Chad’s Top 5 Tips to Protect Your Rights After a Collision
Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, you have a 1 in 3 chance of being in a “serious” car accident in your lifetime. No matter how safe you drive, you can’t trust others on the road, ever. And other than driving safely, staying alert, and avoiding the roads on dangerous nights like New Years Eve, there isn’t much you can do to prevent an accident.
But you can take steps now and after a collision to protect your legal rights in the event that a collision occurs. This month, I discuss my top 5 recommendations for getting through a major collision as smoothly as possible.
1. ASSUME THAT NO ONE ELSE ON THE ROAD HAS INSURANCE.
I can’t count the number of people who come into my office on a monthly basis telling me that they were in a collision with an uninsured driver and need assistance to recover property and medical damages. Texas law requires us to be insured, but the penalties for not being insured are low. Worse, drivers are only legally required to maintain a minimum of $30,000 in coverage, so if you’re in a serious car collision that requires surgery, MRIs, etc., you’ll exhaust that coverage quickly.
In these situations, there isn’t much I can do. Sure, I can sue the driver directly, but if they’re the type of person who doesn’t carry insurance, then they are most likely the type of person who won’t have assets to go after.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Make sure your insurance policy includes uninsured and underinsured motorist protection coverage (UM/UIM) and personal injury protection (PIP). The UM/UIM coverage can bridge the gap to help cover your medical treatment needs, and PIP is a separate “pot” of money that can also reimburse you for medical bills and lost wages. Of course, your medical insurance can also play a role, but UM/UIM and PIP are typically not that expensive, and they are extremely useful in car collision situations.
If you need a good insurance agent who can explain all of this to you, shoot me an email: email@example.com I have some great ones in my rolodex.
2. TAKE DOWN INFORMATION AT THE COLLISION.
Immediately after a collision – especially if it’s a bad one – you typically won’t be thinking very clearly. But if you only remember ONE thing, remember this…. take down information. At a minimum, get the (a) name, (b) license plate number, and (c) insurance information of the other driver.
IF they won’t give it to you (yes, it happens more often that you’d believe), then take down their license plate number. I can track down the individual at that point.
Other useful information includes: witness names/phone numbers, the time of day, the police report number (no brainer!), and write anything down that seems “off” to you (e.g. the other driver seemed “medicated” or was in the middle of a phone conversation when he/she stepped out of their vehicle).
3. CALL 911, EVEN IF THE COLLISION IS MINOR.
I see cases all the time where my client tells me that the other driver admitted to fault immediately after the collision but then changed his story a day or two later. Negligent drivers will sometime do this (change their story) to avoid increases in their insurance premiums. It’s not right, but it happens. It creates a bit of havoc in our cases, and I often have to file suit, take depositions, and go to trial to resolve the case.
I deal with it, of course, but car collision cases are so much easier when I have a police report backing up my client’s story. So call 911 and ask for an officer to document the collision, even if your injuries are minor.
4. SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT.
This brings me to my next point. Men, this is particularly for you.
Many of my clients (almost always male ones) wait a few days or even weeks to seek medical help after a collision if their injuries are “soft tissue”, i.e., a sore back, an annoying neck/shoulder twitch, etc. If you’re not in pain at all, and you haven’t noticed any changes in your body within a week of the collision, then you’re probably not hurt.Back Pain
But if you notice soreness in your joints, or particularly in your back/neck/shoulder area, then you most likely have whiplash. Sometimes this pain doesn't start up until a few days or a week after the collision. Unless you've spoken with an orthopedic specialist or chiropractor, you wouldn't believe what whiplash can do to your spine. It can cause soreness now and even more serious problems down the road if left untreated.
Worse, if you don’t treat quickly in your case (within a week), it makes my job trying to recover medical damages for you much, much harder. Insurance companies are skeptical about people who don’t treat their injuries immediately after a collision, and they are less likely to work out a settlement arrangement prior to litigation.
I recommend that, if you’re in a collision – even a minor one – go get checked out by your family physician or a local ortho or chiropractic specialist within a day or two after the collision. Let me know if you need a referral. Of course, if the collision is serious, you need to go to the hospital immediately.
5. KNOW WHEN TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY.
Some attorneys will disagree with me on this, but I don’t think you need an attorney to assist you in every collision situation. If, between your insurance company and the negligent driver’s insurance company, things are working out, then you may not need a lawyer to get involved. But you should always at least speak with one to gauge how your negotiations are going.
As a general rule of thumb, if the collision is serious (i.e., $10,000 in medical damages or more), I recommend hiring an attorney to maximize your recovery. Also, if the medical damages are lower, but there are issues with liability (disagreement on who caused the collision), you will definitely want to hire an attorney.
Regardless of the damages, if you’re a busy professional or just don’t want to have to deal with the insurance adjustor, hire a lawyer to take that stress off your plate.
Most importantly, if you've tried the negotiation process yourself, and the adjustor is dragging the process out, then hire a lawyer ASAP. The statute of limitations in Texas for personal injury actions is 2 years, so you have to resolve your case or sue the negligent driver within two years of your collision, or you will be forever barred from recovering from them. DON’T WAIT until a week before this period is up to look for a lawyer, as many of them will turn down your case.
I've turned down great cases that have come to me a day or two before the SOL runs because these cases create havoc with my firm and derail my practice until the petition is on file. Many lawyers feel the same way. I will take on any viable case – even the ones that come to me at the eleventh hour - if I can, but sometimes, my schedule, and the schedule of my legal team, won’t allow it. Don’t put yourself or your lawyer in that ”last minute scramble” situation.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drive safely out there!