Automobile Accident Questions



Injuries from auto accidents are the majority of cases I pursue. Auto accidents are unfortunately common occurrences, and are sometimes fairly simple, clear-cut cases. As always, though, each case is different and may be more complex or difficult to prove depending on the circumstances. Below are some commonly asked questions pertaining to auto accidents. If your questions are still not answered after reading, though, please see the general Auto Accidents and Collisions page or contact me at 503-546-0461 or jpl@pdxinjury.com for more information.


How do I know who is at fault?


To collect damages for an injury claim in Oregon you must prove the person who caused the injury was negligent, which means he or she failed to use “reasonable care.”  For negligence in Oregon you must prove:


  • A duty owed to you by the person who caused the injury existed;
  • The person failed to carry out that duty;
  • You suffered damages; and
  • The person’s failure to use reasonable care caused you to have the injury.


If you were careless and your carelessness contributed to your injury, whether you may recover damages depends upon your percentage of fault under Oregon comparative negligence law. Oregon follows a modified comparative fault rule, providing that if you were 51% or more at fault, you cannot recover damages. If you were 50% or less at fault, you may recover damages, though your recovery will be reduced by your degree of fault.

 

In Oregon, if more than one person is negligent toward you, each person who has been found to be negligent is responsible for a proportional amount of the total damages.


What if I was injured in a single-car accident?


Even if you were injured in a single-car accident, you are entitled to compensation for your injury from your insurance company. Every driver in Oregon is required to carry insurance with a minimum amount of personal injury protection coverage on their policy. An experienced auto accident attorney can help ensure that your insurance company fulfills their obligation under your policy.


What if the other driver is uninsured?


You may still benefit from consultation with a qualified personal injury lawyer. First, I can help ensure that your insurance company fulfills its obligation to fully pay your medical bills. Sometimes insurance companies attempt to limit the amount of money they pay doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists for your legitimate treatment of your injury. I can help you recover the full amount owed to you under your insurance contract, even if the other driver did not have insurance or if you were at fault.

 

Next, I can help you determine whether the other driver has the ability to pay for his or her negligence out of pocket, even if he or she was not covered by insurance. Finally, in some cases other parties besides the driver who injured you may be partially at fault. I can determine whether some third party, such as a bar owner, parent or government entity may be negligent and therefore financially responsible for your injury.


What is PIP?


Oregon law requires all drivers to carry auto insurance with coverage of at least up to $25,000 for liability and at least $15,000 in PIP, or personal injury protection. Drivers carry varying levels of liability coverage depending on their ability to afford it. However, most drivers fail to understand the importance of PIP and invariably opt for the minimum $15,000 coverage, regardless of the depth of their pocketbook. PIP is the coverage that pays for your medical bills right away when you are involved in an accident regardless of who is at fault.  If someone else is at fault, that driver's insurance will pay your PIP back. If you were at fault, your insurance eats the cost. PIP is important because most people who are injured cannot wait to settle their case to pay their medical bills. PIP will pay up to your coverage maximum (usually the statutory minimum allowed or $15,000) or for one full year after the accident (whichever comes first) to cover your medical costs. For example, if you are injured and require surgery that costs $15,000 or more, your PIP is “exhausted” right away. Or, if you seek treatment throughout the year following the incident that does not exceed $15,000 total, your PIP coverage ends one year from the date of your injury. In this case, it does not matter whether the PIP coverage ever reached $15,000; it still ends. PIP also covers up to 70% of your wage loss at a maximum of $3,000 per month if you miss work for 14 consecutive days. PIP is generally "first party" protection, meaning your auto insurance covers your medical bills and wage loss, rather than going through the at-fault party's auto insurance.


What do I do if my insurance company already offered me money and I sign one of their forms?


Do not sign anything until you talk to a qualified personal injury attorney. Insurance companies will often attempt to approach an unsuspecting accident victim with a lowball offer to settle their claim. The money may look good now, especially if your medical bills are already piling up, but you will be sorry if you sign anything without a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. If you already signed a release and took the insurance company money, you are likely unable to pursue your claim further. There are certain exceptions to the rule. Give me a call to discuss your case.


What do I do about my medical care?

 

If you need assistance obtaining the proper medical care for your injuries, I can help you. My assistance entails fighting your own auto or health insurance carrier to get authorization for proper medical treatment or to get a second medical opinion for your injury.


If you don't have health insurance, I may still be able to obtain immediate medical treatment for you, and you may not have to pay the doctors back until you receive the money from your settlement.


How long do I have to file a personal injury claim or a lawsuit?


The statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years, meaning you have two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit in court. If the statute of limitations passes, you lose the right to sue for your claim. However, cases are often settled out of court before the statute expires, so a lawsuit would not be filed.


Do I even need to hire an attorney?


Maybe not. However, it cannot hurt for you to come in for a free consultation regarding your potential case. If I do not feel that you will get more money for your claim with my help, then I will advise you to handle the case on your own with the insurance company. However, in the appropriate case, a qualified personal injury attorney is well worth his or her fee. There are legal and factual limitations in personal injury cases that are a trap for the unwary. For example: If a potential defendant in your case is a public agency, you must file a tort claim notice within 180 days of the incident if there is an injury, within a year if there is a death. Failure to file such a notice may result in a forfeiture of any claim against that agency.


Won’t hiring an attorney delay my settlement?


In some cases, yes, but the benefit of consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney will be worth the delay. In some cases, once an attorney is hired insurance adjusters recognize they cannot just approach an unsuspecting car accident victim with a lowball offer. In other cases adjusters dig their heels in and refuse to bargain on equitable terms. These are the cases where the help of an experienced attorney is essential. I advise my clients to make sure they are medically stationary before considering an offer from the insurance company. Once you take their money and sign a release, you are barred from filing a lawsuit. If you then find out you need surgery or other expensive treatment, you will have to pay for it on your own.


Will my case settle out of court?


The majority of personal injury cases settle prior to trial. Insurance companies know, if you don't have an attorney, you are likely not going to file a lawsuit. They also know people are willing to take less money now, rather than fight for what their case is worth over the next year and a half. So most cases settle. I advise most of my clients to file a lawsuit and pursue a trial. The insurance companies usually end up offering my clients enough money for them to see that if they go to trial there is a possibility they could do worse and they settle. Only by going to trial are you truly going to get what your case is worth. The key is maximize your compensation while minimizing your risk. I will force the adjuster to tell me their top offer. Then my client can make a real decision in the case. Either take what they are offering or risk going to trial.


Why do I have to wait so long before resolving my claim?


Navigating the court system is a long, complicated process. But it is essential to heal before even before filing a lawsuit or demanding compensation from the responsible party. For many injuries, you will likely return to your pre-injury status. For others, though, you might have a permanent disability or impairment. Either way, I advise my clients to be medically stationary before sending a demand to insurance or filing a lawsuit. This is important because some injuries might worsen with time or a symptom might reappear or be aggravated later on. If you have settled the case and your injury suddenly worsens, you no longer have the right to a legal remedy. By regularly following up with your physicians and care providers, you should be able to determine when you’re medically stationary to avoid this issue and proceed confidently with the case.


What compensation am I entitled to?


As a car accident victim or any other motor vehicle accident victim, you are entitled to the following compensation that is applicable to you:


  • Rental reimbursement
  • Compensation for your past, current and future medical expenses
  • Repair or replacement of your motor vehicle or any other property that was damaged
  • Medical treatment, regardless of whether you have insurance
  • Wage loss, including time spent attending medical appointments or therapy
  • Any change in your future earning ability due to the injury       
  • Reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses incurred
  • Maximum monetary recovery for the pain and suffering of your physical injuries and emotional distress

What should I do after an auto accident?


If an auto accident causes severe injuries to you or to a loved one, you should contact a well-established and reputable attorney immediately. Time is of the essence for the reasons explained below, particularly for individuals unable to care for themselves. Even if the injuries are not severe, you should consult a capable personal injury lawyer soon after you:


  • Obtain prompt medical attention for anyone who is injured. If the injuries require emergency care, call an ambulance for transport to a hospital. If not, visit an urgent care center or arrange to be seen by your regular doctor as soon as you leave the accident scene. Some auto accident injuries – often serious ones – may not be apparent to you right away, especially when your body has been traumatized, so be sure you are examined by a medical care provider without delay.
  • Call the police and file an auto accident report. Filing a police report will document the facts of the accident and help determine who was at fault.
  • Gather information at the accident scene. If you are able, take photos of the damage to the vehicles and obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses, police officers and insurance company representatives. Write down everything you can remember about how the injury occurred.
  • Do not give statements to the insurance companies’ representatives about the car accident without contacting a lawyer. Information you give the insurance companies can damage your case.
  • Anyone involved in a car accident is required by law to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver. You must also file an accident report with the Department of Motor Vehicles if the damage to the vehicle you were driving exceeds $1,500; the damage to any vehicle is over $1,500 and any vehicle is towed from the scene; injury or death resulted from the accident; or damages to any property other than a vehicle is over $1,500. A police report does not satisfy or remove your requirement to file an accident report with the DMV. You must do that yourself.


Protect Your Auto Accident Claims – Don't Delay!


Act quickly. Anyone who has been injured in a car accident should get in touch with a reputable auto accident lawyer without delay. Why? Because a skilled and experienced auto accident lawyer will:


  • Conduct an immediate investigation to locate witnesses and preserve evidence relevant to the car accident before it is lost or altered;
  • Help you get the medical treatment you need;
  • Conduct all communication with the insurance companies;
  • Find all potential sources of compensation for your losses; and
  • Protect your legal rights against filing deadlines.


As the victim of a car accident, you should not rely on any insurance company – even your own – to protect your interests. Every insurance company has adjusters, investigators and attorneys assigned to auto accident claims. Their primary goal is to limit the amount of compensation they pay to auto accident victims like you.

 

Insurance companies are not the friends of injured car accident claimants. Don’t make their job easier by providing them with information they can use or manipulate to deny your car accident claim. Make sure you have the best personal injury lawyer you can hire on your side to aggressively protect your interests.