If you’ve been injured in an auto accident in New York State, your recovery might not be as straightforward as you’d hope. If you and the other driver have insurance, you would assume that you’ve paid for those insurance carriers to handle exactly this type of rare and unfortunate situation. If you have medical bills, if you’ve had to take unpaid leave from work, and if you’ve suffered bodily and mentally as a result of the crash, you expect to submit bills and other documentation that the insurance companies will honor.
If you or someone you know has been in an accident before, however, you’ve probably been disabused of this fantasy. Insurance companies will resist paying the full value of your damages. If you’ve suffered injury from an auto accident, you need to educate yourself about how these companies and the courts operate, and how you can defend your rights through the claims process.
Understanding how insurance companies operate
In the U.S., around 115 people die everyday from auto accidents. This adds up to about 40,000 auto accident deaths per year. An additional 3,500,000 suffer injuries from auto accidents every year. The total cost of these accidents exceeds $150 billion annually – and insurance companies pay for most of that.
When you’re injured in a car accident, you can claim damages in three categories:
- Medical bills.
- Lost wages.
- Pain and suffering.
The extent of the damages you can recover will depend on three factors:
- The extent of your injuries.
- The circumstances of the accident, including who was at fault.
- The amount of available insurance coverage.
The insurance gamble: how carriers profit
Insurance companies are essentially gamblers. After studying car accident statistics, they assign a premium to a driver to match the likelihood of that driver getting into an accident (based on the driver’s age and history), and the likely damages that would result from an accident (based on the model of the car). They “bet” that their total in payouts in a given year will not exceed their revenue from premiums.
If the insurance industry is a bettor, then it’s not playing the slot machines: this is more like poker. The insurance company is holding certain cards, and you’re holding certain cards, and one key to “winning” the game, from the company’s point of view, is knowing when to bet that you (the injured party or policyholder) won’t play your cards the right way.
To step back from the metaphor for a moment, insurance companies can’t control the number of accidents in a year, or the cost in damages of those accidents. This leaves insurance companies with only one way of maximizing their profits: reducing payments to injured parties and policyholders. To help them do this, they retain teams of highly trained lawyers and other experts who can shift blame and challenge your case, should you proceed to a trial.
Whether you want to avoid a trial or you’re sure you’re headed to trial, you need an experienced injury attorney on your side, too.
Give that early settlement offer another thought
One common tactic is to offer an early settlement. Injured drivers, especially drivers intimidated by the insurance company or unsure of how to make early medical payments, are often too quick to take an early settlement. Later, they’re dismayed to find that the settlement payment has run out, but their injuries, suffering, or time off of work have persisted. After you’ve accepted a settlement, you forfeit any right to future claims for the case. If your suffering continues after settlement money has run out, there’s nothing you can do.
It’s generally unwise to accept an early settlement offer for two reasons:
- The insurance company will profit by offering you a lowball settlement. This may seem like a dirty trick, but it’s standard practice. You can (usually) expect, then, that your case will be worth more than an insurance company’s first offer.
- It takes time to understand the full extent of your injuries. An insurance company may make an offer just a few weeks after an accident, but you often won’t know the full extent of an auto accident injury until much later. Broken bones are easy enough to diagnose, but head, neck, and back injuries, for example, take longer to manifest and to diagnose, and can develop complications.
Pause before you accept an early settlement offer. Go over that offer with an experienced attorney who can tell you if it’s reasonable, compared to similar cases, and can indicate what further medical treatment you should seek before you have a full picture of your injuries.
How to bring a successful insurance claim after an auto accident injury
Auto accident insurance claims cases are won and lost on evidence. You need to present proof – either to the insurance company or to a judge – of fault, the extent of damages, and the causation of damages (evidence that the damages you’re claiming were the direct result of the accident, and not preexisting conditions or injuries sustained later).
The two most important sources for gathering this evidence are at the scene of the accident, and the medical professionals who treat you.
Documenting the scene of the accident
Your priority after an auto accident is your health. Once you’ve sought and secured treatment for your injuries, do what you can to document the scene in as much detail as possible.
You must not leave the scene without the following:
- The other driver’s name, address, telephone number, and date of birth.
- The other driver’s license number, insurance company name, and insurance policy number.
In addition, the following may help you in winning your claim:
Collecting medical evidence
After you leave the scene, medical evidence will be of chief importance. You can’t demonstrate the extent or causation of your injuries based on your own testimony alone. You don’t have to seek immediate medical care to win your case; but neither is there any good reason to delay. You should treat your most pressing injuries, stabilize your condition, and consult with your general practitioner or an Emergency Room doctor about how to proceed with your recovery.
You should not stop here, though. The kind of injuries sustained in a car accident almost always require treatment by a specialist. This will serve the dual purpose of ensuring you get the best treatment possible for the injuries you sustain, while providing you with further documentation of the extent and causation of your injuries.
Let our attorneys fight for the compensation you deserve
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, let our expert personal injury attorneys in Rochester NY fight for you. We can help estimate the value of your case, evaluate settlement offers, and secure the evidence you need to win just compensation. Call us today to set up a legal consultation. You can meet us in our Buffalo or Rochester offices – or, if your mobility is limited, we’ll meet you at your home. In the meantime, if you have further questions or concerns about your injury case, you can continue to explore our blog and video resources, or check out our New York State Personal Injury Guide.