An old friend of mine came to me about a car accident he had been in a few months ago. The accident happened in the early morning hours before the sun was up. It was snowing heavily and a layer of hard-packed snow and ice had accumulated overnight -- something most Coloradans are all too familiar with. My friend was out early in his pickup truck and plow blade to clear parking lots and side streets.
As he came through an intersection controlled by traffic lights, another pickup truck drove or slid through a red light and t-boned my friend. The impact threw my friend into the roof of his pickup and jarred his left shoulder. Both trucks were totaled. The investigating officer determined the other driver ran a red light and cited him for driving too fast for the conditions.
My friend didn’t think he was seriously hurt, but the police officer on the scene recommended he go to the hospital. He had a laceration on his head and parts of his face were beginning to swell. So, my friend went to the hospital. He told the ER docs and nurses about what happened and complained of pain in his head, face, and left shoulder. They did some quick CT scans of his head. Nothing overly concerned them, so they released him.
A couple of days later, my friend started to notice pain in his right shoulder and right wrist. He’d never had issues with his right wrist or shoulder before. He figured he must have done something to them in the accident. He thought about seeing a doctor, but at this point, the other driver’s insurance company was denying liability, and thus, denying any responsibility to pay for my friend’s medical expenses. My friend couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket for another doctor’s visit and didn’t think he should have to make a claim with his own insurance company given that it was the other guy’s fault. So, my friend dealt with the pain and worked with his insurance company on getting a new car and trying to get the other insurance company to see the light.
Three months after the crash, the other insurance company admitted liability, and my friend finally went to an orthopedist about his shoulder. He got an MRI, some injections, and needed physical therapy for several months. It’s been over a year, and my friend’s shoulder still isn’t restored to full function. It hurts when he works in his shop. It’s weak. He can’t swing a golf club like he used to or lift up his kids without pain.
And although the insurance company has “accepted liability,” meaning they acknowledge that their insured is at fault for the crash, they now claim that my friend’s right shoulder and wrist issues were not caused by the crash. If they had been caused by the crash, he would have complained about it at the ER, and he wouldn’t have waited three months to see an orthopedist. So, instead of offering a fair amount for the claim that they admit was caused by their insured, they are literally adding insult to injury by suggesting that my friend is lying about the source of his pain.
As a personal injury attorney licensed in both Wyoming and Colorado, these tactics are nothing new to me. This is the game insurance companies play so they can hold onto money that they should be paying to the victims of their insureds’ negligence.
Although you may never be able to avoid the insurance industry tactics, there are things you can do to combat them and protect yourself. Here are just a few:
TOP 6 THINGS:
- Take Pictures, or better yet, a Video. If you’re able to get your bearings after the crash and are healthy enough to walk and talk, take your phone out and photograph the scene and the damage. And don’t skimp. Get all the angles you can. And don’t forget your own bruises, cuts, and burns. Feel free to narrate if you’re taking a video. And feel free to record witness statements.
A picture really is worth 1,000 words. A video is worth 100,000. And although responding officers ought to document the scene, they don’t always do so.
- Take the Ambulance. Immediate medical treatment is never a bad idea. This is true whether you know you’re injured, or even if you’re unsure about whether you’re injured. It’s common for people who are injured to be unaware of their injuries or unaware of the extent of their injuries. You’ve just been hit! Your head might be rattled. Your body might be full of adrenaline. The prudent thing to do is to get checked out by medical professionals.
- Don’t Delay Follow-up Treatment with a Specialist. With soft-tissue injuries, the X-Rays are going to come back “negative” and the emergency department professionals will send you home with painkillers and anti-inflammatories. You would be wise to see a specialist if the pain doesn’t subside in a few days.
And if you’re feeling new injuries a day or two after the accident that you didn’t feel immediately afterward, all the more reason to see a specialist! Insurance companies love to point out “new” injuries, “inconsistencies” in the medical records, and “gaps” in treatment. Although it’s perfectly normal not to notice all of your injuries mere hours after you’ve been in a traumatic situation, insurance adjusters will focus on any detail they can that might sow doubt in your claim or undermine your credibility. Their goal is not to help you but to pay as little of the company’s money as possible.
So, see a specialist! And don’t delay! He may order an MRI, which might show issues with your muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage, or discs that the X-Ray didn’t pick up. He might also have recommendations for treatment, such as physical therapy or chiropractic care.
- Don’t Sign the Release! The insurance adjuster might seem friendly and interested in your welfare, but DO NOT sign any Release or Agreement settling your claim while you’re still getting medical or other treatment. The adjuster will be eager to settle as quickly as possible. You might also be eager to get a couple of thousand bucks in your pocket. It would help with the medical bills and the time you’ve had to take off work. But don’t do it, especially while you’re still treating. Your claim may be worth much more than what the insurance company is offering. In fact, it usually is.
- Use Your Own Insurance. Many folks out there who have been injured in a car accident are reluctant to use their own insurance for necessary medical treatment. They believe the insurance company for the at-fault driver should be paying for the medical expenses (seems reasonable, but it never happens without some cajoling and not until long after the medical expenses have been paid by someone else). They wonder whether making a claim with their auto insurance carrier will count against them and increase their premiums. They don’t know that they have “Medical Payments Coverage,” a type of insurance coverage specifically for medical expenses incurred. They don’t know that they can use their own health insurance, or maybe if they know they can use their health insurance, they can’t afford the co-pays or the deductible.
A whole article could be written on this topic alone, but suffice it to say that you absolutely should use the insurance you pay for (both health and auto) to cover your medical expenses while the at-fault party’s insurance company plays its games.
If you’re not at fault for the accident, your premiums shouldn’t go up. And whatever you have to pay out-of-pocket for co-pays will eventually be reimbursed, so long as what you’ve incurred is reasonable and necessary and related to the accident. Also, your health or auto insurance company will eventually be reimbursed for whatever they have paid for your medical expenses. They have a right to be reimbursed by the responsible party. Thus, you should use the insurance you have available to you and never skip or delay treatment because you’re waiting on the at-fault driver’s company to accept responsibility. It ain’t gonna happen!
6. Hire a Personal Injury Attorney, and preferably one experienced in car accident cases. Hire one immediately after the crash, not months later, and not two weeks before the statute of limitations runs. Most personal injury attorneys don’t charge anything upfront to represent you and they can guide you through a complex process and help you avoid the pitfalls my friend fell into. These attorneys take cases on a “contingent fee” basis, which means you pay nothing upfront or out-of-pocket. Personal injury attorneys only get paid if they get their clients a settlement or a jury verdict. The percentage they are paid out of the settlement or verdict can vary, but it’s usually well worth it. An experienced personal injury attorney will know exactly what to do to preserve and maximize the value of your case and to advocate for a fair settlement.