If you recently got hurt in a car accident, you might be dealing with unexpected medical bills, income losses, and other losses that pile up quickly. And when the insurance companies refuse to cover your expenses or pressure you to settle for less, it may feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. But don’t lose hope.
With the proper information and guidance, you can level the playing field and demand the compensation you deserve. That’s where a car accident lawyer comes in. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the complex legal process, handle negotiations with the insurance company, and fight for your rights in court if necessary.
Car Accidents and Auto Insurance
You might struggle with considerable stress and uncertainty as a car accident victim. Perhaps you have painful injuries that require costly medical care and take a long time to heal, preventing you from returning to work or even living independently. One of the most important things you can do right now is to ensure that you understand how auto insurance could work in your situation.
Auto insurance is critical after a car accident for numerous reasons. One reason is that auto liability insurance protects you financially if you cause an accident that harms another person or damages someone else’s property. If you don’t have auto liability insurance, you might get stuck paying for other people’s losses out of pocket.
Another important function of auto insurance is covering your own medical bills and property repair costs after an accident, although not all auto insurance policies provide this type of coverage. Certain types of no-fault auto insurance, such as personal injury protection (PIP), medical payments (MedPay), or collision coverage, can pay for some or all of your crash-related losses.
While auto insurance policies are undoubtedly essential, dealing with the insurance claims process after a car accident is frequently challenging. Auto insurance providers often focus on minimizing their own costs more than taking care of crash victims. When you file a claim, the insurance company might try insisting that your injuries aren’t that bad, shifting the blame onto you, or offering lowball settlements that don’t account for all of your losses. In some cases, they could even deny your claim altogether.
Working with an experienced car accident lawyer is extremely helpful when navigating this difficult and frustrating process. An attorney can help you by explaining your rights, handling all the insurance details, and negotiating aggressively on your behalf.
Types of Auto Insurance Systems
The U.S. has two main types of auto insurance systems: fault-based and no-fault. Each type of system has its own set of rules and requirements, which significantly affect how you handle an insurance claim after an accident.
Most states follow a fault-based auto insurance system, meaning drivers must pay for property damage or injuries that occur when they are at fault for accidents. Conversely, if you sustain injuries or property damage in an accident and the other driver is at fault, their insurance provider would be responsible for covering your accident-related losses and expenses.
The key advantage of a fault-based system is that it allows victims to hold careless and reckless drivers accountable for their behavior. The key disadvantage is that fault-based auto insurance claims are often complex and time-consuming since victims must prove who is at fault before they can claim compensation. As a result, many fault-based auto insurance claims involve disputes and delays.
On the other hand, about a dozen states have no-fault insurance systems, which aim to simplify the claims process by reducing or eliminating the role of fault. In states with no-fault auto insurance systems, every insurance company must pay for their policyholder’s own medical expenses and property damage costs, no matter who is at fault for an accident.
Drivers in no-fault states must carry PIP coverage, which pays for the policyholder’s medical bills, income losses, and other injury-related expenses after an accident. Filing a no-fault insurance claim is usually more straightforward than filing a fault-based claim, but the no-fault system also has drawbacks.
For instance, no-fault insurance is usually more expensive and doesn’t cover certain losses, like pain and suffering. Additionally, crash victims in no-fault states can only file claims against at-fault drivers in limited circumstances, meaning many victims pay out-of-pocket after hitting their insurance policy limits.
Reviewing Your Auto Insurance Policy
The specifics of your insurance policy will vary depending on the laws and regulations governing your state’s insurance coverage.
For instance, your auto insurance policy will likely contain some level of no-fault coverage if you live in Puerto Rico or one of these 12 states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
If you live in another state with a traditional fault-based system, you have the right to file an insurance claim against the at-fault driver. However, you must prove the other driver’s fault to get money from their insurance company. You can only claim money from your own provider if you purchased optional no-fault coverage in addition to your liability insurance.
When you review your auto insurance policy, it makes sense to start with the declarations page, which provides an overview of the types of coverage you have.
Depending on the specifics of the policy, you might see this coverage:
- Personal injury protection (PIP). PIP coverage is a staple in no-fault states, and it’s optional in some fault-based states, too. When you have PIP insurance, it pays for your own medical expenses, income losses, and other injury-related expenses that stem from a car accident, regardless of fault. Your PIP policy also usually covers your passengers and household relatives.
- Medical payments insurance (MedPay). MedPay coverage is similar to PIP. It pays for the policyholder’s medical expenses after an accident, but MedPay provides more limited coverage. MedPay only covers medical expenses, not related losses, and it often has lower policy limits than PIP. However, MedPay insurance is useful for making up the difference when other policies don’t fully cover your losses. You can even use MedPay to cover copays and deductibles from other policies.
- Property damage liability. Property damage liability (PDL) coverage is a type of liability insurance that protects you financially if you are at fault for an accident. If you are responsible for a car wreck, your PDL insurance pays for the damage to other people’s vehicles or other property up to your policy limits. But, importantly, your PDL policy does not pay for your own property damage costs. This type of insurance is mandatory in most states, including no-fault states.
- Bodily injury liability. Bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage is another type of liability insurance. BIL coverage pays for other people’s injuries and medical bills if you are at fault for an accident. If you have a BIL policy, it should pay for others’ medical expenses, lost wages, and other injury-related costs after an accident.
- Collision. Collision coverage is a type of no-fault insurance that pays for damage to your vehicle after an accident, no matter who causes the wreck. This coverage is optional in most states, but your lender might require it if you are leasing or financing a vehicle.
- Uninsured motorist (UM). Uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage are also types of no-fault insurance. These policies pay for your injuries or property damage expenses after an accident with a driver who has no insurance or insufficient insurance. UM insurance can also cover your losses after a hit-and-run accident. UM insurance is optional in many states, though some states have laws requiring insurance companies to offer it.
In some car accident cases, other types of coverage could apply, such as health insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, or life insurance. The best way to determine which types of policies and coverage limits apply to your situation is to review your case with a knowledgeable attorney.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident
If you feel overwhelmed and uncertain after a car accident, you can protect your legal rights and make the insurance process go as smoothly as possible when you:
- Immediately after the accident happens, pull over to a safe location nearby, away from the flow of traffic.
- Check yourself, your passengers, and others who were in the crash for injuries.
- If anyone needs emergency assistance, call 911 or make other arrangements to get the care they need.
- Exchange contact details, vehicle information, and insurance policy specifics with other drivers who were in the accident.
- Look for eyewitnesses at the accident scene and politely ask them for their names, contact details, and statements about what happened.
- Take photos of the accident scene, vehicle wreckage, and visible injuries from multiple angles.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible so your doctor can diagnose, treat, and document your crash injuries.
- Follow your doctor’s care plan and attend all follow-up appointments.
- Start a pain journal to document the specifics of your recovery progress.
- Keep track of your medical bills and healthcare records, and hang on to any documentation that proves lost income, such as pay stubs or bank records.
- Notify your auto insurance company of the accident per your policy agreement.
- Watch what you say to the other driver, the insurance companies, or any other parties before you discuss your case with a lawyer.
- Avoid posting updates or photos on social media while your case is pending.
- Contact a trusted car accident lawyer before you speak to anyone else.
Filing a Car Accident Insurance Claim
When you file an insurance claim after a car accident, you usually begin by reporting the accident to your insurance company. Auto insurance policies typically require you to report accidents within a reasonable timeframe, and you could risk losing a valuable source of coverage if you fail to meet this requirement. When you contact the insurance company, you’ll need to provide details about the accident, such as where the crash occurred, who was in the accident, and whether any witnesses were present.
Once the insurance company knows about the accident, they will likely assign an adjuster to your case. The adjuster’s job is to investigate the accident, determine the extent of your losses, and decide whether and how much the insurance company should pay for your claim.
Many car accident victims experience confusion and frustration at this stage of the claims process. When insurance adjusters go to work, they typically look for every reason they can find to minimize payouts and protect the company’s bottom line. The insurance company might use annoying delay tactics, undervalue your losses, or demand excessive documentation, all in the name of discouraging you and getting you to accept less than you deserve.
To protect your interests, keeping records of any communication you have with the insurance company is a good idea. This includes keeping copies of written correspondence, like letters and emails, as well as taking notes during any phone conversations about your claim. If the insurance companies deny or undervalue your claim, they will have a much harder time going back on their words or feigning ignorance if you have documentation of past conversations.
Why It Pays to Get Help From a Lawyer?
Perhaps the best way to fight back against the insurance companies’ underhanded tactics is to bring your case to a knowledgeable lawyer. A good lawyer will be persistent in pursuing your claim and demand the best possible settlement on your behalf. Insurance companies know that experienced attorneys do not tolerate bullying or intimidation, so when you have a personal injury law firm in Bakersfield in your corner, the adjuster will realize you mean business.
When you hire a car accident lawyer to handle your insurance claim, you can count on them to help you by:
- Explaining your rights and identifying sources of compensation for your claim
- Conducting an investigation into the car accident to uncover valuable evidence
- Communicating with employers, insurers, and other parties on your behalf
- Gathering medical records, crash reports, and other evidence for your claim
- Interviewing eyewitnesses and medical experts for useful case testimony
- Managing important case documents, details, and deadlines on your behalf
- Negotiating aggressively with the insurance company to increase your settlement
- Taking your case to court and representing you at trial, if the other side won’t pay