Being the victim in an automobile accident is for many the first time they have been involved in the legal system. On top of the emotional and financial pressures that collisions bring into someone’s life, they also face a lot of new information to have to work through and make decisions on. In my practice, I believe it’s very important to take the time to walk my clients through the process and answer all their questions. Here are three things that often surprise clients new to the personal injury law process.
A fact that shocks many is that the at-fault party has no obligation to pay any bills or expenses until they are mandated to do so. A court may order them to pay after a jury trial or other type of proceeding, or they may agree in writing as part of a final settlement. Even if the at-fault driver has broken laws and faces criminal charges after a collision, it still does not mean they have to pay the victim’s medical expenses because of that. It is a different process entirely. This often puts people in a difficult situation, as the bills must be paid on time or else collectors will become involved. After a serious accident, it’s quite likely that victims are unable to return to work, and so have to rely on savings or charity in order to make payments.
However, you do have an option to help you out of this serious bind. It is called PIP, or Personal Injury Protection. This is a kind of stop gap coverage to help accident victims through this limbo period. It means that your own insurance company will pay for medical bills and a portion of lost wages in the meanwhile, so you can focus on recovering.
The second point many clients find surprising is that insurance companies that pay for benefits after an accident are reimbursed if you recover money later. If you utilize your PIP Benefits, or many short term disability or other wage replacement coverages, this will apply.
It sounds a bit like fine print, and it often is – if you read your policy, you’ll likely notice a provision for repayment if you get money from a “third party”. That third party would include any kind of compensation you’d collect from the at-fault party in a personal injury settlement. There is a law that works in your favor on this. It states that if you had to hire a lawyer in order to get the money from that third party to pay back the insurer, that company will have to pay a portion of your attorney’s fees. Essentially, they wouldn’t get paid back dollar-for-dollar what they paid out, but this is only if you hire a lawyer.
Last but not least, many people are shocked by the impersonal nature of filing a claim and going through the insurance claims process. Even if they have been a client for decades and never filed a claim, this personal experience doesn’t equate to a dollar value when it comes time to pay the claim. All good-feeling commercials aside, the insurance adjuster’s job is to look for ways to settle claims involving even life-changing injuries for the littlest amount possible. Added to the fact that even the most “minor” injuries can be painful and terrifying experiences, the red tape and complications of the process create another layer of burden on accident victims.
This is why I decided to become a personal injury lawyer, because of my mother’s own experience dealing with the insurance company after a burglary – an experience even more stressful than the initial crime. If you’ve found yourself in this bind, don’t feel you’re alone. Call Bill Coats Law at (360) 392-2833 as soon as you can, to get the help and representation you deserve.