Car accidents—unfortunately, they can happen to anyone, anywhere. The immediate aftermath of an accident is chaotic. You are concerned about your damaged car, you may not know how seriously the accident injured you, and you wonder what you have to do to make sure you do not face a mountain of medical and repair bills. You do know the accident was not your fault and you need to know how to make sure those responsible for the accident pay your damages.
Once you have had the police report to the scene and a medical professional evaluates you, you will have the accident on record and will know the extent of your injuries. Whether you need a few days in the hospital or doctors discharge you, you have a thousand questions for which you need answers.
One of the most important questions you may have is which insurance company you should notify following an accident. No one straightforward answer covers all situations. Your best bet is to call a car accident lawyer to ensure you correctly notify and file your claims with the right companies to ensure you recover fair compensation for your injuries.
Reporting Accidents to an Insurance Company
You have called friends and family to inform them of the car accident and your condition. Now you are left trying to decide whether to call your own insurance, particularly if the car accident was not your fault. You may worry about whether your insurance rates will increase and about your deductible for the accident expenses you claim. You might also be out of work, temporarily or permanently, and thus will be lacking a source of income to pay any such insurance payments.
Rather than trying to decide on your own whether to contact your insurer or the at-fault party’s insurer, it is best to contact a car accident lawyer and let them deal with the reporting.
There are several reasons to have an attorney deal with insurance matters for you, including:
- Your rights - Whether you call your own insurer or the responsible party’s insurer, you place your rights at risk. They will ask you questions to get you to admit fault or say something else that could hurt your claim. The insurance company may tell you they need a recorded statement. You should not provide any recorded statement without first consulting an attorney. Once you say something in a recorded statement, the insurance company can use your statement to deny or devalue your claim and challenge your credibility if you say anything different later on. Handing communications over to an experienced car accident attorney can relieve you of this risk.
- Policy wording - insurance companies will do everything possible to diminish the value of your claim. This allows them to maintain their bottom line. Remember, when they pay out an accident claim, it lessens their profits. You can be sure the insurance company will examine every letter of the policy in question to see if they have options to deny or delay your claim. This makes it even more imperative to seek a lawyer who can provide a legal review of the policy and fight back against an insurance company that tries to deny a claim or minimize its liability.
- Paperwork flood - once you file a claim, an insurance company is sure to flood you with paperwork and to demand paperwork from you. It can all become overwhelming very quickly. They may even try to get you to sign paperwork with lots of fine print designed to get you to forfeit your rights. An attorney not only can take on the burden of reviewing all of the paperwork for you, but they’ve seen it before, and know what to look for so that you do not jeopardize your claim.
Having someone serving as your legal representative following a car accident that was not your fault is the practical choice, as it allows a professional to pursue your insurance settlement while you recover from your injuries.
Risks Associated With Contacting at-Fault Driver’s Insurer
The at-fault party has provided you with their insurance company information. Do you report your accident to their insurer? There are reasons to avoid calling the at-fault party’s insurer. While your own insurer is likely to look for ways to deny or minimize your claim, the other party’s insurer is almost certain to, especially if their insured denies responsibility for the accident or the extent of your injuries.
You face similar risks when working with any insurer. One of the biggest risks of working with the other driver’s company is they may offer you a fast settlement to get the case to go away. This is common, particularly if you have suffered a serious injury, such as a brain injury.
The reason for this is simple: The insurance company knows if they offer a fast settlement and you accept the offer, they are off the hook. Once you accept a settlement, the insurance company will ask you to sign a waiver. This waiver usually includes a statement that you will not file additional claims or take further legal action against them.
All insurers must negotiate in good faith and make reasonable settlement offers, according to the model Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act. While this should be the standard, this Act is merely a model law offered by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), and each state is responsible for establishing its own unfair claims settlement laws.
Furthermore, the language of the Act is broad and subject to wide interpretation. The bottom line is that insurers find ways to justify making low offers to car accident victims, and for victims who are out of work, facing financial challenges, and getting called regularly by multiple insurers, you may feel tempted to accept the offer and just have it over.
This is why, too often, victims wind up with further financial problems later on because they did not push the insurance company to settle for an amount to cover all their expenses.
Insurance Company Claim Denials
Some car accident victims are taken aback when the other driver’s insurer denies their claim, especially when they know the other driver was at fault. You should expect the insurance company to conduct a thorough investigation of the accident to determine who was at fault. Once the investigation concludes, the insurer may make a settlement offer or deny your claim outright.
Sometimes, an insurer will say they do not have sufficient evidence to show their driver was at fault, and will thus deny your claim. Other times, they will suggest both drivers were at fault, and that you should file a claim with your own insurer. When you have an attorney working on your behalf, an insurer may tread more carefully because they know your attorney will have access to the same or similar information and can push back if they do not fairly evaluate the evidence.
If you have not hired an attorney and you do get a claim denial, you should seek legal counsel immediately to determine what steps you need to take to protect your rights. Regardless of the severity of your injuries or damages, an attorney is always going to be your best option.
Why Working With a Car Accident Lawyer Makes Sense
You might not think twice about filing an insurance claim. After all, you are not at fault for the accident, and you are obviously injured and deserve compensation. However, no matter how clearly you think the other party is at fault, an insurance company will look for any way to avoid liability.
When you hire an experienced car accident lawyer, you increase your chances of getting fair compensation. While you cannot judge the ability to successfully resolve your case entirely based on a lawyer’s past successes, they can indicate what the lawyer can do.
Any attorney who has successfully negotiated a settlement on behalf of a client in the past knows how to deal with insurers. They are more likely to get the insurer to take your claim seriously and get the insurer to come to a fair settlement.
Negotiations With Insurers
How much you can recover in your car accident settlement comes to a tabulation of your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages, as long as receipts and documents exist to prove them, are less disputable. Non-economic damages, which refer to impacts with no fixed cost, like pain and suffering, are more subject to negotiation. Your attorney will help you collect evidence to prove all your damages. Car accident victims with proof that the other driver was at fault all tend to at least be able to establish the following economic damages:
- Wages lost during recovery - if you can't work for three months due to your accident injuries, your lost wages are relatively simple to calculate. Lost wages can get somewhat more complicated if your injuries are so severe that you can't return to your pre-accident job. If this is the case, then determining lost wages might require the help of a financial expert.
- Medical expenses - again, medical expenses are easier or harder to prove depending on many factors. If your injury is something you will recover from relatively fast, then standard expenses such as hospitalization, tests, prescription drugs, and follow-up care could be simple to calculate. This is particularly true if your insurance coverage is paying for most of your bills. However, if you have long-term injuries from the accident, you must estimate your medical expenses throughout your life, which is much more subject to negotiation.
- Vehicle damage - this might be the easiest out-of-pocket economic loss to calculate. After all, either a mechanic can repair your car or you need to replace it. In either event, this is likely a fixed amount.
Costs like your lost wages can include lost benefits and other expenses you may not know when you initially file your claim. The ability to identify all the potentially compensable harms under a claim is one of the reasons a lawyer is a valuable asset to a car accident claimant.
Cost of Legal Help Versus Benefits
Car accident victims might believe they can handle the insurance claim process on their own. After all, they know they were in a car accident, they know they suffered an injury, and they know the accident was not their fault. Why should they have to handle a lawyer?
No matter how clear the other driver’s responsibility is to you, however, the other party can always dispute your claim, and you will need to gather evidence and build a case to show why they should be held liable. You might think you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, particularly if you are out of work and your return to full employment is uncertain or you cannot return to work.
But getting legal representation should not be cost-prohibitive. And it usually is not. Car accident lawyers tend to offer potential clients a free consultation. During this consultation, the lawyer will inquire about the specifics of the accident and your injuries.
The attorney will then advise you of your legal options and how you can maximize your compensation. If the attorney determines you have a viable claim, you typically can decide whether to proceed to have them represent you or not.
Once you decide to hire an attorney, you will sign a retainer agreement. Most personal injury lawyers will take your case on a contingency-fee basis, which means that unless and until they are successful in obtaining compensation on your behalf, you are not responsible for any legal fees. After you agree to have an attorney represent you, they will take care of all notifications to the insurers, negotiate a settlement on your behalf, and all other aspects of your claim. They will keep you informed every step of the way.
Hiring a lawyer does not mean you lose control. Your lawyer must advise you of any settlement offers an insurance company makes to settle your case. You remain solely in control of accepting or rejecting any offers.