Auto Accident Law
LEGAL and INSURANCE SIDE: The legal side of an auto accident case is many times more complicated than the medical side. Almost all auto accidents involve some sort of car insurance. It is important to know how the insurance industry works. When you buy car insurance you buy it from an insurance agent. Insurance companies spend millions of dollars in advertising trying to convince you that they can do anything and everything for you if you are involved in an accident or a disaster. They lead you to believe that your insurance agent, who sells you the insurance, who you meet in person or by telephone or who may even be a friend, deals with all the circumstances of an accident. I am sure you have heard the terms that “you are in good hands” or “like a good neighbor” etc. The truth of the matter is, the insurance agent that you buy the insurance from, has nothing to do with the settlement of an insurance claim.
INSURANCE: Once you have been involved in an automobile accident the accident is turned over to an insurance adjuster who works for your own company or for the other company involved in the accident. These adjuster’s sole purpose is to save the insurance companies money. You have never met these people, dealt with these people or in any way know these people. This is where the frustration begins. I will try to take you step by step of the elements that are involved next.
FAULT: The first thing that will need to be determined is “who is at fault” or the “liable party”. This is the most important factor at the beginning of an insurance settlement. If you are proven to be at fault or even if you share 50/50 of the liability you will not be entitled to any compensation for injuries. And believe me, what is said at the initial scene of the accident will change many times before it goes to court or arbitration. Without witnesses, it sometimes becomes impossible to determine liability. That being established, the next most painful factor is property damage.
PIP or MED PAY: Whether you are at fault or not, many policies have the portion called PIP or Med Pay that pays for reasonable medical expenses that you have incurred as a result of the accident. This protects you from unexpected medical bills that are the result of an automobile accident. They are supposed to take care of these expenses in a timely fashion. If it is determined that the accident is not your fault but rather the fault of a 3rd party, then your insurance company will be reimbursed for those expenses that they have paid out on your behalf, when you settle your claim at a later date. This protects you from having to deal with doctor expenses up to certain limits, generally, $10,000 is the limit per person.
WAGE LOSS: If you have been injured in an accident and are unable to work, as established by a medical professional, you are entitled to be reimbursed for wages lost up to a maximum amount per month. Your “Medical Professional” will give you a disability slip to inform your employer that you are unable to work and until such time as he/she determines that you are able to physically return to either light or regular duty you are entitled to compensation. A “Legal Professional” can advise and/or assist you in obtaining those wages throughout the course of your treatment and recovery period.
PROPERTY DAMAGE: If your car is totaled / how much is it worth? I have yet to see a case where the owner and adjuster had the same figure in mind. Secondly, in the property damage, if it is not totaled, what estimate, what auto-body company, will be used in fixing the automobile. Will they use original parts or will they use after-market parts? For many years, insurance companies have almost forced auto body companies to use after-market parts. Recently, State Farm Insurance, lost a 1.2 billion dollar suit, over just this issue. Just because you paid $6000 for a used car 2 weeks ago and insured it for that, and then it was totaled, don’t think for a minute that it is worth $6000 when it is totaled.
TOWING: If the car is immovable from the scene, the issue of towing and who pays that bill is the next factor. You may be presented with the bill, for towing and storage, which may add up to more than the value of the vehicle.
AUTO-BODY SHOPS: You have an option in many cases, to take your car to several body shops and settle with the insurance company without having to repair your car. In other cases, the auto-body shop will be paid directly from the insurance company. In most states, the law requires that your car be in the same condition, after the repair as it was prior to the accident. This is a very subjective issue and can cause a dispute immediately between you and your insurance carrier.
PERSONAL ITEMS LOST OR DESTROYED: You are entitled to replacement or repair of your personal items.
RENTAL CAR: If your car is damaged or un-drivable it may necessitate your need for a rental car. Each policy is written differently, depending on the liability of the accident, you may or may not be reimbursed for the rental car.
TOTALED VEHICLE: One issue that comes up a great deal is “When is a car totaled?” Most of the insurance companies use the 70% rule. If it costs more than 70% of the car’s value, they will total it. “Diminution” in value, is a term the insurance companies use when assessing the value to an automobile. They may go to an outside source, such as the Kelly Blue Book, to determine what they consider to be a “fair market value”. In most cases, this leads to a great argument and the beginning of stress for the car accident victim.
WHEN YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY: Many times it is possible that a competent individual can settle their own insurance claim. However, there are also many times and several compelling reasons why a legal professional is important for a successful claim. Even if up to this point you felt that you could handle your own claim but now are finding that you have many unanswered questions, it is not too late to get the help you need from a trained professional.
SELECTING AN ATTORNEY: It is important to choose the right attorney. This should be
someone who has experience in and specializes in handling “Personal Injury Claims”. Just like
seeing a surgeon when you need surgery, or a dentist when you have a toothache, you need to seek out an attorney that has experience in “Automobile Accident Cases” not a criminal or divorce lawyer. They should review your case with you, during a free consultation, and openly discuss the legalities of your claim and if you have a good chance for a successful case.
INJURIES: If you were hurt in the accident and suffered from injuries sustained at that time
you could need the support of a legal professional. They can help you to manage your medical care, your billings, and the opening of the insurance portion of your own policy (PIP or Med Pay) to be sure that the bills are paid as they are incurred rather than simply accumulating until such time as you settle your claim.
IF YOU HAVE NO INSURANCE COVERAGE OF YOUR OWN: Many people think if they have no insurance coverage themselves they cannot open a claim. They think that they cannot get treatment for injuries they have sustained or receive compensation for “pain and suffering” that they have incurred. That is not true. A good legal professional can examine the circumstances of the accident and help you with your options. Identifying the “at-fault party” and their insurance company is generally the first step to determining your rights and protecting your interests.
IF THE OTHER PARTY HAS NO INSURANCE and is at fault: Many times it is difficult to find out information about the responsible parties’ financial assets. An attorney is much more experienced in these types of situations and can help you determine the options available to you. This would be by either seeking a judgment and/or lien against that individual or by filing a “Uninsured Motorist Claim” against your own company for the damages and/or injuries you have sustained.
SIGNING FORMS AND RELEASE OF INFORMATION: There are many types of forms that insurance companies require to be filled out and signed by you to either open a PIP/Med pay claim, a property damage claim, a wage loss claim, a medical release, a general release, etc. Many times it can be confusing on which forms a person should or should not sign. The Legal Professional can review these forms and advise you.
OTHER QUESTIONS: Many other types of situations and/or questions can be answered by a “Legal Professional” in your area.
SETTLING YOUR CLAIM: When you are finished with your medical care and reached a point of being ready to settle your claim, a “Legal Professional” in your area can be your best advocate. They can prepare a demand and claim for settlement for the pain and suffering that you have experienced as a result of your motor vehicle accident. They can help you tie up all the loose ends with the medical providers, wage loss reimbursement, property damage, and help you to get the settlement you deserve.
This Blog was posted by No.1 Lawyer – Carabin Shaw Attorneys At Law in El Paso