car wreck: broken legI recently spoke at a Continuing Legal Education seminar on common questions that come up after a car accident. Below are some of those questions and my responses to those questions.

1. Should I go to the hospital?

If you are experiencing any pain after the accident, then yes, go get checked out.

The longer you wait to get medical treatment, the harder it may be to connect your injuries to the car crash. Insurance companies love to treat injured victims like they are manufacturing an injury when there has been a delay in treatment.

2. Who is supposed to cover my medical bills?

Medical bills after an accident lead to a lot of confusion. While you will be able to make a claim against the other driver at some point, the negligent driver’s insurance company will not pay your medical bills without a release. Health care providers, however, will not want to wait until a case is resolved to get paid.

Therefore, you should submit all medical bills to your own health insurance if possible. You should also try to pay any co-pays and deductibles along the way to avoid bills being sent to collections. When you have completed treatment, then a demand can be made against the other driver for your medical expenses.

3. How much does a lawyer cost?

Most lawyers that handle claims for car accidents operate on a contingency fee.

This means the lawyers will only be paid if there is a successful recovery. If there is a recovery, then the lawyer will take out expenses and then calculate a fee based upon an agreed percentage.

4. What’s my claim worth?

The value of a claim depends on many factors. A major factor that drives the value of your claim is by looking at the economic loss. Economic loss includes costs associated with medical treatment as well as time off work. Economic loss can include both past and future losses.

In addition to the economic loss, you may be entitled to non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. While there is no easy formula to calculate non-economic damages, they are often connected to the medical treatment and bills. To best understand the value of a claim, you should contact a lawyer that specializes in personal injury claims.

5. Will I have to pay back my health insurance?

Under some circumstances, you may have to pay your health insurer back for any payments made on your behalf that were the result of another party’s negligence. Traditional health insurance does not have a right to be paid back.

This right is commonly called “subrogation.” What I mean by traditional health insurance is you or your employer pay premiums to purchase an insurance policy.

Thus, the insurance company is paying its funds to cover any medical expense.

Some companies, however, provide health coverage through fully self-funded ERISA plans. This means the company places its own money into a fund. The fund is then used to pay any claims for its employees. There may be a third party retained to manage the fund, but the money in the fund belongs to the employer.

Under this circumstance, the employer is entitled to be paid back.

The company’s rights depend on the language contained in its health care plan documents. The right for the company to be paid back may even trump the lawyer’s right to an attorney’s fee. This is why it is extremely important to discuss your claim early with an experienced car accident attorney so he can protect you and your rights when dealing with ERISA health plans.

In addition to ERISA plans, Medicare will also need to be paid back. If you are a Medicare beneficiary, then you will also have a duty to inform Medicare of any potential claim and recovery. Fortunately, Medicare will reduce the amount it is owed by the procurement costs, which include the attorney’s fee and expenses.

6. What if the other driver doesn’t have insurance or the state minimums?

If the other driver does not have insurance, then you will have to file a claim against your own insurance company for uninsured motorist coverage. This is especially true given the difficulties with collecting against a negligent driver’s personal assets, and the likelihood an uninsured driver will not have any assets to collect. Uninsured motorist coverage is mandatory in both Missouri and Kansas.

Similarly, if the negligent driver only has the state minimums in liability coverage ($25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence), then you will need to make a claim for underinsure motorist coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage is required in Kansas, but optional in Missouri. Thus, you should verify with your insurance agent that your policy does in fact have underinsured motorist coverage.

7. How long will my claim take?

There are numerous factors that impact how long a claim will take. One of the most important factors is when the injured victim has finished treatment. You do not want to attempt resolution of a claim until you have been released from the doctor. A claim that is not resolved through negotiations with the insurance company pre-suit will require a lawsuit to be filed. This begins the litigation phase of a car accident claim with the end goal being a jury trial. Most cases are set for trial about a year after they are filed. Given all these facts, I generally tell clients that it can take 18 months to two years before a case is resolved.

A car accident can have a devastating impact on your life, and the legal issues that arise after an accident require an experienced attorney that knows how to navigate the process. At Heath Injury Law LLC, we hold insurance companies accountable by vigorously pursuing claims to maximize the value for our clients.

If you or a loved one has been in a car crash, then please do not hesitate to contact our firm.

Photo of car wrecked by texting teenager