As experienced personal injury attorneys in Atlanta, we have handled numerous auto accident claims. In the course of representing clients who have been injured in car, truck, and motorcycle accidents, we have seen insurance companies use every excuse in the book to deny an auto accident claim or pay less than it is worth. Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid after you have been in a auto accident.
1. Not Hiring an Attorney
Let’s face it: attorneys don’t have the best reputations. While much of the legal profession’s bad reputation is based on misinformed stereotypes, that reputation is a practical reality. Unfortunately, this causes many people to avoid contacting an attorney after an auto accident. In addition, many people think that they can handle their auto accident claim on their own. After all, how hard can it be? You get in a car accident and the other driver’s insurance company just pays for everything, right? Not so fast. Insurance companies are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. These are for profit companies, not charities, and they will do anything they can to pay you as little money as possible. The insurance companies are not looking out for your best interests, so you need somebody on your side who will fight for you and protect your legal rights. An attorney can get you more compensation that you can likely get on your own. On top of that, an attorney can ensure that you are using the proper insurance to pay your medical bills, that all the proper insurance companies are notified of the accident, that you are claiming the full amount of damages you are legally entitled to claim, and that you do not make a critical mistake that could cause you to lose out on significant compensation that you may be entitled to receive.
The bottom-line is you will be much better off with an attorney representing you, and you don’t have to pay anything out of your own pocket. Like most personal injury attorneys, we take cases on a contingency fee, which means we only get paid if we get you money and our fee comes out of the money we get for you. We also give clients free consultations. So, if you’ve been in a car accident, just pick up the phone and call us. It won’t hurt.
2. Hiring an Attorney Who Does Not Specialize in Personal Injury Cases
Just hiring any attorney is not good enough. You need to hire a personal injury attorney if you’ve had a motor vehicle accident. You’ve probably heard the saying: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to the legal profession. Some lawyers try to be everything to everybody and handle everything that walks through the door. Even lawyers that try to limit their practice areas will still try to handle a personal injury case from time to time because they think it will be an easy pay day for them. The reality is that personal injury, like any other practice area, requires specialized, in-depth knowledge, as well as experience, in order to get the best possible results. If you needed brain surgery, you wouldn’t have your family physician do it, would you? No, you would seek out a specialist in neurosurgery. Or, more specific to the legal field, if you were charged with a crime, you wouldn’t hire a divorce lawyer or a real estate attorney to represent you. So, why would you hire an attorney for your auto accident claim who does not specialize in personal injury cases?
3. Giving a Recorded Statement to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
Hopefully you have followed the advice discussed above and you have hired a personal injury attorney. If you have, your auto accident attorney will likely prevent you from giving a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company, unless there are some extenuating circumstances that may justify the need for the statement. In general though, you do not want to give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company. You aren’t legally required to give one, and there is almost never anything good that can come of it (again, this is a general rule, but there may be exceptions because every case is different). Remember, car insurance companies are not good neighbors, they are not on your side, and you are not in good hands with them. They are for profit companies that want to do everything they can to destroy your claim. Giving a recorded statement can give them the ammunition they need to shoot down your claim. (One clarification is required here: this advice only applies to the other driver’s insurance company. You are normally required to give a statement to your own insurance company).
4. Not Getting Medical Attention Right Away
There may be nothing that makes insurance adjusters lick their chops more than a delay in seeking medical treatment. The insurance company will argue you won’t hurt because, if you were, wouldn’t you have gone to the doctor right away? A person may have very good, reasonable explanations for not getting medical attention as soon as possible, but the insurance adjusters will ignore them in settlement discussions, and at trial, a jury may not buy your explanations and conclude that you weren’t really hurt. It is always best to seek medical attention as soon as possible after an accident. At a minimum, you need to get checked out to make sure you are ok. If you are ok, then great. If you aren’t, at least you have a record establishing that you sought medical treatment, which will help if you end up needing more treatment.
5. Gaps in Medical Treatment
Gaps in medical treatment are one of the top case killers in any personal injury case. Whether it is missing appointments or finishing treatment and trying to resume it many months later, a gap in medical treatment raises too many questions, and suspicions, in the eyes of insurance adjusters and juries. For example, the insurance company will argue that you must not have been that hurt if you missed appointments or didn’t follow a doctor’s advice. Or, if you were released from treatment and went back months later, they will argue you must have re-injured yourself doing something else. Always follow your doctor’s advice. If you are still having symptoms at the end of your treatment schedule, let the doctor know and request additional treatment or seek a second opinion. Also, let your personal injury attorney know what is going on with your injuries and treatment.
6. Not Notifying All the Proper Insurance Companies
Failing to notify all the proper insurance companies after an accident can cause you to lose out on significant insurance benefits. Most people are not aware of all the insurance policies that apply following an auto accident. For example, did you know that if you are hit by a car while you are a pedestrian, you need to notify your own car insurance company? Did you know that you also need to notify your own car insurance company if you were in somebody else’s car at the time of the accident? Almost all insurance policies have a provision that requires you to provide them with notice of an accident as soon as reasonably possible. If you fail to comply with this condition, the insurance company could deny your claim. Identifying all sources of insurance and putting the proper insurance companies on notice of an accident is just one reason why you should consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an auto accident.
7. Not Using Health Insurance or Med Pay to Pay Your Medical Bills
A common misconception is that all medical bills should be submitted to the at-fault driver’s insurance company for payment. There are a couple problems with this belief.
First, the other driver’s insurance company is not going to pay your medical bills as they become due. Instead, the insurance company will pay all your bills as part of a settlement, and in exchange, you will have to sign a release. In the meantime while your case is pending, the doctors will generally want payment for their medical bills, so you need to use all resources at your disposal to pay your bills.
Second, if you do not use health insurance or your own medical payments coverage (“med pay”), then you will just have to pay money out of your settlement that could be going into your own pocket. You want to reduce your medical bills as much as possible through the use of all insurance that is available to you, whether it is health insurance or med pay. Using your own insurance to pay your medical bills does not reduce the amount of the bills the at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for paying.
8. Talking About the Accident on Social Media
Insurance companies and their lawyers are becoming increasingly savvy at using technology and social media to uncover inconsistencies in somebody’s story. Even the most innocent comment on Facebook or Twitter can come back to haunt you. It is best to minimize social media activity after an accident and to avoid discussing the accident or injuries on social media. If you have some compelling reason for discussing your injuries on a social media account, such as updating family members or friends about your condition or a loved one’s, talk to your auto accident attorney about it first.
9. Failing to Disclose Prior Injuries
Prior injuries and preexisting conditions are an insurance company’s best friend. Insurance companies frequently point to a prior injury or complaint of pain to argue that your auto accident did not cause a new injury. Under Georgia law, a negligent driver is responsible for all injuries that are caused by the collision, including the aggravation of any pre-existing conditions. You should always be honest with your attorney and the insurance company about any prior injuries or conditions. A prior injury can be explained, but the failure to disclose an injury or lying about one cannot be explained. Credibility is key in personal injury cases.
10. Settling Your Case While You Are Still Getting Medical Treatment
You only get one shot at getting compensation for your injury case. Once you sign a release in exchange for a settlement, you cannot go back later and ask for more money. This is why it is important that the full extent of your injuries and treatment be known before attempting to settle your case. There may be times when your case can be settled while you are still in treatment, such as when you have serious injuries or high medical bills and the other driver has a small insurance policy. But generally, you want to make sure that all of your injuries and necessary medical treatment have been identified before you try to settle your case. An experienced personal injury attorney will know when the time is right to approach the insurance company about settlement.
If you or a loved one were injured in a Georgia car accident, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at The Champion Firm, P.C. in Atlanta for a free consultation.