By Francis M. Smith
If you have sustained injuries in a serious car crash, a number of things must be done as quickly as possible in order to protect your rights to secure appropriate compensation from the insurance companies involved. However, in the aftermath of a serious accident, you are likely to be dealing with numerous other issues – receiving medical treatment and dealing with the pain of your injuries, overcoming the shock and stress of the accident itself, contending with the damage to your vehicle and the resulting transportation problems, managing the financial issues that arise from time spent not working due to your injuries, and in the most tragic cases, grieving and making funeral arrangements. These other important concerns make it all the more difficult for the average person without legal experience to handle their personal injury claim in the most effective way.
Unfortunately, insurance companies are likely to take advantage of this difficulty and inexperience, because it is in their interest to pay out as little as possible, or nothing at all – even for injuries resulting from a serious car crash. As soon as the accident is reported, the insurers involved will send their own investigators out to gather information. They will take photos of the accident scene, interview witnesses, and research the people involved in the accident. In many instances, they may offer you a settlement almost right away, before you have had a chance to get all the medical treatment your injuries require or even regain your bearings following the accident. If you accept their initial settlement, which will often be far too low to properly recognize all of what you go through as a result of the crash, you may well be unable to pursue further compensation. The insurance company may ask to speak with you (the "required" recorded telephone interview) hoping to limit your claim in any way they can. (They are NOT here to help, that is for sure.)
The best way to protect yourself is to seek the advice of a reputable and experienced personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as you can manage. Although it may seem like consulting a lawyer is just one more task to add to the endless pile of difficulties created by your accident, you will find that your attorney can help remove a significant number of those worries from your plate following a serious car crash. Your attorney can help you fill out and file the documents relating to your claim, examine your insurance policy and explain it importance, manage interactions with insurance representatives, gather evidence and witness statements about the crash, consult with medical and other experts, and advise you on the best course of action going forward. (And this is usually without any fee to you, since most cases are taken on by attorneys on a contingency- that is, they only get a fee, later, if they secure compensation for you.) By bringing an attorney on board as promptly as possible, you ensure that he will be able to gather evidence while the incident is still fresh in the witnesses' minds. If there are any issues with the police regarding fault for the accident, your attorney can also help you handle those.
Possibly the most important arena in which your attorney can help you is in dealing with the insurance companies. An experienced personal injury attorney knows the tricks that insurance adjusters use to downplay the severity of your claim and get you to accept a much lower settlement than you deserve, and can firmly insist on your right to have your injuries fairly compensated. After a serious car crash, you may have severe injuries that will require prolonged medical treatment, and the insurance company may try to push you into accepting a settlement before you know the full extent of your medical issues. They may ask you to submit to an insurance medical evaluation performed by an “independent” doctor – who is being paid by the insurance company to examine you, and who usually makes a significant portion of his income from medical evaluations of this type. These doctors have every interest in assuming that you are exaggerating the severity of your injuries, and looking for evidence to support that assumption, because that's what the insurance company who pays their fees wants to hear. Your attorney can help you prepare for this examination and may even be able to send a representative to accompany you, to safeguard your rights in the exam room.
Insurance companies claim in their advertising that they are in your corner when something goes wrong, and in the aftermath of a serious car crash is exactly the worst time to find out just how meaningless those platitudes are. You need someone who really is on your side, and will fight for you at the negotiating table and if necessary in the courtroom to ensure that you receive the just compensation you are due and that you have as little to worry about during your recovery as possible.
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.