Your health and auto insurance contracts probably require you to work with your insurance company. After any accident, notify your auto insurance agent immediately of the accident. Provide health insurance information to medical practitioners.
Agree to interviews and any other reasonable requests by those insurers. Failure to report an accident to your insurer on time and failure to cooperate with them may result in you not being covered for the accident.
Step 3: Do not give a statement to the opposing insurance company.
The other driver’s insurance adjuster may call you a few days after the accident to question you about it. Do not interview this person.
Cooperating with the other drivers’ insurer at this stage will not help you. You may still be on medication as the adjuster asks detailed questions about the accident.
You may give inaccurate estimates of important issues such as time, speed and distance. Your estimates will be used against you later.
If the other driver’s insurer calls you, respectfully decline to answer questions. Tell the adjuster that you will call him/her when you feel like it.
This will not prejudice your claim and it ensures that you do not speak until you feel well enough (and perhaps only after you have consulted with the solicitors — see step 5 below).
Step 4: Don’t settle the personal injury case until you’ve healed.
Insurers usually require a release in exchange for payment on personal injury liability claims. Do not settle with the other driver’s insurer until you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). That is, wait until your crash symptoms go away, or doctors tell you that you probably won’t improve.
If you settle with the liability insurer and your condition worsens, you will not receive additional compensation if you signed a release.
So wait until you’ve healed as much as possible before settling. It may take one year or more. Usually, this doesn’t present legal problems because statutes of limitations on negligence claims usually give you three years to file a lawsuit (except in cases of death in car accidents and claims against government entities).
Step 5: Hire counsel if you are unfamiliar with insurance and subrogation.
No law requires you to hire an attorney to help with a personal injury claim. Many people settle claims without advice. This requires some understanding of subrogation (the obligation to reimburse health and disability insurers who have paid money to or for you because of an accident). In simple cases with modest injuries that resolve completely after minor medical bills, an attorney may not add value to the claim.
However, where there is significant injury with possible permanency, and where medical bills are substantial, an attorney will typically add value and take the burden of the claims process off the injured party.
If you hire a lawyer, do so early. It usually doesn’t cost more to hire an attorney early because most personal injury attorneys accept a percentage of the recovery as their fee. There is value in the peace of mind that comes with an attorney who knows insurance and provides sound advice to maximize your compensation.
Know Your Legal Rights is a bi-monthly column published by the