What to Know About Auto Injury Settlements
Your Complete Guide to Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer – CHAPTER 2
Car accidents, even when they seem minor, can cause all sorts of pain and suffering for victims. And insurance companies are infamous for treating injuries as less serious than they are. How can you be sure that the steps you’re taking to resolve your accident—beginning just moments after it has occurred—are the right ones that will help you get the compensation you need and deserve?
As part of our ongoing post series, your complete guide to hiring a personal injury attorney is right here on our blog to make your search for the best personal injury lawyers easy and worry-free. Today we’re taking a closer look at auto injury settlements and how you can prevent an auto accident from ruining your life.
The Settlement Process Starts at the Accident Scene
Often, the things you do right after an auto accident has occurred, regardless of who may be at fault, set the stage for how your experience with your insurance claims and ultimate settlements may play out. There are several actions you need to take—and purposefully not take—to lessen the likelihood that your auto insurance company will put up a fight about the severity of your injuries and/or another driver’s insurance will question damages to your vehicle.
What to Do Immediately After an Accident to Help Yourself
Seek Medical Help
Obviously, if you are gravely injured, you will likely be taken from the accident scene in an ambulance, which will be the first step in your insurance claim journey whether you like it or not. However, if you are able to walk on your own, and even if you don’t believe you’re significantly injured, it’s still important to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. You may have invisible injuries you haven’t considered, including a dangerous concussion or neck and back injuries that can worsen with time. Tell your doctor that you were in an auto accident so that proper notes can be made in your medical file.
Take Detailed Notes and Photos
In accidents with even minor injuries, the police should be called to make a report and take witness statements. If you are ambulatory and aware at the scene, be sure to take photos of the accident location in addition to vehicle damages—both to your car and any other drivers’ cars that were involved. The benefit of us all having smartphones these days is that no one has to remember to keep a camera in their glovebox to record potential accident damages.
Call Your Auto Insurance Company
Your insurance company wants to know about your accident as soon as possible after it has occurred. While calling from the scene may be a chaotic start to your claim, many drivers do this so that the claim/settlement process can begin immediately. Call as soon as you are able.
DO NOT Admit Fault
If another driver is involved in the accident, you will likely feel compelled to talk to them to exchange insurance information. Be very careful what you say in these types of conversations. Apologizing or saying anything that can be construed as admitting that you caused the accident (even if you’re sure you did), can come back to haunt you later. Limit interactions with other drivers and carefully consider what you tell police officers at the scene, as well.
How Is Fault Determined?
It’s important to remember that Pennsylvania relies on the no-fault system of car insurance coverage—a system that requires your own auto insurance to pay for your medical expenses and other out-of-pocket losses. But our state’s version of the system is a little unique.
When you purchase a car insurance policy, you have a choice between limited and full tort coverage, which essentially has to do with whether or not you have the right to pursue claims for less severe injuries and/or emotional distress. Having limited tort coverage is very risky for you and your covered family/household members, as it significantly hinders your ability to recover financial compensation for injuries and other losses when another driver causes a car accident.
Full Tort vs. Limited Tort
As we discussed in our previous blog post about protecting yourself from uninsured drivers, which are frighteningly numerous on the roads today even though driving without insurance is illegal in PA and most other states, you must choose full tort coverage if you want to retain your rights. Full tort coverage costs a little more upfront, but it can be money very well spent if the worst should happen.
As experienced personal injury lawyers who have talked to countless clients about vehicle accidents, we have seen people who suffer immensely from auto accident injuries that we are unable to assist because they signed away their rights with a limited tort election. Carefully consider your auto insurance options when buying new policies, or if it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your current coverages, look them over and assure that they meet your family/household’s current needs.
The Settlement Process
Both because no-fault insurance is the standard in PA and because the vast majority of auto insurance cases do not go to trial, settlements between insurance companies and their insureds, as well as other auto accident victims, are the norm.
Unfortunately, this means that many people simply accept a check from an insurance company without consulting a personal injury attorney even if they feel like they’re being mistreated. We understand this impulse – auto insurance claims may be open for many months after an accident, and often people just want to put the whole experience behind them. Don’t just accept a settlement offer without careful consideration – especially if you’re not fully healed!
Typical Timeline for Settlement
While there really is not one typical timeline for getting through the settlement process, it’s true that insurance companies like to close claims as quickly as possible following an auto accident. Do not allow them to rush you through the process. Remember that you also have up to two years following the accident to file your claim, but it is often best to start the process much sooner.
Once you have completed much of your medical treatment, submitting a demand letter to your insurance company will help you open negotiations on a realistic settlement offer. It is often best to get a personal injury lawyer to help at this stage, but many people wait until their insurance company has responded with a counter-offer or a denial before they call for help. This is fine, of course, but it’s important to remember that personal injury attorneys often work on a contingency fee basis, which means we don’t charge you unless we win you money. And your initial consultation with us is also free.
We’re the Auto Accident Personal Injury Specialists in Western PA
Are you having trouble negotiating a settlement for your accident injuries? Feel like it’s probably time to consult a caring and compassionate personal injury attorney, but don’t know where to start?
Westmoreland Injury Lawyers is right here in Greensburg to help our neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania get the compensation they need and deserve following auto accidents of all severity levels. Get in touch today for your free consultation, and let us go to work for you.