Injured victims of a motor vehicle crash suffer physically, mentally, and financially. California law affords you the right to be compensated for these damages caused by another’s careless driving. Read below how personal injury lawyers help injured people file, pursue, and navigate the many facets of motor vehicle wreck claims.
Identifying Who’s Responsible
Personal injury lawyers search for parties who may bear responsibility for your injuries. In addition to the at-fault drivers, you might have claims against the owner of the vehicle that collided with you. Such may arise where:
- The owner permitted the driver to use the vehicle, which in such case the owner’s liability is limited to $15,000 per person or $30,000 per crash
- The at-fault driver operated a vehicle owned by the driver’s employer while engaged in work activities
- The owner negligently entrusted the vehicle to a careless or unqualified driver, in which damages are not limited to $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident
Crash reports identify the owners and operators of the vehicles involved in the crash. You can find the names of trucking or other companies whose vehicles were involved from photographs and videos of the crash scene.
Locating Insurance to Pay the Claims
A number of insurance coverages may pay on the accident claim. Personal injury lawyers start with the insurance on the at-fault vehicle. California law requires that vehicle owners carry liability coverage of at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident.
Depending on the severity of the crash, you may have significant and long-lasting injuries exceeding the minimum liability coverage. If the at-fault car lacks enough for your claim, your personal injury attorney will look at your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage on your vehicle.
For instance, if you have $70,000 of damages and the defendant had no liability insurance, your uninsured coverage would pay $70,000. Underinsured coverage would contribute $55,000 if the other vehicle carried $15,000 in liability insurance.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist policies pay to the extent that the other driver was negligent in causing the crash. You may also have medpay insurance on your car. With medpay, you get payment of expenses for ambulance services, emergency room or hospital visits, prescriptions, and other reasonably necessary medical attention arising out of the crash. You get these benefits regardless of who was negligent in causing the crash. Unless you were at fault, your auto insurer cannot raise your rates because you or your lawyer submit a medpay claim.
Before you can meet with a lawyer, the insurance company for the other driver or owner likely will contact you to take your statement. If you accept the invitation. you run the risk that the adjuster will use seemingly innocuous statements to show that you were at-fault, the other drivers were not at fault, or that you were not hurt. The other parties or their insurers might lure you into a disadvantageous settlement by offering to pay your deductible, your ambulance bill, or a small amount of your medical expenses. Without a thorough analysis of your injuries, you might deny yourself the full level of compensation.
Other traps in your personal injury claim involve the receipt and handling of settlement proceeds. In particular, various parties may have claims to at least a portion of your recovery or settlement. These liens come from:
- Emergency room and other physicians treating you for your injuries
- Medi-Cal (California Department of Health Care Services)
- Medicare or Medicaid for payments of medical expenses related to the crash
- Employers or workers’ compensation carriers who paid benefits to you because the crash occurred in the course and scope of your employment
- Claims by employer-sponsored or provided health care plans administered under the Employee
- Income Retirement Security Act (ERISA)
These claims could significantly reduce what you collect in hand. Personal injury attorneys take these potential liens on recovery or settlement proceeds in evaluating and negotiating your claim.
Not filing your lawsuit in time can defeat your claim even if the other driver was at fault and you suffered serious injuries. In California, you have two years from the date of the crash to file your lawsuit.
Gathering Evidence For Your Claim
Medical records have a primary role in illustrating the extent and severity of your bodily injuries. When you meet with a car crash attorney, provide a list of the hospitals, physicians, doctor’s offices, ambulance or airlift services, pharmacies, therapists, and other medical providers. You will sign authorizations so that the lawyer can obtain these records and the bills.
Do not discount the value of first responders at the crash scene. Ambulance crews have the first opportunity to see your bruises, fractures, other injuries, and your condition overall. Officers from the California Highway Patrol, police, or sheriff’s departments obtain witness statements and prepare reports based on them and their own observations. From the crash reports come the identity of drivers, vehicle owners, insurance companies, passengers, and other witnesses. Bystanders or passengers may have video or photographs of the scene that can serve as evidence of the crash.
Filing and Pursuing the Lawsuit
Many details come with filing and pursuing a lawsuit. The complaint does not require detailed facts, though a typical one will allege:
- When, where, and how the wreck occurred
- The identities of the vehicles (by make and model year), drivers, and owners involved
- Violations of traffic laws, such as texting while driving, running red lights or stop signs, speeding, failing to yield, following too closely, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- That the plaintiff suffered lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental distress, and other losses caused by the wreck
The defendants, through their insurance companies, will defend the lawsuit. As a result, you will have to produce medical records and bills, your own health insurance information, photographs, videos, and other documents or evidence that supports or even hurts your claim. The defense lawyer will likely take your deposition, in which you answer questions under oath about the wreck and your injuries. These events normally come before more settlement efforts or a trial if the case cannot settle.
If your case goes to trial, having a lawyer will help you present your evidence clearly and convincingly and handle the evidentiary and other legal issues that arise in the trial.
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Martin Gasparian is the founder of Maison Law, a California Personal Injury Law Firm. Martin is a graduate of Georgetown University Law School and has been practicing law in California 2004. His practice focuses on helping injury victims know their rights and recover just compensation.