In Southern California, where it is nearly impossible to travel from one place to another without a car, the idea of getting into a car accident can be frightening at many levels. More than anything else, a car accident is a traumatic event in every sense. There is the potential for major injuries or even death. You may be looking at costly medical bills, back and forth talks with the insurance company and lost wages because you cannot work.
If you have been injured, you may wish to file a lawsuit against the at-fault or negligent parties seeking compensation for your injuries, damages and losses. Our Orange County personal injury attorneys have put together the following one-stop guide to answer questions you may have regarding filing your car accident lawsuit and the process to receive a fair settlement. For more information, please contact the law offices of Timothy J. Ryan for a no-cost consultation and case evaluation.
What Should I Do Immediately After My Car Accident?
The steps that you take after your car accident can prove extremely important in terms of helping you secure the maximum possible compensation for your injuries and losses. Our car accident lawyers recommend that you take the following steps:
- Stay calm and check if anyone -- you, your passengers and others involved in the car accident – has been injured. If you or anyone has been injured, call 911 right away so those who have been injured can get prompt medical assistance.
- Call the police and file a report. Make sure that your version of what happened gets into the report. Be sure to get the responding police officer's name, department and badge number just in case you have future questions.
- Exchange pertinent information with other parties who involved in the crash. This information should include full names, contact information, insurance company name and policy number, license plate and driver's license numbers, and car information (make, model, color, etc.).
- Getting contact information for anyone who witnessed the car accident can also be very helpful in the future, especially if the eyewitnesses can corroborate your account.
- Secure as much evidence from the scene as possible including photos and video footage of the accident scene, which can show the damages, the weather, roadway conditions and injuries.
- Be sure to inform your auto insurance company immediately about your accident. But, use caution when discussing the accident. For example, don't admit fault or say something, which your insurance company can later use against you.
- Get prompt medical attention, treatment and care for your injuries and be sure to follow your doctor's treatment orders.
- Retain the services of an experienced Orange County car accident lawyer as soon as possible so you have quality legal representation on your side.
What Kind of Evidence Should I Collect?
The type of evidence and quality of evidence you collect from the accident scene can prove extremely valuable in a car accident case. It is important that you collect this evidence right away because accident scenes are cleared away quickly and you may not be able to go back and get what you need. If you are unable to collect such information, ask a family member or friend if they can do that for you.
Here are some of the most important pieces of evidence you need to gather:
From the other driver: His or her full name, contact information (address, email), license plate number, driver's license number, vehicle registration information, auto insurance details.
From eyewitnesses: It is important that you request anyone who witnessed the crash scene to remain until police arrive so their statements can be included in the report. Since they are often neutral third parties, their statements and observations could be extremely valuable.
Visuals: This type of evidence is crucial and typically includes photos of damage to all vehicles, any type of injuries that have been sustained, roadway conditions, traffic signals or signage, etc. It would also be helpful to get video footage on your cell phone of the crash scene as well.
Surveillance footage: In addition photos and videos, it would also be helpful to get any footage neighboring shops or businesses may have captured on their surveillance cameras. Law enforcement officials usually use this type of footage in traffic accident cases.
Do I Still Need to See a Doctor Even if I Don't Think I was Injured?
If you have been injured in a car accident, you should always seek medical attention even if you don't think you are having any symptoms. Many injuries sustained in car accidents such as whiplash can take time to manifest. Even if you only feel pain after the crash, it is important that you see your doctor and follow his or her orders. If you are injured in the accident, go to the emergency room right away so you can get the treatment and care you need.
This is an important step to take after the car accident not only because doing so puts you on the path to recovery, but also because it documents the types of injuries you sustained and the treatment you received for them. If you don't get medical attention or follow the doctor's orders, insurance companies could use that to minimize your compensation or even deny your claim.
What if I was Given a Citation?
If you were given a citation after a car accident, it may seem like the accident may have been your fault, and you may think that you may not be able to file a claim or seek compensation. However, it is important that you still seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney to confirm the facts of the case and see if you may still have a claim to compensation. Under California's comparative fault law, a party can collect damages minus his or her proportion of fault for the accident.
In addition to traffic citations, there are other pieces of evidence such as accident reports, eyewitness testimony, photos, videos and medical records that can help the plaintiff prove fault and liability, and document the extent of the damages. A resourceful car accident attorney can help accident victims gather such evidence and make a convincing case.
Can I Continue to Drive My Car?
It is important that you have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic or repair shop, even if the damage to your car is relatively minor. This is because if the damage to your vehicle is not reported and properly documented after your accident, your insurance company may deny coverage. Make sure to contact your auto insurance company soon after the crash to see if they would like you to go to a particular repair shop. If so, that would be the best course of action to ensure that your damages are covered.
What if My Car is Totaled?
A total loss to the vehicle occurs when it is deemed that the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the value of the vehicle. If your car is totaled, the insurance company will send you a check for what they think the car is worth. However, if you did not get a fair amount from the insurance company, it would be in your best interest to speak with an attorney or look at websites that value vehicles before you accept the money from your insurance company.
While most insurance companies may have their own method to determine a car's value, it is important that you do your homework and arm yourself with the information about the market value of your car. When you do so, you'll have an idea of the amount of reimbursement you can expect from your insurance company. If you find there is a major discrepancy, you may need to hire your own appraiser to evaluate the vehicle. The insurance company may also need to factor in costs to sell the car to salvage. It is important that you understand precisely what is included in your reimbursement check as well as what is coming out of it.
How Do I know if I have a Personal Injury Case?
If you were injured in a car accident that was primarily caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, there is a good chance that you have a valid car accident claim. The best way to determine whether or not you have a claim is to contact an experienced Orange County car accident lawyer, who will be able to examine all aspects of your case and help determine the validity of your claim. If you have been seriously injured to the extent that you had to be hospitalized or undergo surgery, you may have a strong personal injury case.
If you do have a personal injury case, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries, damages and losses. It is important to talk with a personal injury lawyer to help determine whether you have a case and to help determine the value of the case.
What Should I Say to the Insurance Companies?
It is extremely important to be very careful and guarded when speaking with insurance companies regarding your car accident. It is best never to give them a recorded statement. In fact, it is better not to speak with them until you have consulted with a car accident lawyer who will look out for your best interests. Anything you tell them can be used against you and can be used as a basis for refusing to compensate you or for reducing the value of your claim.
When you talk to another driver's car insurance company, it is important to remember that their primary goal is to pay you as little money as possible. So, you should not divulge too many details about the accident, specifics about your injuries or how you feel physically. Be sure that you provide succinct answers to the questions you are asked. Do not volunteer additional information. Never speculate what happened. If you are not sure or don't know, it's perfectly fine to tell the insurance company that.
How Long do I have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit?
In California, there is a two-year statute of limitations to file a personal injury claim stemming from a car accident. The statute of limitations for property damage resulting from a car accident is three years from the date of the crash. However, if you were involved in a car accident with a governmental entity, the statute of limitations (under California Government Code Section 911.2) is six months from the date of the car accident.
If the governmental entity denies the claim, which is a common occurrence, you have six months from the date of denial to file a personal injury lawsuit. If a family member was killed in a car accident, you may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault parties. The same statute of limitations applies to wrongful death lawsuits stemming from car accidents. It is important to have an experienced car accident attorney on your side who can help ensure that your car accident lawsuit is filed in a timely manner.
How Long Will it Take to Settle my Car Accident Case?
There are a number of factors that could affect the time it takes to reach a settlement in a car accident case. When the claim is clear-cut in terms of who is liable, it could be settled within a matter of months. However, other claims may take a few years before they settle. While a vast majority of car accident lawsuits are settled out of court, some do go to trial, especially if the insurance company does not make a fair settlement offer.
Another factor that affects the length of time is the severity of the injuries. If the injuries are fairly minor and the damages lower, the insurance company may quickly get the case over with. However, if the insurance company is unwilling to settle the claim without additional investigation, it could take longer.
When Should I Contact a Car Accident Attorney?
After a car accident, it is best to retain the services of a car accident attorney if you have suffered an injury that required medical attention or if there were any fatalities. If your injuries affect your ability to work or if the accident is clearly the result of another person's negligence, you will greatly benefit from getting a lawyer right away. In California, the statute of limitations to file a car accident claim is two years. So, sooner is better.
Having an attorney on your side is also very beneficial when the other party's insurance company contact you. A personal injury attorney can speak to insurance companies and other parties' lawyers on your behalf. You should not have to experience the added stress of potentially saying something that could later be held against you. An attorney is also your best resource when an insurance company acts in bad faith. It would be in your best interest to retain the services of a lawyer who has prior experience fighting insurance companies on behalf of injured victims.
What is the Average Time for a Car Accident Settlement to be Completed?
One of the first questions plaintiffs in car accident cases may have is how long it might take to receive a settlement. Each case is unique. Typically, the settlement process can take an average of four to six weeks. But, this time frame may not necessarily hold up in more complex cases especially when the injuries are severe and there is a lot at stake.
The timeline could also be extended when it takes longer for the victim to recover from his or her injuries. You don't want to rush into a settlement until you realize the scope of your injuries and the future treatment you will require. Once you accept an offer, you cannot go back and seek more compensation, even if you incur expenses relating to your injuries stemming from that car accident.
What is the Average Settlement Amount for a Car Accident Case?
While several studies put the average amount for a car accident case at around $25,000, our Orange County car accident lawyers know that this amount could range anywhere between a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars. The value or worth of a car accident claim depends on the nature and extent of the injuries sustained and the negligence of other parties involved in the crash.
In addition to quantifiable damages such as medical expenses and lost wages, there are also several abstract factors such as physical pain, mental suffering, loss of life's enjoyment or quality of life that might affect the eventual car accident settlement. You need a knowledgeable lawyer who is an expert and a passionate advocate who fights on your behalf to obtain the maximum possible settlement.
How Do I Choose the Best Car Accident Attorney to Represent Me?
One of the most important factors to consider when you hire a personal injury lawyer is whether or not they are genuinely interested in taking your case and seeing it through. It is important that you select a lawyer who has had a successful track record of handling cases similar to yours. For example, if you were injured in a rollover accident or in a rear-end crash, you want to make sure that your attorney has had success when it comes to securing compensation for clients in those types of cases.
A good car accident attorney, in addition to negotiating a fair settlement with the insurance company, should also be able to help negotiate the cost of any unpaid medical bills. Your attorney should also work on a contingency fee basis, which means that you shouldn't have to pay any fees unless your attorney recovers compensation for you. The attorney's fees will typically be a percentage of your settlement.
How to File a Lawsuit Over Your Car Accident
If you have been injured in a car accident, it is best to speak with a lawyer who specializes in car accidents before deciding to file a lawsuit. He or she will be able to evaluate the case based on its strength and worth. Your lawyer will be able to advise you about the advantages and disadvantages of filing a lawsuit versus seeking settlement.
The first step in filing a lawsuit is to gather evidence such as police reports, medical records, evidence from the accident scene and other documentation that shows the extent of your losses. Even if you don't eventually file a lawsuit, it would be in your best interest to speak with a lawyer who will help you seek maximum compensation regardless of which route you decide to go. Attorneys who specialize in car accident claims can help you decide what might be the best course of action.
Will Your Lawsuit Go to Trial or End in a Settlement?
A vast majority of car accident cases settle without even going to trial. A number of claims settle even before a lawsuit is filed. Settlement amounts also vary. Insurers may base settlements on "special damages," which include all types of monetary losses you may suffer in a car accident such as medical expenses, property damage and loss of wages.
An insurance adjuster may also use something called a multiplier to come up with an estimate for a settlement. For example, if your financial losses from the crash add up to about $15,000 and the insurer chooses a multiplier of 2, the settlement offer would be $30,000. Multipliers vary based on age, the victim's medical condition prior to the accident and whether he or she sought medical attention after the crash.
Contacting an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
Any settlement offer is only a starting point. It would be in your best interest not to accept the first offer you get from the insurance company. Talk to an experienced Orange County car accident attorney who can help understand all of your legal options. Call the Law Offices of Timothy J. Ryan & Associates at 714-898-4444 to find out how we can help you.