Motor Vehicle Accidents — What You Need To Know
By: Greg Hach
If you or a member of your family has been in an automobile accident, there are a few things you should know before dealing with the aftermath. Bodily injuries, doctors, therapists, medical bills, lost wages, and of course, dealing with insurance companies can be overwhelming and can put you and your loved ones under enormous stress. Hopefully, a motor vehicle accident results in nothing more than property damage, but in the unfortunate event that bodily injury was sustained, there are a few things that you must remember.
Insurance companies and their representatives, whether it is your insurance company or the company of the other driver involved in the accident, are concerned primarily with limiting their liability and exposure for any resulting injuries. Speaking to the victims immediately after the accident and requesting statements, whether written or oral, before you have a chance to consult an attorney often limits their liability to you in a resulting lawsuit. Some injuries are easily recognizable as serious from the outset, but others, although seemingly minimal in the days after the accident, can progress into something far worse. In an effort to avoid paying a victim fair value on a claim, insurance companies commonly offer minimal payment to settle a claim before a victim has retained an attorney.
For example, one of our clients was involved in an accident in which another driver rushing to get to work made a left turn in front of her car. She did not begin to feel any pain or discomfort until several weeks following the accident. A few days after the accident, the offending driver’s insurance company offered $15,000. Luckily she called an attorney after the insurance company made the offer. Unfortunately, her injuries were far more severe than she first thought, and she required spinal surgery almost two years after the accident. She recently received $1,300,000 in settlement.
Insurance companies also tell victims from the outset that they are required by their policy to submit a statement describing how the accident happened and listing their injuries. Most policies do not contain any such provision, but the statement can then be used against the injured person at a later time. They know that if they speak to you soon after the accident, you are less likely to have already consulted with an attorney. Through carefully crafted questions, adversary insurance companies can make you look at fault for the accident and sometimes worse, they can twist your statements into lies at trial. The best advice is to take a number, and tell them you will call them back. In the meantime, call an attorney. If you are comfortable with us, give our office a call. If not, you should consult an attorney that you are comfortable with – but you should do so prior to signing anything or making a statement!
Too often clients are railroaded into making statements or taking settlements from an insurance company immediately after the accident without realizing the implications. In more cases than not, symptoms of serious back injuries can take weeks to manifest. It is in those circumstances that you need to be mindful of what you are signing or discussing with the insurance companies. When the insurance company calls, they often record the conversation ‘for quality control purposes’ when in actuality it is used to shield them from paying you. Do yourself a favor and consult an attorney as quickly as possible after your motor vehicle accident. You can speak to an attorney for free by calling 866-LAWS-USA or (212) 779-0057.