You Caused a Car Crash. Now What?
No one gets into their car intending to cause a car crash. However, each day across the Yakima Valley, drivers make mistakes, and other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians sustain serious injuries as a result. Being the subject of an insurance claim or potential claim can cause financial stress due to lost wages and excessive medical bills, not to mention the physical injuries and property damage suffered in an auto accident. However, there are simple steps you can take now and after a car crash to make sure that legitimate claims are resolved by your insurance company – not out of your personal assets.
Check Your Car Insurance Coverage – Today!
Aside from the premium bill, many of us don’t take a deep look at our liability insurance coverage – until it’s too late. Your insurance liability limit is the most that your insurance company will have to pay to settle a claim or pay a judgment for an injury. Most auto insurance policies have “split limits” where the limit is represented by a maximum per injured individual and a maximum arising from any one event. According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, drivers are required to have a minimum limit of $25,000 per individual and $50,000 per collision.
While $25,000 might sound like a lot of money, this can be exhausted by a single hospital visit. For example, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the average cost of medical treatment after a car accident is $15,000. A catastrophic motor vehicle injury, however, may require millions of dollars in medical expenses alone over the course of a lifetime. As you progress in your career and acquire assets, you should increase your coverage. A minimum limits driver’s insurance policy may have made sense for when you were first starting out without significant assets – in other words, you thought it would make you “judgment proof.” Today, that may no longer be the case.
Washington is a “fault state,” which means that your insurance company will pay for injuries or damage in an accident based on how much you’re at fault in the accident. Typically, insurance companies will pay for damages based on which party is determined to be at fault and to what degree. In addition, Washington follows a comparative negligence model, which means that by state law the courts will consider both parties when determining who is at fault in a car accident. For example, you may be considered to be 99% at fault in a car accident, but still be eligible for some compensation.
If you, the at-fault driver, causes harm to another driver or passenger and you don’t have enough insurance coverage, they may sue you in a personal injury lawsuit. A good rule of thumb is to maintain per individual insurance coverage equal to at least your combined assets (real estate, bank accounts, businesses, etc.). That way, even if you cause a catastrophic injury, the victim will still likely settle with your insurer. An experienced car accident attorney can provide advice and guidance on insurance information.
In addition, it’s a good idea to ensure the drivers and vehicles in your household are listed on the policy. If you acquire a new vehicle and don’t inform your insurer, coverage in that vehicle may be refused. Maintaining adequate coverage buys substantial peace of mind for a small increase in cost. If you have not reviewed your insurance coverage, including insurance rates, policy limits and deductible amounts included in your policy, set up an appointment to talk with your insurance agent.
Call the Police After a Car Accident
Even if you think you are at-fault in a car accident, it is in your best interest to have the scene investigated by law enforcement. Emotions often run high following a collision, so it is critical that a neutral party provide written documentation in a police report which includes the extent of vehicle damage involved in the car crash. More importantly, there may be bodily injuries that require first aid or an additional call for medical assistance.
While waiting for the police to arrive, it is always prudent to exchange information with the other driver, including their insurance policy information, address and phone number. If possible, it is also important to take photos of their license plate and any photos of the damaged vehicles or accident injuries. The more information you can gather at the scene of the accident, the more likely you’ll have success in your car accident case.
In addition, police can also verify the identity of the involved parties, reducing the chance of a fraudulent claim. They can take statements from all accident victims involved while everyone’s memory is fresh. Be honest with the police, but don’t offer your opinion about who was at fault until all the facts are established and you’ve had a chance to speak with your insurance company or a personal injury lawyer.
Cooperate with Your Insurance Company
Your insurance company’s job is to protect you when there are claims against you. You should notify the company as soon as possible following an accident. Ask your insurer about an optional insurance called Personal Injury Protection (PIP) which may cover some of your and your passengers’ medical expenses and wage loss – even for a crash you caused. Once notified, it is your own insurance company’s responsibility to investigate the crash, settle claims, defend you in a lawsuit, and pay a judgment up to your limits. However, under the contract you also have a duty to stay in communication, provide reasonable information to your insurance company, and let the company know if you are served with a lawsuit. Don’t risk your insurance coverage by failing to meet your obligations under the contract.
Consider Hiring An Attorney, Even if You Have Car Insurance
While some insurers fulfill their duties to investigate, settle claims, defend lawsuits, and pay judgments, not every insurance adjuster lives up to his or her responsibilities. Even if a lawsuit has been started and your insurer has assigned you an attorney, the attorney may be torn between his or her duties to you as the client and the interests of the insurance company paying the lawyers’ bills.
It’s always your right to consult with an independent attorney to be clear about your rights and options. Consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer may save you thousands of dollars, by either helping settle a case or obtaining “blue sky coverage” from your insurer. “Blue sky coverage” is when your insurer agrees to pay a potential injury claim regardless of the outcome, eliminating the risk of personal loss to you.
Even the most careful drivers make mistakes, some causing life-changing injuries or even wrongful death. By maintaining adequate insurance coverage, cooperating with police and your insurance company, and retaining an independent law firm, you can protect yourself while fairly compensating those you may have injured.
While you might think traffic laws are the pretty much the same wherever you go, the outcome of car accident claims can vary greatly based on the location and circumstances surrounding your accident case. It’s important to remember that hiring an experienced personal injury attorney like those at Abeyta Nelson Injury Law can make a big difference in how your car crash is resolved.
If you have questions about a car accident you were involved in or would like our attorneys to review your car insurance policy, please contact Abeyta Nelson Injury Law today for a free consultation.
-blog written by attorney James M. Boyer, Abeyta Nelson Injury Law