Should I Talk To the Insurance Adjuster?
In most cases, talking to the insurance adjuster for the responsible party is not in your best interests. No matter how nice the insurance adjuster seems to be, they are not your advocate.
Remember, insurance companies make money by collecting and investing insurance premiums, not by paying out settlements! Therefore, it is generally in their best interests to reduce the amounts paid to injured people like you.
Of course, you can talk to your own insurance adjuster from your own insurance company. They are generally there to help you, and they owe you a fiduciary duty and a measure of loyalty because you are their customer. Your premiums pay their salaries. You can usually talk to your own company without much concern.
However, be careful what you say to any insurance company. For example, if you tell your insurance company that you are "fine" and later find out the other party did not have insurance, you might need to approach your own company pursuant to potential Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage. However, if you told your company you were not hurt, your UM claims won't go very far. The best thing to do is to contact an experienced lawyer who can really explain to you what to expect. It certainly can't hurt since most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation.
When it comes to damages in personal injury cases, there are two types. First, there are “economic” damages which are damages that can be proven with bills, receipts, invoices, etc. They are easily measurable (that’s not to say the insurance company won’t give you are hard time about those numbers). However, there are also “non-economic” damages also known as “pain and suffering” damages. They are sometimes also called “general” damages. These are more difficult to ascertain because of their inherently subjective nature.
General damages can be affected by many variables. Sympathy can play a factor. For example, a grandmother who can no longer play with her grandchildren might be entitled to more general damages than someone who doesn’t have the same situation. Another example where circumstances affect “general” damages was when a client of mine was unable to attend his father’s funeral because of a car accident. These are the kinds of things that are difficult to quantify but should be compensated. Another client of mine has a residual eye injury that may never resolve. He’s been told he’s a surgical candidate but there is no guarantee surgery will solve his vision problems.
When it comes to residual injuries, they can enhance the value of an injury case because someone has to live with a problem for their foreseeable future. Contrast that with someone who received soft tissue injuries from an auto accident and has fully healed. Juries are more prone to award “non-economic” damages where there is a genuine sympathy factor and/or a significant injury that won’t resolve itself or at the very least may affect the individual for years to come.
California's Basic Speed Law
Many people think that traveling the speed limit is the best speed to drive when driving on the freeway or city streets. However, if you get involved in an auto accident, your speed will be in an issue. Driving the "speed limit" is not a defense to driving too fast. Technically, you can drive the speed limit and still be guilty of driving too fast. California's basic speed law (Vehicle Code Section 22350) does not say anything about the speed limit. California's basic speed law says that you must drive at the speed that is reasonable for the circumstances. Therefore, even if the speed limit is 55 mph, that does not mean you can drive 55 mph if there is traffic or stoppage in other lanes etc. When it comes down to it, California's driving law requires a driver to be "reasonable" which doesn't necessarily mean driving the speed limit.
Back when I was a defense lawyer (defending personal injury cases for a major insurance company), I once had a case once where my client mistakenly turned left into oncoming traffic. There were three lanes in the opposite direction and cars in the #1 and #2 lanes stopped for him. The other party was driving the speed limit (35 mph) in the #3 lane and hit him while he was turning. While my client should not have turned, we did get the jury to find the other vehicle's driving to be 30% at fault for driving too fast. We argued that since cars were stopped in the #1 and #2 lanes, she should have realized something was going on and driving the speed limit could not be used as an excuse. Arguably, we had a steep hill to climb with such an argument, but the argument worked in that case.
Medical Payments Coverage
If you don't have health insurance, check your car insurance policy for "Medical Payments Coverage" (MPC) which might pay for your medical bills after an auto accident. If you don't have MPC, you should call your insurance company and ask about it. It's very inexpensive and very good to have on your auto policy. Even if you have health insurance, they may not pay for everything in which case MPC is a terrific bonus to have! You can't always rely on the responsible party to pay your bills after an accident.
However, keep in mind that if you recover any money from the responsible party's insurance carrier, you may have to reimburse your own insurance company for payments made pursuant to your Medical Payments Coverage. They usually have a right to reimbursement. While this may be the case, there are times when you can negotiate the amount owed, and in some cases, your insurer might agree to a total waiver.
The Importance of Uninsured Motorist
In my opinion, the most important aspect of any auto insurance policy is Uninsured Motorist Coverage (better to exceed $15K - get as much as you can). The number of people driving without insurance is staggering. I've seen too many cases involving clients that have been seriously hurt, but the responsible party has NO insurance, and my clients have nowhere else to turn! Uninsured motorist coverage usually covers "underinsured" motorist claims as well - situations when the other party did not have enough insurance to cover your losses.
Check your automobile coverage to see if you have Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Sometimes, it shows up as "UM Coverage" on your declarations page (the page your insurance company sends you which outlines the car insurance you have). It is important to get as much as you can afford. Check with your insurance professional and discuss your options. Sometimes, insurance companies fail to tell you about available UM coverage.
Also, if you make a claim pursuant to your UM coverage, your insurance company should treat you fairly and in very good faith since you are their direct client. That doesn't mean they have to buy every claim you present, and they may be skeptical at times. Remember, you are making a claim that needs to be proven as if you were bringing a claim against another insurance carrier.
If you are alleging personal injury from a serious accident, don't post photos or videos of yourself dancing at a party a few days after the accident. Also, don't post pictures of yourself snowboarding, skydiving, or running a marathon. Yes, I actually have to tell my clients NOT to do this.
One client said, "Well, I only posted it for my 'friends' to see!" I explained that when you post to one person on Facebook or other social network, you still run the risk that dozens of others will learn of your posting. One client posted, "Had an accident today. Feeling fine. No worries." Then he decided to bring a claim a few days later. The insurance adjuster lived in the same town and had learned about the accident online! Needless to say, this cast a big shadow of doubt on this fellow's claim.
The best advice is to lay low and avoid social networks entirely after an accident. You should be recovering...not tweeting...after a serious accident.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.