Car accidents represent the majority of personal injury claims. Car accident litigation follows the law of negligence, which states that a person should exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances.” If a person is found to be negligent, he or she may be required to pay personal or property damages associated with the negligent act. The burden rests on the plaintiff, or injured party, to prove the defendant was negligent and the proximate cause of the accident and injury.
Some car accident cases are simple, with the insurance company of the responsible party compensating the injured party for property damage. Other cases involve the police, insurance investigators and the courts. Drunk driving, for example, can involve both civil and criminal charges.
One important legal aspect of being in an auto accident is seeking proper medical care as soon as possible. This is necessary for not only the injured person’s health but also as evidence should there ever be a dispute with the negligent person’s insurance company about the extent of the injury. Insurance companies are skeptical of individuals who wait weeks or even days to see a doctor after an auto accident. A doctor will diagnose the injury right away and make detailed medical records, which the insurance company will want to see if there is a dispute.
Another legal aspect of an auto accident is getting the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses. Witnesses are an invaluable resource if the facts of the accident are disputed.
If possible, the injured party should both get the other party’s information (name, address, phone number, driver’s license number and insurance information) and call the police to the scene of the accident. Most police departments require officers to write a report after an initial investigation. Likewise, the injured person should write down what happened as soon as possible after the accident. If not, details could be forgotten, hindering the chance of being fully compensated.
The accident scene and the damage done to not only the vehicle but also the injured person should be photographed to show the insurance company the extent of the injury.
Legally, everyone has the right to be compensated for injuries if someone else is at fault. Compensation comes from two possible sources: the person at fault or that person’s insurance company. Usually, if the person is at fault, the insurance company will pay the majority of the money, if not all of it.
Initially, if there is no dispute about liability, an insurance company will make an offer after the injured person has received all necessary care stemming from the accident (such as medical care and vehicle repairs). If the injured party accepts, the case is closed.
However, if either liability is disputed or the injured party feels the insurance company’s offer is too low, an attorney experienced in personal injury law can see that his or her client is adequately compensated. The attorney owes no duty to the adverse party or the insurance company. The only duty owed is to the client.
When the injured party accepts payment from an insurance company, he or she signs away the rights to make a further claim relating to that accident. This is particularly troublesome to personal injury victims who accept payment, sign a release and experience symptoms later relating to the accident. An attorney, however, can demand that the insurance company pay for both current and future medical expenses.
An attorney, therefore, can be an invaluable asset during a personal injury case. For one, it is in the best interest of insurance companies to settle cases quickly and easily. Thus, they often will make an offer that undercompensates the victim, hoping that the victim will take the money and sign a release, thereby closing the door on the ability to file a lawsuit. An attorney can bring some leverage over the insurance company by negotiating with the insurance adjuster and threatening to sue if the offer is not satisfactory.
Also, if an attorney is representing the injured party, the insurance company must talk only to the attorney. This can give the injured party some peace of mind, especially at a time when life is likely to be in a state of flux.
A vehicle accident case may be brought under a negligence or products liability standard. Someone is negligent if he or she failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances that existed at the time of the accident. Common reasons for negligence in an auto accident are speeding, making an unsafe lane change, running a stop sign or red light, and driving without regard to weather conditions.
If someone is found to be negligent, he or she (or the insurance company) may be forced to pay an array of damages to the injured party, such as property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. Attorneys who handle auto accident cases can determine what damages can be recovered.
Products liability says that a manufacturer or seller of a good is responsible for injuries sustained when that good is defective. Examples of products liability cases involving car accidents include airbags that fail to deploy, seat belts that fail to lock and tires that wear out prematurely.
A person injured in an auto accident might have not only a negligence claim against another party but also a products liability case against the manufacturer of the car. An attorney who handles cases involving motor vehicle defects understands this complex area of the law.
A main concern after an accident is the statute of limitations, which means the amount of time an injured party has to file a lawsuit. For most personal injury cases, the time frame is two or three years. Check your state’s laws to determine the exact amount of time you have to file a claim.
Auto accidents, even minor ones, can be traumatic. Proper medical care and legal advice is crucial to both recovery and being adequately compensated.