A car accident occurs approximately every five seconds in the United States. At the time of an accident, the last thing most people want to think about is their insurance company. But, if you are involved in a car accident, in addition to understanding the coverage your policy provides, you may need to understand the coverage of others involved in the accident as well. In many cases, an involved party carries no insurance whatsoever.
A car accident is traumatic enough without the added stress of inadequate or nonexistent insurance coverage to pay for damages and/or medical bills. In certain cases, especially if you are injured, you may need a lawyer to help you deal with the complexities of accident insurance claims. And even if you think your injuries aren't serious enough to warrant a lawsuit, it is still advisable to contact an attorney. Some injuries that at first appear to be minor can result in serious permanent damage.
Contacting Your Insurance Company
You should notify your insurance company if you've been in an accident in order to protect your claim and ensure your benefits. However, depending on the severity of the accident, it might be better to contact and retain a lawyer first. Your lawyer will then contact the insurance company on your behalf.
After an accident, make sure to obtain and keep a record of the following information:
Always consult with an attorney before accepting any offer made to you by an insurance company adjuster. Adjusters who work for insurance companies have one goal in mind when they offer to settle your case: to do it for the least amount of money possible.
What may sound like a fair or even good offer to you could be significantly less than the settlement an attorney may be able to negotiate. Studies have shown that accident victims recover more money through the use of a lawyer even after taking into account the attorney's fee.
You can still hire a lawyer. Personal injury or accident lawyers often work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer gets paid only if she or he collects money for you. If the lawyer is successful, a percentage of the settlement will go to the lawyer as a fee. In most accident cases, the percentage will equal one third (33%) of the net settlement or judgment.
If you consult with an attorney who will not work with you or doesn't think you have a solid case, get a second opinion. Not all lawyers will see a potential case in the same way. Perhaps the first attorney isn't fully familiar with the type of case you are presenting or your case is not "big enough" for the firm you've contacted. It is often to your advantage to get a second opinion.
Under New York's "comparative negligence" rules, you can file a lawsuit and may have a good case even though you feel you might have contributed to the accident. A thorough investigation may show that you may not have been at fault or that another party contributed to the accident. In this situation, it is advisable to consult with a lawyer.
New York, as well as some other states, has mandatory no-fault insurance that requires each vehicle's insurance policy to pay the medical services and lost wages of the vehicle's driver, the vehicle's passengers and any pedestrians injured by the vehicle regardless of who caused the accident. The primary purpose of this law is to ensure that those injured in an automobile accident have medical coverage without the need to bring a lawsuit.
In New York State, notice of an accident must be given to the no-fault insurance company within thirty days of the accident date. A proper no-fault application (NF3) must also be filed with the company. Once a claim is opened, you will be able to treat with a physician of your choice, as long as they accept no-fault benefits. Eventually, the no-fault provider will notify you of an appointment to see one of their doctors for an IME (independent medical examination). Many attorneys call these DMEs (defense medical examinations), as most no-fault benefits are terminated based upon this exam. After the exam, the insurance company's doctor will send a report to the no-fault provider explaining whether you should be allowed to continue medical treatment (not likely) or whether you have gained maximum benefits from treatment and therefore, should have your benefits terminated (very likely). Most often, the company will send you to their own doctor and terminate your benefits within two to four months of the accident date.