Here are the answers to some very common questions.
Q. “What should I do if I am in an accident?”
A. Talk to an experienced trial attorney as soon as possible. You need specific advice for your individual situation if you have been involved in a serious accident.
Q. “What will it cost?
A. Our office provides free initial consultations. If we can’t help you, there is no charge. If you hire us, we work on a ‘contingency’ fee basis, which means we don’t get paid until you do. Mike Love & Associates, LLC advances all litigation expenses up front and you don’t have to pay anything unless we win a successful verdict or settlement on your behalf. Call us at (936) 632-2000.
Q. “Why do I need a lawyer?” or “Why do I need a personal injury trial lawyer?”
A. The short answer is: 1) to avoid pitfalls, 2) to identify issues that might not be obvious to a non-lawyer, and 3) to know that you have a trained professional on your side.
To illustrate the point, consider that a trained personal injury attorney should know that as many as 29 separate insurance policies/coverages might apply in the following simple accident.
In “Vehicle 1” are a 16 year old driver, and her two friends (both minors). The car belongs to the driver’s grandmother. Assume our 16 year old driver pulls out from a stop sign (perhaps without looking as well as she should) and has a wreck with a speeding pickup truck. [Vehicle 2] The pickup driver borrowed the truck from a friend and was making a delivery for the driver’s boss at the time of the accident.
Its unlikely a ‘non-personal injury” lawyer would see 29 potential insurance coverages under these short facts, but there are that many possibilities.
Its grandmother’s car so her liability insurance covers the granddaughter as a permissive driver. However, if the 16 year old has her own car (and policy), her policy becomes ‘secondary’ and provides additional liability coverage. Because the driver is a minor, her parent’s auto insurance policies also apply. If her parents are divorced and have separate policies, they both provide additional insurance coverage for their daughter. (That makes four potential liability policies that may cover our driver so far)
If grandmother also has PIP insurance (personal injury protection) and/or UIM (uninsured/underinsured insurance) coverage, it provides additional coverage to everyone in grandmother’s car, including the driver. The PIP coverage covers all occupants regardless of fault in the accident and the UIM would provide additional coverage if the liability coverage of the ‘at fault’ driver(s) was insufficient to cover the damages.
Likewise, if our driver (or her parents) have PIP or UIM coverage, it would provide additional coverage for the occupants of our car. As for the underage passengers, if they or their parents have PIP or UIM coverage on their auto policies, those policies would provide additional coverage to each of those minors (although it would not provide coverage for anyone else in the car).
Finally, there are many potential sources for insurance coverage that might cover the pick-up truck driver’s liability. Obviously, any insurance policy on the truck applies. However, if the driver has a policy on his own vehicle, it becomes ‘secondary’ additional coverage. Likewise, since he was performing a delivery for his employer, he should be covered under his employer’s auto policy. Most businesses also carry what is called a ‘general liability’ policy and ‘umbrella’ policies that provide additional insurance coverage over and above the auto liability policy which should be confirmed in the event of a serious accident. This makes a total of 29 potential sources of insurance coverage for the occupants of vehicle number 1.
If the facts warrant, a trained personal injury attorney would also examine whether or not the traffic signs were compliant with state law and design specifications. He or she might also investigate potential products liability claims if an injury was caused by a failure of the car’s safety features, seatbelts, air bags, etc.
Q. “Other than calling a lawyer, what are other ‘good ideas’ if I have been involved in an accident?”
A. Understand that with the shock of being in an accident, the rush of adrenaline, and simply with the way the human body works, it may take a few days to really know if you have been seriously injured. For example, many spinal injuries can take months to become symptomatic following a car accident. Therefore, it is important to take down basic information about the facts of the accident. Police officers usually do a good job recording information, but they don’t always write down the names of every witness. Sometimes witnesses leave before the police get there, or leave before the police write down their names. You should always write down the name and phone number of all witnesses. It might be important later. If you have a camera, even if only on your cell phone, take pictures. Don’t bother trying to get detailed pictures of the damage to your car at the scene, that can be done later by your attorney, the body shop, or the insurance company. Take pictures from a distance that shows the position of the cars in relation to each other and other objects at the scene like a sign, driveway, or building. These signs or landmarks can later be used to create a scaled diagram of the accident if needed. Likewise, a picture showing impact debris of the other person’s car in your lane, is 100 times more important than a close up of your smashed bumper.
Q. “Is there anything special I should keep in mind when seeing my doctor?”
A. Yes. Make sure that you tell your doctor all symptoms you are experiencing. Make a list of your symptoms and any questions you may have to take to any appointments.
Even though you feel it is “no big thing” now, any thing from dry mouth to headaches, dizziness, or hyperventilation may be a sign of something more serious. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis. For example, a tingling in your fingers, or weakness in your arm could be the sign of major disruption to the disks in your neck.
Q. “How long do I have to make a claim?”
A. Every state has what is called a “statute of limitations” for different types of claims which sets deadlines for filing suit. If you fail to file suit before the deadline you lose your right to be compensated for your damages. In Texas, the deadlines can range from a few months to many years. For example, in most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the act that caused the damage. (Date of the car accident for example) However, if the claim is against a governmental entity (if you were hit by a city bus for example), you must give notice to the city or state within 6 months or you lose your claim. Most breach of contract claims have four years from when the contract was broken to bring a claim, but a bank can wait six years to sue you on a consumer loan. [Perhaps banks have better lobbyists than accident victims.]
You might have heard that a child’s claim doesn’t start to run until he or she turns eighteen. This is true. However, the child’s medical bills are the legal obligation of (and claim of) the parents which means the two year statute of limitations applies to the child’s medical bills. Bottom line, the time you have to make a claim varies widely based on the type of claim and the state where the action or event occurred. This is one of the reasons you should speak to an attorney sooner rather than later.
Q. “What do I do when the insurance company for the other side calls me?”
A. Always be polite. However, it is almost always better to ask the insurance company to send you their contact information in a letter and to let them know that you are in the process of retaining an attorney to help you with your claim. Once you hire an attorney, all communications should go through your attorney.
Q. “When do I not need a lawyer?”
A. You might not need a lawyer if you were in a relatively minor accident, you are sure you were not injured, the insurance company for the at fault driver has accepted liability (fault) and already given you a rental car, and you either 1) know what your vehicle damage is worth or 2) you have taken your car to a repair shop that is dealing directly with the insurance company. If you have decided to handle your claim on your own, some general advice I can give is let the body shop handle the repair claim. They are used to dealing with the insurance company. If justified, add in a claim for the ‘diminished value” of your car. (A new car that has been wrecked and repaired is not worth as much as a new car that has not been wrecked.) Therefore, the insurance company should pay the repair bill plus the difference between what your car was worth before the wreck and what your car is worth as a “repaired” vehicle. Finally, don’t sign a ‘release of all claims’, which also applies to potential personal injury claims, if they are only paying to repair your car.
Q. “Why does the other driver’s insurance company refuse to pay my medical bills?”
A. Probably the biggest reason most people decide to call a lawyer after being in an accident is the fact that the insurance company for the driver that caused the accident ALWAYS refuses to pay any medical bills or lost wages unless you are immediately willing to settle your entire claim upfront.
Obviously, this puts the injured person in an impossible situation. How can you possibly settle your claim when you don’t even know how bad you’re hurt, how long you will be off work, if you will need surgery, or how much it will cost? One of the most common questions we get from people who start off trying to handle a claim on their own is “Why does the insurance company refuse to pay my medical bills?” Especially when they know it was their driver’s fault. The answer is sad ….. but simple.
The insurance company knows that if you can not afford to go to the doctor, you will not be able to prove you were hurt in the accident and they will not have to pay you anything. Likewise, if they help you and your family by paying your lost wages while your off work, you are much more likely to be able to afford medical treatment. Again, the insurance company knows that if you have medical treatment, you can prove you are hurt, which means they will have to pay more money. They know that if you can not afford medical treatment … or the light bill, then you will accept pennies on the dollar for your claim out of desperation.
An experienced lawyer can almost always predict what an insurance company will do. Its really simple actually. The insurance company will always do whatever saves them the most money. Unfortunately, with the insurance company, fairness is seldom the deciding factor.
So now that you know the bad news … what do you do about it if you have been hurt in an accident that was someone else’s fault? First, understand that the other drivers’ insurance company is not your friend. The adjuster’s goal is to 1) try and avoid paying anything, and 2) if they have to pay … to pay as little as possible, and 3) delay, delay, delay. Remember, the big insurance companies collect premiums in the billions and cover losses in the hundreds of millions (if not billions). The interest on that kind of money is phenomenal. Every day they can make you wait is more money for them.
So, if you are hurt, do not wait on the other side’s insurance company. Go to the doctor as soon as possible. KEEP GOING TO THE DOCTOR for as long as you still have problems. Each time you go back to the doctor, tell him or her exactly what symptoms you are having. And, my advice to all of my clients about the best question to ask your doctor is this: “What next?” In other words, if you are still in pain, or still having problems, still can’t get back to work after a couple of weeks, you need to be telling the doctor “This isn’t getting any better” and “What is our next step in treatment?”, “What are my options, or tests to determine what is wrong?” and, “Is there a specialist that I need to see for this condition?”
STRONG WARNING HERE ….. Referrals to specialists are critical if you are suffering from an ongoing injury. However, if you are to this point on your own and have still not consulted an attorney, seriously consider calling someone now. The reason I say this is related to what I mentioned above, insurance companies look to medical documentation to establish whether you are hurt or not (really more of whether you can prove you are hurt or not). Here’s the problem, there are many qualified specialist out there. Doctors normally work on what’s called a reciprocal referral basis. In other words, Dr. Smith refers all his hurt back patients to the Dr. that sends him OBGyn patients.
Here’s the problem with that arrangement, defense attorneys and insurance companies have ‘hired gun’ specialists in every area that they use as ‘expert witnesses’ in their big cases. In every town of 40,000 people or larger, there will be at least one or two neurologists, and orthopedic surgeons that are c0mmonly used by defense lawyers and insurance companies to ‘review medical records’ and say the patient is not really hurt, or more commonly, not hurt when their drunk driver ran the red light and broad sided your car.
The last thing you need when you have been in an accident, is to have your well-meaning family doctor refer you to the insurance companies hired gun!! Unfortunately, unless you are a trial lawyer who knows the doctors in your area, you have no way of knowing who to avoid. If you have been seriously injured and are at the stage where it is time to start seeing specialists, I would strongly urge you to talk to an experienced attorney that is familiar with the doctors you need to avoid.
For answers on how an attorney can help you get medical treatment if you don’t have health insurance, see my post titled “How your attorney can help you get medical treatment.”
Our firm represents injured people all over the state of Texas and partners with top law firms across the country. If you are outside the state of Texas and need a referral to a top P.I. law firm in your area, we can gladly help you find someone close to you.
Mike Love & Associates, LLC
202 E. Lufkin Ave. Suite 201
Lufkin Texas 75901