What should I do when I’m in a car crash?
The first thing to think about is your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of your passengers. Call 911 or have a witness call 911 if you think someone might have been injured.
Don’t get out of your car immediately unless there is a danger of fire or explosion. Sit for a minute and take some deep breaths. Compose yourself. If you are safely able to get out, then do so, realizing that you will need to be alert and share information with the other people. Be prepared to ask questions of the other driver such as name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, insurance company, owner of the car and license plate number. You will need this to make your report to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
I’ve been hit!
• Remain at the scene.
• Exchange information with the other driver if you are able.
• It’s OK to express emotion, but try not to lose your cool.
• Avoid saying such things as “I know it’s my fault” and “I’m not hurt.”
• Listen very carefully to what the other driver says and write down statements that help establish responsibility for the accident.
• Get witness names, addresses, and phone numbers. If possible, get their driver’s license number as it is much easier to find someone later than using a social security number.
Record the details!
If it is a major accident, do not move the cars – wait for the police. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene.
Take a look at both cars and note their positions relative to the road. Sketch a quick diagram. Take notice of where the cars are placed relative to the lanes of traffic, the center lane, intersection, stop signs and traffic signals. Make a note about the weather, too – was it clear and sunny? Foggy? Rainy? Is there any debris on the road? Are there any skid marks? If so, step them out and record the distances.
PLEASE – write it all down. With every passing day, you will remember less and less. And always write it down assuming that the other party could read it at any time.
File an accident report with the DMV within the required time, usually 72 hours. If you have been hospitalized, someone else can file it for you until you are capable of filing your own version.
I think I’m hurt, but it isn’t really all that bad; just a few aches and pains in my neck, back and hips. What do I do?
Get medical treatment from your own doctor as soon as possible. Your health is your first concern. Consult your doctor because some soft tissue injuries may not show for several days, or even weeks. Don’t be put off by someone saying, “Oh, it’s only a whiplash or minor strain.” Get professional evaluation and treatment. Remember that the typical ER doctor, after making sure you have no broken bones, will send you home and tell you to ice the area and take Advil. They generally only look for major injuries like broken bones, severe bleeding, concussion and hidden internal bleeding injuries. Once those possibilities are eliminated, you are no longer an “emergency,” which is why you need to see your own primary care doctor.
Your doctor will check you for mild or severe injuries and aches and pains. Sometimes it is hard to know the extent of your injuries because adrenaline can block pain. While soft tissue injuries usually show up within 24-48 hours, it can take up to two weeks or more for symptoms and pain to appear. Soft tissue injuries are real. They need appropriate treatment and assessment. Seeing your local doctor establishes a trail of reasonable treatment, and that is important in case your injuries require more treatment and cause you pain and suffering in the future.
Make sure that you get the treatment you need, and always follow your doctor’s advice.
Can I see a chiropractor?
Yes you can, but remember, in all injury cases, especially those settled without trial, there is a priority of acceptable medical professionals. We generally recommend that injured parties seek the treatment of a medical doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Although many Chiropractors (DC) give great relief to their patients and understand whiplash better then MD’s, adjusters discount their treatment. We like to see MD or DO treatment in conjunction with a chiropractor or even better, with a referral from a MD or DO. The main secondary level of treatment is now a referral to physical therapy by your doctor (MD, DO or DC).
Adjusters and defense lawyers (paid by the insurance companies) will try to discredit alternative medical treatments such as massage therapy, holistic medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture. Our first priority, however, is to get you well, so if these treatments work for you, then pursue them.
Why don’t I just settle with my insurance company?
Insurance adjusters are trained to get people to accept too small of a payment, too soon. Don’t trust them. I have seen so many cases where injured people, still hurting and in treatment, have signed a settlement with their insurance company only to find out they will need surgery and they cannot get out of their settlement.
When do I need a lawyer?
From the beginning. Gathering information and preserving evidence is crucial. We know what to do and how to do it. We know the questions to ask and the answers to seek. Insurance companies do not always need to know that you have hired an attorney, until the time is right. We can help you get the settlement that you deserve.
Who pays for my medical bills and my pain and suffering?
There are four potential sources to cover costs for you and your passengers:
1. Your own auto insurance. In Oregon, the PIP (Personal Injury Protection) statutes and your insurance policy provide that your own insurance must pay for reasonable medical treatment, up to $10,000 worth during the first year only, and up to $1,200/month in lost wages. These amounts may vary depending on your own policy, but these amounts are the basic PIP minimums. You are not restricted on the medical provider you choose. You are not restricted to your normal health insurance provider.
To claim through PIP, you must submit a PIP application through your auto insurance company and you must co-operate with the insurance company. They may ask you to sign a release of medical information, and they may ask you to submit to an independent medical examination.
2. Your medical insurance through work. This is a good option if you do not have auto insurance, and your health insurer will try to recover your costs from the at fault driver through your settlement or trial. You need to cooperate with your insurance company.
3. Your own pocket. The least desirable option.
4. Responsible party pays (the other driver’s insurance company). The responsible party is under no obligation to pay your expenses unless they agree to it or are forced through the courts. Most companies will not agree to pay anything until the case is settled or the jury has returned a verdict. This is also not a good option – do not count on this kind of payment. The one exception to this is when a pedestrian is hit. An injured pedestrian is covered by the insurance policy of the responsible driver under the terms of the PIP statute (Oregon).
I want a million dollars – can you help me?
Sure, but if you can walk into my office, then your case is unlikely to be awarded $1M. Believe me, if we can, we’ll try. The better approach is for us to assess the value of your claim. We do this by our experience, legal data and assessment tools available to us. It is better to negotiate realistically than to aim for “pie in the sky.”
What happens when the other driver is not insured?
As many as one third of all drivers on the road are not insured. To protect yourself and your passengers from an uninsured driver, you can buy uninsured and underinsured coverage. The amount of coverage is up to you when you buy your policy. You can always up the limits later, but it will not apply to an accident that occurs before you increase the coverage. This coverage is usually called uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and you pay for it each time you send your premium to the insurance company. Your insurance agent can help you here. Your insurance company, on an uninsured motorist claim, must pay you for your pain and suffering, future medical costs, lost wages, and impaired earnings if they apply to you. If you are making this type of claim, you will be treated as a “claimant.” To the insurance company that is the definition of a person making a claim against them. Even though this type of claim is being made to your own insurance company, you will probably be made to feel like you are asking for too much money.
Please remember, in this type of claim, your own insurance company will attempt to settle your claim as low as possible. It is in their best financial interest to pay you as little as they can. You need an attorney more now than ever before, you just don’t realize it. Many of my clients have consulted me as a result of rude and degrading treatment by their own insurance companies in uninsured and underinsured claims.
How does the attorney get paid?
We only get a percentage of all that we recover for you. This percentage varies from 33% to 50%, depending on whether the case is resolved before trial, by trial, or upon appeal. Handling personal injury claims can involve significant costs for medical records, expert witness reports and fees, depositions, filing fees, and other costs. These costs can range from as little as $100 to several thousand dollars. Generally, these costs are taken out of the settlement or award after being advanced by my office. Ultimately the client is responsible for these costs if for some very unlikely reason there was no settlement or an adverse verdict.