Car Accidents

What to do after a car accident

It is an unfortunate fact that every year, there are more than two million car accidents. Over the course of a driver's lifetime, it is likely that he or she will be involved in at least one accident. The auto industry has worked hard to make cars safer and better able to protect drivers and passengers after an auto accident, which has significantly reduced the number of fatalities resulting from car crashes each year. However, people are still seriously injured or killed every day as a result of car accidents.

What should happen at the accident site

After a car accident, there are issues to deal with at the scene, including calling the police, getting you and your car to a safe location, collecting information from the other driver, identifying any potential witnesses, and documenting the scene with photographs, if possible. One of the things that you should not do is lose your temper. An accident can bring about strong emotions, but getting mad and engaging the other driver will accomplish nothing. In addition, you should never admit liability. The events of a car crash are chaotic. You may not understand what actually happened, but it is a certainty that telling the other person the accident was your fault will be used against you through the entire post accident process. Staying calm and keeping quiet about fault are the best things to do after an accident.

Dealing with the insurance company

The next issue is the insurance. There are many uninsured drivers on the road in Texas. Under Texas law, a driver with insurance is not required to carry additional uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. However, Texas insurance companies are required to offer this additional coverage. Determining that the other driver has insurance is the first important step in getting compensation for injuries and property damage. There are minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers, including at least: $30,000 coverage for bodily injury to a person, $60,000 for bodily injury per accident if two or more people are injured in the accident, and $25,000 to cover property damage. Of course, many drivers have higher coverage amounts.

When a claim is filed with the insurance company for the other driver, there will be a delay while the insurance company determines whether it does, in fact, provide coverage for the driver in question and whether there is any justification to deny a claim. After an insurance company determines liability, the negotiations begin. An experienced auto accident attorney can provide the skill and expertise to maximize the recovery, especially if it is clear to the insurance claims adjuster that going to court is a possibility.

Injuries after a car accident

Although getting the process started to recover compensation for your injuries and property damage is important, your first priority after a car accident should be to get medical attention. Your injuries at the time of the accident may be severe enough to require an ambulance, but if you are able to leave the accident scene under your own power, it is crucial to get to a doctor as soon as possible. Many injuries develop slowly or are masked by the adrenaline that often accompanies a car accident. Some of the more common injuries include:

  • Head and Brain Injuries: Drivers and passengers in auto accidents often suffer from a closed head injury, which encompasses concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). In many instances, there is no surface trauma, like cuts or bruises, but the impact of the car crash could have caused the brain to have moved around the skull violently, leading to serious internal injury.
  • Neck Injuries: The impact of a car crash is transferred to the occupants of the vehicle, leading to neck injuries, including whiplash, cervical radiculopathy (otherwise known as a pinched nerve), and disc injury. These injuries can lead to short-term pain, or severe long-term disability.
  • Back and Spinal Cord Injuries: Car accidents involve a tremendous amount of force, which can cause fractures, sprains, strains, thoracic spine injury, disc injuries, lumbar spine injuries, and lumbar radiculopathy. These injuries can develop slowly after an accident.
  • Disfigurement: There are many causes of facial and other severe injuries caused by flying glass or impact with the steering wheel, airbag, dashboard, and other objects in the car. Catastrophic dental injuries also can occur from a car accident. There are less serious injuries such as cuts, scrapes, and bruises that can result from the same type of contact.
  • Psychological Injuries: The trauma and stress of a serious car accident can lead to long-term psychological conditions, include severe emotional distress and even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Even if you do not believe that you were seriously injured in a car accident, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Many injuries can be made much worse if the proper care is not taken from the outset. In addition, it is important to have a doctor prepare an initial medical diagnosis right away for purposes of filing a claim against the other driver. Insurance companies require documentation to show that there was concern about potentially severe personal injuries from shortly after the accident.

There may be reasons that you do not want to seek medical attention. You may feel that it is a waste of time, or that the accident was not serious enough to have caused any real damage. Although the severity of the injuries often is linked to the magnitude of the crash, a low-speed impact can lead to traumatic injuries while a driver can walk away from collision that totaled his car without any harm.

Ongoing care and treatment

After the initial medical attention, a person who has been injured in a car crash should follow the physician's advice about treatment and therapy and continue to consult with the doctor for additional medical examinations as needed. Although you may not believe that this is necessary, an insurance claims adjuster will use any perceived gaps in medical treatment as a reason to reduce the offer of compensation for injuries. In addition, failing to follow a doctor's advice is another reason for decreased compensation. If an adjuster can make the argument that the victim made the injury worse or otherwise contributed to the injury, he will use that to decrease the award. If the case does go to trial, defense attorneys will make similar arguments. Medical records should tell the whole story, from the time of the injury through ongoing treatment, detailing the patient's diligent commitment to adhering to doctor's instructions and doing everything possible to recover fully in the shortest length of time.

If you have been in an auto accident, it is important to do everything necessary to preserve the trail of evidence. Even if you do not have to go to trial, the assigned claims adjuster will make settlement offers based upon the perceived strength of the case.

For many people, a car accident is going to be one of the most stressful moments of their lives. Remaining calm, getting appropriate medical treatment, and contacting a qualified auto accident attorney are the most important things that you can do. The dedicated and hard-working attorneys at DeHoyos & Connolly, PLLC are here to provide any assistance you may need to get the results that you deserve. Please call us to discuss your accident and schedule a free initial consultation.

Dealing with Insurance companies after an accident can be a challenge

It is bad enough that you have been involved in a serious car accident, but now you face the challenge of working with insurance companies to get the compensation that you deserve. You likely will be working with at least two insurance companies - your insurance provider and the one for the other driver. If you are a passenger in one of the vehicles that was involved in an accident, you will be working with the insurance providers for both drivers.

Texas laws and accident claims

In Texas, an individual has two years from the time of a car accident to file litigation to recover for personal injury or property damage. (See Texas Civil Practice Code Section 16.001). The time starts running from the date of the accident, not the discovery of any injury, so it is important to pay attention to this critical detail. One of the reasons that this is important to mention here is the fact that most people do not look forward to litigation. They would much rather get the compensation they deserve from a negotiated settlement with an insurance company. However, if attempts to get the insurance company to do the right thing fail, then you need to have time remaining under the statute of limitations to file a legal action. The insurance companies are definitely watching the clock, so you need to as well.

Texas is a modified comparative fault state. What this means is that if a judge or jury finds that you are less than fifty (50) percent responsible for the accident, then you can still recover compensation based upon comparative fault. For example, you were driving above the speed limit when a car makes a left turn in front of you and you get into a serious accident. The jury determines that you were thirty (30) percent responsible for the accident. They issue an award of $100,000 and you receive $70,000, which reflects the 70% liability of the other driver. However, if the jury finds that you were 51% responsible for the accident, then you will receive no award. In a state that follows comparative fault without any modification, you would still be entitled to 49% of the total award. It is important to understand this because this modified comparative fault analysis is going to be part of the insurance company's strategy. If they believe it is possible for a jury to find that you were more than 50% liable for the accident, they may offer a very small settlement amount.

Insurance companies and the settlement process

The first thing an accident victim should do is file an accident report with his or her insurance company. It is recommended that this happens even before medical attention is sought. Of course, depending upon the severity of the accident, this may not be possible.

It is important to understand exactly what your insurance policy covers. This requires a detailed analysis of the document itself. Scheduling an appointment with your agent, even over a conference call, to discuss the details of the coverage is a valuable use of time.

After an accident, and getting any required medical attention, it is important to do several things:

  • Get a rental car - Check your policy to determine what type of rental coverage that it provides and then rent the best car possible. Getting into a rental vehicle quickly enables you to resume your life while working with the insurance company to resolve your claim
  • Determine the value of your car before the accident - There are many factors that go into a claims adjuster's valuation of the vehicle, which includes industry guidelines, online resources, sales data, and actual cash value (ACV). It is important to do your own research to determine the value of your car to have some grounds for negotiation. The claims adjuster will take into account additional items, such as sales tax, registration costs for a replacement vehicle, as well as title costs when setting the reimbursement value
  • Work with the claims adjuster to establish the cost of repair - Although it is not necessary, it may be beneficial to be present at the time of the inspection of the vehicle. This provides the opportunity to point out damage that the adjuster may miss or misinterpret. Your policy may provide for an independent appraisal. If it does, it is a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity for comparison purposes.
  • Decide whether or not you want to repair the vehicle - If you were in a serious accident, the damage to the vehicle may be severe enough that the cost of repair exceeds the value of the car. If this is the case, you may decide to take the settlement and purchase a new vehicle. Often, there is a psychological component to this decision as the damaged car would be a constant reminder of the accident. Further, even after repairs, a car that has been in a serious accident has a diminished value. However, if your car has sentimental value, you can take a settlement and have the car repaired. The insurance company may reduce the payment by the amount that the vehicle would have brought through salvage

Negotiating a claim for an injury 

The vehicle settlement may be the easiest part of dealing with the insurance company. Negotiating a settlement for an injury claim is far more complicated. If you are going to handle the discussions personally, it is important to be well enough to stand up for yourself. You also should compile all relevant documents, including accident reports filed by the investigating officers, photographs, and diagrams of the scene, witness statements, and documents relating to all medical treatment, lost wages, and other bills. To begin the process, you should send the insurance company a demand letter. Although you may be tempted to ask for the amount that will reasonably cover your losses and expenses, the negotiation involves a lot of back and forth. Therefore, it is important to demand more than the amount that would compensate you for your losses. Typically, depending on the estimated costs, it is reasonable to begin the process seeking 25% to 100% more than the number you ultimately would like to receive.

You should expect to go back and forth around three times, whether through written correspondence or telephone calls. There may come a point where the adjuster simply will not move off a settlement offer. At this point, you should simply ask the adjuster if this is the highest offer that will be made. Most claims adjusters will not state it quite as simply, but also will not lie outright, so pay close attention to the answer that you receive.

Once you have reached a point in the negotiations where there is no further movement, you must decide if the amount being offered is enough to compensate you, or if you believe that it is unfairly low and a judge or jury would award a significantly higher amount. In weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a legal action, you should consider how long a trial will take, how much it will cost, and how much risk you can tolerate, as the court outcome is never a sure thing.

If you have been in a serious auto accident, it is important to talk to an experienced auto attorney in order to get the information that you need to protect your rights. The DeHoyos Law Firm, PLLC is here to provide any assistance you may need. Please call us to discuss your accident and schedule a free initial consultation.