Summer is here and everybody is out and about enjoying the great Southern California weather. You are cruising along in your classic 1960 fire engine red Corvette convertible along Pacific Coast Highway. You are going through the intersection on a green light and suddenly you are hit broadside by a Ford F-150 truck. Day’s ruined, car ruined, and body trashed. Now what do you do?
Once you are in a car or bicycle accident, you begin to worry not only about healing your body and fixing your car, but also how you are going to collect against the negligent driver who is responsible. As many of you know, for fourteen years I worked for a law firm that defended all kinds of lawsuits, many of which were vehicle accident cases. Now I represent the injured party, rather than the person who caused the accident, and I understand how the “other side” handles their cases and how best to gather evidence and present the case to maximize my client’s recovery.
In California, if an accident victim wishes to obtain compensation for their medical expenses, property damage, pain and suffering or loss of earnings, they must prove that the other person was at fault. However, the person from whom you are seeking damages need not be 100% at fault to enable you to collect damages. There can be comparative fault whereby one person is partially responsible as is the other party. For instance, if you are entering an intersection that has a speed limit of 40 miles per hour, but you are going 45, and suddenly a car going the opposite direction makes a left turn in front of you, you may be partially at fault. In such a case, say it is determined, by expert analysis, that you were 15% at fault and the other party was 85% at fault; you are entitled to recover 85% of your damages.
Hopefully, you had insurance on your car, which is required by law. Included in your policy can be property damage coverage for your vehicle, although it is not legally required. This allows you to have your car repaired by your own insurance carrier; however, you will have to pay your deductible. If a claim is made against the party that caused the accident that the party’s insurance carrier will not charge you a deductible. Instead, they will pay in accordance with the percentage of fault of their insured. This determination of fault is made by the respective insurance carriers, but is not conclusive. In fact, most of the time, whomever has to pay is going to say that the other person is more at fault so that they can try and convince you to take less money. One carrier may say that fault is apportioned at 60/40, whereas the other may say it is 90/10, if not 100% adverse to you!
Also, your own insurance policy may have what is called “med pay”. Med pay is benefits paid to you for your medical expenses and is irrespective of fault. Two things, however:
1. Not all policies have med pay as you pay extra for this coverage and some people do not get it (bad idea); and
2. If you make a claim against another person, your own insurance company has the right to be reimbursed what they paid you from what you collect from the other person. The amount of reimbursement is negotiable and this is where you really need an attorney to help you.
What if the driver who caused the accident is uninsured? Another type of optional coverage is uninsured motorist coverage. This allows you to recover from your OWN carrier all of the damages caused by an uninsured driver. However, this coverage is not required to be given to you in your policy and is optional coverage offered at an additional cost. It is an absolute MUST to have this type of insurance on your policy!!
Rental car coverage is also an extra on your policy and should be obtained. If you have it, your own carrier provides you with a rental car while your car is being repaired. Without it, the other party’s insurance carrier may not voluntarily provide it to you or may significantly limit the time that you can get it.
One of the most common questions I am asked is: “What is my case worth?” That is like asking a realtor “How much is it to buy a house?” The answer is it depends.
Obviously an accident that causes a sore neck for a few days is worth a lot less than one that breaks a leg. However, I tell people DO NOT WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOUR CASE IS WORTH, JUST GET HEALTHY. The most important thing is recovering from your injuries; let the legal issues take a back seat for now. Get the right treatment, follow your doctors instructions and recover; thereafter we can evaluate what to do and the value of your case.
There are many aspects of an auto accident case that you may not think of such as:
- mileage to and from the doctors;
- taking time off to heal and use of your vacation time;
- losing a specific business opportunity;
- the need for future medical treatment; and
- the effect upon your spouse as a result of your injuries.
To receive the proper compensation for your injuries and damages, an accident case must be handled correctly from the very beginning. Let us know if you need some help!