WHAT SHOULD I DO AFTER A COLLISION?
The first thing you should do following an accident is to call the police so that an accident report will be prepared. Although the police do not always prepare an accident report they will always require the other driver to properly identify himself and his insurance company. This will ensure that the person who hit you is correctly identifying himself. If for some reason the police can not come to the scene of the accident, write down the license plate of the vehicle that hit you, the name of the driver and owner of the vehicle, the driver's license number of the responsible driver, and his insurance company. Also get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses to the collision.
The first thing you should do is seek medical treatment from the health care provider of your choice. It is important for you to try to receive treatment as soon as possible following the accident. You have the right to the treatment of your choice. For example, you may choose a medical doctor, a chiropractor, an osteopath, a podiatrist, or another type of health care provider.
WHAT LOSSES CAN I RECOVER FROM THE PERSON AT FAULT?
The types of damages for which you can seek a recovery from the person who caused the accident are expansive. The following is a list of some of the types of damages for which you are allowed to seek a recovery:
1. Damage to your vehicle
2. Medical Expenses
3. Lost Wages
4. Pain and Suffering
7. Punitive Damages
DOES THE INSURANCE COMPANY FOR THE PERSON AT FAULT HAVE TO MAKE ME A FAIR OFFER?
Although the individual who caused the accident is responsible for your damages, his or her insurance company has no obligation to treat you fairly or in good faith. Insurance companies employ adjusters to handle these claims who are trained professionals. They are free to offer you arbitrarily low amounts of compensation and force you to either accept it or file a lawsuit. While the better adjusters attempt to maintain the appearance of a friendly and trusting relationship with their claimants, you should not interpret this as a sign that they are looking out for your best interests.
You should note that if the insurance company for the negligent driver fails to offer you adequate compensation for your injuries, you will be forced to file suit against the negligent driver if you want to fully recovery your damages. It is important that you recognize that your suit must be filed against the negligent driver and not his or her insurance company. In Texas this must be done within the two year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury claims. Although your suit would be filed against the negligent driver, the insurance carrier for this driver will hire an attorney to represent the negligent driver. The fact that this person has insurance will not be admissible at trial and the parties will be ordered by the judge not to inform the jury that the negligent driver has insurance.
SHOULD I TALK TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY FOR THE PERSON AT FAULT?
You have no obligation to contact the insurance company that insures the person at fault. You also have no obligation to talk to this insurance company if they call you. In most cases the insurance adjuster for the person at fault will attempt to contact you immediately following the accident in order to take a recorded statement. This is usually the time that persons are upset or still in shock following the collision. When this is combined with the fact that you may be questioned in detail by an adjuster who is trained to ask questions which may benefit their denial or reduction of your claim, you may give an inaccurate statement which will severely affect your right to achieve a fair settlement of your claim. We recommend that you consult an attorney prior to contacting the insurance carrier.
WHAT CAN I RECOVER FOR THE DAMAGE TO MY VEHICLE?
You have the right to recover the cost of repairing your vehicle. You have the right to choose the repair shop and the brand, type, kind, age, or condition of parts or products used to repair your vehicle. Although the insurance company for the responsible driver may perform an estimate of the cost of repair, you should also have an independent body shop perform an estimate of the damage. Most body shops will do this free of charge. If the cost of repair is more than the value of the vehicle just prior to the accident you are entitled to recover the pre-accident value of your vehicle plus the amount you would pay in sales taxes and title transfer fees to purchase a vehicle of the same value.
WHAT IF I NEED MEDICAL TREATMENT BUT CAN'T AFFORD IT?
Although you have the right to recover the cost of all reasonable and necessary medical expense from the person responsible for the collision, the insurance company insuring the person responsible for the collision has no obligation to pay for these medical expenses as they are incurred. This can place a severe hardship on an individual with no health insurance, personal injury protection insurance, or medical payments coverage. As a result, some persons feel forced to accept a low settlement of their claim in order to pay their medical providers. This does not have to happen. You should contact your doctor or an attorney for advice as to what programs and deferred payment plans may be available to allow you to complete treatment prior to settling your claim.
WHAT IF THE PERSON WHO HIT ME HAS NO INSURANCE?
Although the law requires every driver to have insurance, many do not. Unfortunately, if you are hit by an uninsured motorist your options may be limited. If your insurance policy contains collision coverage then you can recover the cost of repairing your vehicle or, if it is totaled, the value of the vehicle. If you have uninsured motorist coverage you can also recover that amount of your personal injury damages that does not exceed your policy limits. You should never accept a negligent driver's statement that he has no insurance without first contacting a lawyer.
WHAT IF THE PERSON WHO HIT ME WAS D.W.I., ON DRUGS OR LEFT THE SCENE?
If the police report or witnesses indicate that the driver of the vehicle that hit you was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or left the scene then you also may be entitled to punitive damages. It is difficult to determine the extent of these damages but they may be substantial. In order to properly evaluate these damages it is recommended that you consult an attorney for his or her opinion as to how much this will increase the value of your claim.
WHAT IF MY DAMAGES EXCEED THE AMOUNT OF THE INSURANCE OF THE PERSON AT FAULT?
Many drivers carry minimum liability insurance and your claim may exceed the value of these limits. When this occurs the negligent driver's insurance company may offer to settle your case for the amount of the available insurance. This offer should not be accepted until a thorough investigation is completed. Often times, other insurance can supplement your recovery. We have found many creative ways to help our clients in circumstances where it appeared that the coverage was insufficient.
HOW IS MY INSURANCE INVOLVED?
You may have a right to pursue a claim with your own automobile insurance company for all or part of your damages. Your rights in this regard are dependent on what coverage you had in effect at the time of the accident. After an accident you should look at a copy of the insurance policy in effect at the time of the accident which covered you and/or the car you were in at the time of the collision in order to determine what rights you have with regard to any of this insurance. Depending on this coverage you may have the ability to recover all or a portion of any damages to your vehicle, your medical expenses, your lost wages and other damages.
If you had collision coverage in effect, you will be able to recover from your insurance company for the damage to your vehicle less your deductible. This is true even if the accident was your fault. If the accident was not your fault you can still make a claim under your collision coverage. In such a case your insurance company will then have the right to pursue the responsible driver or his or her insurance carrier for these damages.
If your policy includes Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments coverage you will also be able to make a claim for medical expenses related to the treatment of injuries you received in the accident up to the limits of this coverage. If you have Personal Injury Protection coverage you may be able to recover 80% of your lost wages related to this accident provided that the combination of the medical expenses and 80% of lost wages submitted under your PIP coverage does not exceed the limits of your PIP coverage.