Car accidents are never fun—even a minor fender-bender can become a major inconvenience. The insurance industry estimates that the average driver files an auto collision claim about once every 17.9 years. Auto accidents injure over 2 million people each year and in 2010, the average claim to cover both parties in an accident rose to over $23,000.
When you’re involved in a more serious accident that results in injury, lost time at work or school, a vehicle that needs replacing, or lingering health effects, it’s important to contact a lawyer right away—even from the scene of the accident itself, especially if there’s major property damage or injuries. Why? Because calling from the accident scene can have a significant impact on a potential claim or lawsuit’s outcome.
Tips to getting fair compensation for your accident
Should you be involved in an accident, keep these things in mind:
- Auto collision cases are complex processes, and there’s really no magic formula with which to evaluate a case. It depends on a variety of facts, including how the accident occurred, injuries sustained and their effects on your life—both physically and emotionally, and damage to your property.
- You should not talk to representatives from the other driver’s insurance company. They’ll try to get you to implicate yourself, which could damage your claim.
- You can bring an auto accident lawsuit even if you’re partly to blame. New Jersey follows a modified comparative fault rule when both people involved share blame for an accident.
- Do contact the police immediately after an accident, no matter how insignificant it appears. Provide detailed information (name, license, registration, insurance, current address)—but stick to the facts, only. Resist the urge to give your opinion.
- Do get all the contact information of the other party involved: names, addresses, phone numbers, insurance information, license plate numbers, and the make/model/year of the vehicles.
- Do take pictures or write a description of any damage you see.
- Write down everything you remember about the accident as soon as you can, while it’s fresh in your mind. This information may come in handy should your case go to trial.
- Keep paper records, including receipts for prescriptions, medical instruction sheets, medical bills, police reports or accident sheets, and any other documents you receive.
- Save physical evidence and make sure not to sign away your car, if it’s deemed totaled, until you’ve spoken to your attorney.
- Accept medical attention when it’s offered by the police. Let the ambulance crew check you out. If you’re taken to the hospital, answer the doctors’ questions honestly to protect your credibility should your case go to trial. Then, follow medical advice you’re given, whether it’s to follow up with a family doctor or make an appointment with a specialist.
- Don’t “stick it out” for a few days or weeks if you’re experiencing lingering soreness from the accident—delaying treatment only hurts your case. Visit a doctor or medical professional and make sure they document all of your injuries.
- Document any injuries associated with the accident including pre-existing, injuries that the accident reaggravated.
Myths and misconceptions about auto collision cases
Many people think they understand how personal injury cases work—but it’s rarely the way it looks on television. These myths and misconceptions are important to understand, and it’s also important to take the advice of your lawyer, should you decide to hire one for your auto collision case.
Myth #1: If you’re hurt in an auto collision but the injury is minor, you don’t need to tell the police about your injury.
Myth #2: If you’re injured by a driver who has no insurance, you can’t make a claim.
Myth #3: When your insurance company or the other party’s insurance company calls you for your statement and asks to record the interview, you should say yes.
Myth #4: You should sign off authorization that the insurance company sends you allowing them access to your medical records.
Myth #5: Your car insurance company will raise your rates dramatically or drop you if you make a claim after an accident in which you’re injured.
Myth #6: You must pay the insurance company back for accident-related bills it initially covers.
Myth #7: Your insurance company always has your best interests at heart—so if it offers to settle your case prior to you meeting with an attorney, it’s because the company wants to save you from paying attorney fees. Here are some tricks insurance companies pull to avoid paying on claims or paying as little as possible.
Myth #8: You must pay taxes on any personal injury settlement you receive.
Factors that determine the outcome of your auto collision case
According to New Jersey law, at-fault drivers can still collect damages, but the awards to which they’re entitled depend on the facts from each individual case. You must be found less than 51 percent at fault to recover damages from the other at-fault party.
Should you admit fault in your statement to the police or to either insurance company, that admission can (and probably will) be used against you. Apologizing to the other party at the accident scene can also be used against you.
You must document your injuries properly—proving you’ve sought and received appropriate care and treatment—and your medical records must be complete, or you risk weakening or even eliminating your claim for damages.
Auto collision case lawyers look at the big picture and small details of each case. They rely on evidence collected by the police and insurance companies, medical records, records of time lost from work or school, vehicle damage reports, medical bills, witness statements, photographs, and videos to help justify and prove your claim.
The car accident settlement process
If your lawyer successfully settles your auto collision case, you may receive payment for a variety of things depending on the severity of the accident.
When only vehicle damage occurs, the insurance company will pay out a reasonable cost to repair or replace your car, based on the information collected by the insurance adjuster.
If you’ve suffered an injury, your lawyer will negotiate that part of the settlement separately from the damage portion. That payment is dependent upon medical bills, lost wages, and the extent of your injuries as determined and documented by the medical professional.
Another settlement takes pain and suffering into account, providing compensation for past, current, and potential future issues that result from the injuries you sustained in the accident.
Settlements can include compensation for the following items:
- Medical bills
- Damaged or lost property
- Cost of medication
- Cost of medical equipment
- Hospital stays
- Lost wages
- Expenses paid out of pocket (usually health insurance-related)
New Jersey is one of 13 states that follows a no-fault car insurance policy. If you’re involved in an auto collision, you should file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage—regardless of who’s at fault—to receive compensation for medical bills and damage or lost property. To learn more about the state’s no-fault car insurance rules, get the details here.