THE AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT PROCESS
Be Careful Of What You Say At The Scene
You should always be careful of what you say at the accident scene for several reasons. First, after an accident you are under a great deal of stress and second, you may be in pain and not thinking clearly. You should never admit that you caused the accident . . . you may be wrong! Be careful of what you say and who you say it to. Only talk with the investigating officer about how the accident occurred. Don’t give opinions, stick to the facts. Remember, even simple statements like
Should I Take Photographs Of The Scene?
YES! If you are able to, take as many pictures as you can of the scene. Not only should you take pictures of the vehicles, try and take pictures of the area surrounding the accident scene such as traffic signals, stop signs, skid marks, intersections, etc… Police do not always take pictures and those pictures may be difficult to locate. Also, if possible take photographs of any injuries you or your passengers sustain. Make sure to follow up with new photographs of the injuries as bruising may develop or surgery becomes necessary. These pictures can become crucial evidence in your case.
When Should I Contact My Insurance Company?
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Stick to the facts. Don’t give opinions or guess at an answer. Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney immediately is very important.
Should I See A Doctor After An Accident Even Though I’m Not In Pain?
Anytime you are in an accident you should consider seeing a medical professional to make sure there are no hidden injuries. Also, you may not feel like your injured shortly after the accident, only to feel pain several days and even weeks later. Scheduling a doctor’s visit the day of an accident is a wise precaution. When you do see the doctor, make sure to mention any pain you have, no matter how minor. Don’t play medical expert and evaluate the importance of a symptom. Let the doctor do his/her job.
Tell Me About The Settlement Process
Depending on your injury, the settlement process can vary in length of time. In most cases, you do not want to attempt to settle your claim until you have completely recovered from your injuries or your medical condition becomes stable. This is sometimes referred to as “maximum medical improvement,” and it is, basically, a medical opinion. Your treating doctor will tell you when you reach “MMI.” If you settle your claim before you have completely recovered or know the full extent of your injuries, you will probably be barred from reopening your case because of the release you signed with the insurance company.
What if I am Unable to Settle With The Insurance Company
In the event you are unable to reach a settlement with the insurance company, you have a right to file a lawsuit against any and all parties that contributed to your injuries. With that said, it may be your only alternative and the legal process can be extremely lengthy and burdensome. For instance, the lawyers for the insurance company will probably want to take your deposition. The deposition can which can be extremely invasive into your personal life and can be quite time consuming. This process is referred to as “discovery” and it can take months and sometime years to complete.
When Must I File A Lawsuit for My Injuries?
Each state has a “statute of limitations” which establishes a period within which your car accident claim must be filed in court. In Alabama, the statute of limitations is two (2) years from the date of the accident. If you cannot settle your claim and you file a case in court as little as one day too late, your case will be dismissed and you cannot re-file it. There are no excuses and very few exceptions.
What’s the first thing you do to begin settlement negotiations? The first step is to submit a “demand package” to the insurance company for the driver that caused the accident. The settlement package includes the documents that you have gathered to prove your claim and a letter to the insurance company. In that settlement letter, you explain how the car accident happened, why their policyholder is responsible and all of the consequences of the accident — all of the ways that the accident and your injuries have affected your life. You conclude by telling the insurance adjuster how much you will accept to settle your claim. This is known as your “demand.” Your settlement letter must be well organized, thorough, authoritative and supported by evidence that proves what you are saying.
What happens after you send your demand package? The insurance company reviews the information that you submit — they call this “evaluating the claim” — and then contacts you with its response. Some call you, others send a responsive letter. This could be a couple of days later or a month later. If you don’t have a response in a month, contact the adjuster and find out why not. The insurance company’s response to your claim might be that they don’t owe you anything. They might take the position that you have not proven your right to recover for your injuries. If this happens, contact a car accident lawyer in your area. Or, if “liability” is clear, the insurance company’s response will probably be that they don’t owe you as much as you have “demanded.” The response definitely won’t be “how should we make out the check?” If it is — if the insurance company accepts your initial demand — you’ve probably asked for far too little. After the initial positions are staked out, there is normally a give-and-take, back-and-forth negotiation process. With preparation, patience and good luck, this process will lead to a car accident settlement.
What should you know about dealing with insurance claims adjusters?
One thing that can be said about all adjusters is that they don’t work for you. It is not their job to educate you or to protect your interests. To the contrary, they are trained by their employer to give you as little of the employer’s money as they can. They are commended when they settle a case for less than they were authorized to pay. Never lose sight of this fact, no matter how friendly the adjuster acts.
If you show the adjuster that you know what you’re doing, that you know the settlement value of your claim and that you are willing to be patient, you have a good chance of settling your claim for a fair amount.
What arguments should you expect the claims adjuster to make to try to defeat or minimize your claim? The insurance claims adjuster’s response to your claim will probably come from this list:
- their policyholder was not negligent, and they owe you nothing.
- you caused the car accident, and they owe you nothing.
- you were a joint cause of the car accident, and they owe you nothing — or they owe you less, depending on the law of your state.
- there wasn’t much damage done to the cars by the crash.
- you were not hurt in the accident.
- your injuries are the result of something else, such as a prior accident or pre-existing medical issue
- there is a “gap” in your treatment, where you went for a period without being treated.
- you got too much medical care — it wasn’t all necessary.
- you paid too much for your medical care — the charges are not reasonable.
- you haven’t proven that you had to miss work, or that you had to miss as much work as you did.
How do you respond to the claims adjuster’s arguments? If there is any evidence to support an argument, you will hear it from the adjuster. In support of arguments concerning the cause or severity of your injuries, the adjuster will often refer to your medical records. There’s almost always something in your medical records they can rely on. For example, if you are over 25 or so, you probably have degenerative (aging) changes in your spine, so the adjuster may try to blame that fact for your neck pain. When these arguments are made, counter them with facts. Don’t argue. Don’t get angry. Just go back and point out the facts. Show that while their version is possible, it is far more likely that a judge or jury would believe your version.
How long does the negotiation go on? There’s no absolute answer to this question. It varies. But don’t be in a hurry. Some lawyers won’t settle a case until they have had at least three conversations (or exchanges of letters) with the claims adjuster. They think that the adjuster won’t make their best offer before then. When an adjuster tells you they can’t pay any more than what they’re offering, they may merely be testing you.
If you have been in an automobile accident, please call us at (205) 833-2589 or contact us today!