When you’re injured in an auto accident, it can send your life into survival mode. Make your first priority getting medical care, but consider your financial survival as well. Serious injuries require costly treatment and follow-up care. Disabilities often diminish your ability to earn an income. During a time when you should concentrate on recovery, you struggle to buy food, keep your household bills paid, and maintain financial stability. It’s reasonable to feel concerned over whether you will get paid for your injuries, who will pay you, and when you’ll feel financial relief.
If someone else’s negligent actions caused your accident, that party should pay for the resulting damages. Unfortunately, getting paid after a car accident is often a time-consuming, frustrating process. From the moment your accident occurs, you must take critical steps to protect your legal and financial interests. You must always consider what comes next.
Protect Your Rights Immediately After an Accident
Within moments after a crash, you will begin a chain of interactions that may eventually affect your settlement recovery efforts. You may talk to the other driver, witnesses, police officers, emergency personnel, hospital employees, doctors, nurses, and insurance company representatives. Each one of these people usually remembers or documents what you say.
If you fail to think before you speak, your own words may come back to haunt you when it’s time to settle your injury claim. If you end up presenting your case to a jury, your post-accident words may find their way into the formal court record. At some point, your car accident attorney will work to protect your legal rights. Until then, however, that responsibility rests with you.
Don’t Admit Fault!
Post-accident moments are often overly excited and anxious. While you’re waiting for the police or an ambulance to arrive, it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. Never admit fault, even if you think you contributed to the accident. The other driver, witnesses, and everyone else will remember what you said. Admissions of fault often resurface years later, and they almost always affect claim settlements.
Instead of addressing fault, stick to the facts only. Talk about your speed, the traffic light, the weather, what you did, and what the other driver did. Unless you admit that the accident was your fault, you still have a chance to recover money for your damages.
Whatever you do, don’t apologize after an accident. For some people, those words are simply a polite reaction to an adverse event. However, when repeated on a formal report or by the other driver, it may sound like an admission of fault.
Pull out Your Cell Phone and Document the Accident Scene
Accident scenes begin to change immediately once the cars come to a stop. Use your cell camera to document as much as you can before the accident scene changes too much.
Documenting an accident scene is simple—just use your cell to take photos and preserve evidence.
- The accident scene: the street, intersecting roads, street signs, and traffic signals
- All vehicles’ resting positions
- Vehicle damage and points of impact
- License plate, insurance card, and driver’s license information
- Record witness names and information, and get permission to contact them.
The information you generate will help tell the story of how your accident occurred. If your injuries are too disabling to document evidence at the scene, ask a bystander for assistance. If you find no bystanders who are willing to help, remain in your vehicle and capture whatever information you can.
Seek Medical Attention
When you’re trying to prove that you were injured, the liability insurance company needs more than just your word. Even if you feel okay enough to go home, you still need a doctor to confirm your injury and validate any disabilities. When you avoid or delay treatment, you may struggle to establish the value of your injury and recover adequate compensation.
How to Recover From Your Insurance Company
To protect your legal rights and your insurer’s rights, you must turn in your claim as soon as possible. Your report will allow your insurer to investigate the accident and determine if you are liable for the other driver’s damages. It also places your insurance company on notice of any claims that you may wish to make under your policy.
Medical Bills and Income Losses
Once your insurance carrier confirms that you have the mandatory coverage, the carrier must pay the following benefits up to your coverage limits:
- 80 percent of your medical bills
- 60 percent or your lost income
- Costs of services provided on your behalf
- $5,000 death benefit
As long as you initiate treatment within 14 days following your accident, your insurance company must pay your covered benefits within 30 days after it receives them.
If you have collision coverage, which generally covers damage to your vehicle, insurers usually want to assess the damage before you seek any repairs. As each company’s process varies, your insurer’s claims adjusters will explain what they need you to do. Often, they schedule an inspection at a claim center or send an appraiser to evaluate your damages. Insurers often pay based on this initial assessment. If a body shop finds additional damage, the insurance company will evaluate the claim for a supplemental payment.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage pays you when a negligent uninsured or underinsured driver injures you in a crash. UM coverage is optional in Florida, but an insurer must offer it to you when it issues your auto policy. You have the option of accepting or rejecting the coverage.
If you choose to purchase the coverage, it may come into play under the following circumstances:
- The negligent driver has no insurance.
- The negligent driver’s insurance carrier declines coverage or becomes insolvent.
- An unidentified driver causes an accident and leaves the scene.
- The UM provision applies when your injury value exceeds the other driver’s insurance limits.
Your insurance company will pay you based on the responsible party’s legal liability. The company will settle your injury claim based on the position the other person’s insurer would have taken had the other driver had insurance.
To qualify for a UM settlement, your injury must meet the legally established PIP tort threshold, which states that your injury must involve:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
How to Recover From the Negligent Driver’s Insurance Company
The Florida Legislature passed the state’s PIP statute to minimize the number of liability claims and lawsuits. When the driver who injured you turns in a claim, his liability insurer will investigate to determine if the company owes damages on the driver’s behalf. Even if the insured individual is legally liable for your injury, the company will only pay if you meet one of the statutory PIP tort thresholds outlined above.
Liability carriers settle claims based on the insured’s coverage limit, his or her legal liability, and the injury claim’s overall value. As your insurer pays your medical bills, lost income, and other economic damages, the other driver’s liability carrier owes only general damages.
These often include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Permanent scarring
- Permanent disabilities
Presenting Your Claim
When a negligent driver notifies their auto insurer that they injured you in an accident, the insurer has a duty to investigate. Insurers also have a duty to evaluate claims and set aside a reserve for future claim payments. If police records show that you sustained serious or catastrophic injuries, it becomes obvious that you have a valid liability claim. That doesn’t mean the other driver’s insurance company will contact you to make an offer.
Liability insurance companies often follow an unspoken protocol. They wait for a demand before they make an offer. They realize that injured people sometimes decide that they don’t want to make a claim. They also realize that injured people sometimes miss their statute of limitations. If they don’t settle their claim or file a lawsuit in time, they lose their right to make a liability claim.
Either way, insurance companies often leave everything up to the injured person. If you want the liability insurer to pay you for your injuries, you must initiate contact. When you contact the insurer, you must ask for a settlement. The insurer will expect you to present your medical bills, doctor reports, and other information to substantiate your claim. You must also explain why you believe you’re entitled to the compensation included in your claim.
Settling Your Claim
You have a right to represent yourself during settlement negotiations, but it’s not usually a good idea. Liability insurers understand that while you likely can easily explain your injuries, pain, suffering, and disabilities, you probably don’t understand what they’re worth. If insurance companies offer you a large cash settlement, you won’t necessarily recognize when they’re undervaluing your claim.
When you negotiate with a liability claim representative, you’re dealing with someone who negotiates injury claims every day. It’s that individual’s job to reserve a claim based on the potential payout. It’s also his or her job to save as much of the reserve as possible. Consider this before you enter settlement negotiations without legal representation.
Get Paid Even If the Insurance Company Denies Your Claim
Insurance companies don’t always treat you fairly. They often realize that if they refuse to offer you a fair settlement, you might not want to go through the formal legal process to achieve a more favorable outcome. The scenario goes a bit differently when you consult with a car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident. Insurance companies understand that attorneys understand the issues and won’t walk away from an unfair denial or settlement offer.
An attorney will still help you protect your legal rights even after an insurance company rejects your claim. If your attorney believes that continued negotiations will prove unproductive, he or she may recommend filing a lawsuit immediately.
Filing a Lawsuit
When a car accident attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf, he or she will name you and your spouse as plaintiffs and list all viable parties as defendants. Potential defendants may include the driver and the owner of the other car that caused the accident.
A lawsuit opens up your personal information to a formal process called discovery. The following information relates to the discovery process:
- Interrogatories: Attorneys create lists of questions that formally ask for your personal information, medical history, bill totals, wage loss totals, vehicle information, and other details.
- Document production: Defense attorneys usually request medical bills, doctor reports, and other written documents.
- Depositions: Attorneys conduct a formal Q&A session while a court reporter records every word. Attorneys often depose the injured person, both drivers, passengers, witnesses, doctors, and anyone else involved in the accident. Attorneys sometimes request video depositions.
- Independent medical examination: Despite having credible medical records, defense attorneys often request an evaluation by a doctor chosen by the defense.
To avoid a docket backlog, judges usually insist that plaintiffs and defendants try to settle their cases outside of court. Courts may even mandate settlement conferences in an attempt to bring parties together for meaningful negotiation. If this works, the defendant’s insurer will issue a settlement check, and the plaintiff(s) will dismiss the lawsuit.
Florida courts often mandate mediation as an alternate settlement process. Mediation is facilitated negotiation in a relaxed setting that’s away from the courthouse. Defendants and plaintiffs communicate through a trained mediator. The mediator listens to the case information and only shares what each party wants the other to know. Mediation doesn’t always end with a settlement, but it establishes a mood of cooperation that often helps move the settlement process forward.
After an accident, insurers and their attorneys have time and opportunities to settle your claim. Cases may still go to trial if the parties can’t reach an agreement. A trial provides one last opportunity for plaintiffs and defendants to present evidence and argue their cases.
In a jury trial, both attorneys interview jurors and decide which ones seem most receptive to their arguments. Once a jury is seated, both sides present evidence and testimony that support their positions on liability, injuries, and damages. When all parties conclude, the jury decides and announces its verdict. If you prefer to avoid a jury trial, your attorney can request a bench trial, in which a judge decides. Plaintiffs and defendants often settle cases before concluding a trial.
Defendants sometimes appeal trial results when they feel an award is too high. When defendants appeal, the final resolution may take years. If you receive a jury award, and the defendants don’t appeal the judgment, the attorneys will execute releases and dismissal entries. The liability insurer will issue a settlement check to your attorney, and your attorney will pay you according to your representation agreement.
Do You Need an Attorney to Recover For Your Injury Costs?
If an auto accident injured you, you should understand that getting paid isn’t a simple process. To present a successful car accident claim, you must overcome complex statutory issues, and car accident attorneys seek to resolve their clients’ injury claims with as few complications as possible. When it’s time to negotiate, mediate, or litigate their clients’ cases, car accident attorneys will prepare a comprehensive strategy well ahead of time.
When you schedule a legal consultation, you don’t have to commit to presenting a claim or filing a lawsuit. You tell the attorney about your accident and injuries and listen to your legal options. You decide to move forward when you’re ready.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814