Dos and Don’ts of Auto Accident Lawsuits
The United States’ more than 200 million licensed (and sundry unlicensed) drivers blithely operate, at high speeds, passenger vehicles each weighing more than a mature rhinoceros, while eating, sampling intoxicants, calling phone-sex lines, texting, making up our faces, playing with cats, etc., with the result that, the human anatomy being particularly susceptible to deceleration injuries (e.g. brain “slosh”), we injure, maim, and kill each other in reliable numbers each year. The billions invested in self-driving and A.I.-assisted automobiles testify to the impossibility of making us prefer the lives of our fellow drivers to the thrill of catching rare Pokemon on the go.
Automobile accidents are then, unsurprisingly, the subject of many lawsuits. The following tips were formed from much experience handling these cases.
1. Take care of yourself. In many automobile accidents, injuries are not immediately apparent. It doesn’t hurt to get checked out by a medical professional. When you do see a doctor, follow his advice, and keep all of your appointments. Do not unreasonably refuse medical treatment. Do not attempt to self medicate. Give your medical providers your health insurance information rather than name the liability insurer of the other driver.
2. Take Notes. It is important to document your medical care. Keep all receipts for prescriptions, a list of every doctor who treats you, and a daily journal of your injuries, how you feel, and how your injuries affect you. If you miss work on account of your injuries, keep track of the days and hours missed. Take photographs of your vehicle and of your injuries.
3. Remember that your doctors take notes. I’ve had clients attempt to build their case by exaggerating their symptoms. Their unfooled doctors’ documentation of the performance was enormously interesting to the insurance lawyers. Other clients have harangued or threatened their doctors, and that went in the records too. Announcements to your doctor, apropos of nothing, that you have a lawyer, will likely prompt the inclusion of a statement in your medical records that “Patient has a lawyer, so there may be a motive of secondary gain.”
4. And if thy right hand incline to post on Facebook, cut it off, and cast it from thee. I’ve seen plaintiffs, claiming permanent and debilitating injuries, post pictures of themselves skiing, riding dolphins and camels, and wearing 150 pounds of 12th century replica chainmail armor. Stay away from social media. Documentation on the internet of your recreational drug use, or other criminal activity, is equally unhelpful.
5. Don’t dawdle. If you’re going to file a personal injury lawsuit, Va. Code §8.01-243 (the relevant “statute of limitations”) requires that you do so within two years. Because a competent attorney will want to review your case thoroughly before filing a lawsuit on your behalf, if you wait 20 months to look for an attorney, you very well may not find one.
6. Don’t (otherwise) inadvertently destroy your case. If you are charged with any kind of traffic violation, don’t prepay the ticket, as this may be regarded as an admission of fault for the wreck. This is particularly important for potential plaintiffs to remember so long as Virginia continues to follow the “contributory negligence” rule, under which you cannot get money from any other driver, or from their insurance, if you were to any degree negligent or responsible for the collision.
If you do receive money from an insurance company, attend carefully to anything that you’re signing. Do not settle your case unawares, or before your medical treatment is complete.
8. Choose your attorney well. Few auto cases are so complex that you need an outright specialist, but you do want a trial attorney. Because the value of any case is predicated upon what a jury in a given jurisdiction might do, you need somebody familiar with the trial process–it’s difficult to value a case if you don’t try cases. Fear of trying cases, moreover, will prevent an attorney from aggressively negotiating settlement; trial is always a last resort, but you’ve got to be prepared to use it.
7. Don’t forget property damage. Most people know that a negligent driver’s insurance should pay for the repairs to their vehicle, but many are unaware that an insurance company may also be responsible for the “diminished value” of their vehicle. Any automobile accident reported to an insurance company will appear on Carfax or a similar vehicle history report, which will decrease the resale value of your vehicle. In Virginia, you are entitled to recover for this diminishment. This can be a valuable component of your settlement if you drive a new vehicle.
Be leery of large “assembly line” law firms who offer to get your case settled fast. A good attorney thoroughly investigates your case, considering every aspect by which to maximize your recovery for your injuries. If an attorney promises to turn your case around for you on a dime you may want to look for another attorney.
9. When you do choose an attorney, remember that negotiation and litigation, if necessary, are slow processes, with several moving parts; your attorney will have to deal, at a minimum, with insurance companies, medical providers, other attorneys, and the court, all of which have other matters demanding their attention.
10. Do not lie to your attorney. Don’t lie at all.
11. Call your insurance agent to learn what coverage you’ve actually got. You can bet that many of the happy texters sharing the roadways with you will have only the minimum insurance coverage required by Va. Code § 46.2-472. Make sure your policy includes un- or under-insured coverage to protect you against the double irresponsibility of these drivers. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Medical Payments Coverage (medpay) afford extra protection. It would of course be better to make this call before you’re involved in a wreck.
12. Contact us. We are located in Vinton, Virginia, but handle personal injury claims all over the state, and occasionally some out of state.
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