Car Accidents, Injuries, and Dealing With the Insurance Company
Car Accidents, Injuries, and Dealing With the Insurance Company
The greatest price we pay for car accidents is human lives.
But those who survive often pay a high price too. The Boston car accident lawyers at The Law Offices of AIG know in addition to physical and mental pain and suffering, crash victims rack up sky-high medical bills, miss out on weeks or months of work and incur numerous other expenses.
In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 5.7 million crashes. Another 10 million are never reported to police each year. On average, 33,000 people die in auto collisions annually, 1.6 million suffer injury and 4.1 million incur property damage.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts reports in 2012, there were 108,400 reported accidents, resulting in 4,400 serious injuries and 350 deaths.
Some common injuries suffered in crashes include:
- Brain and head injuries
- Neck injuries
- Back injuries
- Face injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Psychological injuries
Insurance industry figures calculate the average cost of auto liability for bodily injury is $15,500, though many claims are much higher.
The most common causes of crashes include:
- Alcohol-Impaired Driving
- Red Light Running
- Distracted Driving / Cell Phone Use
These actions are each forms of negligence. All driver owe a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a safe, responsible and lawful manner. When that duty is breached and injury results, it’s important for the injured to understand their rights.
Massachusetts is a no-fault state as far as crashes go, which means for most minor accidents, people should recover compensation from their own insurer. However, when serious injury results, injured motorists may step outside of that no-fault system and demand damages from the at-fault driver, insurer and potentially other defendants.
Dealing With the Insurance CompanyAn auto insurance policy is a contract between the driver and the insurance company. The policyholder agrees to pay their monthly or quarterly premiums and abide by the company’s stated rules, and in return, the company agrees to cover the cost of certain expenses and losses.
However, most people find when they are involved in a crash, getting the insurer to make good on that contract is not as easy as it should be. Insurers have deftly developed a broad range of policies and procedures that limit their liability.
This often makes dealing with the insurance company complicated and frustrating. When you’re trying to get the most money for your claim – even those that do not cross the no-fault threshold – it’s helpful to hire an experienced Boston accident lawyer for assistance.
Beneficial results are often the product of preparedness and persistence. That means first and foremost, promptly seeking medical attention. This is true even if you feel “fine” because a delay in being examined could hurt your case. Beyond that, if possible, crash victims should document the scene by talking to witnesses, calling police and taking photographs.
The majority of crash cases are resolved via a settlement, either with your own insurer or the insurer of the at-fault driver. Less often, crashes result in a lawsuit that is resolved in court.
To decide the best approach, you need an experienced injury attorney to at least review your case.
Denied ClaimThere are fewer scenarios more deflating or aggravating than a denied claim for auto insurance recovery.
If you personally filed the request, you may at this point need to consider hiring an experienced Boston injury lawyer. If your lawyer filed the request and it was still denied, you may need to consider litigation.
The two primary reasons insurers deny auto accident claims:
- The insurance adjuster believes there is no merit to your claim (i.e., accident was avoidable, no immediate complaint/treatment of injury, medical records don’t indicate injury, no coverage for that type of incident, pre-existing condition, etc.)
- The claim was denied in hopes you would give up
Beyond simply analyzing claims with a discerning eye, insurance adjusters know that in denying some valid claims, a percentage of those individuals will not hire an injury lawyer and will never get what they deserve.
Understand that insurance companies are not above denying claims they know have merit. This is not ethical, but it’s quite common. While auto insurers tout being “like a good neighbor” who “saves you money” while keeping you “in good hands,” the reality is these firms are more concerned with making money for stockholders than caring for those who file injury claims.
If it was your Boston car accident lawyer who filed a claim that was ultimately denied, your attorney will probably conduct another review of the facts to make sure something wasn’t overlooked. Insurers tend to treat claims filed by attorneys (as opposed to individuals) with greater deference. If your attorney still believes you have a strong case, he or she may pursue an aggressive negotiation or, in some cases, litigation. This legal action could include a notice of violation of Unfair Settlement Practices Act or Bad Faith dealing. If successful, these claims could result in additional damages.
Massachusetts Minimum Coverage LawThere are seemingly limitless options when it comes to auto insurance packages. However, those within the Commonwealth are required to have at least four types of coverage.
Massachusetts minimum coverage law requires drivers and vehicle owners to purchase coverage for:
- Bodily injury to others
- Personal injury protection (PIP)
- Bodily injury caused by an uninsured auto
- Damage to Someone else’s property
It is not enough only to have these type of coverages. The state also requires that coverage must be for certain minimum amounts. So to break it down further, insureds in Massachusetts need to carry at least:
- Bodily injury – $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident
- Personal injury protection (PIP) – $8,000 per person and $8,000 per accident
- Bodily injury caused by uninsured auto – $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident
- Damage to someone else’s property – $5,000 per crash
These policies need to list all licensed drivers in your home (those related to you by blood, marriage or adoption – even if those drivers have their own separate policies) as well as anyone who sometimes drives the vehicle.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist CoverageUninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage is a type of insurance that allows people injured in a crash caused by a driver with little or no insurance to still be compensated.
Without UM/UIM coverage, many innocent drivers and passengers would suffer financial ruin. Their own basic policy limits wouldn’t be enough to cover all the medical bills and lost wages (referred to as “economic damages”) and yet they would have little remedy outside the no-fault system.
It’s a relatively common scenario given 1 in 7 drivers nationally and 1 in 10 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts lacks auto insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council.
Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 175, Section 113L details state law pertaining to uninsured motorist coverage. In some cases, there may be additional UM/UIM policies from which you can collect.
Particularly in crash cases where injuries or serious or may have resulted in wrongful death, this is an important consideration.
Settlement OfferThe majority of car accident injury cases are settled before they make it to trial. Many are even settled before a lawsuit is filed. Those options are considered last resorts because lawsuits can expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining.
That said, litigation can be worth it in some cases, particularly if the settlement offer is mediocre and the insurance company is unwilling to budge.
Having input from an experienced injury attorney throughout settlement negotiations can be important. You may not be in the best position to objectively determine the worth of your claim and chances of success at trial.
This should take into consideration:
- The amount of coverage
- The extent of your injuries
- Whether you are permanently disabled or will require long-term care
- The amount of income you lost as a result of injuries/not being able to work
- The extent of your pain and suffering
- Cost of replacing damaged or destroyed property
- The strength of your case and the cost to pursue litigation
A prudent injury attorney will first work to negotiate a fair settlement agreement before moving to file a lawsuit.
Low Settlement OfferJust because your insurance company offers you a settlement does not mean you should automatically take it. In fact, auto insurers are notorious for extending low settlement offers in the first round of negotiations.
Too often, people accept these offers, either not realizing the total value of their claim or the full extent of their rights. Some don’t recognize that this is a negotiations process, and insureds are not obligated to accept the first offer made.
What’s more, just because an insurance company makes a low offer does not mean the insured needs to automatically lower the amount requested. If your first offer was fair and reasonable, you have every reason to expect to receive it.
Our legal team recognizes that many clients may be desperate for money to pay medical bills and other expenses. However, it’s generally inadvisable to shake hands on a low settlement offer because it will end up costing more in the long run.
Document Extent of InjuriesOne of the best ways an injured driver can preserve their rights and protect their interest is to properly document extent of injuries. Although it is an essential element of any successful personal injury case, it is one that is often overlooked in the immediate aftermath of a crash.
Some basic steps we recommend:
- Get immediate medical attention. This is important even if you don’t believe your injuries are all that serious. First of all, some injuries are not always apparent right away without medical examination. Beyond that, seeking a doctor’s review of your physical condition right after a crash will give you official documentation on which to base your lawsuit. If you wait, it provides the defense with an opportunity to assert your injuries had some other cause.
- Create a medical file and save everything. You are likely going to be flooded with paperwork. There will be insurance forms, medical bills, medical records, benefit explanation letters and other administrative documents. Save all of it in one easy-to-access place. This allows you to prove your injuries and also track expenses.
- Photograph your injuries. Update the photo files as you heal. This kind of proof is sometimes the most powerful if a case goes before a jury.
- Keep a diary of injuries. Doctors don’t always note mental/physical damages related to a crash, and such proof may be helpful later in court.
Work LossA critical component of any car accident case is the amount of damages, or losses suffered as a result of the crash and subsequent injuries.
A big chunk of this is for medical bills and also for pain and suffering. But another is work loss.
Essentially, accident victims are entitled to reimbursement from at-fault drivers for income lost as a result of the crash. This includes sick time and vacation pay you had to use in order to cover your absence.
Work loss claims must prove two basic things:
- Time missed from work as a result of the crash
- Amount of money you would have earned in that time
Regular employees should have a fairly simple time calculating work loss. However, those inconsistently employed or those who are self-employed may have a tougher time establishing losses. Our experienced legal team can help.
Bad FaithIf you have been injured in a Boston car accident, state law in Massachusetts requires the auto insurance companies to act in “good faith” when handling the claim.
When an insurance company fails to abide by the requirements of Mass. Ann. Law 93A, which covers the regulation of business practices for consumer protection, this is considered acting in bad faith.
Bad faith stipulations apply not only to auto insurers, but to payment of claims for auto accidents. An insurer may be found to have acted in bad faith if:
- It refuses to pay a claim it owes
- It fails to file a claim it owes in a timely manner
- It requires an unreasonable amount of paperwork in order to process the claim
- It fails to timely deny a claim or explain why a claim was denied
- It fails to timely settle a claim, assuming settlement is appropriate
Successful claims for bad faith can result in additional damages to the plaintiff, and do require the assistance of an experienced Massachusetts injury lawyer.