Setting Your Priorities After a Car Accident

Steven Kluender

Nobody wants to be involved in a car accident, and when one happens, your life can be turned upside down. If you’re involved in an accident which was caused by another driver, and you’re injured, first, get the medical treatment you need. Your healing is the first and foremost priority. You can deal with the insurance companies later. Make sure you have dependable, competent medical care. You want medical providers who will listen to you, address your ailments, and continue to serve you until you are 100% well.

Make sure you tell your doctor about ALL of your symptoms, no matter how trivial they may seem. People often downplay their symptoms over a fear that they will be labeled a “complainer.” The problem is this: If you don’t tell your doctor about a symptom, that problem won’t be noted in your medical records. When it comes time to settle your case, the insurance company will use that lack of information against you. If you fail to report symptoms, or delay in reporting symptoms, you may not be compensated for those injuries no matter how legitimate, or how critical your problems turn out to be.

The amount you recover in your legal case arising out of an accident depends very much on your ability to prove, through medical documents, the type and severity of your injuries. Your recovery depends on the quantity and quality of notes, reports, and other documents your health providers make. Doctors and hospitals want to be paid now, and your accident may result in your not having the funds now for proper medical treatment. Hiring a trustworthy attorney immediately can help you get the best medical care you need, because a good lawyer will immediately suggest ways and make arrangements, where possible, for you to obtain high quality medical care.

The medical bills generated for your treatment should always first be submitted to your health insurer. The health insurer will then have a right to recover its payments at the conclusion of the claim. This is what is known as “subrogation”.

You may also have medical payments coverage under your automobile insurance policy. The amount of coverage depends on what you purchased. For example, I have $10,000 in medical payments coverage on my personal auto policy. Automobile medical payments coverage should be preserved to deal with out-of-pocket medical expenses, co-pays and deductibles, rather than being used as the first source of payment of the bills.

Warning: A person will most likely get a call from an insurance adjuster asking for a recorded statement. Most people agree to it, thinking that the law requires them to give a recorded statement. That is not true. Insurance adjusters are very well trained at obtaining seemingly harmless, but actually potentially very damaging information. If you allow the insurer to record your statement, anything you say can be used against you at a later date.

Some accident victims think, “Aw, I can handle this on my own”. “It’s just a matter of talking to the insurance adjuster – and he seems pretty fair. Anyway, it will save me having to pay a lawyer’s fee.” That approach ignores the wise advice of Abraham Lincoln who said, “He who represents himself in a lawsuit has a fool for a client”. After all, you can’t know whether you’re treated fairly unless you know all of your legal rights. You can’t know whether someone cheats you out of something unless you first know you have a right to it. Even strangers who seem to have nothing to do with your case can turn out to be undercover investigators for somebody who might try to claim later that your injury was your own fault. Don’t entrust strangers with the details of your injury and how it happened.

In Wisconsin, there is a 3-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims. This means you have 3 years from the date of your accident to either settle your claim or to commence a lawsuit. So, there is no need to feel pressured into an untimely settlement. If you have a serious injury which is affecting your life, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. If you hire a lawyer immediately, your lawyer will usually get you more from the insurance company than you can get on your own. Insurance reps don’t want you to hire a lawyer now. They will say things like – “Oh, you don’t need a lawyer for this. You and I can handle this easily without a lawyer and save you from paying legal fees” – and then they’ll offer you an amount of money. What they offer you will almost always be lower than the amount a good lawyer could make them pay you.

Insurance companies have one primary purpose: to earn a profit for their companies. In fact, the officers and employees of an insurance company can get fired or replaced if they don’t earn enough profit for their owners. Every insurance company rep has to please his/her boss first. You come second – and cutting to the bone what they pay you provides a great way for insurance company reps to get promotions and bonuses from their companies. Insurance companies operate on a simple calculation: “Take in more money than paid out.” That’s the profit they make at your expense. To profit, they have to charge more for their insurance policies than they pay out in insurance claims to accident victims. In other words, their profit depends on their paying you as little as possible. When lawyers have a reputation for winning court battles on behalf of accident victims, insurance companies listen to them. Faced with one of our trial lawyers, insurance companies know they better pay you more – or risk even higher payments in a court case.