What happens after a Car Wreck?

First, I would like to point out that, in trying to determine how and when to settle  car wreck case involving personal injuries, the timeline can change depending on the specific facts in each case.

Having said that, the purpose of this article is to attempt to provide a general outline as to what normally happens in most cases.

In a car wreck case as a practical matter there are two different claims.  One claim is for property damage and the other is an injury claim. Typically, the property damage case is settled separately from the personal injury claim.  Generally, the property damage claim is resolved in less than fourteen days after the car wreck if there is no question of fault. The settlement of the property damage normally is not a complicated procedure.  If the car can be repaired, then an estimate from a body shop will provide how much it would cost to repair the vehicle. Also, the at-fault insurance company should pay for a rental car during the time period that the car is being repaired.

On the other hand, if the car is totaled, then the issue is what is the fair market value of the vehicle less salvage value.  Totaled means that it would cost more to repair the vehicle than the value of the vehicle. Most of the time, the at-fault insurance company will buy the salvage and therefore pay the full amount of the value of the vehicle when the car is totaled.

Property damage resolutions should also include payment for things such as a damaged child car seat.  As a general rule, if there is no personal injury and the only damage is to property, a lawyer is not needed in order to resolve the claim.

However, if a person is injured in a car wreck, they should retain an experienced lawyer.  There are several issues in settling a case that require an experienced lawyer. First of all, if a person is injured in a car wreck, the worse thing that person could do is agree to an early settlement amount.  Many times, a person who has no symptoms at the wreck scene will later develop symptoms of an injury. There are several reasons for that, including the adrenaline that is commonplace when someone is in a car wreck.  Further, there is a general idea among most of us, that if we don’t have any broken bones and we’re not bleeding then we must not be injured. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. In many cases, when hit from behind, a person will be thrown backward and then forward resulting in stretched ligaments and torn muscles.  Generally, these types of injuries do not recover within a couple of weeks. Many times, it takes several months in order to recover completely from these injuries.

Normally, younger people do heal in less time than someone in their 50’s and above.  In the event that a person feels pain or discomfort from a car wreck they should immediately seek medical treatment.  The injured party should always follow the doctor’s advice. If the doctor recommends a prescription or physical therapy, then that person should follow the doctor’s advice and follow-up with those types of treatment and medication.  Failure to follow a doctor’s orders could result in not being fully compensated for the injuries. There is a specific jury instruction which holds that if a patient fails to follow a physician’s instructions then the jury should take that into account in determining whether that person is entitled to full compensation.

Once an injured party is either completely well or as well as they are going to get, settlement should be explored.  Before making that demand it is very important that the injured party knows the answers to the following questions:

  1. How much has my health insurance company paid?
  2. Does my health insurance company expect reimbursement out of my settlement?
  3. Has Medicare paid any bills?  (Medicare will expect payment for bills they have paid.)
  4. Are there any outstanding medical bills and if so, how much?

In order to determine whether an offer from an insurance company is fair it is very important to know what money is going to have to be paid out of that settlement to satisfy any liens or outstanding medical bills.  As one client once told me many years ago, “I don’t care how much they offered, I want to know how much I get after all the bills and liens are paid”.

Once a settlement figure has been agreed to there is no changing your mind, even if you have not signed a Release.  Oral settlement with the insurance company is binding.

It is not unusual to take six months to a year in order to settle a claim of an injured person caused by the negligence of someone else.

Although this article is an accurate and a fair outline of what to expect in the event you are injured in a car wreck it is not a substitute for hiring a lawyer.  If you are injured in a car wreck and the wreck is caused by the fault of another, you should hire a competent plaintiff lawyer who is experienced in handling victims of a car wreck.

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