Many of you that will read this paper may have never been in a Motor Vehicle collision (MVC) and thank goodness for that! But, for you that have, you may have found yourself feeling lost and confused, unsure of your rights, and fearful of being taken advantage of in regards to a personal injury claim.
The purpose of this guide is to provide direction during this turbulent time. A time when you may be facing serious injury, dealing with property damage, or may be unable to work.
Let the Accident Team at Corrective Chiropractic help alleviate some of the chaos that you may be experiencing.
WHAT DO I DO?
First and foremost, seek medical attention immediately if necessary. If anyone is injured, call the paramedics immediately. Then, Personal Injury claims typically follow this flow.
REPORT THE ACCIDENT:
In North Carolina, it is against the law not to report an accident that results in injury, damage to property, or death. Once you obtain a copy of the report, check to ensure that the details reported are correct.
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION:
If you are injured due to the negligence of someone else, you have the right to have your injuries evaluated and/or treated if necessary. Don’t downplay or underestimate your injuries. Untreated injuries, no matter how minor, can worsen if not evaluated and treated correctly.
CONTACT THE INSURANCE COMPANIES:
As the driver, you have a responsibility to report the accident to your insurance company. If you are not on your own car, report the collision to the insurance company of the person that owns the car. Using the accident report and your own knowledge of the crash to create both, a property damage claims as well as, an injury claim if necessary.
WORK TOWARD SETTLEMENT:
Once your injuries have stabilized or recovery has been met, it is time to start the settlement process. Gather all of the information and medical bills compiled and present them to the insurance company.
CONSULT AN ATTORNEY:
It is not MANDATORY that you retain an attorney. Generally, the amount, if any, that using an attorney will increase your settlement by is only between 5% and 15%. Taking into account, by subtracting their fees, you’re back at, or below the offer. However, if your case is complex, or if negotiations have stalled, you may want to consult a personal injury attorney for advice.
STEP 1: Report the Accident
In the event of an automobile crash, after initially securing your safety, and the safety of others involved; the first thing is to report the accident. As a matter of fact, N.C.G.S. § 20-166 states that failing to do so immediately can result in a felony or a misdemeanor charge.
Upon reporting the crash to the proper authorities, an officer should come to the scene to investigate the accident and to interview those involved. Stay with your vehicle if possible. Avoid admitting fault, or making any statements during that time that may be used against you later.
The report from the officer’s investigation will valuable information regarding the collision. As a party to the auto accident, you have a right to a copy of the police report, and you should request one promptly.
Although a report will be available, it may be wise to keep track of the accident details such as:
Photographs of the accident scene to illustrate damage.
The contact information of the witnesses, if any.
A diagram or photographs showing the positioning of the vehicles before/after the collision.
A journal to keep important details, including weather and traffic conditions, time of day, statements made by the other party involved. No matter how good your memory is, during such a chaotic moment, you may not remember all details.
Reference points to help you to remember important accident information.
STEP 2: Seek Medical Attention
Unless you have emergent or life-threatening injuries, it may not become immediately apparent that you have an injury. Often, serious injuries, particularly neck, mid and low back injury, and other musculoskeletal injuries may not become symptomatic until several days after the accident. If you’ve been hurt, it is CRITICAL that you seek treatment immediately. This allows for quick response to your pain, as well as, allows for your injury to be documented. Even if you are at fault in the accident, you may have coverage on your insurance policy that will help pay for medical treatment.
It is important that you follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding:
- Keeping appointments
- Returning to work or Light duty
- Any referrals that he/she may give
Depending on the nature of your injuries, your treatment may continue for weeks or months. Once your condition is resolved or stabilizes, or if full recovery is not expected, your doctor may feel you are at MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement. You will then be released from care. The treating physician will prepare the necessary reports documenting care, which may include a recommendation for ongoing care.
It is imperative that you follow the guidelines and recommendations that your doctor gives during this time. Insurance companies pay close attention to these details.
STEP 3: Contact the Insurance Company
Even in the case of a minor fender bender, you should still contact your insurance company to report it. Even if the accident wasn’t your fault, or you don’t think anyone was injured. Your auto insurance policy may have additional coverage (MEDPAY) that will help cover some of your medical treatments, even if you were not at fault. If you don’t know how to contact your company’s claims department, call your agent.
The person that was at fault should also call their own company, but in any case, you should do that as well. Use the information from the exchange slip or the accident report to determine which company they are insured by and contact that company directly.
Be very careful about the information that you give to that representative, as your statement will likely be recorded. The insurance adjustor may be a very nice person, but he/she is not your friend. His or Her loyalty belongs to the company and their insured. It is the representative’s goal to settle your claim for as cheaply and as quickly as they can. It may be advisable as well, to avoid giving a recorded statement. Inform the claims adjuster that you will provide relevant medical information once you have completed care.
Once a bodily injury/property damage claim is opened, the insurance companies will investigate/inspect your vehicle to gather an estimate. If your vehicle is not drivable, request that a rental is provided. They will also need to review medical information related to your injuries, including ER visits, clinics, and physicians’ offices.
STEP 4: Work Toward Settling Your Claim
After release, or even before, you should compile a list of information regarding your accident and the losses that have occurred. This information is helpful during negotiations with the insurance company. This information will include:
Medical care and related expenses
Missed work time or other lost income
Pain and other physical sufferings
Permanent physical disability or disfigurement
Loss of family, social, and educational experiences, and
Emotional damages resulting from any of the above.
And, while it is not very difficult to come up with a figure for the medical care that you’ve received, it can be more difficult to determine fair compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress.
There are formulas that the insurance companies use to determine the value of a collision. Although these exact formulas are unknown, this information may be helpful while you are determining the value of YOUR personal injury claim.
- Add up the total medical expenses that you have incurred as a result of the injury. This is known as the “specials”.
- Multiply this amount by between 1.5 and 3 for smaller, less severe injuries, or up to 5 or higher, for more severe, long-lasting injuries. Then add any lost income to this number.
Often, this total can be used when negotiations begin, although, other factors may also help determine the value of your settlement.
STEP 5: Consult An Attorney
If, AFTER you have attempted to negotiate your claim, or if your case is more complex, you may feel the need to consult an attorney. And while there are many skilled and capable personal injury attorneys in the area that may be able to help, hiring the right attorney is detrimental to your claim.
The amount of fair compensation related to a motor vehicle crash isn’t such a well-guarded secret that ONLY attorneys and insurance companies know it. There are many factors that go into determining how much a claim is “worth”.
Unfortunately, having an attorney does not always mean that you will receive a larger settlement. Often, having an attorney may increase your settlement only 5% to 15% over what you could obtain on your own.
If you do decide to use an attorney, know that they automatically take up to 30%, or more, plus any “extra” legal fees that may pop up.
When choosing an attorney, consider these guidelines.
Find an attorney whose main area of practice is personal injury law. In other words, it wouldn’t necessarily be advantageous to hire your family tax attorney to handle your personal injury case. An attorney that has experience in the dealings and/or tactics used by the automobile insurance companies is going to be more apt to achieve a positive resolution.
Just because an attorney advertises that he/she is “the city’s BEST personal injury attorney” doesn’t mean that he/she is. You should look at past practice experience, defense experience, litigation experience before determining that this attorney can handle your case effectively.
Billing and Fee Structure
Personal injury attorneys generally work on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will not pay attorney fees unless you (with the attorney’s help) receive a settlement. It is important that you continue to remain active during this time to ensure that your interests are protected.
Also, there are several rules, or statutes in place regarding personal injury and/or filing a claim. These claims are meant to protect your rights to file a claim and be compensated fairly if injured, however that is not always the case.
For example, N.C.G.S. § 44-50 states: Nothing is to interfere with any amount due for attorney’s services. The lien provided for shall in no case, exclusive of attorneys’ fees, exceed fifty percent (50%) of the amount of damages recovered.
Broken down, this means that in cases where the attorney is unable to recover a sufficient amount to cover ALL expenses, the patient may be left with additional bills after settlement. Remember, “Nothing is to interfere with any amount due for attorney’s services”. That means the attorney gets his/her fee OFF THE TOP. And since “The lien shall in no case exceed fifty percent (50%) of the amount of damages recovered”, it is quite possible that you are left to pay the other 50% out of your own pocket.
This is why it is so important if you decide to use an attorney, that you do your research. Check reviews, ask people, ask the doctors that are treating you, request information on successful litigations. These days you can’t hide anything from Google.
Also, once they have crafted their DEMAND letter for the insurance company, get a copy of it. This is the amount that they are starting negotiations with. If their demand is no better than you can get on your own, using the demand formula provided here, then do you need an attorney?
The materials in this paper are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.
You should not rely upon any information provided in this writing as a source of legal advice.