By Francis M. Smith
Insurance companies advertise themselves as reliable sources of help when disaster strikes; they paint themselves as friends, neighbors, people who are on your side or in your corner, ready to help you. We've all seen the "Good Hands" commercials on TV. These are all great marketing slogans, but the reality is that insurance companies are for-profit businesses, and they make their bottom line by taking in as much money in payments and premiums as they can, and paying out as little for claims as they can get away with. When you suffer a car crash or other accident and need to file an injury claim, you're likely to find the helpful and neighborly spirit of your insurance company vanishing in the face of your claim. Unlike actual friends, your insurer has no motivation to care whether your medical bills are paid in full, or whether you receive compensation for the lost wages and suffering you endured as a result of your injuries. In order to make sure you get the money you deserve, you need to know how to handle your insurance company. If you have retained the services of a personal injury attorney, he or she will do this for you. If you have not, read on.
The first thing you should do in order to protect yourself is see a doctor about your injuries as soon after your accident as possible. This is important for several reasons. First, obviously, your primary concern should be your physical well-being, and a car accident can cause injuries that may have long-term effects on your health, even if those injuries are not immediately obvious. Some injuries, especially to the neck and back, can have serious, lasting consequences for the accident victim's ability to perform normal activities without pain – even when those injuries don't show obvious signs until days after the accident occurs. It is extremely common for a car collision victim to think all is fine at the accident scene only to arrive home later, or wake up the next morning, to a worrisome array of symptoms. You should not only seek out an initial examination with your physician or at the emergency room, but pursue any follow-up or specialist care that your doctor or the emergency room doctor recommends, in order to monitor the progress of your injuries and find out if any latent damage makes itself known in the days or weeks following your accident.
Your health is not the only reason to seek medical attention as soon as possible after you have an accident, however. Getting prompt medical care is also an important way to protect yourself in dealing with your insurance company (and the insurance company for the driver who caused your injury). If you were to wait several days or weeks before seeking medical treatment, the insurer might argue that this proves your injuries weren't that serious, or were not related to the motor vehicle collision, and don't require substantial compensation. If a lengthy period of time passes between your accident and your initial doctor visit, the insurance company might raise the possibility that your injuries happened in some other way, after the accident took place. In some cases, there may even be a deadline for you to seek out medical treatment after your accident; if you wait too long before getting medical care, you might lose the right to receive reimbursement of the medical expenses you incur as a result of your treatment.
After you make an appointment with your doctor or get home from the emergency room, the next thing you may want to do is find a reputable, experienced personal injury attorney who you will feel comfortable working with. You may not need a lawyer for much more than answering a few questions about the more confusing points of no-fault accident law, and speaking with an attorney doesn't commit you to any particular legal course of action. Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations. But when you're facing an insurance company with a fleet of lawyers on their side, and a claims adjuster whose job is to minimize the insurance company's payments, you may find yourself in need of an experienced professional who knows all the insurance company's tricks.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help take a lot of the pressure off your shoulders when you're still dealing with the aftermath of your accident. Evidence, in the form of witness statements, medical records, photographs of the accident scene, and other important data must be gathered in order to build the case you will present to the insurance company (and eventually, perhaps, to a jury) – and the sooner after an accident this evidence can be gathered, the easier and more complete it will be. Your attorney can also advise you about what to say – and what not to say – to your insurance company, and how to handle an “independent” medical evaluation (which most times is anything but) if your insurance company requires you to submit to an examination by one of their hired doctors. Because mandated coverage minimums for car insurance are so low, the amount of coverage available may not be enough to pay for all your medical bills; your attorney can tell you if there may be other negligent parties involved in your accident against whom you can file a claim for injury compensation. The best way to protect yourself is not to go it alone, and to get the advice of an experienced counselor to guide you through the personal injury claim process.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.