Do you have injuries from a car accident? You will need to file a claim or lawsuit against the insurance company of the at-fault driver in order to recover money for your injuries. A personal injury attorney or an accident attorney can help guide you through the process. However, it is important that you understand the process for yourself.
In North Carolina, all drivers are required to carry liability insurance on their vehicle. If you are injured in a car accident, the liability coverage of the at-fault driver will be responsible for paying you for your injuries. You may be compensated for pain and suffering, property damage, lost wages or other damages. Unfortunately, recovering money from an insurance company is not simple. Insurance companies are for-profit businesses, and work hard to pay car accident victims as little as possible.
A favorite tactic by insurance companies in North Carolina is to deny your car accident claim completely because you “contributed" to the accident. Here’s 6 steps to make sure the insurance company pays you what you deserve:
1) Investigate the car accident: Obtain the accident report and statements from any witnesses and the investigating officer. The accident report key may also be help. The accident report will tell you who was at fault according to the police officer who investigated the accident. It will also tell you if anyone was issued a citation as a result of the officer’s conclusions. Keep in mind that the officer’s conclusions about who was at fault are in no way the final word. I have had some success in the past with cases where the officer found my client to be at fault but I was able to prove to the insurance company that it was not my client’s fault.
Your attorney should also contact witnesses and the investigating officer. Write down names and phone numbers of any witnesses so your attorney can interview them later on. Also take pictures of the damage to any of the vehicles involved in the car accident.
2) Seek medical attention immediately after the car accident. You will have a difficult time proving personal injury, pain and suffering, or lost wages if you have not seen a doctor for your injuries. If you do not have health insurance or are unsure where to do, go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. Keep any notes that your doctor gives you when you are discharged. If you think you may have to miss work because of your injury, ask your doctor to give you an out of work note. An out of work note will be helpful when you recover your lost wages from the insurance company.
3) Follow the advice of your doctor. If your doctor recommends physical therapy, do it. You will look much better in the eyes of the insurance company if you have consistently followed your doctor’s advice. I have had problems in the past where a client has a “gap in treatment". A gap in treatment is when there is an extended amount of time where a client does not see a doctor for their injuries. Naturally, the insurance company will ask whether you were truly hurt if you were not seeing a doctor after a car accident.
4) Schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer. Try to find an attorney who will meet with you personally, and not send an assistant or a paralegal to meet with you. You want a lawyer who has the time to work on your case properly. If you are unsure if you need an attorney, see my blog post Do you need a Lawyer for your car accident case?
5) Gather any relevant documents from your car accident and your injuries to bring to the consultation. This includes any discharge notes from the hospital, the driver exchange form from the car accident, and anything the insurance company may have mailed to you. Also bring a copy of your own auto insurance policy. You may be able to collect money from your own insurance through uninsured coverage, underinsured coverage, or med-pay.
6) Hire an attorney. Personal Injury attorneys almost never charge anything to take your car accident case. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency – receiving 33% of whatever they can recover from the insurance company. In return, your attorney should do some or all of the following things to help settle your case for as much money as possible.
- Obtain and review the Accident Report
- Speak to the investigating officer
- Locate witnesses
- Obtain photographs of the vehicles involved
- Review your medical records
- Speak to your doctor
- Review your medical bills
- Communication with the insurance company
- Review potential lost wages
- Review the at-fault driver’s driving record
- Review the at-fault driver’s criminal record
- Negotiate a settlement
- File a lawsuit only if necessary
It is important that you hire an attorney who is wiling to do the extra work necessary to get the most for your case. Many large law firms have hundreds or even thousands of open cases. If you want to be in contact with your attorney and not an assistant every time you call, find an attorney who takes the time to personally meet with you about your case during a free consultation. Most cases settle with the insurance company without your attorney having to file a lawsuit. This means that your attorney has presented all of the information about your accident, your injuries, your lost wages, and any other relevant information to the insurance company. The insurance company will review this information and makes an offer to settle the case without the hassle of filing a lawsuit. Settling is usually beneficial for all parties involved. When you settle you can have the settlement money almost immediately. Filing a lawsuit may take months or even years before you see any money.