One of the main misconceptions we see from people who have been injured in an auto accident is at first, they don’t want to hire an attorney. After all, it was just an accident, and they don’t want to sue the other driver. The reality is that when you hire a personal injury attorney, you are not necessarily suing the person that hit you, you’re filing a claim with an insurance company. Our first goal is to try to get the case settled, so you are filing a claim but not filing a lawsuit. When the claim is filed, we are dealing with the insurance company, not with the at fault party directly.
In the State of California, you generally have two years with an auto accident, a dog bite, or a slip and fall to file a lawsuit. Our goal is to get the case settled for a reasonable amount within two years. If you suffered from serious injuries and we’re somehow unable to settle in that timeframe, or perhaps the offer is unreasonable or they don’t make an offer, then we will file a lawsuit.
One exception to that two-year statute of limitations is if the accident is the fault of a governmental entity; then the statute is six months to file a claim, at which time the entity will either accept or deny the claim. If the claim is denied, then you have six months from the denial to file a lawsuit. If the injured party is a minor, then the statute of limitations in a personal injury case is different from 2 years. The statute of limitations for the minor is two years from the date that they turn 18; meaning their 20th birthday.
Clients often want to know, “How long is this going to take?” The answer to that is, it depends. The timeline for a claim depends on how bad the injuries are. Usually, we are in a position to settle the claim 45 to 60 days after your last doctor visit. So, the time needed to settle the claim depends on how long the treatment takes to get the client back to a 100%, or as close as they will get to 100%, of what they were before the accident.
Before we can settle, we need to gather all the related bills and pertinent records, then write up a demand letter, send it to the insurance company, and then wait to hear back from them with an offer. Generally, we then negotiate with them, back and forth, to get their top offer to settle the case. This process usually takes around 60 days from the last visit with the doctor.
Another misconception new clients have is that the insurance company for the person that hit them will be paying their medical bills as they go along…that’s not how it works. Generally, they make an offer at the end of the case. From that offer, attorney fees are paid (if applicable), along with any cost accrued by the attorney’s office on your behalf to obtain bills, records, and police reports, then medical bills are paid. Whatever is remaining from the initial lump sum, after those outstanding bills are paid, is then kept by the client.
Health insurance companies and med pay for auto insurance are entitled to be paid back if an injured party settles a claim with a 3rd party (the at fault parties insurance). Most clients don’t realize this until I bring it up and explain it to them. In all health insurance policies and auto med pay policies there is a subrogation clause meaning that the client will need to pay back the health insurance or med pay carrier for what they have paid. We are able to get these amounts reduced and put more money in our clients pocket after settlement.
There is no such thing as full coverage. Many clients when I ask them if they have “comp and collision” coverage on their auto policy respond with “I have full coverage.” In California the only coverage that you are required to have in the eyes of the law is $15,000/30,000 liability and $5,000 property damage. So we have seen over the years sometimes when clients say we have full coverage all they really have in the minimum required by law. It is important to check your policy to make sure you have what you think you have. It is extremely important to make sure you have uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage on your policy and to make sure they are at least the same amount as your liability limits are. These are coverages that will protect you and your family if you are hit by somebody who does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance. In CA, there are 1 out of 8 or 13% of people driving around without insurance, and of those 7 out of 8 with insurance, half of them have a minimum policy. By having uninsured and underinsured coverage you are not relying on somebody else to cover you in the event of an accident that is caused by that other party.
It is generally always best to call the police in the aftermath of an accident, regardless of damages or injuries received. You want them to come to the scene of the accident to do a police report, especially if you’re injured or feeling any pain. Tell them you’re injured, and they’ll come out to do a report.
Let the police know when you call what pain you’re feeling. A lot of times people will say, “I’m okay”, when they call, even though they’re feeling pain. “Okay” means something different to everyone. Sometimes, the police won’t come out if everyone appears to be alright. It is not uncommon for adrenaline to mask pain, and you may not start feeling your injuries until later. When this happens, you’re not going to get the police to come to your house to do a report. It’s always good to get people’s stories immediately after the accident when it is most fresh in their memories.
Getting that police report is important. We often speak with clients who say they had a conversation at the scene, but now that the insurance company is involved, the other driver is saying something completely different. People’s stories tend to change once they’ve had time to think about what they can say happened or after they talk to their insurance company, or friends and family. However, when the police come out to the scene, generally people’s stories are exactly what happened because they don’t want to lie to the police. Also, right after the accident, they haven’t had time to think about it or craft a false story.
Commonly, police will get a witness statement on the police report, if there’s one close by. A witness statement will help cement what happened.
Some clients worry that getting a ticket at the scene of the accident will negatively affect their claim; this is not always the case. If you get a ticket because you don’t have your insurance card with you or for not having a valid driver’s license, these infractions do not have any bearing on the liability of the accident. Just because you don’t have your insurance card or license on you at the time of the accident, does not in and of itself make you at fault for the accident. However, if you were to get a ticket for running a red light, making an illegal turning motion, or a similar penalty, that would indicate you were at fault. Being accused of illegal traffic violation would go towards the liability of what happened in the accident.
For more information on Misconceptions About PI Process in CA, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (562) 600-0807 today.