When you’ve been seriously injured in a car crash or have lost a loved one in a traffic accident, sorting out what to do next can be overwhelming and confusing. Many people find the legal system complex and intimidating in the best of times, and facing those complications after a trauma can be even more daunting. Many Americans face this challenge every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there were more than 35,000 traffic-related fatalities across the United States in 2015. In that same year, more than 2.4 million people were injured in more than 1.7 million automobile accidents. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving. In 2016, the number of deaths on U.S. roadways increased to 37,461.
This overview will help you understand where to start and what to do if you or a loved one is involved in a serious traffic accident that was someone else’s fault.
Protecting Yourself Immediately after an Accident
Seeking Medical Attention
Your first concern after an automobile accident should be attending to your physical and mental health. If you are injured, or are uncertain about whether you’ve been injured, it’s best to see a physician as soon as possible. You should be aware that you may not feel the full extent of your injuries immediately. Some types of injury worsen over time, and others may be masked by the shock you experience immediately after a traumatic event. While your primary focus should be taking care of your health, seeing a doctor right away will help to preserve your legal claim as well. If you don’t get checked out after the accident and later begin to experience more serious symptoms, it can be difficult to tie your injuries to the accident.
Creating a Record
If you are able, or have someone else with you who is not injured, you will want to collect contact information from any witnesses to the accident. You will also want to obtain a copy of the police report, and, if possible, get photographs of the accident site before emergency vehicles begin moving the vehicles.
Working with a Car Accident Attorney
Of course, you aren’t legally obligated to hire a personal injury attorney to help you with your car accident claim. However, it’s a good idea to talk with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. Your accident claim will be moving forward behind the scenes, whether you are ready to fight for your rights or not.
Interacting with the Insurance Company is Dangerous
Shortly after your accident, you will likely hear from one or more insurance companies. Your insurer and the other driver’s insurance carrier may contact you for more information about the accident, and perhaps to discuss settlement with you. Unfortunately, these communications are fraught with the opportunity for serious error. While the person who calls you from the insurance company will likely seem friendly, helpful, and concerned about your welfare, it is important that you remember what his or her job is: to save the insurance company money. When you retain an attorney to handle your car accident claim, the lawyer will interact with the insurance company on your behalf, protecting you against innocent missteps that could seriously harm your case.
The Legal System is Complicated
Filing a personal injury lawsuit requires knowledge of both law and procedure. An injured party who files a car accident case on his own must still comply with all substantive and procedural requirements. Most people aren’t able to successfully navigate personal injury litigation alone, and insurance companies know that. Many will take advantage of your lack of in-depth legal knowledge to trip you up and avoid paying fair compensation. With an experienced personal injury attorney at your side, you will be equipped to fight for your rights at every stage.
Personal Injury Litigation is Expensive
Often, a car accident case requires expert testimony. You may need an accident reconstruction expert to explain how the accident happened and whose fault it was, and one or more medical experts to describe the nature and extent of your injuries. If you suffer an injury that will require lifelong care or limit your earning capacity, you will likely need an economic expert to explain to establish the extent of your damages. Finding these experts can be challenging for someone inexperienced in this type of litigation, and their fees can be prohibitive. An experienced car accident lawyer will have the resources to locate and retain these experts to build your case.
Determining Damages in an Automobile Accident Case
Though it will likely take expert investigation and testimony to establish the exact nature and amount of damages in a motor vehicle accident case, certain types of damages are commonly awarded. Some of the most common include:
• Medical expenses, past and future
• Costs of rehabilitation
• Compensation for pain and suffering
• Lost income, past and future
• Loss of enjoyment of life
• Property damage, such as damage to your vehicle
One of the most significant factors in determining damages is the nature and extent of your injuries, and whether any medical limitations are temporary or permanent. Some of the most common injuries suffered in car accidents include:
• Broken bones or fractures
• Amputations, either occurring in the accident or necessitated during treatment
• Spine injury and paralysis
• Soft tissue injury
• Brain injury (TBI) and concussion
When you talk with a personal injury attorney, the attorney will be able to give you a general idea of the type of damages that you may be able to expect in your case.
Establishing Liability in a Car Accident Case
In some cases, establishing liability for a motor vehicle accident is straightforward. For example, if you are sitting at a red light and your car is struck by a drunk driver who fails to brake as he approaches stopped traffic, it is clear who is at fault for the accident. However, not every car accident is so clear-cut. Often, more than one party contributes to an accident. In that situation, liability may be divided among the negligent parties. In California, an accident victim who was partly responsible for his own injuries can still recover damages in proportion to his fault. So, if the jury determines that the injured person was 25% responsible for the accident, he or she can still be awarded compensation for 75% of damages suffered.
What if the At-Fault Driver is Uninsured?
A driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian who is injured by an uninsured motorist may still have options for recovering damages. Some possibilities include:
• The injured party’s own uninsured motorist coverage
• Suing the responsible driver directly, if he or she has assets to pay damages
• Pursuing another party who is partially responsible
Recovering damages under these circumstances can be challenging, and typically requires investigation. A seasoned car accident claim attorney can be your best resource when you are facing this complication in your injury case.
Most car accident cases involve litigation against a driver who was negligent. However, the fault for some motor vehicle accidents lies with another party. Some common examples include accidents caused by vehicle defects and those caused by faulty maintenance. In such cases, the vehicle manufacturer, the party responsible for maintenance, the owner of a commercial vehicle or another party may be responsible for your injuries. However, the basis for these legal claims and the litigation process will differ somewhat from the typical car accident case.
Give Yourself the Benefit of a California Car Accident Lawyer
If you have been injured in a car accident and want to bring a personal injury or product liability claim, or if you have lost a loved one and are pursuing damages for wrongful death, give yourself the advantage that comes with having a seasoned advocate on your side.