Maybe you saw it happening in slow motion, like in the movies. Or maybe it was a jarring jolt out of the blue, leaving you shaken and shocked. No matter how it happens, being involved in a car accident is a traumatic event no one wants to experience. Car accidents almost always result in property damage and frequently cause injuries with varying degrees of severity. Unfortunately, accidents occur more than we would like to believe. In the United States, there are six million car accidents each year.
Accidents are always unexpected and usually traumatic experiences. After you recover from the shock, you might be thinking “This wasn’t my fault, so why am I paying all these medical bills?” When another’s negligence contributes to an accident that causes injuries, they may be liable for any resulting costs. Liable parties may be responsible for medical bills and any other accident-related damages.
Read on to learn more about how to recover financial compensation for medical bills and other damages after a car accident.
The first step in determining whether another party might be responsible for your medical bills is establishing fault. To establish fault, injured parties must demonstrate that another’s actions were intentional or negligent when causing their injuries.
Oftentimes, the driver who caused the accident was negligent in doing so. However, there are additional parties who may be responsible for damages caused by the accident. Potentially liable parties may include:
Another driver: If you were hit by another driver who acted negligently, they should bear the responsibility of your damages, including medical bills. If the driver was violating any traffic laws at the time of the accident, their behavior will likely be considered negligent. Accidents commonly occur when a driver runs a red light, speeds, or drives under the influence of alcohol. All of which involve a violation of every state’s traffic laws.
Driver’s employer: When employees, acting within the scope of their employment, cause an accident, the employer may share liability for the resulting damages. For example, if you are hit by a truck driver on their delivery route, the employer may bear responsibility for the driver’s actions.
Local government: Perhaps a large pothole or a broken traffic signal caused your accident. The local government might share in the liability for any accidents caused by inadequate roadway maintenance. Local government agencies have a duty to keep the roadways of their towns safe for drivers. Inadequate maintenance or a failure to properly monitor road conditions are a breach of this duty. Unlike many states, Washington permits individuals to file claims against governmental entities to recover financial compensation for any damages caused by the government’s action or inaction.
Vehicle manufacturer: Cars are complicated pieces of machinery, and if any one component fails or malfunctions, there can be dangerous consequences. If a vehicle’s failure to operate properly contributed to an accident causing injury, the manufacturer may be responsible for any resulting damages.
Establishing the fault of another party can be a complicated and fact-intensive process. You will need to ensure that you compile sufficient evidence demonstrating fault. To ensure any evidence from the scene of the accident is preserved, be sure to file a collision report. A collision report may record witness information, photos, and whether any citations were issued. Furthermore, not only will a collision report help collect evidence, but it is also a requirement under Washington law.
Injured victims must consider whether additional evidence, e.g., interviews or documentation, will help to support their case. Should you decide to pursue legal action, after filing a personal injury claim, you will have the opportunity to engage in discovery. During the discovery phase of the claims process, injured parties may interview eyewitnesses or gather documentation of their injuries and treatment. Any piece of evidence that may demonstrate another’s fault will strengthen your claim. Discovery can be a complicated process, but an attorney may help injured parties navigate the process.
Even when an accident was another party’s fault, injured victims may only recover compensation if they can prove the accident caused them damages. Evaluate all potential damages so that your request for recovery is comprehensive.
Of course, injured parties may be entitled to recover compensation for their medical bills. In addition to medical bills, you might miss work or cannot participate in activities you enjoyed before the accident.
Common damages accident victims may be entitled to include:
- Medical expenses: In addition to medical bills, you should be sure to consider the cost of future care. Injured victims may recover the costs of long-term rehabilitation or any assistive devices, such as crutches or a wheelchair.
- Loss of income: Your injuries and medical visits may require you to miss work or work reduced hours. In some cases, injured victims may be entitled to recover for their lost wages. Additionally, your injuries may affect your long term ability to perform job duties or work full time. If this is the case, you may consider seeking recovery for loss of future earnings.
- Emotional distress: You may be suffering from emotional distress after the accident. Perhaps your injuries have left you isolated and feeling depressed. Car accident victims frequently experience symptoms of PTSD that may be triggered whenever the brakes are slammed in a car. If you are dealing with ongoing emotional distress, those damages may be included in your recovery demand.
- Property damages: When another’s negligence causes damage to your property, including your vehicle and its contents, you may be entitled to compensation for any necessary repairs or replacement.
- Loss of enjoyment: Your injuries may keep you from participating in activities you previously enjoyed. For example, if you no longer can play an instrument or participate in sports, you may recover for your loss of enjoyment.
In some cases, injured victims may also be entitled to punitive or compensatory damages. These damages are not meant to compensate victims for the costs of their injuries but rather to punish the behavior that caused the injury. Punitive damages are typically only awarded by a jury, and are generally not available in Washington.
While some damages calculations are straightforward, such as adding up medical bills, others may require the input of experts. For example, an economist may be needed to help predict a victim’s lost future earnings. A medical expert may need to advise on the anticipated costs of future care required for the specific injuries. When appropriate, an attorney may help injured victims coordinate with any necessary experts. Expert testimony can help to ensure that injured victims have sufficient evidence to support their claims for damages.
Working With Insurance Companies
After being involved in an accident, if you are able, you should always exchange insurance information with the other drivers involved. Insurance companies are almost always involved in paying for costs resulting from a car accident. It is important to realize, however, that the insurance companies’ interests may not be aligned with yours. Depending on the amount of coverage the driver’s policy provides, the full extent of your damages may not be recoverable from the insurance company.
When dealing with insurance companies, keep the following tips in mind:
- Report immediately. Make your insurer aware of the accident and any relevant details as soon as possible. Do not rely on the other party to report the accident to their insurer. They may avoid reporting the accident, especially if they are likely to be found at fault. You may need to contact the other party’s insurer to make them aware. However, be careful not to share too many details when speaking with other driver’s insurance providers.
- Be cautious. The other party’s insurer is there to represent the interests of the other driver, not your own. Be sure not to say anything that could be interpreted as an admission of your own fault. A seemingly innocent statement about how the accident happened could be twisted to point fault back in your direction.
- Expect pushback. The responsible party’s insurance company will be motivated to pay the least amount possible for the claims brought against them. Representatives will try to discredit the extent of your injuries and the amount of damages you claim. It is helpful to keep documentation of all medical visits and medical recommendations as evidence.
- Avoid early settlement. Any early settlement offer from an insurance company is likely an amount that is much less than you deserve. The insurance company will be preying on your need for immediate financial relief to pay your medical bills or repair your vehicle. If you can be patient, it will likely pay off in the long run.
- Avoid signing paperwork. An insurance company may try to overwhelm you with paperwork, but be sure to read every document before signing it. Oftentimes, settlement agreements will require victims to waive their right to claim additional damages in the future.
- Be persistent. Insurance companies may try to drag out the process to incentivize you to settle. However, delays in the claims process may potentially cause you to miss the opportunity to file a personal injury claim. In Washington, the statute of limitations requires injured parties to file a personal injury claim within three years of the date of the accident. Washington law places requirements on insurers. Insurance companies have an obligation to act reasonably promptly in response to communications and to promptly settle claims. Make sure the insurance company you are dealing with knows you are familiar with these requirements.
Sometimes, the other party’s insurance company or your insurance company will fully satisfy the damages you claim. In that case, you may not need to file a lawsuit to recover additional damages. Oftentimes, insurance companies will refuse to fully compensate you or the policy limits will be insufficient to cover all of your damages.
When appropriate, an attorney can assist injured parties in communicating and negotiating with insurance representatives. Experienced attorneys can help injured victims evaluate whether the settlement amount offered is fair. An attorney can ensure that you understand your rights under the law and advocate for them appropriately.
When to Expect Payment
Receiving payment for your damages can be a long process. How quickly your claim is resolved will depend on factors that include your desire to settle or take the case to trial.
- Settlement: All parties in a personal injury claim may settle at any time throughout the claims process. Settlement offers will almost always be lower than the full amount of damages you have requested. On the other hand, you may receive prompt payment when you accept a settlement. However, you must decide whether the benefit of prompt payment outweighs potentially receiving more money by taking the case to trial. The primary benefits of settlement are speedier receipt of payment and certainty of payout.
- Trial: Taking your case to trial is likely to be a long process. Typically, after initiating a personal injury lawsuit, the parties will complete the discovery stage. Throughout discovery, parties have an opportunity to secure additional evidence. The parties may perform interviews or collect documents. Additional evidence may strengthen your settlement position, or it may demonstrate that you are better off accepting a settlement offer. After discovery, the injured party will decide whether to proceed to trial or resume settlement negotiations. Although you may receive a higher payout at trial, the outcome is never certain. In some instances, a jury may determine that the injured party is not as injured as they claim. In that case, you may receive a lower amount than the insurance company initially offered to pay in a settlement. Given this uncertainty, the majority of personal injury cases are settled before trial.
Ultimately, the amount of time it takes to resolve your claim will depend on whether you are inclined to settle or take the case to trial. Extremely complex cases may take several months or years to reach a resolution without a settlement. It will help to work with an experienced attorney to understand the strength of your case and whether a settlement offer is worth accepting.
Find an Attorney Who Can Help
If you have suffered from injuries in a car accident, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting to get your medical bills paid. The other party may deny fault or discredit the extent of your injuries. Insurance companies may intentionally delay the claims process in an attempt to encourage you to settle.
A qualified attorney regularly works with injured victims to develop a comprehensive plan for their recovery. Each plan will take into account the unique facts and circumstances of the injured party’s case. An attorney may work with their clients to help them understand and evaluate the evidence.
When appropriate, they may communicate with the other insurance companies and advise a strategy for settlement. Lawyers can also help their clients understand when they should expect to receive payment and how the timing may impact their current financial obligations.
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