Injured in a car crash? You're going to be facing a lot of tough options in the next few hours, days, week and possibly months. Here are our tips for getting through this process.
Take photos of everything - the roadway, the cars, the lighting in the area, and the weather. Photos are the BEST evidence that we can have. Put the vehicle in a safe place if you own it.
Then get to a doctor. You need to make sure that you are OK. You also need to make sure that if you have an injury that doesn't immediately hurt, you can get treatment under your Personal Injury Protection. You have only 14 days to go to a hospital or doctor to preserve your benefits.
It was my fault.
You have probably been cited, and individuals are contacting your insurance company. If you are not insured, you may be sued as an individual if you have significant assets, or maybe not. You should hire an attorney to handle your traffic citations to mitigate your liability. If you disagree that you were at fault, contact a Personal Injury attorney who can review the facts.
It was not my fault.
If the driver of the vehicle that hit you or the driver of the vehicle that your were in was at fault, you have the right to be compensated for damages that you sustained as a result of the crash. Again, call a Personal Injury attorney as soon as possible.
The insurance company offered me $1,000 to settle today. Should I settle?
NO! You should never settle and waive your rights without talking to a lawyer. Most lawyers offer a FREE consultation and can advise your properly within 15 minutes. Take the time to ask before you sign anything.
We have heard some crazy stories about insurance companies meeting accident victims in Wal-Mart parking lots to give them $1,000 in return for the victim signing a Release. A Release is a contract/waiver of the individual's right to pursue additional damages no matter what happens in the future. While I have not read these back-alley Releases, I would presume that they also say that the Defendant Driver is not liable.
This is a problem for many reasons. First, your case is probably worth much more than $1,000. If the insurance company is hunting your down to make a quick deal, that means that they know you have a claim. The minimum Bodily Injury liability insurance is $10,000 per person per occurrence. Let's say you have an attorney who charges the standard 33.33% contingency fee. Your take away compensation from a $10,000 settlement is $6,666.66, which may be applied to outstanding medical bills if applicable, or it's a nontaxable compensation to you. While no attorney cannot guarantee any particular outcome, we can tell you that there is a reason insurance companies are making these deals within hours of the crash. Insurance companies are business, and $1,000 is only 10% (or more) of the possible settlement, meaning a 90% profit for insurance. The numbers don't make sense for you.
The other major problem is that your pain and suffering may not manifest for several days, weeks, even months. Trauma does strange things to the body. Some people feel pain immediately, but bodies that suffer trauma start degenerating rapidly. That degeneration may cause pain (or more pain) later. If your young, this pain could last for decades. How far will $1,000 get you at the doctors office? If you're older, you may lose your ability to take care of yourself. How far will $1,000 get you with assistance? Insurance companies have billions of dollars that are available to people just like you. Unfortunately, you're not going to see the best pay day unless you get an attorney involved.
I don't want to sue anyone, especially my friend.
Don't worry. You aren't suing anyone...yet. Your attorney will drive the car, but you map out the course. Your attorney will always obtain your permission prior to a law suit. However, pre-litigation (negotiating a deal without a law suit) can accomplish a lot for you. The attorney will help you obtain treatment from experts who can paint a picture of your injury, and the long term effects of the injuries to establish your damages. The attorney then conveys that information to the insurance companies and makes your case for settling your case for as much compensation as is available to you. Again, there is no way to guarantee an outcome, but without an attorney who knows how to sell your case and work hard toward settlement, you may lose thousands of dollars of compensation.
How much will this cost me?
If you settle too soon, it could cost you a lot. If you go to an attorney, Florida attorneys typically charge 33.33% of the recovered amount as their fee. Meaning, they have an interest in getting you the most money possible.
You are responsible for the fees and costs, and this is where it can get expensive so it's most important to hire an attorney who will make every effort to keep your costs low. For example, is your attorney's office paperless? Do they use the most expensive court reporters and experts? Are they consulting you before they pay for things? Are they challenging big bills or paying without question?
The attorney will generally front the costs, but you repay the attorney at the end. A full trial typically costs any where from $50,000 to $100,000. However, if your attorney negotiates a settlement and based on their experience they advise you to take it because the cost of litigation will likely exceed recover, the attorney may require you to pay the costs or terminate representation. For example, if you're offered $100,000 and the attorney doesn't think your case is worth much more, but you want a trial, the attorney may say it doesn't make sense.
A typical closing statement will look something like this:
Settlement: $10,000 (this is what the insurance company agreed to pay and you agreed to accept. This money is paid into the attorney's trust account to be divided up appropriately. Don't worry- the Florida Bar heavily regulates the handling of this money and they attorney has a lot to lose by misappropriating this money.)
Less Attorney's Fees: $3,333.33 (this is 33.33% of the total settlement. It always is the first amount taken out. Costs come our of the subtotal)
Subtotal: $6666.67 (this is your money, but what you owe your attorney and doctors will come out before your can get a check.)
Less Authorized Medical Payments: $1000 (this is money that you owe your doctors for treatment. The doctor probably put a lien on your recovery when they found out that you had an attorney so the attorney has to pay them before you can be paid.)
Less advanced costs: $250 (printing, copying, payments for records, and mailing.)
Total to client: $5,416.67 (this is yours to keep and use as you wish. Your debts related to the case should be paid. you will not be taxed on this money. Keep in mind however that it should be used for future medical care.)
How can I get treated for my injuries?
Many doctors will treat you without payment if there is compensation available to you and your injuries make it clear that you're entitled to compensation. You also may have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. You will still owe 20% of the bill or the deductible if you don't have Medical Payment. Take a look at your policy today and make sure that you are fully covered!
You may want to ask your attorney who they recommend that you treat with. Not all doctors know how to properly work-up the medical records that will ultimately be used for the personal injury claim. You don't want your doctor's mistake to cost you money later on.
Did we say hire a lawyer?
We cannot stress this enough. You don't have to make a claim, and you do not have to sue anyone. You just need to make sure that you have a conversation and you understand your rights. If you don't take the time to talk to a lawyer, you could be losing thousands, hundreds of thousands and some times millions. There is no shame in being fairly compensated.
If you have been injured in a car accident, call Plata Schott Law today at 904-516-5560 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. No car? In the hospital? No problem. We will work with you to make a consultation convenient for you.