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I have been involved in a collision, what should I do?
Any time you are involved in a collision the first and most important thing to do is to put on your emergency flashers or other warning devices to ensure that no other vehicles become involved in the collision. Once this has been accomplished, contact the police or other local authorities and provide them information regarding where the collision took place, how serious the collision appears to be and if you know, whether there are injuries which will require medical personnel.
Often it will take some time for the police and other authorities to arrive and if it is safe to do so, it would be desirable to obtain as much information as possible about the collision. Obtaining the names, addresses, telephone numbers, driver’s license numbers and insurance information of the vehicle operators and owners involved in the collision is very important. On occasion we find uninsured or unauthorized drivers involved in such collisions and getting the license plate numbers of the vehicles, along with their make and model can also be important.
In this era of camera phones, pictures of the location of the vehicles after the collision, the damage to the vehicles, and any skid marks or other evidence that could later demonstrate clearly how the collision happened should be taken, if it is safe to do so.
Sometimes, in the aftermath of a collision, tempers flare and it is important to keep calm in the face of a potentially dangerous situation. On some occasions drivers who cause collisions readily admit their responsibility for the collision and if they could be encouraged to do so in front of any witnesses at the scene or in front of the police officer or other authorities, pay careful attention to what is specifically said by those individuals and in front of whom it is said. Sometimes it is useful to take written notes at the scene about what was said and to whom.
When the authorities arrive at the scene make sure that you get the names and badge numbers of any police officers as well as their employers. If a police report is authorized, make sure to get the number of the police report. Often mistakes are made between county police officers and state police officers and locating them later to testify concerning their observations becomes very difficult. It could also be useful to take specific notes about the scene of the collision, including the weather conditions, time of day, location and any factors that may have resulted in the collision.
Assess carefully whether you feel you have been injured at the scene. Often drivers find that later in the day they end up going to the emergency room for injuries they sustained in a collision. The excitement and adrenaline associated with being involved in a collision will often have the affect of reducing the awareness of the accident participant as to any pain or difficulties they are suffering. At many trials of collision cases, defendants and police officers testify that they were told at the scene that the injured party was feeling fine and that that individual got in their car and drove away from the scene and went to work. This can result in judges and juries underestimating the extent to which a collision has brought about an injury and giving little credence to later complaints that collision victims describe.
What should you do if you believe you are injured?
If you believe at the scene of a collision that you are injured, it is important to make sure that the authorities are aware of this. They will often invite you to leave the scene of the collision in an ambulance and while we would never recommend any unnecessary medical treatment, it is often better to be safe than sorry. If you think that you are injured at the scene of the collision but do not wish to go to the hospital in an ambulance, advise the authorities that you are injured but that you are going to make your own way to your treating doctor or a hospital emergency room at your earliest convenience.
Whether you go to the hospital in an ambulance, in your own vehicle, or with a friend or family member, it is important to completely describe all areas of your body that were injured. A broken finger or toe or a large cut may be the primary focus of your attention and that of the hospital or doctor. Long after that fracture or cut has healed, an injured party may have serious neck or back problems that trouble them for the rest of their life which they did not mention at the emergency room. This would be used by the insurance companies and their lawyers to attempt to suggest that your permanent back or neck injury is unrelated to the collision as it was not mentioned at the first visit to the emergency room. It is better to give a detailed and comprehensive review of all areas of your body that were injured to any degree at the outset rather than to have to explain later why you did not notice problems with an area of serious injury until days, weeks or even months afterwards.
If you go to the hospital and they recommend following-up with another doctor, it is important to do so. Often, in the immediate aftermath of a collision, the symptoms we suffer will increase with time rather than decrease. If at the emergency room you had a slightly stiff neck and a sore back, the only way to clearly demonstrate that these conditions both worsened and were related to the collision, is to go see an appropriate physician and to describe your problems and the fact that they have worsened. Our experience in trying many collision cases is that unless specific injuries are documented in medical records, jurors will not accept them as being related to the collision. Medical documentation of the extent and severity of your injuries is vitally important to getting fair compensation for your claim.
Should I talk to the insurance company?
Any time there is a collision there are automatically several different insurance policies involved. There is the insurance policy of your vehicle and the insurance policy of the vehicles of other drivers who caused the collision. You are not obliged to talk to the insurance company for the other driver. The insurance company for the other driver is focused solely on saving money and paying you as little as possible. Many insurance adjusters can be quite charming, friendly and understanding but they have no obligation to you; only to their policy holder. If you are injured, you should immediately contact the highly qualified accident collision lawyers at Clark & Steinhorn to receive advice and help in dealing with the insurance companies. Even if the subject is repairing your motor vehicle, receiving a rental car and other mundane matters, insurance adjusters are trained to elicit information from injured participants that is harmful to their claim.
Should I notify my insurance company?
The answer to this is yes. If the other driver is at fault, it is likely that his or her insurance company will pay for the damage to your vehicle. However, sometimes this will take a long time and your insurance company also has an obligation to repair your vehicle and often to provide you a rental car until your vehicle is repaired or replaced. Further, many automobile insurance policies provide personal injury protection or PIP benefits and Medpay benefits which can serve to pay medical expenses you incur as well as lost wages while your claim against the other driver and his or her insurance company is pending. Again, you can speak to your insurance company about the accident but they too have economic incentives to minimize the value of your claim. Notify your insurance company as to the date, time, and whereabouts of the collision and a brief description of how the collision took place. If you are injured you can tell them that you are and that you do not fully know the extent of any injuries you have. Our advice would be to contact Clark & Steinhorn to assist you in dealing with any insurance companies, police officers, doctors, hospitals, or healthcare providers.
How is it determined who was responsible for a collision?
Every state and the District of Columbia have somewhat different rules for determining accident liability or responsibility. What may appear to you to be a collision obviously caused by another driver may appear to the insurance companies more questionable. Again, there are incentives for drivers who cause collisions to tell their insurance companies that they were not at fault. They are often concerned about their insurance rates rising, tickets for their poor driving behavior, and potential civil liability if you obtain a judgment against them. One important factor in determining who is responsible for a collision is the information contained in the police report. There are occasions where the police officer either misunderstands how a collision took place or alternately appears to be interested in providing a report for one driver or another even if it is in contradiction to the facts of the collision. It is important that you describe how the collision happened to the investigating officer at the scene, but often in serious collisions the extent of the injury or circumstances make it impossible to tell the officer how the collision happened. If the police officer visits you at the hospital to discuss the collision it is useful to have another friend or family member present when the discussion takes place to ensure that the police accurately understands how you believe the collision took place and to ensure that your description of the collision is not affected by any medicines you might be taking, or the seriousness of injuries you might have suffered. There are occasions where police officers have difficulty reconciling the descriptions of the collision based upon their discussions with the participants and witnesses. This is where having pictures whether from a cell phone or camera can be very helpful.
Police reports do not determine who is at fault but they can be a useful tool. Most times the police officer did not actually see the collision take place, and describes how the collision happened based upon the descriptions of the participants and witnesses and observations made at the scene of the collision.
How does automobile/truck collision insurance work?
This can be either a very simple matter or a complex one depending upon the circumstances of the collision, the location of the collision, and the insurance companies involved. The laws of the District of Columbia are very different from those of Maryland or Virginia. The application of those laws to individual collisions can be difficult. Suppose one is a Maryland resident with a Maryland insurance policy who is involved in a collision in the District of Columbia while working for a Virginia employer. It is possible that the injured party could make personal injury protection and/or Medpay claims on their Maryland insurance policy while pursuing a claim against the other driver’s insurance company and a workers compensation claim in either Virginia or the District of Columbia. As one could imagine there are very many complex scenarios that require a serious legal evaluation by someone experience performing these cases.
The basic rule of thumb is that the injured party makes a claim against the insurance company of the driver responsible for the collision. The claim can be for many things including past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, loss of household or family services, and a host of other losses or difficulties which are generally encompassed by the term “pain and suffering”.
Will the other drivers insurance company pay my medical expenses and lost wages as they result?
Generally the other driver’s insurance company does not pay these expenses. The typical process is that a demand is submitted to the insurance company once you have completed all of your medical treatment and an accurate tally can be made of your medical expenses, lost wages and other costs along with the medical evaluation of what if any future problems you will likely have as a result of the collision. An extensive negotiation process often takes place and either a fair and reasonable offer is finally made or if it is not, a lawsuit is filed against the other driver.
This process will often take years. As a result, it is important to benefit from protections including insurance policies, health insurance, sick leave and disability leave to assist you in reaching the point where the case can be settled. The complex interplay of these many policies and provisions requires the input of lawyers experience in dealing with such cases.
How do I know if the offer of the insurance company is fair?
This is a difficult evaluation to make unless you have extensive experience in dealing with such cases. Many variables go into evaluating what a case is worth. First, there is the issue of whether it is clear cut that one party or a group of parties are responsible for the collision and second that the injured party is in no way responsible. Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia have unique and unfortunate laws in this regard. Each of these jurisdictions has a doctrine called contributory negligence. What this means is that even in circumstances where one party is overwhelmingly at fault for a collision and the injured party is only to a small degree at fault, laws of these jurisdictions will make it so the injured party will not receive any compensation whatsoever. In most jurisdictions in the United States a doctrine called comparative negligence is used in the law. As the name suggests this doctrine compares the conduct of the injured party with that of the other driver or drivers and if the injured party is to some degree at fault it reduces the level of compensation they get. Thus, for cases in Maryland, the District Columbia and Virginia it is important that you consult a lawyer experienced in trying these cases who can identify the issues that may confront the case down the road and affect your receipt of fair compensation.
The second factor after an evaluation of the responsibility for the collision is the severity of the collision. While it might seem ridiculous, judges, jurors, and insurance companies place a great deal of importance on the extent of the damage to the vehicles involved in the collision. Where the damage to the vehicles appears small in pictures and results in low repair estimates, jurors often have difficulty accepting that serious or permanent injuries can result from those collisions. Most major insurance companies have categories by which they evaluate cases and specifically focus on paying minimal amounts for low impact collisions.
Once the liability has been evaluated and the severity of the collision demonstrated, the evaluation of the injuries and damages takes place.
Where injuries are clear cut (broken bones, loss of limbs, internal organ damage or death) evaluation is somewhat easier. For all injuries, immediacy of medical care is an important consideration. If you are injured severely in a collision and go to the hospital from the scene or within twenty-four hours then those injuries reported in the initial hospital records will be treated more seriously than the ones that crop up down the road. Many people sustain severe neck, back, knee and arm injuries, the extent of which are only revealed much later. That is why it is important to document as early as possible any suspected injury and to receive appropriate medical treatment from a capable specialist who can evaluate and document the existence of such injuries. The basic rule of thumb is that if your injury is not clearly in the medical records, insurance companies, judges and juries will not believe that it is related to a collision.
In evaluating the relationship between injuries and collisions, your past injury history is also important. If you have injured a part of body before the collision, it will be a natural tendency on the part of insurance companies, judges and jurors to believe some of your present injury problems are associated with the collision for which you are making a claim and some of it is from your prior injury. Thus, it is important to get good and accurate medical documentation of any differences between the injuries you had had before to that part of the body and the injuries you have presently. Very often diagnostic tests such as x-rays, CAT Scans and MRI’s will show that your present problems are not anything like the ones you had before the collision. Insurance companies invariably try to argue that a second, third or fourth injury to the same part of the body is not worthy of fair compensation. Successfully pursuing such cases requires experienced lawyers who are aware of the best way to portray evidence in a light most favorable to you.
Once the specific injuries you have sustained are established it is important to assess all compensation that can flow from such injuries. Obviously these will include the medical expenses you will have incurred, prescription costs, lost wages or loss of income earning opportunities, parking costs, traveling to and from healthcare providers. This can also include expenses for future medical treatment, lost wages and loss of society and companionship or enjoyment of life. Many of these damages will need to be substantiated through medical reports and medical testimony. It is important that you have a lawyer who is experienced with working with doctors to obtain the correct information that will permit you to successfully pursue such claims.
With regard to future medical expenses including proposed surgeries, insurance companies, judges and juries will often make a vigorous attempt to disregard such claims. The basic rule of thumb is if you have not had the surgery the jury is unlikely to give you the money to have it at some future time.
Obviously the process of evaluating a claim’s worth is very complex. It is not a scientific process, and the knowledge and experience of your lawyer will be vitally important to receiving the maximum offer possible and to understanding whether an offer is fair or not. Many injured people read about large verdicts in the newspaper and feel that their injuries should result in multi-million dollar recoveries in their own cases. Unfortunately, the reality of jury verdicts across the nation is that very few cases result in large verdicts. In addition, various laws in different states and jurisdictions limit the amount of damages one can recover. In Maryland in particular, there is the so-called Non-economic Damages Cap. This cap essentially limits the amount one can recover for pain and suffering very strictly. In 2008, a client of the firm obtained a verdict in excess of Ten Million Dollars and yet was limited to less than 10% of that amount because of Maryland’s Non-economic Damages Cap.
It is important to work with experienced attorneys such as Clark & Steinhorn who are aware of the best ways to present cases to ensure that you can obtain the maximum recovery.
What happens if the insurance company does not make me a fair offer?
Once your case has been fully explored, and the insurance company has made their “final” offer it is important to meet with your lawyer and discuss the offer and what can be done to improve it. Generally, this involves filing a lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction. Each case has factors that suggest where to file such a case. Often, a sophisticated legal analysis is necessary to choose the best court to ensure a fair settlement or verdict. The Maryland State court system has the option of filing in either the District Court or the Circuit Court. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Also, some cases can be filed in the federal courts of the State of Maryland and again the choice of court requires an experienced lawyer knowledgeable with regard to the benefits of each court. In the District of Columbia, the choices are the Superior Court for the District of Columbia or the United States District Court. Finally, there are occasions where a case could be filed in either of the courts in the State of Maryland or the courts of the District of Columbia.
If I file a lawsuit do I have to go to trial?
One never has to go to trial but there are cases which can only produce a satisfactory recovery through a verdict. The decision as to whether to go to trial or not is often a complex one and requires consultation with a lawyer experienced in trying many such cases.
Why are truck and tractor trailer cases different than ordinary car accidents?
The most obvious difference is the severity of such collisions owing to the fact that trucks weigh vastly more than cars. When a sixty thousand pound truck strikes a three thousand pound car the injuries almost invariably are quite severe. Also, the regulations and obligations that are ascribed to trucks and tractor trailers are much greater because of the potential for catastrophic injury. If you have been involved in a truck or tractor trailer accident it is important to contact a lawyer with expertise in such matters such as the Law Offices of Clark & Steinhorn.
The truck driver who caused my injuries was from West Virginia and he was driving a truck owned by another company in Ohio, how do I figure out where to make my claim?
In handling such cases we have learned that there are often complex relationships between the owners of the truck, the operators of the truck and the company for whom the truck was being operated. We are skilled at tracking down these relationships and determining what jurisdiction or court to bring the case in, in order to ensure that you receive the maximum recovery available.
We have sustained terrible injuries as a result of a tractor trailer collision, how can we ever expect to pay for our medical and other expenses?
Commercial trucking companies maintain substantial insurance policies. While no settlement or verdict can change what has happened, having lawyers who know where to find sufficient insurance coverage is vitally important to ensuring that you receive a full and complete economic recovery. It is important if you have such a case that you contact the Law Offices of Clark & Steinhorn.