1. Can I Settle My Automobile Accident Case Myself?
Yes, you can. However, you should only consider this in a very small case with property damage only.
2. Can I talk with the insurance adjuster before I talk with a lawyer?
Of course you can. But should you? You will probably be contacted very soon by a claims adjuster who will try to settle your case quickly and for as little money as possible. The insurance adjuster will be a hero if he or she can get you to settle quickly and cheaply. The adjuster will want you to sign a general release in exchange for a settlement check. Once you sign the release, YOUR CASE IS OVER! Except for property damage, you should talk with an experienced automobile accident lawyer first. Then you can decide whether to hire a lawyer or do it yourself. Remember that the insurance adjuster is an insurance professional and settles claims for a living. The adjuster does not care about you, and will be loyal to the insurance company. Sadly, this is true even if you are dealing with your own company. I have seen cases in which the other driver’s company is more generous than your own company. An experienced automobile accident lawyer will work hard and be loyal to you.
3. I have talked with other lawyers that charge 40% of any recovery, plus expenses. Is this reasonable? Is there a “standard fee” for these cases?
There is no standard fee. Each lawyer can charge whatever you agree to pay. Under Georgia law, you are responsible for any case expenses. However, 40% is excessive unless a lawsuit is filed in the case. My fee for is 33-1/3% if we can negotiate a settlement, and 40% plus expenses if suit has to be filed.
4. The adjuster wants me to sign a Medical Authorization. Should I sign one?
Only if you want the adjuster to have access to all of your medical records. Are you absolutely sure what your doctors have written in your records? Your lawyer will decide whether to allow access, and will work hard to limit access to records that are related to your case and injury.
5. What happens if a lawyer or non-lawyer contacts me in person or by telephone about my case?
It is unethical for a lawyer to have direct contact with an automobile accident victim, either in person, by letter, or by telephone, within 30 days of the date of the accident unless you asked for the contact. If a non-lawyer (runner) contacts you and tries to get you to sign with a specific lawyer, you should run from this person and lawyer as fast as you can. If you go to a chiropractor and there is a lawyer waiting there for you, run! Ethical lawyers will not do these things.
6. Will my health insurance company try to get reimbursed for the medical bills it paid for my medical treatment?
Probably yes. The question is whether it is entitled to be reimbursed. Your company will tell you that your plan requires reimbursement. But, under Georgia law, your health insurance company will be entitled to reimbursement only in very specific circumstances. Medicare, Medicaid, and certain other plans have a right to reimbursement. You should consult an experienced injury attorney for a thorough evaluation of your specific circumstances.
7. Will you refer me to a doctor?
I can help you find a doctor if you do not have one. However, it is better for you to go to a doctor that you choose. Why? It is important that you be happy with your doctor. Your lawyer should not pick your doctor, and your doctor should not pick your lawyer. One of the first questions an insurance adjuster or defense attorney will ask is how you found your treating doctor. It will be much better for your case if I do not refer you to a doctor. Of course, if you need a specialist for surgery, I will be happy to try to help.
8. I do not have health insurance. How can I get medical treatment?
There are several ways. The insurance policy that covers the vehicle you were in might have a coverage called “medical payments”. If so, you will be covered up to the limit in the policy. Some doctors, especially chiropractors, will treat you on a lien. This means that you and your lawyer will sign a promise to pay the doctor out of your settlement proceeds.
9. Is it possible to get a cash advance in my case?
Yes, there are companies that will advance cash against your settlement under certain circumstances and with your lawyer’s consent. I strongly urge you not to get an advance. The advance amounts are usually very small, and these companies typically charge 30-40% interest. They get paid first, before you, and your net settlement amount will be reduced. As a general rule, I will not consent to an advance.
Automobile Insurance Questions and Issues
There is a great mount of confusion about automobile insurance coverages, Georgia minimum coverages, what coverages you really need, and what your insurance agent tells you. You have seen all the TV, radio, and print ads that say you can save money on your insurance if you change to the company in the ad. The problem is that every company cannot be the lowest price. You will see ads that make you think that you can name your own price or your monthly payment. This is very misleading. The only way to get the best price for the best coverage is to determine which coverages you need, then shop for insurance. You should shop EVERY time your policy is up for renewal. Insurance companies change their prices all the time. What is a good price now might be outrageous in six to twelve months. Many insurance agents will be truthful with you and sell you only the coverages you need, and will be sure that you have sufficient coverage. Some agents don’t do this.
There are many coverages available to you. I will cover the most important ones that you will need if you are in an automobile accident. I will review bodily injury liability (BI), property damage liability (PD), medical payments (MP), uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI), and uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD).
Under BI, your insurance company pays others that were injured in an automobile accident that was the fault of whoever was driving your vehicle. There are exceptions to this: if someone was driving your vehicle without permission, the vehicle was stolen, or the driver was excluded from coverage on your policy. Georgia law requires that you have a minimum of $25,000 BI coverage and $25,000 PD coverage. That’s it! No other coverages are required. Really?!?! Surely the Georgia legislature can do better than this. Is this coverage adequate? If you are at fault in an accident and the injured person has minor injuries and minor property damage, then you will probably be protected. But, if there are serious injuries, or if you injured numerous people, there is a very good chance that you will not have adequate coverage. What if you cause damage to an expensive vehicle or multiple vehicles and you have only the minimum required coverage? You could be sued for the difference. You should buy as much BI and PD as you can afford because you will not know the extent of injuries or damage until after the collision. Then it will be too late. If you have substantial assets, equity in your home, money in the bank, this is especially important.
The next coverage is Medical Payments (MP), and it is optional. Georgia does not require that you have this coverage. However, Georgia does require your company to offer it to you, but you are not required to purchase it. BUT YOU SHOULD! It is very INEXPENSIVE and it is FANTASTIC coverage. Usually, you can purchase as little as $1,000. I have seen MP coverage of $50,000 or more. Again, buy as much as you can afford. Why? If you or someone else are in your vehicle and are injured in an automobile collision, MP is a great way to get the injured person’s medical bills paid. There is no deductible and will pay any medical provider or medical facility with few limitations. Let’s assume you have $5,000.00 MP coverage on your vehicle. You, your spouse, and your three children are in the vehicle and all of you are injured. None of you have health insurance. How do the medical bills get paid? MP coverage. I said earlier that MP is fantastic coverage. What makes it so great? If you have $5,000 MP coverage, your insurance company will pay up to $5,000 in medical bills for EACH injured person in your vehicle! And, it will pay even if you caused the injuries! So you and your loved ones can get medical treatment and you have a way to pay for some or all of it. Please note that your insurance company might try to get you to pay it back if you recover money from the other driver’s insurance company. Your company will even show you that your policy requires repayment. BUT, Georgia law has requirements that must be met before your company has a right to reimbursement. An experienced personal injury attorney can guide and advise you on this very important issue. What if you and your family have health insurance? Do you still need MP coverage? ABSOLUTELY!
Your insurance agent might tell you that, because you have health insurance, you do not need MP coverage. Your agent is completely wrong! Do you have the money for co-payments, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses that you will have to pay if you use your health insurance? What if you see a doctor that is not a member of your health plan? Will your health insurance pay this doctor, and will the doctor accept payment? Remember that MP will pay almost any medical provider. Also, some health insurance plans, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Peachcare, Peachstate, Amerigroup, and some private plans organized under certain federal laws MUST be paid out of any settlement or judgment. Some providers will not accept payment from these plans if there is an automobile accident that caused the injury. I have seen cases where hospitals will not bill Medicare, Medicaid, Peachcare, Peachstate, or Amerigroup in auto accident cases. Instead these hospitals will file a lien against your case. If this happens, the hospital gets paid before you do, even though you were the one who was injured. Remember, MP is dirt cheap and covers everyone in the covered vehicle no matter who is at fault!
BI and PD pay for other people if you injure them or damage their property. What happens when the other driver is at fault, but has either no insurance or not enough insurance to compensate you for your injuries? You could be out of luck unless you have uninsured motorist coverage. There are two types of UMBI coverage that you can buy. One is called “reduced” and the other is usually called “excess” or “add-on” coverage. You should NEVER buy “reduced” UMBI. Even though it is slightly less costly than “add-on” coverage, it is horrible coverage. Let’s assume you had serious injuries and your injury case is worth $40,000. The other driver has the state minimum coverage of $25,000. You have UMBI “reduced” coverage of $25,000 and you have been paying for this coverage for years. The other insurance company pays you its $25,000. How much will your company pay? ZERO, NOTHING, ZILCH! It gets to reduce its coverage by the amount the other insurance company paid. If you had “add-on” coverage, your company would pay you an additional $15,000 over the amount paid by the other insurance company. Be honest, which is better for you and your loved ones?
One more thing about UMBI coverage. Let’s assume that you have BI limits of $100,000, and UMBI limits of $25,000. If you are involved in an automobile accident and you are at fault, your company would be required to pay the other injured party up to $100.000 if the injuries are severe enough. If the other driver is at fault and has no BI insurance, then your insurance company would pay for your injuries, but only up to $25,000 under the UMBI coverage. Think about this. You are providing coverage to others four times the amount you are providing to you and your passengers. Did your agent explain this to you? Is this going to adequately compensate you and your loved ones if the other driver does not have adequate insurance coverage? This problem is so severe that Georgia requires your agent to get a signed waiver if you do not select “add-on” UMBI and UMPD in an amount that matches your BI and PD coverage. You should ALWAYS buy “add-on” UMBI and PD, and the amount should ALWAYS match your BI limits.