Friday, March 21, 2014

So You've Been in an Accident...Now What? Six Points You Should Know About Personal Injury by Kara North

Did you know that on average, Americans spend the equivalent of nearly one work week stuck in traffic each year?[1] Sounds miserable doesn't it?   What can make it even worse is if you happen to be in one of the roughly 50,600 vehicles on Utah roads each year involved in a reported accident.[2] 
Lately, it is a rare occurrence to see a driver not on their cell phone or otherwise distracted.  The more time we spend on the road, the more likely we are to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.  This is true regardless if you are a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian.  So what can you do to protect yourself?
1. Insurance Coverage: Before an accident ever occurs, you should look at your own insurance policy and determine whether you have sufficient coverage. In my years of practicing personal injury law, I have been surprised how little people know about their own policies, despite paying the premiums each month.  In Utah, the minimum coverage you are required to have is $25,000.00 for bodily injury or death of one person or $65,000.00 total liability for bodily injury or death of two or more persons.[3]
 Even in relatively "minor" car accidents, the state minimum limits are frequently not enough to compensate you for your medical bills and other damages. or another injured party.  I always recommend to my clients and friends that they increase not only their liability limits, but also their underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage to no less than $100,000.00 per individual and $300,000.00 per injury causing occurrence.  An even better option would be limits of $250,000.00 and $500,000.00.  The cost to increase your limits is relatively small, and protects you against negligent drivers that either don't have insurance or only have the state minimum limits. 
If your medical expenses exceed what you collect from the other driver's policy, you are entitled to make a claim with your own insurance under your underinsured motorist coverage policy.  Usually the difference in premiums for the increased coverage is only a few dollars per month and can make a big difference in the long-run whether you are fully compensated for your injuries. 
2. Document Everything:  If you are injured in an accident, even if you believe the accident is only a "fender-bender," take pictures of the scene, get the other driver's insurance information, and call the police.  This is the easiest way to demonstrate the extent of damage to your property and convince the liable-driver's insurance company it should accept responsibility right away.  It may also protect you from being wrongfully blamed later. 
If you miss work or even your daily work-out at the gym, document that as well.  In addition to being entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, Utah law requires insurance companies to compensate you for your lost wages, household expenses, and general pain and suffering.  If you have a Doctor's note excusing you from a certain number of days of work and clear documentation that shows the number of hours you usually work per week, the insurance company is less likely to resist paying your lost wages.  If a Doctor has restricted you from lifting more than 10 lbs. and this prevents you from working, cleaning or other household duties, you may be able to receive compensation for hiring the need for others to do your "essential services," even if this is a family member that does not charge you.  Moral of the story, document everything you can as it occurs.  This will ensure you have accurate records and strengthen your case.
3. Seek Immediate Medical Treatment and Be Consistent: Depending on the severity of the accident, medical personnel may or may not be called to the scene.  If they do, I recommend allowing them to evaluate your condition, even if you are not sure whether you are hurt or not.  I once had a client who declined medical treatment at the scene because she did not think she needed it.  Later that evening she was taken to the hospital by family due to extreme pain in her back, leaving her unable to move.  X-rays showed she actually fractured her back.  Despite medical records demonstrating this, the insurance company repeatedly argued her failure to get immediate treatment was a sign she was not as severely injured as we claimed. 
If you believe you may be injured, get checked out by a doctor and be consistent in whatever treatment is prescribed.  Your treatment may require regular visits to a medical doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor.  Until such treatment is officially terminated by the medical professional, make it a priority to attend every appointment.  Inconsistent or sporadic treatment will cause the insurance company to significantly undervalue the extent of your injuries. 
 4. The Insurance Company is Not Your Friend: Whether it is your own insurance provider or the other driver's, once you are in an accident, the insurance company is not your friend.  Every time you talk to a representative from an insurance company, they are recording the conversation in hopes that the next time they speak to you, your story will slightly change or that you will make some statement that will hurt your case.
Prior to working at Fillmore Spencer, I worked at an insurance defense law firm.  My job, whether you were our insured or not, was to ensure the insurance company paid as little as possible for your claim.  In order to do this, our company contracted with private investigators to follow individuals who claimed to be injured and take video surveillance.  A colleague of mine even shared an experience with me where his 5 year-old client was videotaped riding her bike by her own insurance company.  The insurance company then claimed that because she was able to ride a bike, she couldn't have been injured.  Insurance companies will monitor your social networking pages to see if you posted pictures or made statements which could even slightly undermine your case.  Bottom line, the insurance company is a business and it is only successful if it takes in more money than it pays out, and that means paying you as little as possible.
5. Filing a Claim with the Insurance Company is Not the Same as Filing a Lawsuit: Media outlets today commonly publish sensationalized stories meant to grab your attention with an outrageous headline.  Often, these stories portray someone filing a supposed "frivolous lawsuit" that makes your blood boil that someone could be so greedy.  Of course, a lot of the story which may validate the claim has been left unpublished.  Nonetheless, these types of stories leave many in the general public to have a distaste for the legal system and lawyers generally.  As a result many individuals, despite being severely hurt as a result of another person's negligence, don't want to be viewed as "that person," and are hesitant to even meet with an attorney about filing a claim. 
Filing a claim with an insurance company is not the same as filing a lawsuit.  Many times your claim can be resolved without ever stepping foot into a courtroom.  Only when the insurance company is being completely unreasonable in providing you the compensation you are entitled to is it necessary to discuss filing suit.  If you choose to negotiate with the insurance company on your own, it is important that you are aware that Utah law requires a suit for personal injury be filed within a certain period of time, or else the claim may be barred.  The statute of limitations can be as short as 1 year.   
6. Hire An Attorney: Many people think they can handle the insurance company on their own.  Insurance companies know that if they can give you the run around, eventually you'll get tired of dealing with them and accept whatever amount of money they offer, whether it is sufficient or not.  Don't allow this to happen to you. Hire an attorney to handle your claim on your behalf.  Studies show that injured people with an attorney fare better, even when attorney fees are considered, than those who don't have an attorney.[4]
Although some worry hiring an attorney is just one more expense they can't afford, what most people don't realize is attorneys typically take personal injury cases on what is called a "contingency fee" arrangement.  That means if the attorney doesn't collect money for you, you don't owe the attorney anything.  Because of this arrangement, it's not only in your best interest, but my best interest to get you the maximum amount of money possible.  As a client, you are my number one priority and dealing with the insurance company is something I not only know how to do, but actually enjoy. 
If you have been injured due to someone else's negligence allow the experienced attorneys at Fillmore Spencer to remove the stress and burden of handling your claim so you can focus on your recovery.[5]



[3] Utah Code §31A-22-304(1)(a) and (b). 


[5] The information is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.  Each situation is unique in its application of the law, and being general in nature, this information may not apply to your specific case.  If you have questions about your personal injury case, you should contact an attorney about the specific facts of your case. 

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