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Insurance Companies and Your Rights
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1. I have been in a collision, now what?
Assuming both drivers have followed the requirements of remaining at the scene, filing an accident report and then notifying their respective insurance carriers, you should get the medical attention you need immediately since a delay in treatment is used as an excuse by insurance companies to argue you were not hurt. Adjusters will be assigned by the insurance companies to settle vehicle damage claims, deal with your PIP medical payment issues and, later, to value your case for settlement. You should not give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company or sign release forms for them. You generally must communicate with your own insurance company, which includes filling out their PIP benefit application form and signing medical release forms. Once your PIP application is processed by your own insurance company, they will begin making medical payments to your providers and paying you for any income loss or household help pursuant to the terms of your PIP policy. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and it is advisable to have legal advice immediately so that your attorney can communicate with your PIP carrier and guarantee immediate funding for your medical and income losses.

2. Who will pay the medical bills?
Your own insurance company should pay you for your immediate medical bills pursuant to your PIP policy regardless of who was at fault. An attorney can make sure that every reasonable expense is recovered.

3. What about lost income?
Your own insurance company should help pay a percentage of lost income, assuming your doctor confirms that your wage loss is related to the motor vehicle accident. There is usually a waiting period before payment begins. Once again, a lawyer can guarantee immediate and prompt attention by the insurance company by working with your employer.

4. What is compensation for pain and suffering?
Pain and suffering is another way to describe how the collision affected your quality of life, either medically, physically or emotionally. The valuation of your claim varies depending upon severity but is generally understated by an adverse insurance company if they are dealing with you without an attorney.

5. Is there anything I should be doing while I am thinking about an attorney?
Yes. Take pictures of everything including your vehicle, your injuries and maintain a diary of how the injuries are affecting your daily life. A year from now, you won’t be able to recall any of this with specifics.

6. How do I pay for a lawyer?
There is no charge for initially meeting with us in person or over the phone. In general, we handle claims on a Contingency Fee basis. This means that we generally don’t require any money up front for us to get started and, you don’t pay us by the hour. Our fee is a percentage of what we are able to obtain for you and we do not get paid until you do. Our fee does not apply to any reimbursement for damage to vehicles since we are already representing you on your injury claim. All of our contingency fee agreements are in writing and thoroughly explained.

7. If I hire a lawyer, will my net recovery be reduced?
No. Many times I hear clients tell me that the insurance adjuster has warned them that getting an attorney will result in them getting less money because of the attorney’s fee. That is blatantly false and simply a last ditch effort to keep you from getting good advice.

8. The insurance company made me an offer. Should I take it?
No. Definitely not without legal advice and a thorough understanding of how insurance companies value claims for individuals who do not have attorneys. In addition, claims should never be settled until you are medically stationary. In other words, until you are certain that your condition is getting no better or no worse, you run a risk by settling a case and signing off on documents. The risk is that you will get worse. Having already signed off on a settlement, you cannot re-open the case.

9. Are there time limits on claims?
Absolutely. Time limits are complex and beyond the scope of a short question and answer format. However, once your claim expires, it is over and there are only limited reasons that a case would ever be actionable after the expiration of that time frame. Getting in to see your lawyer early eliminates this risk.

10. The other driver had no insurance. What do I do now?
No problem. With appropriate legal advice, you can shift the focus to your uninsured motorist coverage which is very broad. This coverage will usually pick up incidents where you or household members are in your vehicles or passengers in other vehicles. The possibilities are endless, but complicated, and you should make no assumption about a lack of coverage.

11. My own insurance had lapsed. Can I still collect from the other driver since it was his fault?
Yes. Although some limitations may exist as to the type of damages you are entitled to recover, you should not be intimidated about pursuing a claim simply due to an oversight relating to your own coverage.

12. The other driver’s insurance adjuster is really nice and told me I didn’t need a lawyer. Is that true?
No. An adjuster’s job is to make you comfortable and establish a feeling of trust so that you ultimately believe her when she tells you what her valuation is for your claim. They take classes to learn how to manipulate the post- accident situation. Insurance companies are so profitable because they pay as little as they can to resolve claims. You should not talk to the other driver’s adjuster, let alone provide a recorded statement. Instead, you should call your own lawyer who can then communicate with the insurance adjuster without the risk of being tricked into saying or doing something that is bad for your case.

13. I was in a bicycle or pedestrian collision. Am I covered?
Yes, in most cases, but it is not always obvious or offered. Many of the same rules apply to these incidents and you should seek legal advice immediately.

14. Should I feel guilty about contacting an attorney for legal advice?
Not at all. You pay premiums and other drivers pay premiums which, by contract, require insurance companies to step in and deal with these matters. Handling your claim is their responsibility under the insurance contract for which they are paid handsomely. Contacting an attorney costs you nothing and can typically be done over the telephone. All discussions are confidential.

15. Does having a lawyer automatically require me to go to court?
No. Many cases are resolved through negotiation between your attorney and the adjuster. If the attorney and adjuster cannot agree on a value, it is up to you whether you wish to accept the highest offer or have your attorney move the matter into the court system. While the negotiation goes on, no one is allowed to talk to you or bother you, including the adjuster for the other insurance company.

16. Will a lawyer help with all the phone calls I am receiving from the other insurance adjuster and medical billing offices?
Yes. Once a lawyer is involved, the other insurance carrier cannot contact you and an attorney will typically deal promptly with your medical creditors. They are often happy to communicate with your lawyer instead of trying to track you down at work or in the evenings. A fair percentage of people see me simply because they are overwhelmed with paperwork, bills and telephone calls. It is generally a great relief for them to find out that they can go about the business of recovering from their injuries and trying to get back to work by dropping all of that off at my office.

17. What about my children’s injuries?
Children’s claims are very important and injuries may not be immediately apparent. Sometimes a child’s activity level may suggest no injuries have occurred. Insurance companies are very quick to try and resolve children’s claims, and it is common for them to offer to conclude your child’s claim well before they conclude your own. Don’t fall for the invitation to conclude your children’s claim quickly. First, a proposal will generally have little relationship to what has occurred. Second, it could be very premature depending on the severity of the injury. I once met with prospective clients, a husband and wife, who had received what they felt was a fair offer for their daughter’s injuries because the insurance adjuster had told them it was fair. I picked up the phone and called the adjuster. He immediately offered the highest available payment under the policy, many times greater than what he told the parents was fair for their daughter. This in turn opened the door for a separate claim that no one had even told them was available. My clients were dumbfounded that the adjuster so blatantly misrepresented that the offer was fair. It was clear that he was simply trying to get rid of the claim with a low-ball offer at a fraction of what the youngster’s injuries warranted.

18. What about the rights of a passenger?
Passengers have the same or more rights than anyone else because there may be multiple levels of coverage from different sources. Don’t assume anything. The situation is unique because if you are hurt as a passenger, it is someone’s fault, but not your own, and a claim may exist against your driver’s insurance, the other driver’s insurance, or even your own insurance. Sometimes it’s all three so get legal advice early.

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Ronald H. Reynier P.C., 718 State Street, Hood River, OR; (541) 386-4264; (509) 493-2245