bed at night. You had dozens of things to get done, including several errands. When you left your home, you had no idea that the choice made by an impaired driver would turn your world upside down.
In a matter of seconds, an auto accident totals your vehicle and puts you in the emergency room.
Now that you’ve had surgery and are recuperating, the other driver’s insurance company is calling you, pressing you to settle your claim. What should you do? Should you deal with the insurance company directly? Do you need an attorney? What damages are you entitled to receive for your losses and injures? These are just a few of the questions you may have after an auto accident.
Where Should You Begin?
Auto accidents are unexpected and stressful. If you haven’t been in one before or if it’s been a while since a previous accident, you may have many questions if legal action must be taken. Where do you even start?
Below are seven common questions people have after an auto accident that wasn’t their fault. This is a great place to begin if you are unfamiliar with this situation from the legal process standpoint.
#1 – Do I need an attorney to settle a car accident claim?
This is a common question, and the insurance company will often tell you that you don’t need an attorney. Some insurance adjusters may even tell you that hiring one will only cost you money that you should keep for yourself. However, if you do not know or understand personal injury law, you should consult an attorney before signing any forms or providing any statements.
Most personal injury attorneys accept car accident cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning you do not pay any money until and unless the attorney wins a settlement for you. The insurance company has a team of professionals working to protect the company’s best interest. You deserve the same — a personal injury attorney can even out the playing field and protect your best interest.
#2 – Should I sign a medical release or provide a statement to the other driver’s insurance company?
The insurance adjuster may ask you to sign a medical release to verify your injuries. He may also request that you provide a written or recorded statement to process your claim. There is a major problem with complying with the adjuster’s request. If you are not careful, you may provide the insurance company with information it can use to reduce your compensation or deny your claim.
The insurance company may not explain that the medical release gives it access to all of your medical records. The company can search through your medical history in hopes of finding a pre-existing condition it can tie to your current injury. It will also not explain that anything you say in your statement can be used against you if you must file a lawsuit to collect your damages. Something you say can be misinterpreted in the insurance company’s favor.
It is usually in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney before signing any documents or providing any statements. The attorney will ensure that you do not make a mistake that will cost you money in the future.
#3 – Can I settle the property damage claim now?
The property damage claim in your auto accident case is a separate claim from your personal injury claim. You can settle your property damage claim so you can have your car repaired or replaced without settling your personal injury claim. However, you must be very careful. The insurance company will require you to sign a release for the property damage claim. If you are not careful, you could inadvertently release the personal injury claim. You must review documents very carefully before signing them and consider having an attorney review the document too.
#4 – Who pays for my medical bills and other expenses?
When you are injured in an auto accident, the medical expenses can be quite substantial, depending on the severity of your injury. You may also have other damages, such as lost income and travel expenses. The insurance company for the other driver usually pays your damages, including financial damages (e.g. lost income, medical bills, etc.) and non-financial damages (e.g. pain and suffering). However, you will not receive this money until your claim is settled in full and you sign a release. Until then, you must make arrangements to pay your medical bills and other expenses.
If you have health insurance, your health insurance company will probably pay your medical bills; however, when you settle your personal injury claim, your health insurance company will demand you pay it back for any bills it paid related to the car accident. This may also be the case if you collect short-term disability because you are out of work. An attorney can help you negotiate these subrogation claims.
#5 – How long will it take to settle my car accident claim?
Every auto accident is different; therefore, every auto accident case is different. If you only suffered minor injuries and you recover very quickly, you might be able to settle your case in a few months. However, if you suffered severe injuries that require multiple surgeries and physical therapy, your case should not be settled until you have reached maximum medical recovery. Maximum medical recovery is the point where you have recovered as much as you are expected to recover. You may have a permanent disability, but the doctors have done all they can for you.
If you settle your auto accident claim too quickly, you may not receive the full compensation you should receive for your injuries. An attorney can help you by providing support and guidance during a personal injury case so you know when it is time to settle your claim. The attorney will also ensure that you include all of your damages in the settlement demand so you are compensated for everything before you sign a release relieving the insurance company and the other driver from any future damages.
#6 – If I need to file a lawsuit, who do I sue?
The defendants in a lawsuit depend on who is responsible for the accident. In most cases, you sue the driver who caused the accident, not his insurance company. The insurance company will usually hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit on behalf of its insured driver. Your attorney will deal with the attorney for the insurance company as your attorney prepares for the trial and negotiates a potential settlement of the lawsuit.
In some auto accident lawsuits, a third party may be named as a defendant. For example, if the driver was working for a delivery company, your attorney may name the driver and the delivery company as defendants. Another example would be if your seatbelt malfunctioned during the accident. The attorney may name the other driver who caused the accident but also name the vehicle and seatbelt manufacturers as co-defendants. An experienced personal injury attorney conducts a thorough accident investigation to identify the liable parties to name in the lawsuit.
#7 – Is there a deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit?
Yes, every state has a statute of limitations that sets forth strict time limits for filing auto accident claims. You should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you do not run out of time to file an auto accident lawsuit. If the statute of limitations expires, you will not be able to seek compensation from the at-fault driver.
Have More Questions About Handling an Auto Accident?
It’s understandable to have many questions regarding an auto accident claim. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation and case evaluation, so you can get answers to all your questions without worrying about a legal fee. For most accident victims, consulting an attorney should be the first step in settling a car accident claim.