Hurt in a car accident
March 02, 2009
Hurt in a Car Accident? Take Advantage of Your Insurance Benefits
Every day, under all sorts of circumstances, people are injured in motor vehicle collisions. Sometimes they are minor, sometimes major. The collisions are seldom caused intentionally; they are most often accidents caused by a driver’s negligence.
What follows a collision with an injury is often a confusing series of events that the average citizen is neither trained, nor particularly eager, to endure. In most instances, one or more insurance companies, often with multiple claims adjusters, get involved. And, understandably, these insurance professionals are carefully trained to ensure that their company pays out as little as possible.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll come out of the collision, and the insurance process, reasonably unscathed. But often people make simple mistakes in the process which greatly reduce their likelihood of obtaining a fair recovery for the injuries and damages they have suffered.
Here are some very basic tips for improving the likelihood that you’ll be treated fairly by the insurance company (whose job it is to minimize the amount of money it has to pay you). This is certainly not an exhaustive list. A competent personal injury attorney should always be consulted when the insurance process becomes confusing. But these basic concepts should always be kept in mind to make the personal injury claim process less difficult.
1. Know Your Auto Insurance Coverage.
I am frequently amazed by how much people pay for insurance coverage and how little those same people know about that coverage. While insurance policies are often complicated-looking, in reality the basic insurance coverage concepts are fairly simple. And by the way, your insurance agent should explain your coverage to you at the time you purchase your policy and should continue to update you as long as he or she is your agent. If your agent isn’t providing this information, get another agent! You pay good money for auto insurance coverage, know what that coverage is. Not knowing your auto coverage is a mistake to avoid.
Here are brief descriptions of the insurance coverages which apply if you’ve been injured:
When you buy an auto insurance policy in Oregon. Personal Injury Protection or “PIP” coverage is mandatory – every Oregon auto policy has PIP coverage. What is PIP? PIP pays your medical bills and lost earnings, up to your PIP limit (and subject to other limitations). Think of PIP as a special health insurance and wage loss insurance policy YOU buy for YOURSELF for when YOU are injured in a car accident.
PIP applies whether you or someone else is at fault for an accident. PIP doesn’t care who was at fault, it simply pays your medical bills and lost earnings when you are injured in a car accident. If you’re injured in a car accident, tell the first medical facility you see to bill you auto insurance carrier under your PIP coverage, they will open a claim and you can use that claim number for all of your medical providers. Note that PIP pays your medical bills and lost wages only; it does not cover your damages for inconvenience, pain, suffering, loss of quality of life, or any other general or non-economic damages.
Bodily Injury Liability
If you’re injured by someone else’s negligence, that other person’s Bodily Injury Liability coverage (referred to as “BI”) should compensate you for all losses reasonably associated with your injuries. Ultimately, the at-fault driver’s policy will pay your medical expenses, lost earnings, and all non-economic damages, including your pain and suffering.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Probably the most misunderstood coverage is Uninsured/Underinsured coverage (“UM/UIM”). This is coverage you buy to cover yourself and your passengers in the even you are injured by another driver who may not have insurance or whose insurance limits may be insufficient to fully compensate you for your injuries and related losses.
In Oregon. you UM/UIM limits apply only to the extent they exceed the at-fault driver’s BI limits. With a significant percentage of the population driving with minimum BI limits, or even worse, uninsured altogether, it is a very good practice to maintain UM/UIM coverage in an amount sufficient to compensate you fully in the event you become seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision. This is no place to skimp!
2. Document and Preserve Everything.
If you are injured in a car crash and seek compensation for your injuries, you will at some point need to demonstrate certain key facts to an insurance adjuster, or maybe even to a jury. You will need to demonstrate the severity of the impact to you and your vehicle. You will need to demonstrate that the accident was indeed the other person’s fault. You will need to demonstrate the nature, severity, extent, and duration of your injuries. You will need to demonstrate the amount of the financial impact caused by your injuries. And you will need to demonstrate the effect your injuries had on your life. These are things that can easily be documented.
Documenting and preserving evidence is often overlooked. But failing to document and preserve evidence is possibly the biggest mistake you can make if you’ve been injured in a car crash! Don’t make this mistake – follow these simple guidelines.
· Jot down the location, time, and circumstances of the accident as soon as possible – make sure it is fresh in your memory. Keep your notes.
· Take good photographs of the accident scene, your vehicle, and the other party’s vehicle. Don’t skimp, use a decent camera and make sure the photos show what you intend for them to show. Keep your photos.
· Tell your medical providers all of your symptoms, every time you see them – the doctor won’t write your symptoms in his her chart notes if you don’t communicate to the doctor what those symptoms are. Communication helps the doctor document your injuries.
· If you have visible injuries – bruises, cuts, fractures, scars, abrasions, stitches, etc. – take photos of those injuries and continue to do so as the injuries heal. Everyone has heard the old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words”. Keep good photos of your visible injuries.
· Keep track of the dates you miss work. A simple entry on a note pad is just fine.
· Keep a daily diary of your symptoms and how they affect your life. Were you incapacitated and in pain on a certain date? Write it down. Did you have to hire someone to do something you usually do such as cut the grass or clean the house?
Write it down. Did you miss an event because of your injury? Write it down. Write down the dates and times these events occur. These are things you will forget over time. If you keep a diary, you can refer to it later when you are negotiating with the insurance company.
By documenting the circumstances and facts of the accident and your injuries, as they occur. you create a record which will allow you to prove your injuries and be compensated for them.
3. Cooperate Appropriately.
Cooperation with YOUR Insurance Company
Under the terms of your auto policy, you are required to cooperate with the company to assist in the investigation of the claim. What does this mean? If your insurance company asks you to give a statement, give a statement. Don’t provide more information than is asked for and don’t volunteer information that isn’t asked for. Don’t conceal information, if it is reasonably requested. If your insurance company wants to photograph or inspect your vehicle, let them. If they ask for copies of your accident-related medical records or bills, give them copies. Simply provide the information that is requested, be truthful, and respond within a reasonable time. If you are confused or feel the insurance company is overreaching or requesting more than it reasonably need to investigate the claim, speak with a lawyer immediately. Similarly, if you have been denied coverage, speak with a lawyer. Failing to cooperate may jeopardize your coverage, but giving too much information can hurt your legitimate claim – a lawyer will know when your insurance company has crossed the line.
Cooperation with the AT-FAULT PARTY’S Insurance Company
When someone else has injured you in a car accident, that person’s BI insurer will often contact you soon after the accident and, they hope, before you hire a lawyer. They are trained to gather evidence which can be used later to help them try and prove you weren’t injured, or weren’t injured severely, or are faking your injuries. The other person’s BI claims adjuster may try and get you to give a recorded statement or send him your medical records or sign an authorization allowing him to speak with your doctors or your employer. Providing the BI adjuster too much information can be a mistake. Remember that your injury claim will ultimately hinge on proving that the other party was at fault and that you were injured and suffered a loss. Conversely, the other party’s insurance company will look for evidence that its policyholder was not at fault and that you are not injured.
You have no legal obligation to cooperate with the at-fault party’s insurance company. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should hang up when they call. But in most instances it is best to withhold your medical bills and records and refuse to provide the at-fault party’s insurance company with written authorizations to obtain your medical and employment records until you are entirely ready to wrap-up your claim. Again, the safe practice here is to consult an attorney before handing anything over to the at-fault party’s insurance company.
4. Seek Appropriate Medical Care For Your Injuries.
If you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, seek appropriate medical care. Where the injuries are particularly acute, go to an urgent care or emergency medical care facility before doing anything else. Insurance companies look at your medical records to determine the nature and extent of your injuries. If you don’t see a doctor and tell the doctor about your injuries, the insurance company will argue that you weren’t injured. Under most circumstances, the insurance claims adjuster will believe a physician’s chart before he’ll believe your unsubstantiated statement that you were in severe pain, but couldn’t take the time to see a doctor. That’s just the way it is; I don’t make the rules.
Following a muscular or orthopedic injury due to an auto collision, if you become involved in ongoing care, such as physical therapy or chiropractic care, do these simple things:
· Make your appointments. Almost nothing hurts your case as much as missed appointments and gaps in treatment. Physicians know the appropriate frequency of treatment and schedule you for treatment according to the severity of your injuries. If you miss your appointments, the insurance company will point that out as evidence that you are not injured.
· Accurately, fully, and honestly report your symptoms to your doctor and your physical therapist. Your doctor’s chart is the primary supporting evidence for your injury claim. When the information is complete and unembellished, your likelihood of a fair evaluation of your injury claim is greatly increased. Help yourself, be thorough and honest.
· When your symptoms improve, tell your doctor and your physical therapist. If your symptoms are not improving, tell your doctor and your physical therapist. This will assist your treating physician to determine whether he needs to decreases the frequency of your treatment or whether he may need to refer you out to a specialist.
5. When In Doubt, Hire A Lawyer.
Okay, you’ve been waiting for this one. This isn’t a sales pitch so much as a warning. Navigating the personal injury claims process is not simple. Insurance companies spend billions of dollars hiring and training good adjusters, investigators, and lawyers to minimize the amount of money they pay out in claims. There is nothing inherently evil, unscrupulous, or dishonest about this – we operate under an economic system where corporate profits are a good thing. Insurance is a fact of life in our economy; without it, business would come to a screeching halt.
Good personal injury lawyers are trained and educated to maximize monetary recovery for their injured clients. Lawyers know the time limits and notice requirements which can mean the difference between an injured individual obtaining a fair recovery or being legally shut out. Lawyers also know what should and shouldn’t be said and done prior to submitting a claim for settlement. And almost all good personal injury attorneys only charge a fee for their services when they recover money for their injured clients. Personal injury lawyers spend many hours every year in continuing legal education to stay at the cutting edge of insurance law, medicine, and claim evaluation. The average person may have just enough time to learn his own profession; not many have the time to learn how to evaluate, negotiate and litigate a personal injury claim.
Paul Vames has been a personal injury lawyer his entire legal career. He worked for insurance companies for 12 years defending personally injury cases, and he now brings his expertise and insider knowledge to the plaintiffs side where he vigioously pursues full compensation for his clients. You can view Pauls complete biography here. To find out more about the Harris Law Firm, visit our website .