Car accident insurance is critical to have, and driving without it is illegal. However, there are many benefits to ensuring that you have enough car accident insurance to cover collisions where other motorists may be underinsured or uninsured. Here’s what you need to know about having enough coverage in the event of an auto accident.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today, I’m speaking with Russell Guest and Richard Allen of Guest & Brady in Greenville, South Carolina. Guest & Brady is a personal injury law firm, and today we’re going to be talking about auto accidents and insurance companies. Russell and Richard, welcome.
Russell Guest: It’s good to be with you, John. This is Russell.
John: Russell, what are the first steps that I should take after I’ve been involved in a car accident?
Russell: First, recognizing that it can be a very traumatic thing to be in a car accident, there are various types of accidents that can happen. There are those that are minor, and obviously those that are very major. Dealing with them can be accomplished in different ways. You’ve got the shock of — nobody expects to be in an accident, just by the nature of the word — they’re not planning on being there.
It’s very interruptive to their day, and to their life that’s happening around them. They’ve got to assess their situation, whether they’re injured, whether those that might be in the car with them are injured. They’re certainly, if they have children in the car, they’re trying to address them immediately, if they have the ability to do so. If it’s a major accident, where injury’s severe, then obviously a person’s going to have difficulty responding immediately to the circumstances.
But you’ve got this accident, and you’ve got the vehicles that are there. You’ve got maybe just two cars involved, you’ve got multiple cars involved, and if you’re seriously injured you’re going to be obviously dealing with your immediate injuries, and those of the people that are in the car with you. Getting help, getting treatment for the injured is of primary importance, of course.
Doing that quickly, all kinds of methods of doing that, with your cell phone that might be there, or if there’s witnesses that might be coming, people generally are helping to deal with that circumstance, oftentimes. If not, if it’s an accident in a rural area, then you’ve got to figure out how to best address that by perhaps — and we’ve dealt with this many times — people going and knocking on houses next door.
Immediate care for the individuals is obviously critical, and what you would normally find that you do. Now, there are also circumstances where a serious injury that’s not so obvious can happen. You’ve been in an accident, and you’re thinking, “OK, I think I’m OK. I might be all right. Let me just see if I can make it, and deal with my car, and deal with the investigating officer, and then have my car towed, and then let me try to assess after that whether I need to go and get treatment.”
Sometimes people say, “Well, I haven’t even been injured,” and they are telling the officer, “I don’t think that I’m injured. I don’t think I need any care at the moment.” What happens in those circumstances is that they may go home that day, if it’s earlier in the day the accident was. And they start to feel worse during the course of the day or when they wake up the next morning.
John: Right, because there can be a sort of adrenaline rush that happens when you’re in an accident, and that can mask some of the symptoms, or they don’t really present themselves until hours or even a day or two later.
Russell: Absolutely. Very common for that to happen. Oftentimes, we have people coming in and asking us, telling us the same story where they didn’t feel anything immediately. The next morning when they wake up, they can barely move. That their back or their neck was really seriously a problem for them and their mobility the next day.
That point, they need to get it addressed. We also have people tell us that they tried to tough it out, “It’s a soft tissue injury. We’ll see what happens.” Now, it’s a week or two later and they still haven’t gotten care for it. They’re still chronically experiencing problems.
This can be an issue in regards to filing a claim because the insurance company will want to say, “They must’ve not been seriously injured because they would’ve gone and gotten care.” When really the person has got a pretty good tolerance to pain or they’ve got responsibilities. They’ve got child care to worry about. They’ve got to worry about work and they try to manage their way to work. They’ve got bills to pay and their life has to continue, despite the injury. Then it gets to a point where they just can’t manage anymore. They feel compelled or forced to actually go to treatment.
This is a problem that the insurance company — any gap in treatment, the insurance company will use against them. We always encourage someone if they are starting to feel any difficulty or injury shortly after the accident or within a day or so, that they should go ahead and go to an emergency facility. It can be something around here, they call them MD 360 or an emergency outpatient facility.
It doesn’t have to be to the hospital. It can be to their family doctor as well. Oftentimes, it’s hard to get into a family doctor very quickly. They need to go and get it addressed. They need to have a medical professional assessing them to see what kind of injuries they may have.
Sometimes, what might seem to be not so serious of an injury, can be a very serious injury. What might be something, just an aggravation, can end up getting much worse than it was. Originally in your back you could start to have severe pain. You could have radiation pain. Radiating pain down your leg, which is a sign of an impingement of the nerves.
This needs to be addressed very quickly. If we don’t do that then you can run the risks of having a long term injury that will cause a permanent impairment.
There are number of reasons to get the treatment quickly, not just because of the insurance company’s argument, but for your own health.
John: Let’s assume that I’ve been in an accident and I’ve gone ahead and gotten treatment or been evaluated for any injuries that I’ve sustained. How should I then go ahead and start dealing with the insurance company?
Russell: Most states have an exchange of information form. In South Carolina, it’s called an FR‑10 form. It’s initial information that’s normally taken down by an investigating officer, which could be a city policeman, a county officer or a highway patrolman.
They’re writing down the names of the parties involved, typically the owners of the cars, the drivers of the cars, and the insurances that they have available that they’re providing to the officer. That form is provided to each of the parties, and they are then asked to provide that to their insurance agent.
There is a requirement in South Carolina that that form be turned in to the insurance agent within 15 days of the date of the collision. If they don’t do that, it could result in the suspension of a driver’s license or registration privileges. That’s pursuant to South Carolina law.
You can take it by your agent’s office, if you know where that is. If it’s an online insurance that you purchased, typically you would fax that or scan that and email to them. But you call and get in touch with your own personal insurance company first, and then also you may file a claim with the at‑fault driver’s insurance as well.
On the FR‑10 form, it does indicate, by the officer, who contributed to the collision. It could say yes, it could say no. You want to look and make sure that the information appears correct to you before the officer walks away after handing you this form.
I’ve encountered people before that have come into our office and they say, “The officer circled that I was contributory when clearly I was not,” and yet they did not address it with the officer. They didn’t see the indication on the form until after the officer left.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed, because that can be a problematic issue with the insurance company. Once the insurance company receives that FR‑10 form, and it’s also looking at who contributed, they’re going to start to make their case and how they evaluate the claim based on the information provided.
It does not mean that that particular information is going to be binding or will be the final end‑all for the claim, but it is important to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. Also, you’re going to want to make sure that you have all witness information.
If there’s anybody that has come to the scene that may have been willing to provide you with a name and telephone number, make sure you have kept that information and that you have it available so that you can provide that to an attorney if you ever need to, if you decide to hire an attorney, or talk to that person to also assess whether you contributed or the other party contributed to the accident.
After talking to the insurance company, it’s a process for filing the claim. You call the at‑fault insurance company that’s provided there on the form. Typically, you have a policy number and also a telephone number. You’ll call that number, and then they’ll ask you a series of questions.
You’ll say, “I was involved in an accident,” and they start asking you all the information that’s on that form there. That will take a little while to deal with that. Then, an adjuster will be assigned to you, maybe right then, or it could be that they’ll have to call you back the next day, or may not ever call you back. But they’re supposed to call you back.
When they do call you and they’re talking to you about this particular accident, oftentimes they’ll immediately say, “We’re going to record this statement. Do we have your permission to record it?” They’ll make you seem like that this is a normal thing, that it’s part of South Carolina law or the law of any state that you might be in.
In South Carolina, it is not mandatory that there is a recorded statement by the at‑fault driver’s insurance company. You have no contractual relationship with them, and there’s no law that compels you to give a recorded statement. I would advise you not to do a recorded statement.
But, if you want to provide information, you can tell them, “I’d be willing to do a notes‑only statement” that they are hearing from you and jotting down notes as you speak about the incident. How it occurred and that you are in fact injured, and that you’re seeking treatment, if you already have, or if you’ve already gone to the emergency room or gone by ambulance or having sought care from your family doctor, and that you’re following up on treatment. That you’re currently dealing with your injuries.
John: How does a notes only statement help to protect you versus doing a recorded statement?
Russell: A recorded statement sometimes, depended upon how you give them, can be admissible in some circumstances. Oftentimes they’re not. A lot of judges in South Carolina will not allow them to be admitted into evidence.
Depending upon your state of mind, the issues that you’re dealing with at the time, they might argue that they are admissible. If you make a statement, for instance you’re saying within hours of the accident, you happen to be talking to the liability adjuster, the at‑fault insurance company’s adjuster, and they’re saying, “Are you injured?” You say, “No, I think I’m doing OK.”
Then the next morning you wake up and you’re really hurt and can hardly move. Your back is bothering you. You’ve got that radiating pain I was talking about. Or, your neck is in such a circumstance you can’t even move your neck around, then you’ve already committed to the adjuster that you’re not injured.
They’re thinking that’s the value of my claim, or the claim is going to be, because the person has already stated they’re not injured. They might be able to use that against you, because you’ll say, “I never said that,” and they’ll have it on a recording.
That’s a problem, when you don’t have to make a recording in the first place and there is nothing that compels you to do so.
John: Richard, I could ask you, if I’m injured in the auto accident, will my insurance or possibly the insurance of the other driver pay for my medical bills and what will the insurance company offer me for my personal injuries?
Richard Allen: John, first of all thank you for having me and allowing the opportunity to speak. That has a lot of moving parts to it. First of all, the at‑fault drivers insurance, the liability carrier, there is no obligation for that insurance to immediately to begin paying your medical bills.
Now, that’s what the liability coverage is there for, if the third party driver is found to be at fault. Oftentimes, we’ve run into clients that — in South Carolina, you have what’s called minimum limits coverage. The minimum limits are $25,000. Oftentimes, a client’s medical bills are going to far exceed that number.
We get the question in that situation, “Well, wait a minute, they’re at fault, the other driver has caused these injuries that require medical treatment that far exceeds $25,000. You’re telling me that they’re not going to pay more than that minimum limit?” If that’s all that’s there, that’s all the insurance company is required to pay.
That’s why it’s important when you get into different types of coverage it’s critical that you have what’s called under-insurance. That is a type of coverage that you purchase yourself. Liability insurance is required. It’s mandated. Then, when you’re purchasing that, the insurance agent has to make what’s called a meaningful offer.
A lot of time clients, they just don’t know. You don’t understand what under-insurance is. They may feel like it’s something the insurance companies are trying to bill fees or charge for, but it’s critically important in a state where the minimum limits are $25,000. It’s very inexpensive coverage to purchase.
I think that’s an important thing for everyone to have.
Russell: Let me jump in there if I can for a moment, John.
Russell: When we’re talking about the responsibility of the at‑fault driver to pay for the injuries and the damages they caused, they may have this insurance that Richard is talking about, minimum limits. Most of the drivers driving out on the roadway have minimum limits because that allows them to drive legally, for the least amount of premium.
But the law says, that particular person and what most people understand if they’re driving around, is that if another person causes the accident, that person is responsible for those injuries and for the damages they caused. That’s true, they do have that responsibility.
The problem becomes, very quickly, is that we all know how expensive medical treatment is, and how quickly bills can add up. Also, lost wages can add up if you’re injured and can’t return to work. Then all of a sudden, the amount of damages far exceeds that $25,000.
The individual has paid the premium for that, that’s their form of insuring that your damages are paid. However, they have no assets beyond that $25,000 to be able to pay for any additional damages that you have. While they do have the legal responsibility, practically they have no means of being able to pay that.
They can be working, like a lot of people are, honest hard working people, but just have no means to pay for anything beyond that insurance that is being provided. You can sue them, and you could get a judgment against them, but there is still nothing that the court can do to require them to pay that.
All you would have at that point would be a piece of paper saying that they owe it to you. Then if they happen to have some bank accounts sitting with a lot of money in it, you might [be able to] go get that. Or, if they had a piece of property that was uncovered by a mortgage, maybe you could go get that.
But, most people don’t have that kind of asset sitting around. You can’t garnish their wages, there is nothing that allows you in the law to go do that or for a Judge to force them to do that. Only the IRS or the government can go do that. You as an individual have a limited ability to go and get money from that individual other than through the insurance company coverage that person has purchased.
That’s why we don’t like it and it might not be fair, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to purchase under-insurance coverage that Rich was describing.
John: What happens if the medical bills are piling up — like you said, they can really be enormous. I’m having a hard time getting the auto insurance company to help or to get a check from them, to help pay for those medical bills. What will I do then?
Richard: First of all, if you have health insurance, you need to use your health insurance. Do not be reluctant to, when you do go to present for treatment, to let the medical providers know that you have health insurance.
The reason is that when you go to begin negotiating with the insurance company to eventually settle the case, you do get to present the entire amount that you are billed for medical services.
However, health insurance is good, because the medical providers will…you’ll be able to negotiate reductions. The health insurance companies pay a reduced amount to the medical providers. And so it’s — net met at the end of the day, you’ll net more dollars using the health insurance.
John: How will I know that the insurance settlement is fair for my injuries?
Russell: Well, John. This is Russell. Let me say that there’s a lot more to that issue that Richard was talking about. We can add to that perhaps in another podcast for this. A lot more that can be offered to that. Richard is exactly right. You should absolutely use the health insurance. Due to our limited time, we won’t address all of that here.
How do we know that the insurance settlement might be fair? It’s not always an easy question. If, however, you’ve had what some people call a “minor impact accident” with minor injuries, soft tissue, you would’ve got conservative care. You recovered fairly quickly from your injuries and they dissipated. You don’t have any long‑term effects. This can be an easier settlement to try to resolve.
If you don’t have lost wages, this is not a lot of complexity. In those types of cases, it is possible sometimes for people to manage their own claim, if they feel they’re okay with the offer that is being made to them.
The problem becomes when people are leaving a lot of dollars on the table because they don’t understand the various coverages that they might be able to use to help them maximize the coverage. When we say that an insurance company, its settlement is fair, oftentimes we are talking specifically about the liability insurance company making a payment to you.
In exchange, they want a release of all future claims. That means, if you’re starting to hurt or you’re starting to…or you have chronic injuries that are just lasting, and you’re going to need future care relating to that particular injury. Then, once you receive the money from the insurance company, and when you sign that release, you cannot go back and get any additional money from them.
So you’ve got to be careful about making that settlement too quickly. Understanding what is fair, might mean that you wait a little while. Waiting a little while it means a there’s a — in most every state there’s something called the statute of limitations in which you can file a claim and recover for your damages.
In South Carolina, that’s three years from the date of the collision. So, if you’re in an automobile accident on January 1st, 2015, then by December 31st, 2018, you need to have made that claim or filed a lawsuit to preserve that claim. So you’ve got to be careful if you’re getting on the end of the three years and you haven’t actually filed a lawsuit.
It would be tough to wait until the last month or two or three months prior to the end of that statute and then go hire on attorney. Do not wait that long. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure, and leaving the attorney with a very little option to be able to help you. In understanding what the insurance settlement is fair is dependent on time, understanding your injuries, how chronic they are, and whether you require future care.
If you think that you’re going to require a future care, the doctor said, “you’re at maximum medical improvement for your injuries, but I think you’re going to need some injections going forward. You’re going to need periodic physical therapy. You’re going to need some medications as well.” Then you need to evaluate what the future cost of those medical treatments would be.
That can be done in different ways. The easiest way to do that is to, if you feel you’re in that circumstance and you’ve got a future medical care, this is a pretty serious injury, that you really need to hire somebody like an attorney who deals with these issues every day to help you assess that and help you to maximize your claim. If you don’t do that, then you’re going to be responsible for that future care.
Some people say, “Well, that’s okay. I’ve got health insurance. I can deal with that.” Nowadays, especially with Obama Care, we’re having to pay lots of co‑pays. Lots of deductibles. It can be very expensive. Lots of out-of-pocket. Also, we know that the job market and then the employer providing health insurances are not a guarantee. We can’t rely on that forever.
Then, if you have Medicare or Medicaid, there is something called a “super lien” which means they have the right to be reimbursed for all treatment. That another person is responsible for what they’ve paid for out of the settlement that you’ve received. They have a lien, whether you recognize it or not. You have an obligation to pay them back.
They could cut off coverage. Medicaid or Medicare can cut off coverage for you, if you fail to do and meet that obligation. Now, that would be disastrous, as we all know. We’ve got to be careful in resolving this claim on whether it’s fair or not. It has so many different parts to it that you need to get it assessed by an attorney before making any settlement.
John: That’s a great advice. Russell Guest and Richard Allen, thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Russell: Thank you, John.
Richard: Thanks, John.
John: For information about Guest & Brady, visit their website at guestbrady.com or call 800‑903‑8101. That’s 800‑903‑8101.