Receiving payment after a car accident can be frustrating and time-consuming. But, if you take the right steps as you go along the claims process with the help of the right car accident attorney, you can make it somewhat less painful and a little faster.
Take All the Right Steps After the Accident
The first thing is to make sure that you do everything you should do right after the accident:
- Don’t leave the scene—doing so could even be a felony
- Make sure the police file an incident report—some insurance policies won’t pay without it
- Document and record everything—photos and dashcam recordings are your best friend
- Get contact information from any potential witnesses
- Get contact and insurance information from the other drivers
- Seek medical treatment as soon as you can if emergency medical staff does not report to the scene
- Report the accident to your insurance company
- Keep all your bills and receipts
- Keep track of lost work time
- Keep up with medical treatment and office visits
- Avoid the internet—anything you say about your accident can come back to haunt you
- Don’t accept the first offer—often, insurance companies will lowball it
- Get a knowledgeable and experienced attorney—an initial consultant and case evaluation is usually free
First Of All—Your Car Insurance
You need to start the payment process by working closely with your insurance company. How to do that depends to some extent on whether you are in a fault or no-fault state. You will need to be much more hands-on cooperative with your insurance company in a no-fault state. For example, the insurance company may require you to visit one of their doctors. Nonetheless, generally working with rather than against your insurance company is likely to speed up the process of getting paid.
In A “Fault” State, The At-Fault Driver’s Insurance
If you believe one or more of the other drivers in your car accident caused your damages, you may claim your losses against that person’s insurance.
To support your claim, you should provide:
- Notes you may have made about the accident
- Contact information from witnesses
- Photos of the scene
- Repair quotes
- Witness statements
- Invoices, receipts, and bills
- Proof of lost work time
These documents will assist the insurance company in processing your claim and will be valuable if litigation becomes necessary. If you retain counsel—and you should—make sure that the attorney reviews any documents you plan to submit to the other side’s insurance company before you send them.
In A No-Fault State, Your Own Insurance
Your own insurance company pays for your losses in a no-fault state, no matter who was at fault. Your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance pays for your medical expenses, lost income, any services you have to obtain to replace your previous services, and the damages done to the property of others. It will not pay for repairs to your car unless you have separately included such coverage in your policy. You remain free to seek compensation for those damages through a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company or litigation.
Many states allow you to make a liability claim or pursue litigation against the other at-fault driver if your medical bills exceed a certain amount or if you have a sufficiently severe injury. Examples would include medical bills above $5,000 or broken bones resulting from the accident.
Some of the factors that can result in permission to sue in various no-fault states include:
- Permanent limitations on the use of a body part
- Material loss of use of body function or system
- Full disability for at least 90 days
If you qualify for filing a suit under these exceptions, you may file a lawsuit against any at-fault drivers. This suit can demand compensation for all of your losses, including pain and suffering, which is not usually available under no-fault coverage.
Remember, in a no-fault insurance claim; you have to cooperate with your insurance company. They may require you to give a recorded statement to the company. In addition, they may require you to submit to a medical exam performed by the insurance company’s designated physician. If you don’t cooperate, your insurance company may have reason to deny your claim.
The Manufacturer Of One Of The Vehicles
Accidents don’t always happen due to the negligence of one of the drivers. Sometimes, something went wrong with one of the vehicles or was wrong when the manufacturer built it. In such cases, you may be able to file a products liability suit against the manufacturer of the at-fault driver’s vehicle. A strategic consideration here is that these companies often have significantly higher insurance coverage than individual drivers. You may be able to receive a much larger payment in the event of such a claim.
The Manufacturer Of Parts In One Of The Vehicles
Vehicles are not born whole from the universe. Each car consists of a lot of parts, usually manufactured by a lot of different companies. So, if the cause of your accident turns out to be a fault with the vehicle, you may have a cause of action against the vehicle’s maker and the maker of some of the parts of the vehicle. If that is true, then the same higher coverage limits are likely to be available. On the other hand, large car companies and component companies will also have large contingents of lawyers who will oppose your claim.
Basis Of Manufacturer Liability
Claims against a manufacturer are likely to be filed as a product liability case instead of or in addition to your personal injury claim. The maker of the vehicle at issue may have been negligent in the way they manufactured the vehicle. If so, you will then sue for your injuries based on that negligence. On the other hand, it is also possible that you can pursue a claim of a breach of warranty or strict liability.
To recover from the manufacturer of the vehicle or its parts, you will have to prove that the maker failed to exercise due care in the manufacturing process.
Factors for what is due care will include:
- Custom in the industry
- Standards imposed by law
- Consumer experience
- Foreseeability and likelihood of your injury
- Severity and frequency of similar injuries caused by the product
- Expense and feasibility of eliminating or warning about the defect
You might hold the manufacturer liable for:
- Failing to properly label the vehicle or part
- Failing to warn of dangers in the proper use
- Failing to provide proper instructions
- Failing to design adequately
- Failing to inspect adequately
- Failing to test adequately
A warranty—whether express or implied—indicates that the maker of a product states that it is fit for the purpose they intended you to use it for. In a breach of warranty case, you do not need to prove negligence. Instead, you must prove that the product as manufactured did not meet the standards of the warranty made by the manufacturer. Generally, you must show that the maker knew how you intended to use the vehicle or the part and that it was fit for that use.
The theory of strict liability for product defects arises out of the public policy that, where the law can show no negligence to have contributed to the injury caused by the product, it is the better social policy for the maker to bear the liability than the user. This position stems from the idea that, as a manufacturer, the make of the product is more capable of preventing or eliminating defects. Moreover, since the maker profits from the product, the liability more appropriately rests on that party.
Car Repair Companies
Cars and their parts also have to be repaired. If you can show that the vehicle that hit and injured you had recently been in a repair shop, you may also be able to establish that the shop negligently performed the repairs. If the shoddy repairs caused your injuries, this is another source of funds for your recovery.
Road Maintenance Issues
Sometimes an accident results from a failure in the mandatory maintenance of roads. Companies that collect money to maintain and repair roads can be liable for your damages. However, proving liability is difficult because so many parties are potentially liable.
The conditions that might affect and injure you include:
- Oil and chip
- Shoulder problems
- Construction zone issues
- Icy or snowy unplowed roads
- Wet Roads
Frequently, the responsible party for these conditions will be the governmental entity supposed to maintain the roads where your accident happened. This is not, however, always the case.
Governmental bodies have a reasonable amount of time to discover and repair poor road conditions. If they hadn’t previously discovered the issue that caused your accident, they probably won’t be liable for it unless you can prove the hazard has been around so long that the governmental entity should have known about it.
Ultimately, to win against the government, you have to prove:
- The government knew or should have known about the poor road condition, and
- The government did not repair the poor road condition within a reasonable time
Construction or Maintenance Company
On the other hand, the government may retain the services of a third-party construction or maintenance company to be responsible for the road on which your accident occurred.
Given the risks at such sites, motorists may:
- Collide with a construction vehicle
- Collide with a maintenance vehicle
- Be hit by falling debris
- Suffer tire damage from debris and construction materials on the road
- Suffer windshield damage from gravel on the road
- Collide with another vehicle due to poor traffic control by construction or maintenance workers
To recover from these third-party commercial entities, you must prove that they failed to observe the degree of attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have exercised. You must also be able to prove that the company should have been able to reasonably foresee the potential damage or injury to you and your vehicle.
Owners Of Commercial Vehicles Or Their Companies
Sometimes, if the vehicle that hit you was a commercial vehicle such as a delivery truck, you might have additional options for recovery. The owner of the commercial vehicle that struck you may also be liable for your damages. The driver of a commercial vehicle like a delivery truck is an agent for the company that owns the truck. The truck-owner is a principal and, as such, is liable for the actions of its agents in pursuit of their agency.
In other words, if the commercial vehicle driver was doing what he or she was supposed to be doing, then the owner of the vehicle would be liable for the accident. The company may try to argue that the driver was acting outside the scope of the agency by being on a “frolic and detour,” but this is not easy to demonstrate.
If there was a commercial vehicle involved in your accident, the amount of insurance money available for your recovery might increase exponentially. Federal law requires most trucking companies, for example, to carry a minimum of $750,000 in coverage for auto accidents. In a no-fault state, you may pursue certain claims against the third-party owner.
Get A Car Accident Attorney
One of the best ways to ensure that you get paid for your car accident is to work with experienced and knowledgeable car accident attorneys. While attorneys generally don’t “specialize” in the way that doctors do, they do tend to concentrate their practices in specific areas and develop levels of skill and expertise in those areas.
As you can see from this discussion, getting paid for a car accident is far more subtle and complex than just filing an insurance claim. It is well worth your while to consult with an attorney focusing on car accidents, or even more closely on the type of accident you had, for a free initial visit and case evaluation.
Even if you choose not to retain counsel, the advice and information you receive in this conversation will greatly assist you in handling your case. More importantly, however, if you do retain counsel, much of the stress and complications of recovering from your injuries will be taken from your hands and placed into those of the professionals skilled at handling them.