Auto Accident Aftermath
December 12, 2011 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Should I get a lawyer, and whose insurance should I make a claim against for an auto accident that was the other driver's fault and which caused significant injury?

Hello, this is Mrs. Vectorcon Systems, Please forgive any mistakes in spelling and grammar in this post, it's hard to type right now for reasons which will become clear.

VS and I were injured in a car accident last Friday. We were stopped and waiting to turn left when we were rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic. Three cars were involved in all. We both have some whiplash and I have a very broken hand. my hand will most likely need surgery and i am going to be out of work for 2-3 months.

my question is: has anyone gone through this and do you have recommendations on lawyer vs no lawyer? my primary concern is making sure all my bills get paid while i am out of work (my short-term disability only covers 60% of income).

anything that i should do/not do? I'd love to hear some people's personal experiences with their own accidents and aftermath.

Also, I've read comments to past questions that suggest we should go through our own insurance company (State Farm) rather than make a claim directly on the insurance of the person who hit us, but our insurance company (or at least the guy who answered the phone late at night) recommended that we go through the other guy's.
posted by Vectorcon Systems to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes. Also stopped at light, car totaled.

Get a lawyer! It was the best advice I ever followed through on.

Best to you.
posted by jbenben at 6:42 AM on December 12, 2011

I was injured, too. Great medical treatment I never ever would have had if I had not gotten a lawyer.

You need a lawyer.
posted by jbenben at 6:44 AM on December 12, 2011

If you've got significant injuries, you probably do want a lawyer. This may not involve filing a lawsuit, but just getting representation is the best way to make sure you get adequately compensated.
posted by valkyryn at 6:44 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely, lawyer. I can think of absolutely no upside to proceeding without expert advice from an experienced professional in an adversarial situation where your adversary will definitely have such advice.
posted by decathecting at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you, so everyone feels that even with lawyer fees we will get a better outcome overall with a lawyer?
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2011

In theory, this is what your insurance company is for - you contact them, give them the police report and start submitting bills to them. They'll then take care of paying the bills and collecting the money from the insurance company of the person who hit you.

In practice, it doesn't always go this way. I was in an accident last year and the process went well. A friend was in an accident, same ins company and she had a horrible time with the process. So you might need a lawyer to deal with the lawyers.

Going forward, if you want to sue the other driver beyond covering your bills, you'll want a lawyer in the long run.

Outside of the lawyer question - document everything and get receipts for everything. Not just car repair stuff, but for anything in your car that you needed to replace or anything you needed to buy because of the accident. Clothes, watches, jewelry, aspirin, bandages, CDs, - anything you need to buy or replace because of the accident you can get compensated for. Need a different style computer mouse because you can't work your usual one with your broken hand? Get a receipt.
posted by mikepop at 8:17 AM on December 12, 2011

Thank you, so everyone feels that even with lawyer fees we will get a better outcome overall with a lawyer?

Hopefully. Depends on what you mean by "significant". If you're claiming less than $5,000, the insurance company may just pay you and have done with it. But odds are pretty good that they aren't going to pay out even tens of thousands unless you've got some kind of lawyer involved, simply because you don't really know how to prove your claim on your own, and they don't actually have to pay you until you do. And if you're asking for six-figures, you'll probably have to file a lawsuit.

Here's the thing: yes, insurance companies have an obligation to pay damages caused by their insureds. But defendants in general and insurance companies in particular are entitled to dispute both liability and damages. You say it was the other driver's fault. You sure about that? You didn't have anything to do with it? Because unless you were actually stationary at the time, odds are decent that some portion of fault, even if only 5-10%, is attributable to you. In most states, that would reduce your recovery by 5-10%. And if liability is a toss-up, you could have your award reduced by a lot more than that. So if the insurance company thinks their insured wasn't completely at fault, they simply aren't going to give you everything they ask for, because they believe they could do better at trial.

On top of that, right now all we--and the insurance company--have is your say so. They weren't at the scene,. They don't know what happened. They're going to conduct an investigation and come up with a version of events with which they're satisfied. It may be the same as yours, but odds are decent that there will be at least some few points of disagreement. Which means they might not be inclined to just pay you simply because you filed a claim.

It's things like this which suggest that you, not being a lawyer and not spending all day evaluating tort claims, aren't really qualified to either evaluate the merits and worth of your own case or to negotiate knowledgeably and intelligently with the company, which has lawyers and adjusters who do this kind of thing for a living.

But more than that, you're talking about making serious decisions which affect your legal rights. You can't really afford not to have a lawyer involved.
posted by valkyryn at 8:33 AM on December 12, 2011

Because unless you were actually stationary at the time, odds are decent that some portion of fault, even if only 5-10%, is attributable to you.

I defer to your experience, but the OP says:

We were stopped and waiting to turn left when we were rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic.
posted by desjardins at 8:57 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: I'd get a lawyer before I even talked with the insurance company. If you've ever dealt with an insurance company, you know that they're looking out for their bottom line, not for you. A lawyer is your advocate (and doing right by you is how he's going to make his money).

After an accident that left me with significant injuries, my insurance company tried to settle with me for $2000 plus the cost of my vehicle, and even tried telling me that my injuries were pre-existing. They were very high-pressure (which doesn't work on me, but I can totally see why someone would sign whatever papers the insurance rep put in front of them*).

A lawyer got them to pay for my surgery (plus a substantial settlement).

Call a lawyer NOW.

*The tactics used by the insurance company were interesting. Right after the accident they sent a a very cute, very friendly young woman to interview me and try to get me to sign off on a nothing settlement. I declined. They when I went to their office (on crutches!) to pick up the check for my totaled car, I was kept waiting forever and finally got to meet with a large, overbearing guy who tried to browbeat me into signing their offer again. I laughed, told him the whole thing was pretty transparent, and asked him if it ever worked. He said, "Almost always."
posted by coolguymichael at 9:26 AM on December 12, 2011

I defer to your experience, but the OP says:

We were stopped and waiting to turn left when we were rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic.

That would seem to clear up some of the liability issues, but even getting rear ended isn't a guarantee that no fault will be assessed. Either way, the rest of the question makes the damages issues even worse. Two to three months off work? Really? I mean, that may be exactly what happens, but the insurance company is gonna want to see documentation for that.

posted by valkyryn at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: Things you should do:

1. Notify your own insurance company that you were in an accident. Your phone call may have been sufficient, it's best to file something in writing. Make sure they have the details--date, place, etc.--and a copy of the police report. Tell them that both of you are injured and that you'll be talking to a lawyer about a liability claim against the other driver(s). Ask the agent to explain what coverage your own policy provides, if any, for your medical bills, lost wages, and damage to your vehicle. Do this SOON; some states and insurance policies have very short time periods (30 days?) for filing "no fault" claims.

2. DEFINITELY talk to a personal injury lawyer. You're likely to do a lot better, and the whole process will also be a lot less aggravating if you don't have to figure out every little thing on your own.

3. Document your losses. Keep receipts for everything.

4. Unless and until your own lawyer tells you to, it's best NOT to talk to representatives of the other drivers' insurance companies. Refer them to your lawyer. When they talk to lawyers, they generally talk about bigger numbers.

5. Be aware that, even if you were totally without fault, you might also be sued, particularly by the driver of that third car if they were injured. Some day, a gnarly looking process server might show up on your door step and hand you legal papers. Don't freak out. Just say "thank you," and call your insurance company and your lawyer. This is totally routine; everyone gets invited to the party.

6. Be patient. In general, the more time passes, the larger the insurer's settlement offer will be. The amount they would offer you today is probably much less than the amount they would offer you in a year. Or two. Maybe three. These things can take a long time, but that is often to your advantage.
posted by Corvid at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing what Corvid said about everyone being invited to the party. It's normal for a lawsuit to be filed with lots of defendants who aren't at fault, because it's easier to dismiss parties later than it is to join them later, due to statute of limitations and other procedural concerns. As he said, just say Thank You and pass it on to your lawyer. And yes, get a lawyer. They aren't all aggressive and out to sue everyone; many just push the papers for you and keep you from signing something that waives a bunch of rights you want to preserve.
posted by Capri at 12:08 PM on December 12, 2011

I also think you should get a lawyer. I was in a similar accident last year with only a concussion and had the hardest time getting my car repairs covered (the other company contested the claim because their customer lied on the police report, etc) - and I didn't even seek coverage on my medical treatment. In hindsight, I wish I had got a lawyer to deal with all the headaches (pun intended).
posted by quodlibet at 3:00 PM on December 12, 2011

I defer to your experience, but the OP says:

We were stopped and waiting to turn left when we were rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic.

That would seem to clear up some of the liability issues, but even getting rear ended isn't a guarantee that no fault will be assessed...

E.g. the car was already X feet into the intersection, waiting to turn left; the wheels were angled a certain way, their blinker was not on, there was/was not a green arrow involved...point is, the facts really matter

/another insurance-type lawyer

posted by Pax at 9:56 AM on December 13, 2011

Best answer: I just wanted to add that you should document every inconvenience and such your injuries are causing you in your day-to-day life too. Eventually the other person's lawyer is going to ask for an accounting of this, but it might be as much as a year from now.

For example with your hand injury you might have:

- could not type normally for X weeks, reducing work efficiency and curtailing social interaction, delaying work on my novel, etc.

- could not participate in normal sport activity for X weeks

- had to cancel pre-planned activity X due to inability to participate/enjoy

- reduced ability to decorate for holidays

- reduced ability to cook

- guitar lessons cancelled

- could not play baseball with daughter

- etc.

Some things might seem silly at the time, but write them ALL down so you can decide later what really had an impact - or better let your lawyer decide. Be sure to note as well any financial implications. For example, having to cancel a trip leading to a lost deposit or reschedule fee; not being able to cook leading to more takeout; couldn't go to the gym for three months so there is three months of membership fees wasted - and so on. Document everything because this is going to be a long process and you will be surprised at how much you forget later on aside from how much time you lost from working which is easily documented. You'll be making a case for how your quality of life was reduced for how long, and that is not just work life.
posted by mikepop at 11:23 AM on December 13, 2011

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