What should I do if I am involved in an auto accident and the other driver is at fault?
The likelihood of being involved in an automobile accident in those congested areas such as Southern California, is very high. Many of our clients, after being involved in a motor vehicle accident, find out that the other driver who caused their accident had either no insurance or a very small policy value.
In California, the legal dollar minimum amount of coverage required is $15,000 per person. The policies are generally written as per person and aggregate policies. For instance, the lowest amount of coverage one finds in this state is most often a 15/30 liability policy. This mean there is available $15,000.00 per person or $30,000.00 per accident, regardless of how many people are injured by the driver at fault. Therefore if there are more than 2 people injured in the accident the policy must be divided between all injured parties.
What should I do if I am involved in an accident with an uninsured/underinsured driver?
Your insurance company may not explain all of your options available to protect yourself in an accident. You should always ensure that along with your liability policy you obtain an uninsured and underinsured policy. That way if the other driver has no insurance or a limited value policy, you will still be protected.
For example, lets assume the defendant driver only has a 15/30 liability policy. If you have an underinsured/uninsured (UM/UIM) policy of 100/300 ($100,000.00 single limit and up to $300,000.00 for your passengers) and your injuries eclipse the amount of your UM/UIM policy you would receive the difference between your policy and the defendants policy limit. In the above example, $100,000.00 less $15,000.00 = $85,000.00 for a total case resolve of $100,000.00. ($85,000.00 from your insurance carrier + $15,000 from the defendant insurance carrier) So many people come into our office after suffering significant injuries following an accident only to find out that their recovery may be non-existent or extremely low.
We recommend that when obtaining your insurance the minimum amount of UM/UIM coverage should be 100/300. The cost of adding UM/UIM coverage is extremely low. Many of our clients now insist upon at least a $500,000.00 policy and many have $1,000.000.00 or greater. Generally if you ask your insurance broker for UM/UIM coverage they will match it to your liability coverage which is mandatory to have in California. For instance, if you have a 250/500 liability policy then they will offer to issue you a 250/500 UM/UIM policy.
What about my medical bills?
Most automobile insurance carriers offer a medical pay policy. This can be as low as $2,000.00 up to $100,000.00, plus. Depending upon your health insurance coverage, often a large value Medical Pay policy is appropriate.
With the soaring costs of medical treatment today, medical bills after an accident can skyrocket. A single nights stay in the hospital with ancillary treatment can easily be in excess of $100,000.00. If your health insurance is submitted for any accident treating physician and/or facility, that health insurance carrier will demand reimbursement from any settlement monies you receive.
Our office does NOT charge a fee for recovering medical pay.
What coverage should I have?
All drivers should carry liability, uninsured/underinsured, and medical pay coverage. In addition:
Comprehensive coverage covers the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle if damaged in an accident should the other driver have low or no property damage insurance. This coverage also protects your vehicle if you are at fault and your vehicle is damaged. Your insurance agent can quote you an appropriate amount or recommend coverage based upon the cost of your vehicle.
A deductible, is that amount of money you must pay when your insurance company repairs your vehicle. This amount can be between $100.00 upward of $2,000.00. Once again, the amount of your deductible can be figured out based upon your budget for insurance. The higher the deductible, the lower the cost for your comprehensive coverage.
What can I drive while my car is being repaired?
Regardless of fault, it is our opinion that rental insurance should be included with your policy of auto insurance. Often times the insurance carrier for the other party will need statements from their insured and/or may dispute the liability in an accident while waiting for a police report. Without rental insurance it may be impossible for you to have a substitute vehicle while your vehicle is being repaired or adjusted for loss.
What do I do if I owe more on my car than it is worth after an accident?
GAP coverage is a necessity. Especially if you have a new vehicle. As we know just driving the car off of a lot will greatly affect its value. Even a modestly priced pre-owned vehicle, after adding in finance charges will carry a value much greater than an insurance company will offer you if the vehicle is a total loss.
Some new car dealerships will offer GAP coverage on a new vehicle contract without additional cost. Some will charge a reasonable amount for it. If your vehicle is destroyed after an accident you need to protect yourself against having to pay for a vehicle you no longer have, or risk damage to your hard earned credit.
Our office does NOT charge a fee for adjusting your property damage.
Do I really need an attorney to help me following an accident? Should I just negotiate with the other driver's insurance myself?
This is at times a difficult question to answer. If the accident is minor, the property damage very small and the injuries slight you may fare better on your own rather than having to pay a percentage of your settlement to a lawyer.
Remember however, that insurance companies are in the business of making money, not paying out claims. A reputable attorney should tell you when it makes sense for you to handle your own case. Often times, the lawyer will suggest options for you. You should never have to pay for this advice.
If an attorney agrees to handle your case on a contingency basis, the lawyers fee will be a percentage of your recovery. This California State Bar Association, endorses these type of agreements as they allow an injured person to obtain high quality representation that they may not have been able to afford after suffering from a serious injury accident. In other words, this method of compensation for your attorney, allows you to be on an equal footing with the insurance company lawyers. Because your law firm will only get paid and the amount they get paid, is a percentage of your recovery, this aligns you with your lawyer as you both have the common goal to ensure that the best possible value is obtained from your case. This percentage is decided upon during your meeting with the attorney. Usually the attorney requests 1/3 (33.3%) of the recovery value if the case is settled prior to litigation and 40% if your case requires litigation. Generally, unless agreed upon in writing the attorney will bear the costs involved in advancing your case. Since lawyers are not banks they will not charge interest for the monies they have spent but, will request that those costs paid by the attorney during the pendency of the case be reimbursed.
If our office is unsuccessful in prosecuting your case and does not obtain a settlement or verdict for you, we will not request reimbursement for monies we have advanced toward costs.
The great advantage of having a reputable law firm handling your case is that you will have the comfort of knowing you will not be out of pocket with costs, while the case is being handled and that you can concentrate on you health and recover from your injuries.
The insurance company will not make the process easy on you and it is often necessary to spend a significant amount of money to advance your case forward. Investigation is often required and trained investigators are expensive. Finding the right doctor can be difficult and your health insurance carrier will most likely not be helpful in this regard. In serious injury cases, the ability to properly “work a case up” from the beginning will be essential to your eventual recovery. A knowledgeable practitioner will know the steps involved.
At a minimum, the police report, if one exists, should be immediately obtained and carefully reviewed for accuracy by your attorney. An investigator should be employed to carefully go over the accident scene, take measurements, photographs, etc. Rules of law, Vehicle Codes, etc, must be reviews and understood. Any witness to the accident should be contacted forthwith and if appropriate, signed written statements should be obtained. An accident reconstruction expert is often needed as well as a bio-mechanical engineer, to discuss vectors of impact and forces. Often both vehicles must be examined by an appropriate expert. Your attorney should speak directly to your doctors and ensure that the injuries complained of are consistent with the mechanics of the accident. The attorney must also fully understand the direction of your anticipated medical treatment and the costs involved.
You should never give a statement to either your insurance company or the other party’s insurance company. Innocent comments may later have a significant impact on the value of your case. Skilled interrogators will often ask questions following your accident such as this example following a rear end accident. “How far from the intersection were you when you first applied the brakes?” ” How long did it take for your vehicle to stop?” ” Where was you attention focused?” “Were you looking in the rear view mirror?” . . .
Using simple time distance equations you can be manipulated into having the accident become your fault rather than the other drivers, even if the mechanics of the accident are easy to understand. Distance travelled = Speed (1.5). If a car is going 60 miles per hour, given normal coefficients of friction and conditions, it will travel 90 feet/second.
One can see that the innocent statement of “Oh, I was stopped for about 30 seconds. I saw the defendant approach before he hit me. He was about a football field behind me when I saw him. Given the damage to my car and my injuries he must have been going very fast.” Well, 300ft away we can do calculations to determine speed. At a speed of 6.5 miles/hr. would be 9.75 feet/second. To travel 300 feet would take approximately 30 seconds. (the conclusion would be the defendant driver was not going very fast at all, only about 6 miles/hr.) In contrast, a driver going 40 mph would cover 300 ft. in 5 seconds. That mistake of saying you were stopped for roughly 1/2 a minute or 30 seconds, a simple misstatement, may have a major impact on your case. Therefore, NEVER GIVE A STATEMENT TO THE INSURANCE CO.
Lastly, at the conclusion of the case with the insurance company, the medical bills must be paid and reimbursement for liens, such as Medicare, etc. must be cleared. Reductions to medical billing must be negotiated along with reimbursement to health care providers and health care insurance companies. If experts were required to provide testimony they must be paid, etc.
As one can see, properly handling a vehicular accident case requires the requisite skill and training to do so. Our lawyers won’t profess to have the knowledge to handle a patent case and a patent attorney should not profess to have the knowledge and experience required to successfully handle a motor vehicle accident.
For further information, contact us.