You’ve been in a car accident. You’re injured. You have medical bills piling up and no way to pay them. The average cost of medical care stemming from a car accident is about $15,000 – who has that kind of cash on hand? So, are you entitled to payment for those expenses?
If You’re Not At Fault
If you had no part in causing the accident, you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries. Generally, the insurance company of the at-fault driver will pay for your claim. If the other driver is uninsured, your own insurance company will cover the cost. In either case, you’ll have to wait until you’ve received all the medical care you need before you make a claim. You’ll then go through the settlement negotiation process. If you don’t get a satisfactory offer from the insurance company, you may choose to dispute the issue through arbitration or a lawsuit. In any case, a personal injury attorney will help you get the most out of your settlement.
If You’re At Fault – Contributory Negligence
North Carolina is one of a handful of states that recognizes the doctrine of “contributory negligence” in car accidents. Contributory negligence refers to a situation in which both parties are partially at fault for the accident. If you’re at fault at all, even if you only bear a tiny fraction of the blame, you’re not entitled to recover from the other driver for your injuries. You can only recover if you’re 100% blameless.
You may be able to recover despite contributory negligence if the other driver was grossly negligent – driving while high on meth, for example. You also may be able to recover if the other driver had a “last clear chance” to avoid the accident and didn’t, even if the accident was partially your fault. Both of these issues depend on the specific facts in your case – your personal injury attorney will know if you have a claim under either of these doctrines and how to go about proving your case.
How do I know if I’m at fault?
This is an easy question if, for example, the accident occurred because both you and the other driver broke traffic laws. Most cases aren’t so clear-cut. The insurance company from which you’re claiming compensation is going to try to prove that you were partially at fault for the accident. They’ll say that you could have avoided the accident. Maybe the other driver ran a red light, but you had 3 or 4 seconds to try to avoid the accident. Maybe you had another person in the car and were distracted. They’ll use anything they can to get out of paying a claim, so be prepared to fight for your right to compensation.
You’re Still Covered
Even if you’re partially at fault for the accident, your own insurance will cover your expenses. Of course, your premiums will go up. Consider the cost of your medical bills and vehicle repairs before filing a claim with your insurer to make sure that the claim is worth the increase in your premiums.
What should I do?
Any time you’re in an accident, you should call the police. Insurance companies want a police report before they’ll honor a claim to help avoid fraudulent claims. Keep your own records of the accident, too. If you can, take pictures using your cell phone or a disposable camera of the scene of the accident, the damage to your car, and any injuries you or your passengers sustained. Take down notes about the accident while it’s still fresh in your mind. Trade insurance information with the other driver.
hire an attorney as soon as possible after the accident to help you avoid mistakes that will lower your settlement.
You or an experienced attorney will need to write a letter with your contact information and the time and place of the accident to the other driver’s insurance company (or yours, if the other driver was uninsured) to inform them that you’ll be making a claim.
You won’t be able to submit the actual claim until you’ve received all the medical attention you need and have recovered as much as possible. The insurance company will process your claim and either pay it, offer a smaller settlement, or deny it. They must respond to your claim within 30 days of receiving it.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, the last thing you want to worry about is how you’re going to afford the medical care you need. Reach out to an experienced attorney for a free consultation. We’ll discuss the circumstances of your accident and how you can get compensation from the insurance companies.