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Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t forget to document your damages: Take photos of everything and everyone, including your injuries.
File DMV Report.
Talk to YOUR insurance company, don’t talk to the other one.
Don’t try to “Tough It Out”. Go to see a doctor immediately after the crash.
Don’t lye to anyone: your doctor, your insurance company, your lawyer.
Who is responsible for the investigation of the accident?
After you have filed a claim with a car insurance company for your accident, the claim will be investigated by that company, in most cases. The way that the accident will be investigated by the auto insurance company depends upon these factors:
- What kind of accident and how severe it was
- The policies of the car insurance company
- Whether the car accident involved injuries, property damage or both
After the claim is filed, an insurance company claims adjuster will contact you. They will review the policy to ensure that you are covered. It is possible the claims adjuster will ask you for more information about the crash. As the insurance company investigates the claim, they may do the following things:
- Ask that you send them a copy of the police report
- Contact the driver for the other vehicle
- Talk to witnesses to the car accident
- Go to the accident scene
- Look at your car and damages
- Take pictures of your car
- Request that you sign a medical release so your medical records can be reviewed
- Talk to your medical providers about your injury costs
Your auto insurance company should cover your injuries and repairs, minus your deductible. It will negotiate with the insurance company for the other driver to determine who will pay what in the end. This process of initial payment is called indemnification. If the other driver is determined during the investigation to be at fault, your auto insurance adjuster will try to get payment from that company through the subrogation process.
Regarding your repairs, your insurance company will investigate the damage to the car. They may recommend that you use an approved body shop. But you have the right to choose a shop that you prefer.
During the investigation, the adjuster may ask that you sign a waiver so the company can review your medical records. Even if it is your own company, you may wish to consult a personal injury attorney to determine if you should or not. Once the insurance company has access to your records, the insurance adjuster could try to use the information to lower the claim amount.
At the conclusion of the investigation, your adjuster may determine that the other driver was at fault, you were at fault, or both of you share the blame. Your settlement amount could be reduced by the percentage of blame you have for the crash.
It is important to provide all of the information the insurance company asks for as they do their investigation. But if the accident involves substantial injuries and damages, you may be better off having a personal injury attorney review the case.
Speaking to Insurance Companies
After a car accident, one of the key questions from the insurance company perspective is, who is at fault? Insurance companies are in business to protect the interests of the insurance company and pay out as little money as possible in claims.
If you are contacted by the insurance company for the other driver, you should use caution when speaking to her. Our recommendations if an insurance adjuster calls you after the accident are:
- Get an attorney: It is always risky to speak to the insurance adjuster after an accident without legal representation. Unless your car was hit from behind, it is likely that the insurance company is trying to pin you with at least some of the blame. It is best to contact a personal injury attorney if you are contacted by the other driver’s insurance company.
- If you do speak to the insurance adjuster, it is very important to not admit any fault. In some states, if you are responsible even 1%, you may be barred from making a claim for your injuries. Any statement that you make about having fault for the accident could be used against you later.
- Do not admit you were not injured. If the adjuster calls you right after the crash, they may be counting on your saying something that hurts your case later. Nothing hurts your case worse than saying you are not injured, and then it turns out a day later that you ARE injured. If you say you were unhurt on the record, the insurance company will attempt to deny any future claim you make.
- It is best to not discuss your injuries at all with the adjuster and have your attorney do the talking for you. You can talk about the damages to your vehicle, but no more than that.
- Keep it simple. Just stick to the facts of the accident, what happened and where your car is if they want to inspect it. You should not have a detailed conversation with the adjuster without an attorney.
- Do not sign anything and do not allow them to record you. These will be used as evidence against you later.
Letting Others See Your Medical Records
If you have made a personal injury claim for a car accident with the insurance company for the other driver, the insurance adjuster will want to get access to your medical records and treatments. While you probably have already sent copies of relevant medical records to the insurance company, they still may want more records that you have not provided. For example, you may have sent all the medical records regarding the injury from your doctor but not from the physical therapist.
It is up to you and your personal injury attorney to determine if the additional requests for medical records are reasonable. One thing that you should not do is sign a general medical records release form for the adjuster so they have access to all your medical records. This is a big mistake.
Insurance companies are notorious for wanting access to a complete medical file to see if anything in your past medical history can be used to either undermine your case or embarrass you. It is unreasonable for the insurance company to have access to any medical records that are not directly related to the accident.
If the insurance adjuster wants access to more records and wants you to sign a release, ask why those records are needed. If you are not convinced by the answer, you should calmly tell the adjuster that you are not convinced, and you do not think they need access to those medical records. If the case ends up in court, attorneys will be able to argue over what medical records the insurance company should see but beware of letting insurance companies getting access to your personal medical history during negotiations.
If you have questions about whether the records request is reasonable, talk to your attorney.
If you are hurt in a car accident, a common question is, who will pay my medical bills today? While an injury settlement or verdict down the road is great, this will not pay your current medical bills.
Generally, even if the defendant is responsible for the accident, he is not responsible for paying your medical bills on an ongoing basis. You will usually need to pay for your medical bills as you incur each one. Even if the other person was clearly in the wrong, they are not required to pay for your medical bills as they come in. All the law requires is that if the other person is liable, they must pay you financial damages to resolve the lawsuit, and medical bills are usually part of that.
One exception is when the car accident occurs in a no fault state. No fault insurance means that your auto insurer will pay for some or all of your medical costs up to a certain point, regardless of who caused the crash. The limit will vary by state, but it is commonly $10,000 or less.
If your medical bills go over the limit for the no fault state, you will be responsible for paying them. If you have a health insurance policy, your health insurer will pay for your medical costs. If you eventually win a settlement or verdict, your health insurance company will expect to be reimbursed for what they paid on your behalf.
If you are in a car accident in a state that does not have a no fault system, you and/or your health insurer are usually responsible for paying medical bills. But some drivers in these states could have what is called ‘med pay’ coverage. This is a policy that pays the medical bills of passengers or drivers in a car accident with the insured person put to the policy limit that is usually less than $10,000. If your bills go over that amount, your health insurance policy will pay, or you pay out of pocket.
Medical Bills and Payments
Who will pay my medical bills until my case is settled? If you are hurt in an accident because of someone else, you probably want to know who will pay for your medical treatment. While it is great to get a settlement or verdict at trial, this will not help you pay the pile of medical bills you have on your kitchen table today.
What is important to understand is that after the accident, you generally need to pay for the medical bills as they come in. Even if the person who caused your injuries is clearly at fault, they are under no legal obligation to pay your bills as they are incurred. The only thing that is required under the law is they must pay damages to resolve a lawsuit. In most persona injury cases, medical bills are a substantial part of the damages you incur.
If the accident occurred in a non ‘no fault’ state, you will usually need to pay for your medical bills as they come in. But some drivers in non no fault states do have medical payment insurance coverage; this is referred to as ‘med pay coverage. This is coverage that pays medical bills of drivers or passengers that were involved in a car accident with the insured party, up to the policy limits on the med pay policy. After the medical bills go over that amount, you are responsible for paying them. But note that med pay coverage is not always required. So if neither you or the other driver have this coverage, you would have to pay your medical bills out of pocket until a settlement or verdict.
In a no-fault state, your own auto insurance company will pay some or all of your medical costs if you are in an accident no matter who was at fault. In some no-fault states, there is a top limit on what your own insurance company will pay; the limit is usually $10,000 or less. After your medical bills have exceeded the limit, you will need to pay for your bills. Or, your healthcare insurance company will need to pay them.
Car Repairs and Insurance Payments
Which insurance company should I go through to handle my car repairs – mine or theirs? If you have been in an accident that was the other driver’s fault, you may wonder if you should have your car repaired through your insurance company or the other driver’s.
If you have collision coverage on your policy, you can make the claim on your own policy. More…
So you have been in a car accident that is not your fault. After a few days, an insurance adjuster for the person who hit you calls you on the phone. The adjuster wants a recorded statement from you telling how the accident occurred. Should you?
Generally, you should not agree to give a recorded statement about a car accident to any insurance adjuster without consulting with an attorney first. It also is not recommended to give an oral statement, either. The reason for this is easy to understand if you think of it from the insurance company’s perspective. The auto insurance company exists to make money for its investors. Every dollar it pays for a claim is a dollar less that the insurance company has for its bottom line. It is the job of all insurance companies to reduce what they pay in claims.
A recorded statement is a good way for the insurance company to reduce or deny your claim. Here is why:
- The adjuster will compare the statement you give with any other statements you have made, such as what you told the police officer at the crash scene. If there is any inconsistency in what you have said, the company will try to argue you are not telling the truth.
- Insurance adjusters are trained to ask questions in a way that trick you into a response that damages your claim. They may try to bully you into agreeing with a statement that you do not agree with.
- Adjusters may try to make you say something that makes it sound as if you remember less than you do. Before they start to record your statement, they may say things such as, the accident probably happened so fast, and you may not really remember what happened. Then you could make a statement after the recording starts that makes it sound like your memory is fuzzy.
- The recorded statement can be used in a cross-examination against you in a trial. Any inconsistency at all can make you look like you are unreliable.
For these reasons, you should not give a recorded statement to any insurance adjuster unless you have talked to your attorney first.
Other Answers Below:
There are several types of damages to which you are entitled in a motor vehicle crash caused by another party:
- Medical expenses: physical therapy, doctors’ visits, ambulance fees, in home services, permanent disability – past, current and future.
- Lost wages: A car accident can cause you to lose ability to earn a living. This may include your inability to work due to doctors’ appointments, time spent in the hospital, problems with physically doing your job and more. You are often entitled to lost wages both in the past and future, which need to be calculated precisely, usually by a personal injury attorney.
- Pain and suffering: This is for the mental and physical distress of your injuries. This is usually calculated with a multiplier by the insurance company, which will multiply your actual economic damages by a factor of anywhere from 1.5 to 4, depending upon the circumstances.
- Loss of affection or companionship: Your injuries could affect your ability to show affection or be a companion to your partner. This is also referred to as loss of consortium. These types of losses are claimed by the uninjured partner. These types of damages are common when the car accident victim dies and the surviving partner files a wrongful death lawsuit.
Which of these damages you are entitled to depends upon the exact circumstances of the accident. We recommend that you at least speak to a personal injury attorney at no cost after a serious accident. This is especially true if you have suffered substantial physical injuries.
A common problem for many car accident victims is obtaining a rental car from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Imagine – as you are waiting for the check to cover the cost of your totaled car, you still need to drive to work and the grocery store. These concerns are even more serious when there is only one car in your family.
The at-fault car insurance company should in theory provide you with a suitable rental vehicle as you are waiting for the check to cover your totaled car.. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the car insurance and rental car issue, but this is not an option if you did not suffer injuries in the crash. Note that it is illegal in most states, including Oregon, for your personal injury attorney to pay for your rental car.
Below are the most common scenarios we see for accident victims to get their rental car:
- The easy way – The at-fault driver’s insurance company agrees to accept liability for the wreck. In this situation, the insurance company will pay for the rental car – until they have paid you the fair market value for your totaled car.
- The harder way – The at-fault insurance company offers no decision, so have no rental car. In this situation, contact your own insurance company to see if you have rental car coverage. If so, they will cover your rental car until liability is worked out. At that time, your car insurance company will negotiate for compensation for what they paid for your rental vehicle.
- The hardest way – The at-fault driver’s insurance company either denies responsibility or delays their decision. Meanwhile, you need to pick up your children from school. If they agree later that they are responsible for the accident, they must reimburse you for what you spend on the rental car. However, you will have to pay for the car up front. The key is for you to continue to pressure the at-fault insurance company to pay for your rental car.
A demand letter is the typical first step to settle your car accident injury claim before filing a lawsuit. There is a great amount of evidence gathering and preparation needed before you write the demand letter. If you had had medical treatment, you need to get copies of all of your medical records. This can take weeks or months.
If you have missed any work, you will need to obtain your employment records that show your normal hours and salary prior to the injury. You also need to prove the time that you have missed.
Next, you should gather evidence that indicates that the other party is liable for the accident.
After you have gathered all of this information, you should write your demand letter. Describe the accident, how it happened, witnesses and other details. List the exact amount you spent on medical treatment. It also is a good idea to enclose copies of vital medical records that back up your claims.
After the insurance company receives your demand letter, there will most likely be back and forth negotiations about the exact settlement. For someone with substantial injuries, working with a personal injury attorney is strongly advised. A personal injury attorney is an expert in negotiating with insurance companies.
If you suffer injuries in a car accident and someone else caused the accident, you need a car accident attorney. Everyone knows that attorneys cost money, but what will yours cost?
The majority of car accident lawyers charge their clients on a contingency basis. Unlike most attorneys in other fields (such as immigration, tax and criminal defense), car accident attorneys usually will not get paid any fees unless you recover money in the lawsuit. So, your attorney does not get paid unless you do – they actually get paid a percentage of what you win. As you may imagine, this arrangement means that your attorney is strongly motivated to get you a large settlement or verdict.
Let’s take an up close look at just how contingency fees work, as well as what to expect if you hire an attorney to handle your car accident case.
How Contingency Percentages Work
The amount that a lawyer may receive in a contingency fee contract varies by state. In Oregon, a typical contingency fee is 1/3 of the total monies recovered in the case, but this can vary. Whatever the fee arrangement is with your attorney, be certain that it is clearly stated in writing.
So if the contingency fee agreement is 33.33%, and you win $100,000, your lawyer receives $33,333.33.
Note that the contingency fee could depend upon whether or not the defendant has responded to your legal complaint. If your accident case is settled before your complaint is answered, the percentage paid may be lower.
For instance, let’s say that you send a demand to the defendant and you reach a settlement for $100,000. The attorney on your case will receive $33,333.33, and your state allows the attorney to receive 50% of a recovery when the complaint is answered. So your attorney will receive $16,666.66.
Please discuss the contingency fee arrangement with your attorney. If you do not understand the fee structure in the contract, ask your attorney to make it clear to you.
Remember that just like anything in a contract, a fee is entirely negotiable. If your car accident case is very straightforward – that is, damages and liability are obvious, the defendant has plenty of insurance and/or is wealthy, and there is a lot of strong evidence to back up your claims – you should be able to work out a lower fee. If the lawyer does not have to do that much work on your case, you can make a strong argument that he or she does not deserve 1/3 of your award.
Fees and Expenses
Depending upon your attorney and the contract, you may or may not have to pay up front court fees and other related litigation costs.
Fees and expenses may include:
- Court filing fees
- Costs of serving a summons or subpoena
- Cost of getting medical records from a physician
- Police report
- Fee for court reporter
- Fees for expert witnesses
Many personal injury lawyers will mandate that you pay for these fees out of your pocket. If the contract states that you must pay these fees, expect your attorney to contact you for payment when they become due. If you cannot pay, your case may be delayed.
However, some large personal injury law firms cover all expenses and fees; just know that these will be taken out of the final judgment or settlement. So, if your car crash case settles for $100,000, let’s assume that your legal contract states that the costs and fees are deducted from the settlement.
If your lawyer incurred $10,000 in costs/fees, that would be deducted from your settlement, along with the $30,000 for his or her legal services. You will receive a final recovery amount of $60,000.
Your attorney should take the fee out of the ‘net settlement’. That is the amount after all expenses have been taken out. That is the typical arrangement. That said, some lawyers will take their money out first. You should tell them you will not allow this.
Different Fee Agreements
Not every car accident case has a pure contingency fee agreement. Some lawyers may want to collect a retainer to start the case, and a contingency fee at the end. However, if you win or settle, the amount that you paid your lawyer up front should be taken out of the percentage of the contingency fee. So, if you paid $2000 to the lawyer up front, and win $90,000, your lawyer will receive $28,000 of the settlement.
The majority of car accident cases do not have a flat fee arrangement. Flat fee arrangements usually are for very straight forward, cut and dried cases. A lawyer could charge you a flat fee if the legal work is simply drafting and filing a demand letter. This might be covered for a flat fee of $300 to $1000.
Should You Pay for a Car Accident Attorney?
Here’s your rule of thumb: The more serious your car accident injuries, the more your attorney is worth.
If you are in a minor fender bender with a scratch on your face, you may want to just settle it with the insurance company. It would not be worth 1/3 of your settlement to pay for an attorney.
However, if you are hurt more seriously and need medical treatment, the settlement value of your potential case rises fast. The insurance adjuster will be working hard to minimize your damages and get you to accept as little as possible. They make money by minimizing your settlement.
This fact is backed up by a 1999 insurance study done by the insurance Research Council. It determined that claimants who retained counsel received 3.5 times more in settlement money. Of course, they had to pay ~1/3 of their award to the attorney, but they still came out well ahead.
In a case where there are substantial injuries, you will nearly always benefit greatly from having an experienced car accident attorney negotiating your damages. Also, the threat of a pending lawsuit and trial often encourages the insurance company to give you a fair settlement.
How long it will take to get your rental car when your vehicle was totaled depends upon two factors:
- Did the at-fault insurance company accept responsibility for the accident? If so, you should be able to get your rental car quickly – as soon as the day after the accident.
- If the at-fault insurance company has not accepted responsibility, you need to request a rental car from your insurance company, but not everyone pays for rental car coverage. Your company should be able to get you into a rental car in a day or two. Check your policy to see if your expenses are covered. It is possible to have your car insurance company reimbursed later if the other company does accept responsibility later.
Most motor vehicle crashes are best settled out of court. That said, there are situations where settlement is impossible or not advisable. Occasionally, the insurance company will not respond to your demand letter. Or the settlement offer may be too low to seriously consider. Some plaintiffs feel that the actions of the other party were particularly reckless, and may want to obtain punitive damages on top of damages. This requires going to court.
To file a lawsuit, you and your attorney file a formal legal complaint and submit it to the correct court. The complaint also is served to the other driver. The defendant has 20 days to answer the complaint.
Next is the legal discovery process. This is where you and the defendant exchange information about the accident. Information may be gotten through the submission of written questions to the defendant. You also may request that the defendant submit documents to you. You also may obtain vital accident information through deposition, which your attorney will handle.
After that is the trial, where the judge or jury weighs the evidence and decides the case. This is often a lengthy and expensive process, and again, is a last resort for most motor vehicle crash claims.
If you have been in a car accident, you probably speak to an insurance claims adjuster shortly. Your adjuster will examine the factors surrounding your car accident and will offer you some amount of settlement. After you get that first offer, you need to carefully decide if you should accept it, or negotiate a better deal.
Tip – Remember that in most cases, the first settlement offer will be low. So it is in your best interest to perform research before you accept.
Some of the factors to consider as you think about your car accident claim:
- How much your vehicle was damaged
- The total amount of any medical bills you incurred
- Any disability you now have
- Time lost from work – now and in the future
- Any other expenses related to the car accident
It is vitally important that you know the total value of your claim. This can be a complex situation, so you may be best served to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in Portland. Your attorney will make certain you are adequately compensated for your injuries and pain and suffering.
Factors to consider as you calculate the value of your settlement offer:
- Know your auto insurance policy well. Check if you have medical coverage and what the limits are. Also see if you have collision and comprehensive insurance. You may only make a claim for damages and injuries that are covered under your policy
- Calculate all of your medical bills and any other expenses you incurred from the accident. The claims adjuster will add up your bills and should include mileage to get to your doctors’ appointments
- Think about your treatment plan. Did you have to attend physical therapy? How often did you have to go to the doctor?
- Are you getting enough money to fix your vehicle to restore it to its condition before the accident? If the car was totaled, are you getting enough money to pay for a replacement?
- Whose fault was it? Insurance companies like to overstate how much the accident was your fault and offer you a low settlement.
- Consider any future costs. Will you need to miss more work and will you suffer permanently?
Tip – Ask the claims adjuster all of the factors they considered in your settlement offer.
Assessing the value of the car accident can be difficult, but it is vital to be sure you are being fairly compensated. Again, if this is too complex for you, consider hiring a top notch personal injury attorney in Portland to represent your interests.
Most people in car accidents do not realize that most injury claims result in settlement well before there ever is a trial. Also, most insurance claims also are resolved via settlement without a lawsuit being filed. The insurance company usually wants to settle as early as possible and get you to accept as little money as possible.
In many cases, you should have a personal injury attorney representing your interests with the insurance company. A good personal injury attorney can usually get more money out of the insurance company. What’s more, the threat of an expensive lawsuit by an experienced attorney can encourage many insurance companies to offer a fair settlement.
If you decide to settle out of court either with or without an attorney for your car accident injuries, there are some advantages:
- Receive compensation quickly
- Avoid costly attorney’s fees that add up quickly in a trial
- Avoid having to show up at several court proceedings
- No worrying about an unpredictable jury or judge (if you lose, you get nothing)
The key question to ask yourself is whether the risk of going to trial and getting nothing outweighs the difference between your settlement offer and your estimate of the value of your motor vehicle accident.