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1.) What should I do after I have been involved in an automobile collision?
Most automobile accidents are relatively minor and involve no serious injuries. However, even in situations where the damage to the cars is minimal and there are no apparent injuries, you should always do the following:
(a) Get the mailing address, phone number (home, work and cell) and e-mail address of the other driver(s) involved. If there are eye-witnesses, get their contact information as well.
(b) Make sure the police are contacted, even if the accident occurs on private property, so that a report can be prepared.
(c) Regardless of who is determined to be at fault, contact your own insurance company to report the incident.
(d) Get photos of the vehicles involved and anything on the scene (such as construction barrels, pooled water, obstructions / defects in the roadway, or skid-marks) that could have any possible bearing on the incident.
In the unfortunate case that injuries are involved, you should also:
(a) Ask for an ambulance to be called, if you require medical attention on the scene.
(b) Visit the Emergency Room or your primary care physician (family doctor) if you experience problems after you leave the scene of the incident. (If you require specialized care thereafter, your doctor, who best knows your medical history, can make the appropriate referral)
(c) Once you have made arrangements for proper medical care, take photographs that show the areas of injury, unless the injury has no outward manifestation.
(d) Hopefully, the injury is not serious and will resolve entirely within a short period of time. However, if the injury does not resolve, you should contact an attorney to determine if legal action is necessary to obtain full compensation for your “out of pocket” expenses and other damages to which you may be legally entitled.
If your vehicle is damaged or destroyed in a collision, you may be entitled to recovery from your own insurance carrier and/or the insurer for the other driver, if that person is charged with fault. Claims against your own insurer will be governed by both the terms of your insurance policy (i.e., whether or not you have “collision coverage” or Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists coverage) and by Georgia Law. Recent changes in the law and related Court decisions have substantially enhanced the rights of claimants vis-à-vis their own insurers. Claims for property damage against the responsible party, or his/her insurer, will be determined by both the terms of his/her insurance policy and the facts surrounding the collision. Whether you claim directly against your own insurance company, or against the other driver’s company, you may be able to recover, in addition to the cost of repairing your vehicle, damages for “loss of use” (i.e., rental car expenses) and/or “diminution of value” (i.e., the loss in market value to your vehicle due to it having been involved in an accident.)
(a) Medical Expenses:
Your own automobile insurance policy may provide Medical Payments Coverage, up to a certain amount. Again, the terms of the policy will determine your rights. You may also have claims against the insurer for the other driver, if he/she is determined to be at fault. Of course, if you have coverage for medical expenses under an employer-provided insurance policy, such may also cover treatment for automobile related injuries. You should keep in mind that many such health insurers and HMOs (particularly those administered under Federally approved E.R.I.S.A. plans) may have limitations on what is covered and may expect you to pay them back from any sums you may later recover from the at-fault party. The validity of health insurer reimbursement claims is determined by State and/or Federal law and the terms of the contract itself, and often involves a complex interplay of these elements.
(b) Lost Wages:
It is possible, though not likely, that your own automobile policy would provide coverage for lost wages. If you were on the job at the time of the accident, then your employer could be responsible for your lost wages (as well as your medical expenses) suffered in the accident. You may also be entitled to recover lost wages from the insurer for the other driver, if he/she is determined to be at fault in the collision.
In Georgia, the law infers that “pain and suffering” flow from personal injuries. Legally, at trial, the amount you are entitled to recover from an “at fault” party for the pain and suffering you receive from an accident is determined by “the enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors”. However, most cases where pain and suffering are claimed are settled before trial. The settlement of your pain and suffering will obviously turn on the facts of your particular situation, but to evaluate such a claim the following elements are often taken into consideration by both claimants and insurance adjustors:
(a) Whether your injury has resolved completely, or if you are still in pain or have permanent scars or a permanent disability rating.
(b) Whether your injury requires invasive procedures, such as surgery, or responded well to more conservative treatments such as physical therapy.
(c) Whether you were disabled from your job, temporarily or permanently.
(d) Whether your daily life activities (household chores, hobbies, playing with your children) were temporarily or permanently interrupted by the injury.
Certain cases warrant the recovery of punitive, or exemplary, damages. Under Georgia law, if a tort is caused by a person who acts with the intent to harm (or with reckless disregard of the safety of others) then the injured person, in addition to the types of damages listed above, may also recover an additional amount to punish the other party and deter them from this type of conduct in the future. There are certain prerequisites for and limitations upon the recovery of punitive damages, and not all insurance policies cover the other driver for this classification of damages. Any attorney experienced in Georgia tort law can tell you if your case warrants a claim for punitive damages.
While (3) through (6) above outline the basic types of damages sought in most cases arising from automobile accidents, there are other categories of damages which may apply, including a variety of consequential damages. By consulting an experienced attorney, you can determine if any such damages apply to your particular situation.
Most insurance adjustors are honest people just trying to do their job – which necessarily involves gathering information about accidents, injuries and claims. Your refusal to talk to an insurance adjustor can impede this process and may cause the investigating insurance carrier to become suspicious of the claim, even where there is no other basis for such suspicion. On the other hand, the adjustor, particularly if he/she is employed by the other driver’s insurance company, is out to protect the interests (i.e., the coffers) of the company he/she works for, and its insured, the other driver.
For minor collisions, particularly where no injury has been sustained, the benefit derived from cooperating with the insurance company’s efforts to investigate the claim usually outweighs the risk of giving a statement that could later be used against you if you submit a claim that is inconsistent with that statement. If you ask the adjustor, in advance, to provide you with a copy of the statement, they will almost always oblige. Make sure that your request for a copy of the statement is on the recorded record, along with their response.
However, the best course of action, for an accident of moderate severity or worse, is to contact an attorney before agreeing to sign any forms or submit to a recorded interview or sworn statement. Also, you should be aware that many insurance polices require the insured, upon reasonable request, to submit to a sworn or recorded statement. Failure by the insured to submit to such a request could void coverage under such a policy.
The basic statute of limitations for personal injuries in Georgia is two (2) years. For damage to property (i.e., damage to your car) the statute of limitations is four (4) years. However, there are many issues and circumstances which may expand or contract these time periods. Certain types of claims have statutes of limitation of one year or less. Also, some claims (for example, those against governmental entities, such as Counties) may require special notice to the responsible party within six (6) months of the incident.
YOU SHOULD NEVER “ASSUME” THAT YOU HAVE TIME REMAINING ON THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS, OR THAT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON YOUR CLAIM HAS RUN. YOU SHOULD CONTACT AN ATTORNEY EXPERIENCED IN GEORGIA TORT LAW AS SOON AS YOU CAN TO CALCULATE THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR YOUR PARTICULAR CLAIM.
All law firms are different in how they approach the handling of personal injury claims. At Crim & Bassler, L.L.P., we generally proceed as follows, subject to needs of your particular case that may require us to proceed differently:
(a) First, we conduct a detailed interview with the potential client. There is no charge for this consultation, whether or not you ultimately choose us to represent you. We will ask you to bring with you all information you may have gathered or received on your own before our involvement.
(b) If we decide to take your case, and you decide to retain us to represent you, we will give you a copy of our contingency fee contract. Like most firms which handle plaintiff’s case, our contract provides that our fee is taken as a percentage of what we are able to recover, by settlement or judgment, on your behalf. Some firms require that you sign the fee contract at the initial interview. We understand that choosing an attorney to handle your injury claim is an important decision, and we encourage you to take the time you need to make this decision with confidence. If you wish to take the fee contract home with you to “sleep on it” or discuss it with family, we strongly encourage you to do so.
(c) Next we will conduct an investigation of the facts surrounding the incident and your injuries. We will ask you to sign authorizations so that we can obtain copies of your medical records and bills. We will obtain a copy of the police officer’s accident report and any other reports from relevant agencies (such as D.O.T.). Depending on the complexity of the case, we may retain accident reconstruction experts or engineers to analyze the vehicles, scene or other pertinent evidence.
(d) We will contact all appropriate insurance carriers to advise them of our representation. Georgia law allows us to request information on the available limits of insurance under applicable policies.
(e) At the point in time that your injury has resolved, or plateaued (what doctors often call “Maximum Medical Improvement”, or MMI) we next usually submit a demand to the appropriate insurance carrier.
(f) If the insurer is reasonable, and the case does not involved hotly disputed, or overly-complex issues, we can often obtain a settlement before filing suit. However, in some cases the insurance company may not be willing to make a fair offer pre-suit. If suit is filed, the case can usually be resolved within a year or so, perhaps longer if complex issues of fact or law are involved.
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
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