It may take years to pay off a car loan, but it only takes a few seconds to turn your life upside down in a car accident. Occasionally, it’s just a fender-bender with minimal property damage. However, if there are any injuries whatsoever, a personal injury case ensues.
According to the Utah State Legislature website, there were 15,769 accidents in the state in 2019. Most people will wreck a vehicle at least once in their lifetime. Do you know what steps to take following a car accident? Let’s have a look at the process of preparing a car accident claim.
Immediate Actions to Take
At the accident scene, the first thing you should think about, of course, is your health. The reason for this is two-fold.
First, you want to be sure that you are not seriously injured, and take steps to protect your health. But also, immediately going to the emergency room and being seen by an ER doctor guarantees that there will be no argument that can be upheld about your medical condition once you get in front of a judge.
For example, if you wait to see your primary care provider, the defendant’s attorney may say that you were injured after the fact, between the time of the accident and the time of your doctor’s appointment, or simply that your injuries must not be THAT bad.
Next, law enforcement will arrive, document the scene, and move the vehicles off the road. Before this happens, make sure you take photos to document where each car is located, any debris that is scattered around, and weather conditions.
You should also talk to any witnesses on video, if possible. Collect witnesses’ contact information, and look for businesses that may have cameras outside. Those cameras may have recorded the entire accident and could provide you with all the proof you need.
Medical Treatment After the Accident
Once the initial phase is over, you’ll be sent to other physicians or specialists, as needed. This is when you find out if you can return to work or if you are restricted in any way by your injuries.
It’s important to continue to receive medical treatment, even if you feel that you are no longer having symptoms. If the insurance company finds out that you are no longer keeping your appointments, they will assume that you were not as seriously injured as you claim and may put forth a statement saying you were exaggerating your symptoms.
Dealing with Your Insurance Company
The next step is to notify your own insurance company about the incident. Usually, it is your insurance that will help you get your vehicle fixed, as long as you have collision coverage. Your insurer will get your vehicle back on the road and then reach out to the defendant’s insurance company for reimbursement.
This is where things can get complicated. Utah is a modified comparative negligence state. This means if you are at least 50% responsible for the accident, you receive no compensation whatsoever. If you are determined to be less than 50% at fault, you are eligible to recover partial damages in comparison to the percentage of fault assigned to you.
Insurers are crafty when interpreting these complicated comparative negligence laws. This is where a good car accident attorney in Salt Lake City can be your savior.
Your car accident lawyer will further investigate and follow up with you regularly about your medical condition. As treatment goes on, you will supply your counsel with medical records and any bills. Once you are healed, the full amount is submitted for compensation to the insurance company.
If your pain is permanent or you are disabled, you’ll get a physician’s statement that will be submitted to the insurer. It is at this time that some accident victims settle too quickly. It’s very important to be patient until your medical prognosis is certain before you settle with the insurance company or you’ll risk being short-changed.
Demand for Settlement
Once you are medically stable, a settlement demand will be made. Normally, the insurer will make the first offer, and your attorney will negotiate with the adjuster. A lawyer worth his salt will be going back and forth several times to get you the maximum settlement amount.
Deciding Whether to Sue
At this point, you will be collaborating with your lawyer to decide whether to settle or file a lawsuit. It is ultimately up to you whether you want to sue or not.
Some people say they simply are not of the character to sue someone and want to settle, but insurance companies know that people don’t like the hassle of lawsuits, so they often try to lowball accident victims. It is simply their job to give you the lowest possible amount, but your attorney will know whether you’re offered a fair deal.
Discovery and Mediation
If you decide to sue, your case will go into what is called a discovery period. That means your attorneys are trying to find out all information possible about the at-fault party, and they, in turn, are trying to find out as much as they can about you. This process includes interrogations, document requests, and possibly depositions. Once this is complete, mediation often occurs.
Mediation is a court-ordered resolution process. It includes a third-party mediator that facilitates discussion with both sides, with the goal of settling before going to trial. Many car accident cases are resolved at mediation.
Going to Trial
Only when mediation is unsuccessful will your case actually go to trial. Once your lawsuit is officially filed, it may take up to a year to get your day in court but the wait is usually well worth it.
Lawyers are motivated and well-equipped to do the best they can for accident victims. Never automatically settle for less than your case is worth without talking to a qualified professional. It may take time and effort, but follow the right steps and you can be rightfully compensated for all of your injuries, as well as pain and suffering.