As an attorney who exclusively practices personal injury law, I talk to a lot of people who have recently been involved in automobile collisions. Very few of these folks have ever been involved with any aspect of the legal system, so naturally, they have many questions. I always spend the time necessary to answer these questions, but I have found that there are three things that really surprise people about the process of resolving a personal injury case. Since these are so common, I wanted to spend a few minutes addressing these issues here for everyone who might need help with a potential claim.
First, and this is probably the most misunderstood part of a claim, the person who hurt you has no obligation to pay for any of your bills “up front.” No matter how obvious or blameworthy the person who hurt you is, they do not have to pay any bills or expenses until the court either orders them to do it after a jury trial or other proceeding, or they agree to pay as part of a final settlement. This can obviously put a lot of people in a bind. You are out of work and stuck paying for medical care that you were not expecting for months or possibly years until the case is ready for settlement or trial.
Because of this, most automobile insurance policies contain Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) Benefits. This is stop gap coverage. Your own insurance company will pay for medical bills and some amount for lost wages while you recovery from your injury. If you did not have PIP insurance or it doesn’t apply because you were not hurt in an auto accident your own health insurance will pay for your medical costs.
Second, closely related to what was just discussed above, insurance companies that pay for benefits after an accident get paid back if you recover any money later. This applies to PIP, your own health insurance, and almost any kind of short term disability coverage or other wage replacement coverage.
This right to repayment may seem strange, since you paid for, in one way or another, this insurance. However, if you read the policies, they will almost always include provisions which provide for recovery if you get money from a “third party”. This covers any kind of financial compensation from someone who hurt you. Fortunately, the law says that if you had to hire a lawyer to recover the money to pay back the insurance company, that company has to pay a share of those attorney’s fees. What that means in a nutshell is that they will not get paid back dollar for dollar on what they paid out - if you hire a lawyer.
Read about a case where our attorneys were able to get a full waiver of the medical bills for a client who was severely injured in a car vs. pedestrian accident.
Lastly, people are shocked by how little their personal experience is valued by the insurance company and its employees. Even collisions that are considered “minor” (usually by insurance companies) are painful and terrifying experiences. To recovery from even “moderate” soft tissue injuries will take weeks or months of frequent physical therapy or other treatments. However, when the insurance company contacts you to settle your case, the offer is often less than $1,000. My practice is primarily catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. Here, if anything, the problem is even worse. The insurance adjuster will often attempt to settle cases involving life changing injuries for just a few thousand dollars.