Personal Injury: Questions and Answers
FAQs about Car Accidents
What do I do after a car accident?
After a Car Accident: Initial Steps
When you are involved in a car accident, it is natural to be in a state of shock. However, the initial steps you take after a car accident could have a significant impact on the outcome of your personal injury case. When you are involved in a car accident, the first step you should take is to stop immediately and remain at the scene. This is required under the California Vehicle Code.
If you are able, move yourself and your vehicle off the road so you and your passengers are out of harm's way. If you or anyone else has been injured, call 911 right away. When the police arrive, file a report. If you are unable to get a copy of the report right away, get the name and badge number of the police officer at the scene.
Obtain names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, insurance, driver's license and registration information for all parties involved in the accident. Be sure to also get contact information for anyone who witnessed the car accident. Take photographs of the accident scene including the position of the vehicles, any skid marks on the roadway, damage to the vehicles and injuries.
Do not decline medical attention at the scene. Go to the emergency room if you feel pain or discomfort. See your doctor soon afterward even if you "feel fine." A majority of injuries tend to surface during the days, weeks or even months after the car accident.
Do report the accident to your insurance company. But, refrain from speaking with adjusters or agreeing to a quick settlement. Once you accept a settlement, you will not be able to seek compensation for medical or other expenses you may incur in the future. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney, who can guide you through the claims process and help you avoid those mistakes and pitfalls that could jeopardize your case.
There is a more comprehensive article about what to do after a car accident here.
What if I had a car accident and have no insurance?
California is a "tort state," which means it does not follow the "no-fault" insurance system. What this means is, if you cause a car accident and another person is injured, that person can file a claim seeking compensation for all injuries, damages and losses sustained in the car accident. If you don't have an automobile liability insurance policy, you are personally responsible for paying these damages to the injured person.
However, if you were injured in a car accident that was caused by the other driver, there may be a few restrictions on what you can recover against that driver, if you don't have an auto insurance policy. California is one of several states that have a "no pay no play" rule. What this means is if you don't have a valid auto insurance policy at the time of the collision, you are limited to what types of compensation you may be able to get.
For example, you cannot receive non-economic damages such as compensation for pain and suffering or mental anguish. But, you can still get reimbursed for economic damages such as medical bills or hospitalization costs. The rationale behind this law is that if you don't have an auto insurance policy that can fully compensate another person, you shouldn't be able to claim the full benefits of someone else's insurance, even if you've been the victim.
If you are involved in a car accident and are found to be driving uninsured, you may also face criminal and administrative penalties, which could include significant fines. Your driver's license may also be suspended. This is why it is critical to purchase at least the minimum required auto insurance policy. Ideally, you should have an insurance policy that provides comprehensive coverage including uninsured motorist coverage.
Do I need to report the accident to my insurance company?
If you have been involved in a collision, especially if it's minor, you may tend to assume that you don't need to report it to your insurance company. Motorists tend to make such a decision because they sometimes assume their insurance rates will increase if they do report it, or because they may assume that things could be worked out with the other driver without getting insurance companies involved.
But, it is important to understand that every auto insurance company requires policyholders to report any accident in which they are involved, immediately. It doesn't matter how minor the accident is. You are required to report it right away. Failing to do so may result in complications or penalties in the future.
For example, let us picture a scenario where you try to work things out with the other driver who may later decide to file a claim against you. This could happen if he or she goes home and realizes that the damage is worse or experiences symptoms of injuries he or she did not experience at the scene. If such claims crop up later, your insurance company may deny certain protections to you because you did not promptly report the accident. This could result in more headaches and could prove costlier for you.
Unless the accident occurs to your vehicle on your property and there is no one else involved, it would be in your best interest to report the accident to your insurance company right away. This is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected.
What if the accident was not my fault?
Even if the car accident was not your fault, at the very least, you should confirm the type of coverage you have with your auto insurance provider. There may be times when working with the other party's insurance company may become difficult when it comes to paying for vehicle repairs, medical bills, rental car expenses or other damages.
Working with your own insurance company can help you get the support you need quicker. If the car accident is not your fault, then, a claim with your insurer should not affect your insurance rates or premiums.
Although the driver who crashes into your car and causes the accident is responsible for reporting the accident to his or her insurance company, make sure you contact your company as well as their insurer. Motorists who cause accidents tend to shy away from reporting them.
This is why it is crucial to get complete information about the other parties at the accident scene including addresses, phone numbers, emails, insurance company name and policy information, and driver's license information. It can also help to get contacts for eyewitnesses who can help corroborate your statements later. Make sure a police report is filed.
What should I expect from a lawyer after a car accident?
The best car accident attorneys always offer free initial consultations to victims and their families. After you tell the lawyer about your car accident, he or she may have a number of questions to help you find the best solution for your case. Some of these questions may include facts about your medical treatment, your medical history, insurance coverage and potential witnesses to the incident.
Your lawyer may ask you to sign a form authorizing the release of your medical information from healthcare providers so he or she can get access to your medical records. The lawyer will also make a quick assessment of your injuries and the treatment you will likely need. He or she will look at the types of damages and losses you have sustained. The lawyer may either consider your case or decline to take it.
If the attorney declines to take your case, you would be well advised to seek a second opinion. In some cases, the attorney you initially contact may refer you to another lawyer. This may occur when he or she thinks the other lawyer can do a better job on your case because of his or her experience. If the lawyer does take your case, he or she may instruct you not to discuss the case with anyone. Your lawyer will also give you an idea of how his or her office will keep you informed regarding your case's progress.
If you would like to see the timeline of a typical car accident case, click here!
FAQs about Hiring a Lawyer
What should I do if I've been injured?DO:
- Contact experienced personal injury lawyers as soon as possible after the accident.
- Take photographs of the vehicles involved in the collision, roadway conditions and injuries sustained.
- Obtain contact information for all parties involved in the incident as well as those who witnessed it.
- Get prompt medical attention and follow your doctor's instructions for treatment and care.
- Keep detailed records. This includes receipts for all injury-related expenses such as ambulance costs, emergency room and hospitalization costs, rehabilitation expenses, cost of medication, medical equipment, etc. Document lost work time and wages as well as other expenses you may have incurred as a result of the accident and injury.
- Discuss the facts or specifics of your accident or injuries without consulting your injury lawyer.
- Admit fault or offer any opinions regarding what might have caused the accident.
- Ignore your doctor's advice.
- Sign any papers that could give insurance companies and defense counsel access to your medical records, financial records or any other personal information.
- Post information or photographs relating to your accident or injuries on a blog or social networking site such as Facebook or Instagram.
- Rush into a quick settlement without consulting your injury attorney.
Why should I hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
A personal injury lawyer can get you a much higher recovery than you can on your own. With an experienced and knowledgeable injury lawyer, you will have someone on your side who can skillfully guide you through the legal process, answer your questions and address your concerns. A recent study conducted by an insurance industry research institution determined that injured victims represented by attorneys tend to have more money in their pockets after attorney's fees and costs compared to those who choose to do it on their own.
Plaintiffs also benefit from the expertise, experience and resources of a personal injury law firm that has a track record of standing up and fighting against insurance companies and large corporations. Retaining the services of a personal injury attorney also allows you to focus on recovering from your injuries and bringing your life back to normalcy while your attorney guides you through what can be a complex legal process.
What would an attorney do for me?
Your personal injury attorney will advise you throughout the process. He or she will guide you with regard to what you can expect and answer your questions. Your attorney should get back to you in a timely manner and keep you updated as your case progresses. He or she will help you obtain, preserve and document evidence, complete paperwork, put together your case file and provide you with an truthful assessment of potential outcomes. Your lawyer will serve as an honest and effective representative for you, championing your rights and striving to help you secure fair and full compensation for all your losses. Your attorney will also help right any wrong that was done and hold the negligent parties or wrongdoers accountable.
How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
Our law firm works on a contingency fee, which means that if we do not win, we do not get paid. We do not charge upfront costs or fees. This means that we will advance all necessary costs of your case and protect you from repaying those advances if your case is not successful. Our fee is in line with other top-quality lawyers who handle serious personal injury matters. Our guarantee not only saves clients hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also gives them the peace of mind they deserve during a difficult period of their lives.
How are the expenses of my case paid?
As a case progresses, we need to advance costs to hire experts, conduct discovery and prepare for trial. We do advance all these costs and that is spelled out in our retainer agreement. The client is responsible for reimbursing the costs when the case settles. However, if we don't recover money for you, you will owe nothing.
How much is my case worth?
Each case is unique in terms of facts and circumstances. It is impossible to gauge the value of a claim at a glance. In serious injury cases, the recovery depends on the amount of insurance coverage available, the nature, extent and duration of your injuries, and the assessment of liability. In most cases, injured victims can seek compensation for damages including:
- Medical expenses including past bills and future expenses relating to the accident. This could also include mileage to and from the doctor's office or hospital.
- Loss of income due to workdays missed.
- Permanent injuries that may lead to loss of employment, livelihood or life's enjoyment.
- Cost of long-term treatment and care, which is necessary in catastrophic injury cases.
- Past and future pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Why does it take so long to file a claim?
We cannot file your claim until after the doctors have given us reports stating exactly what your medical condition is and what they expect it to be in the future. Often, doctors are slow in making these reports. We request clients to contact their doctors to help speed up this process. If we try to settle your case before your medical condition is stabilized, you may lose money that you may be entitled to for a condition that unexpectedly arose or did not surface until after your case was settled.
It is important that your case is not settled until all damages have been assessed and all investigations to determine liability have been completed. It generally takes several months to gather such information. If the case goes to trial, it could even take several years. You have our promise that we will work as hard and as quickly as possible to settle your case in a timely and effective manner.
Who can I talk to about my case?
It is crucial that you not discuss your accident or case details with anyone except your attorney and your doctors. If your insurance company wants to discuss your case before they pay your medical bills, please do refer them to your attorney. Remember that any necessary information from employers, schools or other persons or entities will be obtained by Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. Never discuss your case with anyone until you check with your attorney first.
Can a claim be filed against the Government?
Any injury claim that involves the government is subject to special laws. Regardless of whether the governmental entity involved in the federal government, the state, a city or county, a Notice of Claim must be filed with the appropriate governmental agency soon after the injury. Under California Government Code 911.2, any personal injury claim against a governmental agency must be filed within 180 days of the incident or injury. If you believe that the government may be involved in your case, please notify us immediately.
What happens when I hire a lawyer?
When you schedule your initial, free consultation with Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, we will gather general information about your case. We will provide you with clear and precise guidance regarding what you should and should not do. Then, you will be asked to sign certain authorization forms to allow us to obtain your medical records and other pertinent information. Bisnar Chase will contact the person who was responsible for your injury and/or the insurance company, and notify the parties that you have retained us as your attorneys. We will also contact all of the doctors and hospitals involved in your care to obtain your medial chart and billing information.
What happens when a lawsuit is filed?
Before filing a lawsuit, our personal injury attorneys will obtain your permission. We will also explain to you why we believe a lawsuit should be filed. The decision to file a lawsuit should be made by your attorney, but with your input. Filing a lawsuit may be necessary to obtain just compensation for your injuries and losses. A settlement is always possible, even after the lawsuit is filed. In our experience, only a very small percentage of cases make it to trial. A majority of personal injury cases are settled before or even during a trial.
What happens when my case goes to trial?The following are the steps necessary to bring the case to trial:
Pleadings are the documents parties file in court that form the basis of a lawsuit. A lawsuit is filed against an opposing party by filing a document in court known as a complaint or petition. The person who brings the action is the plaintiff. The person against whom the action is brought is the defendant. The petition is a statement of facts alleging the names of the parties and alleging why the conduct of the defendant entitles the plaintiff to recover damages.
Once the plaintiff's petition is filed, a "summons" is issued to be served on the defendant by an officer of the court, usually a Deputy Sheriff or process server, informing the defendant that suit has been filed and that a response must be made within a given period of time or a judgment will be taken against him. The response filed by the defendant is called an "answer," which is prepared by the attorney for the defendant. Alternatively, if a defense attorney feels there is a fatal flaw with the lawsuit, a motion to dismiss the complaint or to strike portions of the complaint may be filed.
Once an action is filed, both sides have a right to "discover" facts concerning the opposing party's case. This stage is known as "discovery." Normal discovery proceedings include written interrogatories, depositions, production of records, and sometimes, medical examinations. Each side may serve written questions on the opposing party, called "interrogatories". You are required to answer these questions within a prescribed period of time, in writing and under oath. We will serve interrogatories on the defendant in your behalf, and the defendant will serve interrogatories on you, which you must answer. Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys will assist you in preparing your answers.
Depositions are used to learn as much as possible about the other side's claim or defenses. A deposition collects information, under oath, that is transcribed in a statement, which may be used by either side in a lawsuit. It has the same effect as testifying under oath. Those present are the parties concerned, their lawyers, sometimes an additional witness or two, and a court reporter, who records the questions and answers. The lawyers normally agree in advance where the deposition will be held. It is usually in the office of one of the lawyers. You are required by law to give a deposition. Prior to the deposition, Bisnar Chase will go over the facts of the case with you and answer any questions you might have.
What is Mediation?
Sometimes, the parties involved may submit the dispute to "mediation." This is a process where the parties meet with an independent third person, typically an experienced lawyer or a retired judge, who helps the parties to arrive at a settlement. The results of mediation are not binding. This is informal and less costly than a trial. If that is one of the options in your case, your lawyer will discuss it with you.