What to Do After An Accident
Often times, a car accident, causes confusion impeding your ability to think clearly. The accident happens and events that follow happen in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, many injured victims fail to take the necessary steps to protect their injury claims: failing to call the police, getting contact and insurance information from the at fault driver, obtaining witness information, taking photographs and so on. In no particular order, a car accident injured victim should immediately take these steps:
- Call 9-1-1 to report the accident and injuries
- Check all passengers for injuries
- Obtain the at fault driver’s contact and insurance information
- Take photographs of all vehicles involved in the accident
- Take photographs of your injuries from the accident
- If possible, do not move any of the vehicles involved until the officer arrives
- Obtain the names, address and phone numbers of all witnesses
- Document ALL of your injuries and immediately seek treatment
- Keep records of all out-of-pocket expenses – medical bills, towing charges, rental expenses
- Take your vehicle to a repair shop of your choice
- Contact an experienced car accident lawyer
A car accident can have a significant impact on you and your loved ones. Debilitating injuries, lost wages, mounting medical bills and/or lack of transportation are just a few problems that many face after a car accident. Additionally, increasing pressure to settle from the insurance companies makes it very difficult for most to make clear, sound decisions.
Too many times, car accident victims make hasty decisions with insurance companies without first consulting a lawyer. Unfortunately, this leads to the injured being inadequately compensated for his/her injuries. This is certainly what the insurance companies want!
You can avoid these pitfalls and maximize your recovery against these big insurance companies by carefully selecting the right lawyer. This is one of the most important decisions you will make after your car accident. However, you must take time and investigate the right lawyer for your car accident case.
Not all Lawyers are Created Equal
Like any other profession, some lawyers are simply better than others. This is either due their educational background, work experience and/or overall abilities to advocate on behalf of their clients. Although a lawyer may be licensed to practice in Louisiana, this does not mean he/she will be a good fit for your car accident case. Further, a lawyer who has handled a few car accident cases does not qualify him/her as a car accident lawyer.
You need a QUALIFIED Car Accident Lawyer
Not only do you need a car accident lawyer, but you need someone who has fought against the big insurance companies. Many lawyers, who lack the experience dealing with insurance companies, are at significant disadvantage against their many claim adjusters and in house lawyers, which serves as a great injustice to their clients.
7 Critical Questions To Ask Before Hiring Any Lawyer
- What areas of law do you practice?
You want to hire a lawyer who practices primarily car accident law. Why? Well, there are more than 1,500 laws and regulations related to motor vehicles. These laws and regulations constantly change. Someone who handles a car accident case every now and then will have difficulty staying current on any changes and could drastically impact your case.
You want someone who primarily practices car accident law, not a lawyer who practices car accident law, criminal law, family law and so on. This type of lawyer is known as a “general practitioner.” A person who needs a back surgery would see a doctor specializing in spine surgery, not a family practitioner. The same holds true for lawyers. People involved in car accidents need to seek advice from a car accident lawyer.
You have a much better chance to get the most recovery by hiring a lawyer who devotes most of their practice to car accident law, rather than to a lawyer who simply dabbles in the field. Additionally, there is no substitute for experience. It takes years and years of practice before a lawyer can become proficient in any particular field.
So, please thoroughly research the lawyer to make sure you are selecting not just any lawyer, but a lawyer who practices car accident law.
- Have often do you handle car accident cases?
As mentioned above, you want a lawyer who regularly handles car accident cases. A lawyer who frequently handles car accident cases will more than likely have more experience and get better results than a lawyer who handles car accident cases off and on.
- What other types of cases do you handle?
As mentioned above, be sure to ask the lawyer what cases he/she accepts to determine if the lawyer is the right fit for your car accident case.
- Have you ever tried a car accident case?
The purpose of this question is avoiding the “Settlement” Lawyer. This type of lawyer rarely tries a case, if ever. You need a car accident lawyer who is also willing to take the insurance company to court. Furthermore, the insurance companies are well aware of the lawyers who do not go to court but instead negotiate quick settlements. Most often, the settlement lawyer settles the case far less than what the case is worth, thus leaving the injured victim inadequately compensated.
- Have you ever been disciplined by the Bar?
It is important to evaluate whether the lawyer has had any prior or current ethical violations with the Louisiana State Bar. You will want to avoid any lawyer who has been disciplined by the State Bar for either failing to return clients’ calls, mismanaging client funds or any other ethical violation. Please do your research and make sure you avoid hiring any lawyer who has had disciplined by the State Bar.
- Who will handle my case?
You should know who will be handling your case. Will it be a specific lawyer or will it be several lawyers. You do not want to be passed off to a lawyer who is not qualified to handle your car accident case. Be sure to ask this question immediately after hiring a lawyer.
- Are you rated by Martindale-Hubbell? If so, what is your rating?
Martindale-Hubbell is a service that helps people looking for lawyer for their specific need. It is an objective indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability. The Martindale-Hubbell rating system is based on evaluations of lawyers by other members of the Louisiana State Bar and Judiciiary. The ratings are anonymous.
Once eligible for the peer review process, Martindale-Hubbell will assign the lawyer a certification mark along with a numeric rating:
AV Preeminent® (4.5-5.0) – AV Preeminent® is a significant rating accomplishment – a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.
BV Distinguished® (3.0-4.4) – BV Distinguished® is an excellent rating for a lawyer with some experience. A widely respected mark of achievement, it differentiates a lawyer from his or her competition.
Rated (1.0-2.9) – The Peer Review Rated designation demonstrates that the lawyer has met the very high criteria of General Ethical Standing.
Please review your lawyer’s Martindale-Hubbell rating to make sure you are hiring the appropriate lawyer for your car accident case.
- Not calling the police after the accident
If possible, the accident should be reported to the authorities immediately after it occurs. The police will come to the scene and prepare a report, which includes taking your statement and issue a traffic citation to the at-fault driver. Often, the insurance company will deny claims if there is no police report. Instead, they will rely on their driver’s statement saying the accident was your fault.
- Not getting the contact information for all witnesses
It is best that all witnesses stay until the police arrive at the scene so that all statements can be obtained. However, out of caution, you should attempt to get the name, address and telephone number of any witness to the accident. If you have phone handy, be sure to take photographs of the vehicles and any injuries.
You may need this information at a later date to prove the other driver caused the accident. Assuming the officer’s report does not say who was at fault, a witness could help in proving liability. Often, the insurance company will deny the claim if the police report is not favorable to either driver and that there are no witnesses who support your position. So, again, get all witness contact information before you leave the accident scene.
- Giving a Statement to the Insurance Company
You will certainly get many calls from the insurance company almost immediately after your car accident. They will want your statement about what happened and any complained injuries. Although this seems innocent, it is not. Insurance companies have highly skilled professionals who know what questions to ask and how to get the responses they need. They purpose is to get you to say things that will hurt your case. Please consult a car accident lawyer before giving any statements to the insurance company.
- Signing documents from Insurance Company
You will likely get several phone calls and letters from the insurance company regarding your medical records. In order to obtain your medical records, they need you to sign medical releases. This may seem normal. Besides, the insurance company will need these signed releases to get your medical records and investigate your accident injuries.
But take caution because most insurance companies will send a release drafted by their attorneys which greatly favors them. Additionally, the releases are usually “blank”, meaning that no health care provider was included on the release. Without a specific provider, this blank release allows them to go on a fishing expedition with your medical records. The insurance company can simply insert any of your prior healthcare providers on the blank release and get those records. You do not want the insurance company to have access to your entire medical history. Most of it will be irrelevant to your car accident case. However, the insurance company will be looking for any mention of a pre-existing injury/condition or accident mentioned in your past medical records. If they find you have suffered from a pre-existing injury/condition, they will likely try to deny your claim.
The release must be specific and related to all medical providers you have seen after the car accident. Additionally, the release must have language in it that does not give the insurance company an advantage. This is why you should never sign any documents, including medical releases, provided by the insurance company until first consulting with a car accident lawyer.
- Not telling your physician about the accident and your injuries.
When you go for treatment after a car accident, whether it is the emergency room, your family doctor or to a referral, you must tell the provider about the accident and your injuries. Be specific about injuries. Tell the provider exactly where you hurt, how often, etc. You must do this every time you go for treatment. If you say nothing about either the accident and/or your injuries, that information will not be included in your medical records. Too often, the insurance company will deny claims because the injured victim failed to tell their doctor about the accident and/or the injuries. Please do not make this mistake.
- Not following your physician’s advice
Please make sure you follow what your doctor’s orders. If you take medication, then take it. If you are scheduled for a follow up appointment, then please do not miss that appointment. Not following your doctor’s recommendations can drastically reduce your claim against the insurance company.
This is obvious but often overlooked. You should always tell the truth whether you are talking to your attorney, in a deposition, to a witness or the insurance company. Any inaccurate statement you make can be used against you.
- Avoid social media: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, webpages, etc.
It is best to not post and/or upload any photographs regarding the car accident. Adjusters and insurance defense attorneys will often check these sites for any discussions and/or pictures regarding the accident.
- Settling without consulting a car accident lawyer
You need to speak with a car accident lawyer before accepting any settlement with State Farm. They are experienced and know how to settle claims cheaply with injured victims who are unrepresented. We know their dirty tricks and secrets regarding how they trick injured victims. There are few guarantees in life, but almost always you will get a higher and fairer settlement when having a lawyer negotiate on your behalf.
- Hiring the Wrong Kind of Lawyer
Not only do you need a lawyer when dealing with the insurance company, but you need to hire the right lawyer. Specifically, you should hire a car accident lawyer. An experienced car accident lawyer will know the insurance companies’ strategies and tricks. You should avoid the General Practitioner, Personal Injury lawyer and the TV lawyer. These types of lawyers typically do not have experience you need and often do not have your best interests.
- Failing to Timely File a Lawsuit
Be careful that the insurance company does not lull you to sleep while handling your claim. They will be in no rush. And likely will take their time in the hopes that you fail to pursue a claim. Remember that the insurance company is not on your side and certainly will not alert you that you have a time sensitive deadline to file a claim. In Louisiana, suit must be filed within one (1) year from the date of the accident. If you fail to file before the deadline, then you will likely be barred from pursuing a claim against the insurance company or any other responsible parties for your injuries.
Contact us today to discuss how we can help.
Rest assured that the insurance company does not have your best interests at heart. Although the insurance company may appear concerned about your injuries, as seen through numerous phone calls and/or letters you may have received, they are only worried about their bottom line. If they can devalue your claim, trust me, they will. For instance, State Farm has been in business since 1922, and over the years, has developed sophisticated cost-effective strategies in how to quickly resolve car accident claims. Their trained professionals know exactly how to prey on car accident victims.
To avoid being a victim, please seek the advice from a car accident lawyer before negotiating with the insurance company. But do not hire any lawyer, only a car accident who has experience trying cases against the insurance company. You need a lawyer who knows the “ins and outs” of insurance companies. Our car insurance attorneys, who previously defended insurance companies, have that experience to fight big insurance companies like State Farm, Allstate, Progressive, USAgencies, etc.
How the Insurance Company Devalues Your Injuries
You must remember that the insurance industry is a multimillion dollar business. There are thousands of car accident claims per year. The insurance company wants to settle as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to maximize their profits. Remember, they are not your “Good Neighbor” as claimed by State Farm in their commercials.
Often, the injured is lulled or tricked into the belief that the insurance company is on their side and will fairly compensate. The insurance company will have a team of “claim adjusters” whose job is to evaluate your claim and attempt settlement. The claim adjuster will call you almost immediately after the accident. You will also receive a letter advising that they are investigating your claim. The claim adjuster will request your statement and ask that you provide all medical providers you have seen since the accident as well as in your lifetime.
Once your medical records are obtained, the claim adjuster will enter your that information into its computer program to get a value for your claim. Most insurance companies like State Farm use computer software to adjust claims. The software program reviews your medical bills, the type and frequency of treatment and whether the treatment was necessary. Basically, the insurance company reviews your medical records and determines when your injuries should resolve and how much pain you should have experienced. Without talking to you and/or your physician, the claim adjuster assigns a value to your claim based simply upon your medical records.
Do Not Trust the Claim Adjuster
You can expect that the claim adjuster will contact very early after your car accident. They do this to simply establish trust. The claim adjuster wants you to feel that they care about your injuries and that you will be fairly compensated. There are two certainties in dealing with the insurance company/claim adjuster: 1) your injuries are not important and 2) you will not be fairly compensated.
Building this false sense of trust, the insurance company will want your written or recorded statement almost immediately after the car accident. The claim adjuster wants to lock you into a position regarding what happened and your alleged injuries. Most likely, they have already spoken with their insured driver about the accident and any communications he/she may have had with you afterwards.
These trained professional claim adjusters are on the hunt against you, looking for any favorable evidence to decrease the value of your claim. Specifically, the claim adjuster will closely look at the accident report and your medical records. Here is some of the key evidence they are looking for within those records:
- Whether the accident was a low impact collision
The claim adjuster will check the accident report for each vehicle’s impact speeds and the damages sustained to each. If the speeds are low and/or there is very little damage to either vehicle, the claim adjuster will automatically assume that all drivers and passengers were not hurt or sustained only minor injuries.
However, Louisiana law says there is no direct correlation between the severity of impact and injury. Meaning, you can still have a collision at low speeds and still sustain significant injury. Unfortunately, most injured victims and/or their lawyers, who are not car accident lawyers, do not know this.
- Was the injured wearing his/her seat belt
We have seen insurance companies argue that if the injured was belted, the injuries would have been significantly less. In Louisiana, whether you are wearing seat belt or not makes no difference in evaluating your damages. In other words, you will not be penalized by a judge or jury if you are not belted at the time of impact. Without knowing the law, the insurance company will use this false defense against you to negotiate a much lower settlement.
- Was anyone ejected from their vehicle
You can sustain significant injury even if not ejected upon impact.
- Whether the accident report documented injury and/or whether medical attention was refused.
The insurance company will look at the police report to see if the officer documented any injuries and/or whether medical attention was denied. If you reported no injury and/or denied medical attention, then the insurance company will argue the collision resulted in no injury. However, it is not uncommon for car accident victims to not have pain symptoms immediately after an accident. And, sometimes, it make take days or even weeks for those symptoms to appear.
Additionally, injured victims often say that the officer never talked to them after the accident. Or, they did have conversation, but the officer’s report failed to document their reported injuries.
Insurance Companies have been very successful with these arguments against injured victims who negotiate settlements without a lawyer. They will beat down the injured victim with these arguments and then leave them with a “take it or leave it” offer.
- Whether you gave any written statements
Right after the accident, the claim adjuster will call and ask that you provide a statement over the phone. Many questions will be asked, but many are irrelevant to the accident. Additionally, you will be asked the same question on many occasions, but phrased slightly different. The adjuster do this to trick you or get you confused in the hopes that you offer testimony inconsistent with the accident report and/or any other statements. If successful, the adjuster will not find you credible and subsequently use this to negotiate a much lower settlement than what your case is worth. Before discussing the accident and/or signing any documents provided by the claim adjuster, please seek the advice of a car accident lawyer.
Your medical records can be a treasure trove of information for the insurance company. This why they contact you early requesting all prior healthcare providers and signed medical releases.
Once they get signed medical releases, they will immediately request ALL you medical records. This means the insurance company will obtain records from any healthcare provider you have treated with in your entire lifetime. However, most of these records are not relevant to your current car accident. But, the insurance company will get these records and look for any pre-existing injuries/conditions, prior accidents/incidents, and/or mention of any issues involvement employment or criminal activities. If any of your prior medical records place you in a negative light, the insurance company will certainly use this to their advantage in negotiations.
The insurance company also reviews your current medical records to see if the car accident and/or your injuries therefrom were mentioned. Not reporting the accident and/or injuries to your physician can significantly impact your claim. Also, failing to follow your doctor’s advice as outline in the medical records, such as missing follow up appointments, not taking the prescribed medication, etc. can be detrimental. Again, the insurance company is looking for any unfavorable evidence against you to devalue your claim.
Insurance Companies Do Not Value Your Pain and Suffering
Insurance Companies almost always undervalue or “low-ball” the injured party using their computer method. They fail to account the injured party’s “true” pain and suffering after the accident, the need for future medical care and future lost wages. Additionally, the insurance company often fails to consider the effect on the injured party’s family, which such damages are called “consortium damages” and recoverable. To recover future medical expenses, lost earnings and consortium damages will require hiring a lawyer to negotiate a settlement or taking the insurance company to court.
What the insurance company’s computer program fails to realize is that every person is different. And not all injuries are equal. Some people respond to treatment much better than others. For example, assuming two people have the same injury, one may need only pain medication, while the other requires more advanced treatment such as injections, and perhaps, surgery, to rid their pain. Additionally, some car accident injuries take longer to heal. A broken bone typically heals much slower than a muscle spasm and thus will have pain symptoms for much longer. As you can see, insurance company’s method of evaluating car accident claims is clearly unfair and unreasonable.
An experienced car accident lawyer adds value to your case
An unrepresented car accident victim is a WIN for the insurance company. You will be at significant disadvantage without the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer. Often, for those unrepresented, the insurance company will initially deny your claim arguing that its driver was not at fault despite the police report saying their driver caused the accident. The insurance company will likely continue denying your claim until a lawyer is involved. They use this dirty tactic in the hopes that you fail to file a lawsuit before the statutory deadline.
The insurance company knows they will be able settle these claims significantly less when a lawyer is not involved. However, a skilled lawyer will be able to maximize your recovery by attacking the insurance companies’ meritless arguments against your case. This includes getting you the market value for your pain and suffering, recovering all past and future medical expenses, recovering all past and future wage losses as well as any other compensable damages arising out of the accident.
But be careful that you hire the “right” lawyer. Our former insurance defense attorneys have seen where insurance companies will negotiate much lower settlements when the injury party is represented by a lawyer or law firm who has the reputation of always settling before trial. These types of lawyers are not “trial lawyers.” The insurance company is keenly aware of which lawyers will take the case to court seeking maximum recovery for their clients as oppose to those lawyers who less settle for pennies on the dollar. So, not having a lawyer is just as important as hiring the right lawyer to fight against the insurance company.