Lawyers are always quick to give advice about what you should have done at the scene of an automobile accident. They advise you to call the police, take pictures of the damaged vehicles, and get the name and phone number of any witnesses. Unfortunately, by the time you read this article, what you did or didn't do at the scene of a crash has already happened. Lawyers also like to brag about what they can do for you at the end of your case, i.e. settlement or trial. What has been historically lacking is practical advice about what you should do in the time between the car crash and the settlement or trial.
Accordingly, let me set the scene. After a jarring car accident, you are released from the emergency room, you are in a lot of pain, and your car is sitting in a tow lot. Even worse, your job expects you to be at work on Monday. How are you going to get through the next several weeks? First of all, if this sounds familiar, that is not surprising to me. Thousands of people experience this anxiety-inducing situation every year. We hope this article helps.
1. Getting the rental car: Who pays it? How do you make that happen?
If your vehicle is damaged to the point where it's either a total loss or it's going to require repairs before it is drivable, the at-fault driver's insurance will pay for your rental car. Many times, when you first contact the at-fault driver's insurance company, you will hear something along the lines of "well, we will have to contact our insured and conduct an investigation before we can give you a rental car." Fundamentally, this is a huge problem because in today's world, going without a car for days while waiting for an adjuster to do his job is extremely inconvenient.
Nevertheless, because you know that the other driver clearly caused the traffic collision and that the adjuster will at some point conclude that your vehicle is not drivable, I recommend that you immediately contact Enterprise Rent-A-Car. This by no means is an advertisement for Enterprise. The only reason I make this recommendation is because Enterprise works with every insurance company in the state. When you first call Enterprise, advise them that the at-fault insurance company is in the process of investigating your claim and that you are going to use your credit card or your own automobile insurance (if you have it) to initially cover the rental car expenses. However, you must make it very clear that you intend to transfer the rental car payment responsibility over to the at-fault driver's insurance company as soon as they complete their investigation.
This approach will get you a rental car today and allow you to eventually transfer the expenses and obligations of the rental car over to the at-fault driver's insurance company. I have found that this is the easiest and fastest way to get back on the road after a car accident. The only thing you are going to need is a credit card and driver's license. You are not required to rent the cheapest and smallest car on the lot. Your rental car selection should be fine as long as it is a comparable substitute for your wrecked car.
Lastly, don't purchase the added supplemental insurance on the rental car. As long as you maintain insurance on your wrecked car, the purchase of any additional rental car insurance is unnecessary and the at-fault driver's insurance company will not reimburse you for that expense.
2. Repair of your car:
When your damaged car is still drivable and not a total loss, many insurance companies will encourage you to go through one of their drive-through centers. These drive-through centers are an initial estimate place only. They will not take off a bumper cover or look at any underneath damage. At this point, vehicle damage requiring thousands of dollars in repair costs will only have an exterior walk around estimate of perhaps $500 or $600. The insurance company will issue you a check for their initial estimate of the repairs and send you on your way.
Next, you take your car to the body shop of your choosing and that body shop will do a comprehensive breakdown of the damages to your vehicle by taking off the bumper covers, assessing the damage to the frame of your car, etc. The body shop will then communicate with the at-fault driver's insurance company to receive additional work orders called supplements to cover the repair costs for the additional damages they find that were not accounted for in the initial estimate. So, even if you have the $500 check from the insurance company, our best advice is to keep that check without cashing it so that you can transfer that check to the body shop when they finish repairing your vehicle.
When your case is evaluated by an injury adjuster, that adjuster uses several criteria in deciding how much money to offer in settlement, including the amount of damage your vehicle sustained in the crash. If the repair costs for your vehicle were relatively small, the adjuster will claim that the impact was minor and could not have been the cause of your injuries. This alone is a good reason to have your car repaired rather than pocketing the initial check the insurance company gives you (the walk around estimate). If you do not repair your car, and you only took a $500 check from the insurance company, they will likely infer that your car sustained only $500 worth of damage and that your collision was a very minor bump. Consequently, they will refuse to offer very much money to compensate you for your injuries. However, with supplements, the actual repair would cost thousands of dollars and no adjuster later on will claim that the impact was light. So get your car fixed!
3. If your car is totaled:
If your car is totaled in an automobile collision, it is the at-fault insurance company's job to pay you the replacement value of your vehicle and to provide you with a basis as to how they determined that value. Insurance companies maintain data about the prices of vehicles sold in a particular market. They will often determine the value of your vehicle and then make an initial offer that is less than what they actually have available to pay you. For example, the insurance company may make an initial offer of $5,000 when they have $5,500 available.
Oftentimes, the best two-tier attack in response to any offer extended by the insurance company on a total loss is to ask them to (1) send you the written market evaluation that they undertook to arrive at their figures, and (2) after reviewing their documentation, make a counter-offer on the high side of what their own market data shows as comparable vehicle values.
Don't forget that work vehicles such as limousines or certain types of work trucks are also revenue producers for you. If your work vehicle was totaled, one of the additional issues that needs to be considered is the valuation of the out-of-service costs to you. The insurance company is responsible for paying those as well.
Lastly, there is nothing that requires you to simply accept what the at-fault insurance company is offering for your vehicle. If you have full coverage on your vehicle, you can ask your own insurance company to simultaneously evaluate the value of your vehicle. If you select your insurance company's higher offer for your vehicle, your insurance company will turn around and go after the at-fault driver's insurance company for the amount you received for your car.
Often, the only difference is that your insurance company will pay you the value of your vehicle minus the deductible you owe ($500 or $1,000). Sometimes, your insurance company will waive the deductible because that amount is easily recoverable from the at-fault driver's insurance company. Otherwise, tell the at-fault driver's insurance adjuster that you have decided to go with your own insurance company's offer and request that they issue you a check for the amount of your deductible. You should never have to pay a deductible if you are not the at-fault party in a crash.
4. How to get wage loss reimbursed:
Regularly, injured folks miss days or even weeks of work after a car crash and are never compensated for their lost wages. While it is still fresh in your doctor's or nurse's mind, ask them to write you a note retroactive to the date you first saw him/her following the crash that addresses your work restrictions. If your job involves heavy labor and your doctor wants you to limit your lifting activities, this would be an excellent time for you to secure a note from the doctor that specifically addresses your work restrictions and how long those restrictions must last. This note will be extremely useful six months or a year later when your attorney is trying to convince the at-fault driver's insurance company that you lost wages because of the crash.
5. Who pays for your medical care?
If you are injured and need medical care, there are several sources that you can utilize to pay for your treatment. If you have car insurance, Colorado has compulsory Medpay that will cover up to $5,000 or more or your medical bills. If you were in someone else's vehicle, their Medpay and the Medpay from your own auto policy can be stacked for double coverage. Generally, every Colorado insurance policy will have at least $5,000 worth of available Medpay coverage. Think of Medpay as free money because you do not need to pay your insurance company back after utilizing these benefits. You simply need to ask your insurance company to pay your bills by sending them the invoices from your medical providers, or by setting up a direct payment plan with the doctor's office. It is important to know that using your med pay benefits does not increase your monthly premiums.
In addition to Medpay, most Colorado residents have health insurance. Some health insurance companies will attempt to mislead you by telling you that your health insurance is not available to pay for auto-related injuries. If they tell you this, they are wrong because they are, in fact, responsible to pay. Representatives from health insurance companies deal with the laws of many different states and it is understandable why they get confused and misunderstand that there is no primary source for medical care reimbursement for automobile accidents in Colorado.
Before July of 2003, Colorado had no-fault benefits available that functioned as the primary payer source for the first $100,000 of any person's auto accident related medical care. However, since Colorado changed from a "no-fault" system to a "fault" (tort-based) system nearly 11 years ago, health insurance providers simply need to be reminded that there is no law in Colorado that would subordinate their obligation to promptly pay auto accident related medical expenses. Very often, one of the first letters we send on behalf of our client is to the health insurance company informing them to update their knowledge of current Colorado law. You should expect your health insurance to pay your medical benefits excluding your regular co-pays and deductibles.
Additionally, you should consider saving your Medpay as much as possible to reimburse yourself for out-of-pocket expenses such as pharmaceutical co-pays, deductibles, etc. A quick conversation with any attorney in my office will inform you as to why exactly that might be of benefit to you and your pocketbook.
6. What if you don't have health insurance?
If you do not have health insurance to pay for your care, the worst thing you can do is simply go without care. The good news is that there are doctor offices and even finance companies that will agree to provide you with medical care today and wait until you resolve your case to get paid. The bad news is that these companies charge higher rates for this care. However, without care, it is virtually impossible to recover from your injuries and get a decent injury settlement. If you have been injured in an automobile collision and you don't have health insurance or Medpay, please call one of our attorneys ASAP so they can explain the details of medical financing.
7. Type of doctors to see:
Some folks after an injury accident hire an attorney quickly so that attorney can refer them to a doctor. There are many personal injury lawyers who will send you to their favorite doctors. This type of arrangement, while common, can have a detrimental impact on the outcome of your injury claim. The problem is that the insurance companies get wise to that trick and are able to connect the dots between the doctors you see and the lawyer you hired. We believe the best way to keep a case clean is that after you are released from urgent care or the emergency room, you should follow-up with your family practice or primary care physician. Family practice doctors are great for taking a whole cluster of symptoms and working with their patients to refer them to the proper specialist or therapist. You should eagerly accept and follow up on referrals from your family practice doctor. Except under very unique circumstances (i.e. no health insurance), you should be leery of accepting attorney referrals to doctors, especially if you have health insurance or med pay.
Very often, it is these six areas discussed above that cause the most frustration amongst people who have recently been the victim of a motor vehicle crash. We hope that this six step guideline to some of the issues that you are going to come across within the first two weeks after your motor vehicle crash helps you understand that this is simply a rules based system. If you understand the rules, your anxiety level towards the whole situation will greatly decrease.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, our lawyers have spent decades representing the rights of the injured. We hope that if you have any questions after reading this article that you call us with your questions.