I was in a car wreck and the insurance company sent me some money for my property damage and pain and suffering, but I still have more medical bills, and my car still does not run right. What can I do?
This is a common question asked by prospective clients. The short answer is: it depends.
When you have been involved in a car accident which was not your fault, the two major type of potentially recoverable damages are property damages (PD) and bodily injury damages (BI).
When your car sustains damage after a wreck, the insurance company will send a trained adjuster out to estimate the damage (PD). If your vehicle is damaged beyond what it’s worth, the carrier will “total it out”, i.e., pay you the cost of replacing your car based on its make, model, year, pre-collision condition and comparables. “Bluebook” estimates are persuasive but not dispositive.
Many of my clients are unsatisfied with the estimate and disagree with it. In that case, there are a couple of things you can do. First, you can seek a second opinion and get a higher estimate and submit to the carrier. Of course, the second estimate may not be higher, and, indeed, it could be lower —- thereby weakening your argument for higher PD compensation.
Secondly, you can sue. If the car’s value is under $7500.00 you can sue in magistrate’s court in SC. Magistrate Court is a good option as the costs of bringing an action is low. You may not need an attorney (indeed, most attorneys will not work for this amount – one third or higher of $7,500.00), and the court costs are usually very reasonable – maybe less than one hundred dollars. If the dispute exceeds $7500.00, then you may have to sue in the circuit court which can become expensive.
My clients sometimes complain that the insurance company is not taking into account any special modifications they may have made to the vehicle, such as a sound system, special wheels, and so forth. Unfortunately, insurance companies will not usually pay for damaged modifications.
The most nettlesome problem arises if the client has already signed a release for their property damage. Basically, a release is an agreement between the client and the insurance company whereby the Client or the injured party agrees not to sue the person who caused the collision in exchange for a certain amount of money. Unless a third party has forged your signature and you can prove it or you were forced to the sign the release, or you can show that your signature was otherwise involuntary, a signed release is presumptively valid and very difficult to legally defeat. Signing a release may also extinguish your right to receive any further money for bodily injury, depending on the language of the release. So do not sign anything until you have seen an attorney.
I have seen an insurance company separately pay for medical bills and then issue a check for all other BI damages once the client finishes treatment. But the usual practice is to pay the client only once she has finished treating with her doctors. If you receive a large check accompanied by a release and you don’t have a lawyer, STOP RIGHT THERE, and call me at 233.2000, so I can at least explain your rights to you and try to give you an idea what your case may actually be worth. However, note that your case probably hasn’t been “worked up” to fairly represent your actual damages, but I can give you an idea.
Chances are the carrier is lowballing on her first offer to settle the BI. Insurance companies love to waylay clients before they retain legal representation hoping to pay as little as possible in the hope that the client does not know what she is doing, which, to be honest, she really doesn’t. Albeit, this may be hard medicine, but I prescribe it from concern, not animus. Laypersons are not trained in the law and usually miss vital information that can increase the value of their claim. Just as lawyers should not repair their own electrical problems, non-attorneys should leave the law to responsible lawyers.
Assuming that you are conscious and able to move about, you’re likely to be stunned and confused. If you smell smoke your vehicle may be on fire. In that case, you don’t have a lot of time. Check to see if your passengers are conscious and able to move. If so, exit the car and extract the passengers carefully as they may have suffered neck and spine injuries. You don’t want to aggravate any injuries, but it is necessary to get them to the safety before the car burns.
If you are certain that your car is not likely to catch fire, stay put and call 911. Tell the operator where you are. Do not tell them the facts of the case yet as chances are you may not know all the facts at this point, and you don’t want to make a mistake.
If the car is drivable and its position poses a hazard to yourself or other drivers and passengers, by all means, move it to a safe location – usually beside the road in the breakdown lane.
If your vehicle’s location does not pose a danger, say put and wait for help. Keep your phone on. If anyone is bleeding and you don’t have to move them, apply pressure with a piece of cloth or clothing.
If you are mobile and you don’t have to take care of anyone near you, check on the other driver and her passengers. Ask them if they are bleeding. If so, apply pressure. If not, do not move them. You do not want to make matters worse. On the other hand, you don’t want someone to expire if first aid could’ve saved her.
If the other driver and her passengers are able, and only if they are able, ask for their names and contact information. Don’t forget to get that information from your passengers as well as they are also witnesses to the accident. If there are any witnesses not involved in the accident, i.e., bystanders, do the same. This information could be very important if a question liability or other issues should arise.
Also, exchange insurance information. Make it a habit to keep paper and pens in your vehicle for this and other contingencies. When help arrives, direct them to the people who are injured.
After the injured are cared for, the police will probably want you to make a statement. If you have been drinking or taking drugs or both, politely state you refuse to answer any questions and that you want a lawyer. Even if you are not under arrest that should be enough to back the police off. Always be polite and say, “with all due respect,” to official personnel.
Refuse to take any field sobriety test, breathalyzer or blood test.
Then call our office call me at 233-2000 or 591-1114 immediately.
Even if DUI is not an issue, you still must be careful what you say because any statement you make could be used against you in any future proceeding. Have your license and registration ready.
After her investigation, the responding officer will give you what’s called a form FR – 10 – Notice of Requirement. Make several Xerox copies of this document when you get a chance. It contains important insurance information as well as the responding officer’s opinion as to who was at fault for the accident.
Note, however, that this is only the officer’s opinion. Unless she saw the wreck she’s really in no credible position to render an opinion. Also, remember that the responding officer is likely not an accident reconstruction expert. But the fact is that in most cases the officer’s opinion regarding liability is given weight.
If you retain a personal injury attorney he will also need the FR-10 for his file.
If you have been in a car accident, you should go to the emergency room, even if you don’t think you’ve been hurt. After a traumatic event, many people are hurt and don’t even know it. This is due to an influx of adrenaline which masks the pain your injury causes – a survivor response that facilitates your escaping dangerous situations. It’s when you feel safe that the adrenaline rush subsides, and the pain “blossoms” as it were.
A thorough examination by the ER staff should rule out any major injuries. If, however, you’re still feeling pain in any part of your body, schedule an appointment with your family doctor immediately, and if you don’t have a family doctor, call us, and we will get you the medical care that you need.
If you been have been injured as a result of a car wreck call us for a free consultation: we’ll explain your rights and what services we can provide.
In the meantime, remember to always drive defensively, and never drink and drive.
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