Car Accident Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlement Advice: What to do if you’ve been injured, the lawsuit and settlement process, and why you should hire an attorney. My daughter was injured when a careless (and most likely texting) driver totaled her car in a rear-end collision. Her medical bills and lost wages were ~$7,500. The lawsuit was settled for $18,000 the day before trial.

Car Accident with Injuries Overview

My daughter’s car was rammed by a speeding and distracted/texting driver in an SUV at night on a highway with a 40 mph speed limit. Her injuries included neck and back injuries that required a trip to the emergency room where the doctors performed a CT scan, MRI and prescribed pain medication. She was bedridden for almost a week and missed several days of work. Months of doctor visits and physical therapy sessions ensued. Fortunately she’s young and made a full recovery.

Car Accident - Rear End Collision with Personal Injury

Car Accident – Rear End Collision with Personal Injury

The rear-end collision crushed the trunk, blew out the rear window and bent the car frame. It also knocked the front fender out of alignment with the hood. The car was declared a total loss by the insurance adjuster:

Toyota Corolla Total Loss after Rear End Collision

Toyota Corolla Total Loss after Rear End Collision

Car Accident Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlement Advice

Personal Injury Case – Lessons Learned

Because I was the car owner and there was no question the other driver was 100% at-fault, I thought it would be simple to pursue the property damage and personal injury claims by myself without an attorney. I soon learned the at-fault driver’s insurance company would drag their feet, play games and do just about everything possible to make the accident claim process slow and difficult.

My lessons learned are:

  1. Do not contact or talk to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
    • Anything you say can and will be used against you.
    • You will likely receive poor customer service because you are not their customer; rather you are a liability and business expense.
    • The insurer is in no hurry to pay claims and will do everything they can to deny and delay your claim.
  2. Do not talk about the accident!
    • Don’t discuss the event or your injuries with friends, co-workers, send e-mails or post messages on social media accounts (FaceBook, Twitter, etc.). If a lawsuit is filed anyone you’ve spoken to about the accident may interviewed under oath during the Discovery process.
    • You will be required to disclose your social media accounts and login credentials. Your posts and messages will be examined, copied and used as evidence against you.
  3. Inform your employer if you can’t work and provide a doctor’s note.
  4. Notify your auto insurance company right away.
  5. Get a copy of the police report.
  6. If you are injured, consult with a personal injury lawyer at your earliest opportunity.
    • Your attorney will guide you through the personal injury claim process and handle all dealings with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
  7. File the vehicle property damage claim with your insurance company.
    • You are their customer and should receive excellent customer service.
    • If you were not at-fault, filing a claim will not increase your rates.
    • Your insurance company will subrogate (recover the amount paid) for the claim from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
    • My insurance company waived my $1,000 collision deductible because the other driver was solely at fault.
  8. You must continue making loan or lease payments until the car is paid off by your insurance company.
    • Notify the lien holder (bank or finance company) if the car is declared a total loss by the insurance adjuster.
    • My insurance company quickly paid off the lease after I wasted over a month trying to process the claim through the at-fault driver’s insurer. The delay cost me two lease payments on a totaled vehicle.
  9. Medical bills will be due in 30 days; however a personal injury lawsuit and settlement may take a year or more.
    • The at-fault insurer bodily injury adjuster told me they’ll reimburse my daughter’s medical expenses and give her $1,000 or so for pain and suffering. I provided copies of the medical bills under the impression these would be promptly paid but nothing happened.
    • Your auto insurance may include PIP/Medical Payments coverage to cover medical bills up to a certain amount.
    • Medical Payments coverage is “no fault” coverage that pays regardless of who’s at fault.
    • My auto insurance policy includes $5,000 Medical Payments coverage and very promptly paid my claims, although I had to pay the remaining $2,000 of the $7,000 total in medical bills out of pocket. (I’ve since increased my Medical Payments coverage from $5,000 to $60,000. The annual premium only cost about $125/year more.)
    • If you have employer provided health insurance, file the medical claims with your insurance company – which is automatic if you provided your health insurance card at the time of treatment.
    • My health insurance company asked if the medical claims were the result of an accident, I explained it was an auto accident and provided the at-fault driver’s insurance company info.
    • My health insurance initially denied the accident medical claims but months later paid at the normal rates without explanation. I received substantial refunds from the hospitals, doctors and physical therapists.
  10. Leased vehicle – Never prepay sales tax on a car lease!
    I paid the $1,300 sales tax in full when we leased the car. The problem is the car was a total loss and insurance companies will only pay the fair market value of the car. Given the car was totaled just 1 year into a 3 year lease; I lost about $866 for 2 years of prepaid sales tax.

Accident and Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlement

Police Report

In the remarks section of the “GEORGIA UNIFORM MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT REPORT” the Sheriff’s Deputy wrote (red emphasis added):

‘Driver #1 stated he “looked down” and when he looked back up he couldn’t stop in time. Driver #1 was found at fault for following too closely.

This firmly establishes the other driver was at-fault. Oddly, the Deputy did not issue a citation for following too closely or improper equipment for the bald tires on his vehicle. The absence of a citation didn’t matter as far as determining who is at-fault in this case but I should have complained to the Sheriff’s Dept. My guess is the Deputy was busy or didn’t want to bother with the paperwork.

During the lawsuit Discovery process the at-fault driver’s cell phone records indicated he was texting at the time of the accident. We also learned he caused other rear-end collisions before and after he rammed my daughters car.

BTW – if you’re using Waze, the app tracks your location and speed. Your Waze records can be subpoenaed (see slide #5) for evidence in court. In the State vs Jones speeding case, the driver’s Waze records were subpoenaed as evidence:

“{¶ 26} The following exchange occurred regarding a document purportedly responsive to Jones’ subpoena to Google, Inc.:

Q. * * * Your Honor, I want to present the, the officer a document that I received through a subpoena through Google regarding, it’s a Waze application.”

Dealing with the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company

Don’t talk to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Their adjusters are NOT there to help you and will do everything they can to obstruct and delay.

Hasty Pope Attorney Dustin Davies says:

“Most adjusters are looking to minimize risk and not pay a lot. They are skilled, savvy and know what they’re doing. Contact an attorney sooner than later. The average person doesn’t know the rules and they are giving recorded statements during phone calls.

The at-fault insurance company claims adjuster may seem like the friendliest person but beware they will try to drag things to run out the clock on the Statute of Limitations, which from the date of the accident/injury are:

Georgia: 2 years
North- and South Carolina: 3 years
Tennessee: only 1 year

Anything you say can and will be used against you. For example:

At-fault bodily injury claim rep: “How are you doing?”
You: “I’m fine.”

The reply “I’m fine” may have been an automatic pleasantry because most people don’t like to complain, but you’re being recorded and it will be used as against you. Maybe you feel fine today but a week later you’re in the Emergency Room with a herniated disk, a latent result of the accident.

Property Damage Claim

I thought the circumstances of the accident were simple and not wanting to bother my auto insurance company, I filed the vehicle property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurer. Big mistake. After filling out a very lengthy claim form that repeated most of the information in the accident report the ordeal began…

My auto insurance adjuster arrived the next day to inspect the car at my home. Afterwards the car was towed to the repair shop waiting for the at-fault insurance adjuster who didn’t show up for nearly a week.

The at-fault adjuster declared the car a total loss. The at-fault claim rep. then said I would be charged a $75 storage fee because I hadn’t immediately release the car to them in spite of having given verbal and written authorization the same day. When confronted with my detailed phone and e-mail records the at-fault insurance rep. pretended to speak to a manager and waived the storage fee.

Vehicle Total Loss Payoff Catch-22

The property damage claim dragged on for weeks. My leasing company faxed the “Letter of Guarantee” and a copy of vehicle title to the at-fault insurer but the insurer said they never received the documents. I found myself having to follow-up and confirm everything at each step of the process.

Just when I believed the at-fault insurance company was about to pay off the car, they presented a “Release for Property Damage” form to be signed by the factory leasing company. The Toyota leasing representative said they never sign such forms. I accused the at-fault insurer of knowing this and purposely obstructing the claim process.

At this point I realized dealing with the at-fault insurance company was pointless. I contacted my auto insurer and processed the property damage total loss claim through them. The car was paid off within 10 days with no gotchas. I could finally stop making lease payments two months after accident.

I was mad and decided to hire an attorney.

Choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer

Like most people I rarely have need for an attorney’s services. Personal injury cases are handled on a contingency basis where the attorney is paid a fixed percentage of total recovery only if you win a settlement or judgement. A typical contingency fee is in the 33% to 40% range.

I decided to focus my search on mid-size legal firms near me with a track record of winning substantial personal injury cases because I felt a mid-size firm would provide better personal attention, yet still have the resources and experience to win. A local firm would make office visits more convenient for consultations, meetings and signing documents.

My selection criteria led me to Hasty Pope Trial Lawyers who has a successful record of settlements. My daughter and I received excellent representation and personal attention resulting in a $18,000 out of court settlement for a case with $7,500 in medical bills and lost wages. This equals a 2.4 ratio of expenses to settlement which is considered quite good.

Personal Injury Lawsuit & Settlement Process

My daughter’s personal injury case was settled 1 year and 8 months after hiring an attorney. The reasons a personal injury case takes time are:

  1. Acceptance of Liability?
    Has the at-fault driver’s insurance company accepted full liability?
  2. Healing and recovery process
    It takes time for the injured person to either make a full recovery or their condition to stabilize and to know what the doctors say will be needed in the future.
  3. Loss accounting
    All medical bills, lost wages and other expenses need to be collected and tallied.
  4. Demand Letter
    After the healing and loss accounting was complete, Hasty Pope sent a demand letter for the full $25,000 liability limit of the at-fault driver’s policy to the insurer. In Georgia, the insurer has 30 days to evaluate the claim, and rest assured they will not respond before 30 days. The at-fault insurer may respond to the Demand Letter by denying the claim, make a settlement offer or pay in full.

    • I thought my daughter’s case was small potatoes in the scheme of things. Hasty Pope explained this not so because most people carrier only the minimum $25K coverage required by law so cases like this are very common. As practical matter the at-fault driver was unemployed and had no assets, so $25K was the maximum amount that could realistically be recovered.
  5. Pre-Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations
    The at-fault insurer made a low ball settlement offer $8,000 in response to the Demand Letter. Over a 2 month period offers, counter-offers and a Last Chance Demand Letter failed to converge on an acceptable figure. A key item at this stage is my attorney is negotiating with the at-fault insurer’s bodily injury adjuster who has limits on what he or she can offer, and the adjuster is compensated for low payouts.
  6. Lawsuit
    The lawsuit was filed which has several implications:

    • There was question of liability; it was only a matter of the settlement amount.
    • The case moves from the bodily injury adjuster to an attorney representing the at-fault insurer. It’s a now a new ball game!
    • The Discovery process commences.
  7. Discovery Process
    In the State of Georgia the Discovery process is a minimum of 6 months. During Discovery the attorneys for both sides will depose the plaintiff (my daughter), the defendant (the at-fault driver), any witnesses, provide written questionnaires, subpoena mobile phone records, examine social media accounts, medical records and whatever else is deemed relevant to the case. You will be asked if you’ve spoken to anyone about the accident, and if so, those persons may be deposed.
  8. Settlement Negotiations
    Because the at-fault insurer jerked me around, dragged their feet and wrongly tried to charge a $75 vehicle storage fee, I wanted the absolute maximum settlement possible even if it took longer and increased the case expenses. I was prepared to take a week off from work to go to trial to support my daughter. Hasty Pope advised me this may not be the optimum strategy but I insisted.
    Negotiations continued for 7 months while waiting for a trial date. The at-fault insurer’s urgency to reach an out of court settlement increased as trial date grew closer. It came to a close at the pretrial court briefing when the defendant’s attorney made an acceptable offer.
  9. Mediation
    Dustin Davies: In some cases, courts may order the parties to a lawsuit to mediate their case before trial.  Likewise, the parties may voluntarily mediate the case without a court order.  With mediation, the parties and their attorneys and usually the insurance adjusters will meet with a mediator (a neutral party, usually a lawyer who devotes his practice to mediation or a retired lawyer or judge). Mediation is a confidential process; what happens at mediation stays at mediation. At mediation, the parties normally caucus (meet together and give opening statements) and then move to separate rooms and begin negotiations with the mediator presenting offers and counteroffers back and forth with the hope the parties will resolve the case. If the mediation is successful, the case will be resolved without the necessity for trial.
  10. Trial
    Dustin Davies: At Hasty Pope we handle cases from the onset as if we may be trying the case to a jury one day.  Trial is what we enjoy as trial lawyers; however, we recognize trying a case may not always be what is best for our clients. With a jury of 12 strangers, there is no guarantee what the verdict will be. The risks and benefits of trying a case must be weighed because trial is very serious. Often we are able to resolve cases through settlement, but we encourage clients not to accept less than the FULL case value. We have had great trial success in Georgia and Tennessee, including several verdicts over $1 million.
  11. Judgment Collection
    Dustin Davies: Generally, when a person or business is sued for causing a motor vehicle collision, there is applicable insurance coverage. Should the case go to trial and the jury render a verdict against the defendant, absent any appeal of the case, the insurance company will pay the judgment obtained through the jury verdict. In the event the jury returns a verdict in an amount greater than the insurance coverage, the insurance company can be on the hook for the full verdict amount and there may be options for a bad faith claim against the insurance company for failure to settle the claim for the insurance policy limit. A bad faith claim is brought by the insured (defendant) against his insurance company for failure to settle a claim and protect him from an excess judgment. In 7 of our past 10 trials, Hasty Pope has obtained verdicts in excess of the available insurance policy limit.

Summary

If you’re involved in an automobile accident with injuries don’t talk to anyone and contact an attorney at your earliest opportunity.

Considering installing a dashboard camera (front and rear facing) for evidence should you be involved in an accident or the victim of a hit & run. On average, it’s not a question of IF but WHEN you’ll be involved in accident.

Copyright © 2017 HandymanHowTo.com   Reproduction strictly prohibited.