LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney John Joseph Ratkowitz | Mar 31, 2012

What to do when you are in a car accident in New Jersey.

What to do immediately after the accident.

If possible, you should avoid moving your car after an accident until you are instructed to do so by the police. The positions of cars following a collision provides clues about who was at fault and what caused an accident, and investigating officers analyze the position of vehicles when they arrive at the scene. If you must move vehicles for safety reasons before the police arrive, try to take a photograph depicting where the vehicles are first. Additionally, if the driver of the other car moved his auto prior to the arrival of the police, it is essential that you advise an investigating officer of this fact.

The police will take statements from the drivers involved in the collision and from any witnesses who saw the accident occur. If you give a statement, be forthright and concise. For the most part, police officers are experienced investigators and they will quickly and accurately ascertain the pertinent facts surrounding an accident. Although police reports contain short written descriptions of an accident, they also contain numerical codes which record information about what each driver was doing just prior to an accident, the areas of damage to the cars involved, where each passenger was seated in the car, whether seatbelts were worn and the nature and extent of any apparent injuries. If you know that an individual witnessed an accident, make sure you advise the police of that. Additionally, ask any witness for their names and addresses so that you can contact them if the need arises. Alternatively, ask the police officer to include this information in the police report.

As soon as you are able to, you should contact your insurance company and put them on notice of accident. If your motor vehicle has sustained property damage, you may either submit your claim through your own insurance carrier, or through the carrier of the other driver. Generally speaking, if the accident was clearly the other driver's fault, it is better to go through their insurance carrier to get your property damage repaired because you will not incur any deductible charges. If there is a dispute about who was at fault in the accident, or each driver was at least partially at fault, then the preferable route is usually to submit your property damage claim through your own carrier. You will have to pay a deductible in such circumstances, but it will likely be less than the offset the other driver's insurer applies to your claim because of the dispute regarding responsibility. Whichever insurance carrier you submit your claim through, it is essential that you take photographs of any property damage to your car before it is repaired. Also, keep copies of all estimates and bills from the auto body repair shop.

In New Jersey, when you are in an automobile accident, your medical bills are usually payable through your automobile insurance and not your health insurance policy. Each auto insurance policy issued inNew Jerseymust offer Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. When you place your auto insurance carrier on notice of an accident, they will assign your claim to a PIP adjuster who will provide you with information about your medical expense coverage and oversee your care. There are notice requirements and treatment protocols which will impact your ability to obtain medical care and diagnostic tests.

Deciding whether you need an attorney following an automobile accident.

If you sustain injuries following an automobile accident, it is almost always a good idea to consult an attorney. First, most firms who represent clients in personal injury claims offer a free initial consultation and take these cases on a contingency basis, so there is usually no cost involved for taking such measures.

Secondly, if you are injured in an automobile accident, it is important that you and your physicians know and follow the medical treatment protocols required by your PIP carrier. Failure to do this can expose you to significant medical expenses which will not be covered by insurance. Additionally, your PIP carrier may challenge your right to medical treatment or diagnostic tests. Having an experienced attorney fighting on your behalf in these kinds of disputes will help you protect your interests and get you the care you need.

Nobody anticipates being in an automobile accident, but if you are unfortunate enough to have one you will soon realize it can be a life-changing event. Initially, you lose your primary source of transportation. You need medical care and are forced to navigate the red-tape related to medical expense coverage. Even when you successfully obtain treatment, expenses are incurred in the form of deductible and copayment charges. You may find yourself unable to perform physical tasks related to your job responsibilities. As a result, you have to take a leave of absence or worse. Suddenly, while incurring unexpected expenses your income has become compromised. Even small injuries suffered in an automobile accident can derail plans. Moderate to significant injuries that go uncompensated can have catastrophic results.

What happens after you retain an attorney following an automobile accident.

After you contact an attorney following an automobile accident, your lawyer will make an appointment to meet with you, usually at their office, to formalize an attorney-client relationship with a retainer agreement. Generally speaking, there is no charge for the initial consultation, and in personal injury actions, attorneys work for clients in a contingent fee basis. This means that they only charge clients a percentage of their recovery if the claim is successful. The percentage charged is between 25% and 33% of the final recovery, although for recoveries over $500,000 the percentages vary slightly.

When you meet with an attorney following an automobile accident, you should be prepared to bring with you the following documents:

  • A copy of the police report related to the accident. These are usually available from the responding police department 2-3 days after the accident. This document will contain critical information about the facts surrounding the accident. It will also provide information about the other driver's insurance information so that your attorney can put the other side on notice of a potential claim.
  • A copy of the declarations page from your automobile insurance policy. Every automobile insurance policy has a declarations page that spells out the kind of coverage that you have on your vehicle. It also contains other information pertinent to your claims that will help your attorney protect your rights.
  • Pictures of your vehicle showing all damage caused by the accident.
  • A list of medical providers that you have seen since the accident with their addresses. This will allow your attorney to make sure that your doctors have the appropriate information about your insurance coverage.

After the initial consultation, your attorney should attempt to quickly resolve your property damage claim so that you can replace or repair your automobile as soon as possible. He will then periodically check in with you to make sure that you are getting the medical care that you require. By staying in touch with your attorney throughout your medical care, you will ensure that disputes involving the automobile carrier and your health care providers are being dealt with in an efficient way, so that your medical care is not interrupted.

When you have completed treating with your physicians for injuries you sustained in your automobile accident, your attorney will assemble all of the pertinent medical records and determine if expert reports should be obtained from your treating doctors, or from other qualified physicians. After that is done, an attempt to resolve your claims with the other driver's insurance company prior to commencing litigation. Your attorney will make a settlement demand that takes into consideration the injuries that you sustained, any out of pocket medical expenses and any lost wages you sustained. If each side finds a common ground and the case can be settled, paperwork will be exchanged and no litigation will be necessary.

If your claims require litigation, your attorney will file suit against the other driver on your behalf. For the most part, personal injury litigations involving automobile accidents take approximately two years to litigate in New Jersey. Your attorneys will provide you with counsel regarding the various phases of that process. There will be several opportunities to resolve your claims throughout the litigation process. The majority of cases that are litigated wind up getting resolved prior to a trial. If your case does not settle, then a trial will be necessary to complete your case.

Please note that I am not acting as your attorney. I will do nothing further to protect or preserve your interests in the absence of any additional discussion with you about this matter. John Ratkowitz, Esq. Starr, Gern, Davison & Rubin, P.C. 105 Eisenhower Parkway Roseland, NJ 07068 Office: (973) 830-8441 Cell: (732) 616-6278 Fax: (973) 226-0031 Skype: john_ratkowitz Web: www.starrgern.com.

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