Getting involved in a serious car accident can be costly, especially if you are severely injured.
Paying for medical bills after an accident (including chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, and even potentially surgery and aftercare) can be extremely difficult. All of these costs stack up while your income may be suffering from time off of work.
To be properly compensated for your injuries and economic damages, it is important to do your research. Even before you hire a lawyer, it may be a good idea to learn more about what factors affect the value of your claim. This article can help fill you in.
In the meantime, if you are out of work and suffering financially, a loan on your car accident claim can help.
What Type of Insurance Coverage Do You Have?
Car insurance laws vary from state to state.
In many states, those injured in car wrecks can legally recover compensation from the insurance policy of the at-fault driver.
A few states are classified as no-fault jurisdictions. In these states, accident victims must first approach their own car insurance provider to meet the costs of any injuries. Only if injuries are especially severe is it possible to look to the party at fault for compensation.
Some states operate a hybrid system. In these states, drivers can purchase optional no-fault insurance covering them in the event of an accident, or they can opt-out and hope the at-fault party has adequate insurance in place for any accident that happens. In states operating this system of insurance, you are offered the option of purchasing or declining no-fault insurance when you first insure your vehicle.
No-fault insurance is also known as limited tort. If you are injured in an auto accident, you file a claim against your insurer for out-of-pocket costs associated with your accident, such as lost wages and medical bills.
The drawback of this limited tort option is that you will be prohibited from seeking damages for pain and suffering – known as non-economic damages – from the at-fault party. This restriction does not apply if your injuries are serious – impairment of a core bodily function, or permanent disfigurement, for instance.
Opting out of no-fault insurance is known as the full tort option, and this option limits you to seek damages from the at-fault party in an accident. The risk you run is that the other party has insufficient insurance coverage and inadequate financial resources to meet all your costs.
Who Was at Fault?
Regardless of the insurance system in place, you can only take legal action for the damages you sustain in a car wreck if another party was at fault.
Every driver has a legal duty to comply with the rules of the road. Violating these laws – from speeding or running red lights to driving an unsafe vehicle or driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs – and then causing an accident means the driver will be legally liable for the damages caused to others in this crash.
Not every accident stems from the reckless or careless actions of another driver. Some accidents occur due to mechanical defects in a vehicle. Others spring from poor road conditions.
Who will pay for your damages if a variable like uneven roads, misleading signage, or mechanical defect leads to an accident?
In the case of road maintenance-related issues, the entities responsible for maintaining and repairing these roads, or for erecting signage, are bound by certain standards of care.
The same applies to auto manufacturers when it comes to defective products leading to vehicles becoming potentially dangerous.
How Can I Prove Other Parties Are at Fault?
To recover compensation from the at-fault party in a car accident, you and your attorney will need to prove that the other party acted in a way that violated a duty of care and harmed you. You must also prove it was the violation that caused the accident, and that the injuries.
How do you and your lawyer go about proving these core elements of your personal injury claim, then?
There are several methods, but they all hinge on what you do immediately following the accident.
Call the police
If you are involved in a car accident, you should call the local police. The law compels you to do this if the accident causes an injury or death, or if the accident renders the vehicle undrivable.
If the above conditions do not apply, you should still file a report with the local police no more than five days after the accident.
The police can coordinate emergency responders and can also secure the accident scene. Beyond this, the police can also start building a record of the evidence that could prove invaluable when you later need to enforce your legal rights to compensation.
When the police conduct their preliminary investigation of the scene, they will undertake the following:
- Record who was involved in the accident
- Determine how the accident happened
- Speak with drivers, passengers, and eyewitnesses
- Note the time and location of the accident
- Document any contributory factors (limited vision due to darkness or weather conditions)
The police will also establish whether alcohol or substances had any part in the accident, testing drivers as required.
Make sure you get a copy of this police report.
Take photos of the scene of the accident. These can more clearly demonstrate cause than a written account, clearly showing the points of impact on vehicles involved, and also where they end up on the road.
Photograph the area surrounding the car wreck as well as all the vehicles involved.
Take pictures of damaged property, damaged barriers, obstacles, and skid marks.
Photograph your injuries and the injuries of any passengers in your vehicle. Injuries can help to determine the cause of an accident. Neck and back injuries are the common result of accidents where your vehicle is rear-ended.
Swap information with the other drivers
Exchange contact details and insurance information with all other drivers involved in the accident.
Swapping details will streamline filing a subsequent insurance claim.
See your doctor immediately
If your injuries are not so severe that you need to get to an emergency room by ambulance, you should still schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible after the accident.
Your doctor can examine you to check you have no other injuries caused by the accident.
Notes from your doctor can also be used as evidence if you need to later prove the nature and scope of your injuries, whether to a jury or to a claims adjuster.
Other Methods of Determining Fault
If a police report or photographs of the accident scene are not considered conclusive proof of who caused the car wreck, you might need to gather supplementary evidence.
First, check if any surveillance cameras in the area recorded footage of the accident or the scene of the accident.
If this proves unsuccessful, consider hiring a forensic expert to conduct an analysis.
Who Will Pay Me?
When another party is deemed at fault for an auto accident resulting in your injuries, how can you get the compensation you deserve?
You should retain a car accident injury lawyer. Hiring an experienced local personal injury lawyer is one of the best ways to maximize the value of your car accident claim. They will interview you and then collect any evidence related to the accident. The attorney will also identify all parties who might have a legal liability for damages caused to you.
Your lawyer will then issue a demand to all at-fault parties. This demand typically triggers negotiations between the insurance company and your attorney. This should result in a settlement payment to you from the insurer.
If the insurance provider fails to offer a reasonable settlement and if they reject your counteroffer, you could take legal action in court. Usually, the threat of this course of action prompts initially rigid insurers to make a more reasonable settlement offer.
If you fail to get a decent offer, you can pursue a damages award in court from a jury.
Will I Get Compensation if My Loved One Is Killed in an Auto Accident?
If your loved one is killed in a car accident, the personal representative of your deceased loved one’s estate can pursue legal action for damages.
This takes the form of a wrongful death action seeking to recover damages that your deceased loved one would have recovered themselves had they survived the accident.
This type of action can seek compensation for the following:
- Funeral expenses
- Burial expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of expected future income
- Loss of consortium (care or companionship)