Car Accident FAQs

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At Harting, Simkins & Ryan, LLP, many of our prospective clients come to their free initial consultations with a list of questions about car accidents, lawsuits, settlements, and more. Unless you’ve been through the process before, you may not know what a personal injury attorney does during a case or how an insurance claim really works.

If you’re searching for answers about car accidents to determine if you should reach out to an attorney for help, you’ve come to the right place. We compiled a list of clients’ most frequently asked questions.

Before you get started: These answers represent only general legal information for cases in the state of California and not legal advice. If you’re curious about how the law applies in your situation and if you should retain the services of a personal injury attorney, please reach out to our office in Long Beach, CA, for a free case evaluation.

Should I Speak With Insurance Adjustors Following an Accident?

If you plan to immediately contact an attorney to discuss your case, politely refuse to talk to any insurance adjustor for the time being – your attorney will help you navigate insurance discussions and can legally represent you in front of insurers. If you do not plan to retain an attorney in the near future, you may want to have a short conversation with an insurance adjustor to initiate the claims process. You are not legally obligated to talk to another party’s insurer at any time:

If you do speak with an insurance adjustor, use the following tips to protect your rights:

  • Provide limited information. You may offer your name, phone number, address, and basic accident information. Stick to facts that answer when, where, who, and what type of accident (rear-ending, head-on collision, etc.) questions. Do not go into details about your possible injuries or claims of fault. Do not give the representative permission to record anything you say.
  • Take notes. Write down the name of the insurance adjustor and take notes on what the adjustor asks and your response. Anything you say may affect the settlement offer.
  • Beware of the fast settlement offer. Insurance companies that know their client is liable for a car accident may quickly calculate a settlement value based on the information at hand. An early settlement may not reflect the full extent of your injuries, your future medical and caretaking needs, the pain and suffering you endure, and/or the full extent of the responsible party’s liability. Consider all financial consequences of an injury before you accept an offer.

If the insurance company does not express a willingness to negotiate after delivering an initial offer, consider discussing your claim with an attorney.

Only you can decide to talk to an adjustor after an accident or to remain silent. Use this information to make the choice you feel best protects your rights and ability to secure fair compensation. You can reach out to an attorney for support at any stage of the claims process, but your attorney may not be able to erase any statement you make to an insurance adjustor.

Should I Hire an Attorney to Settle My Case?

You don’t always need to hire an attorney to settle your case. In straightforward claims involving minor injuries or property damage, clear liability, unquestionable damages, and a timely resolution, legal representation may not be necessary. Be aware that some risks can arise from a do-it-yourself approach to accident claims.

You may accidentally say something that impacts your claim value, or the insurer may unreasonably deny or delay a settlement. We recommend that you speak with an attorney before talking to an insurer if you have any questions about the claim and legal liability. You can contact an attorney at any point in the claims process, but a preemptive case evaluation may serve as a better strategy.

We do recommend contacting an attorney to settle your case if:

  • You were seriously injured or affected by the accident.
  • Your injury will likely involve ongoing or future care.
  • The other party disputes his responsibility.
  • The insurer still hasn’t settled your claim, and you’re getting close to the statute of limitations (two years from the time of the accident in California for personal injury; four years for breach of contract claims).
  • The insurance company denied your valid claim or offered an unreasonable settlement value.
  • The accident circumstances were unusual or complicated.

An attorney does more than sue liable parties for financial compensation. Your attorney can help you obtain medical support, delay medical collections, investigate the accident and your injuries, fairly calculate your current and future needs, and protect your right to insurance benefits.

How Are Medical Bills Following an Accident Paid?

Legal action can help you pay for current and future medical bills, but insurance claims processes and lawsuits can take time to resolve. In the meantime, injured individuals must find a way to pay for medical services or face relentless hounding from medical bill collectors.

California is considered a fault or tort-based state. Here, those involved in an accident must pay for their own medical expenses until the at-fault party’s insurer delivers a settlement or a court issues a verdict in the case. The good news is that you may have access to one of the following bill-paying strategies:

  • Health insurance. You can use your own health insurance after an accident to offset the initial costs of your injuries.

If you obtain a settlement after using any medical insurance policy, your health insurer may claim a percentage of it as reimbursement for its costs. It also retains the right to sue the responsible party or take action during the injured person’s lawsuit. Check the fine print of your insurance policy; it likely contains a subrogation or lien agreement specifically for personal injury claims.

You may want to talk to your attorney about this practice and your health insurance policy early in your relationship to better understand how subrogation may apply in your case. In some cases, your attorney may negotiate for a reduced payment liability on your behalf.

  • Medical payments coverage. Look into your automotive insurance policy. If you bought medical payments (Med Pay) coverage, the coverage may pay for expenses up to policy limits for the policyholder and passengers in the policyholder’s vehicle during the accident.

You may use this in conjunction with other insurance policies to gain more coverage. For example, your Med Pay policy might cover traditional health care deductibles or the cost of services your health insurance will not cover.

  • Medical lien. In addition to alternative forms of insurance, health care providers sometimes agree to provide services via a medical lien. The health care provider (hospital, specialist, etc.) will agree to perform services in return for a portion of the settlement. Your attorney can help you file for a medical lien and negotiate fair terms for settlement.

You may also have access to other forms of insurance to pay for your medical care as you work through your claim or lawsuit. If you don’t have access to any form of insurance or a medical lien, then you may fall under the scope of an indigent care program. Certain health care providers may offer certain services to those who cannot pay.

What is the Value of My Claim/What Kind of Damages Can I Recover?

Personal injury claim values range from thousands to millions of dollars. The severity of the injury, degree of negligence involved, the circumstances surrounding the accident, and the injured individual’s long-term prognosis all factor into claim valuation.

Injury victims in California have the right to recover compensation for both economic and non-economic losses minus their percentage of fault. Economic losses include traceable financial losses, such as loss of wages and future income, medical expenses, transportation costs, and property damage costs. Attorneys and insurers calculate these losses using an injured individual’s actual records as well as predictive analytics.

Non-economic losses are intangible and may include pain and suffering and lost quality of life. Professionals typically calculate these losses from economic losses using a formula of some kind. The most commonly used methods are the multiplier calculation and the per diem calculation. If using a multiplier, someone will rate the injury on a scale of 1.5 –5 and multiply all calculable losses by that factor. In the per diem method, someone will identify the amount of loss experienced each day and calculate the cumulative loss over time.

After calculating the full value of the claim, the court or an insurer might identify the injured individual’s percentage of fault. If applicable, this percentage would proportionately decrease the total value of the claim.

An injury attorney plays a crucial role in negotiating claim value. A skilled attorney will pull evidence to show the full extent of injuries; identify past, present, and future losses; and clarify legal liability for full and fair compensation. Without an attorney, injured individuals often place too much trust in an insurance adjustor’s settlement calculations.

How Long Will a Car Accident Case Take to Resolve?

Every car accident case is different. A straightforward insurance claim may only take a few months to resolve, while a serious and complicated car accident case can turn into a multiyear battle. Although the time frame of an accident case may seem daunting, a good injury attorney can help you receive full and fair compensation that is not otherwise attainable.

Factors that can complicate a car accident case include:

  • The type and seriousness of injuries involved.
  • The liable party’s willingness to accept fault.
  • The number of liable parties in the case.
  • The insurance company’s timeline and settlement offer.
  • The complexity of the accident.

Your attorney may not give you an exact timeline for your claim, but could provide you with a ballpark estimate based on the facts at hand. This initial estimate can help you plan for the future but cannot guarantee success. Many accident cases begin as straightforward insurance claims and later turn into lengthy lawsuits as new evidence arises.

I Was Partially Responsible for the Accident. Can I Still Recover Compensation?

It depends. California follows a pure comparative negligence doctrine to determine liability in car accident cases. The rule allows a plaintiff to recover damages even if he or she contributed to the incident. Insurance adjustors and state courts look to the rules to determine how much compensation a plaintiff deserves.

In a case involving a speeding driver and a drunk driver, for instance, both parties may have contributed to the accident via negligent actions. The court determines that the drunk driver was 90% liable and the speeding driver was 10% liable for what happened. If the speeding driver suffered injuries in the accident, the court would not bar him or her from recovery (as it would in a contributory negligence state) – it would only reduce the total damages awarded by 10%.

If you were 48% liable for an accident, you could technically file a claim and subsequent lawsuit for the incident, but doing so might not make sense. Could you pay for your expenses and various legal fees with a little over half of the total possible damages? To determine if legal action makes sense, look closely at your own liability and the seriousness of your injuries.

I Didn’t See a Doctor After the Accident. Can I Still Recover?

Initially, you might think that someone who walks away from the scene of an accident is injury free. As personal injury attorneys, we hear too many stories of how adrenaline and the shock of the experience mask serious injuries. Someone involved in an accident may decline an evaluation at the scene and fails to schedule a medical exam afterwards only to experience concerning symptoms days later.

Consider this example: A young man is involved in a T-bone accident in an intersection. He feels a little neck strain from the incident but is otherwise OK. He goes back to his normal life without thinking twice about the accident. Days later, he’s at work and can’t properly complete a sentence – everything comes out as gibberish, and he begins hallucinating. He may not even remember the blunt-force trauma that injured his brain. The late diagnosis could change his long-term prognosis and the lack of a medical record after the accident could jeopardize his ability to recover compensation.

Brain injuries, in particular, are sneaky. They can go unnoticed for days. A doctor may pick up on injury symptoms you can’t see. An early medical evaluation creates a baseline of information that could provide valuable insights in the claims process and in the courtroom. Always seek medical attention after an accident, even if you feel uninjured.

Can I Claim Workers’ Compensation Benefits After a Car Accident?

Maybe. Every state enforces different workers’ compensation rules. In general, California bars employees from filing for workers’ compensation benefits in accident cases involving normal commutes. However, California employs a “going and coming” rule. To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, you must prove an exception to the rule.

If your employer requires that you use your own vehicle between job sites or as a condition of employment, you may qualify for benefits after a vehicle-related accident. Other exceptions to the rule include commercial travel, special missions, and commuting using a company car. Car accident claims in workers’ compensation are complex. You may want to consult an attorney at Harting, Simkins & Ryan, LLP, to learn more about how car accident laws and workers’ compensation benefits factor into your case and settlement value.

Check this page frequently to find new questions and answers about car accident cases. If you didn’t see an answer to your question here, contact our Long Beach, CA, office to schedule a free case evaluation. We can answer your questions and help you determine the best next steps in your case.