After a car accident, you are most likely worried about how to put food on the table and pay the rent or mortgage while out of work. If your loved one suffered catastrophic injuries and will be in the hospital for some time or lost a loved one in a car accident, you have these worries and more. The last thing you should worry about is financially taking care of your family.
One of the things you might wonder about is how to recover the compensation you deserve for medical expenses and other damages. A car accident lawyer helps determine who to sue after a car accident—sometimes, the driver isn’t the only person or entity responsible for car accident injuries.
Causes of Car Accidents
You can’t control others’ actions or inactions, no matter how careful you are. In some cases, even when you see an accident coming, you can’t get out of the way fast enough—other drivers and stationary objects block your escape path
Car accidents are often preventable. Rarely is a car accident faultless, except when caused by an unforeseen medical emergency or black ice. Drivers should drive an appropriate speed for conditions, which is sometimes much lower than the speed limit.
Some common causes of car accidents include:
- Distracted driving, including eating, fiddling with the radio and other controls, and talking to passengers.
- Driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit prescription drugs.
- Driving while fatigued.
- Speeding and excessive speeding, such as running from a police officer.
- Driving recklessly.
- Aggressive driving.
- Texting and talking on the phone while driving.
- Driving too fast for the conditions.
- Poorly maintained roads.
- Poor vehicle maintenance.
- The weather, including the sun in your eyes.
- Another driver hits the driver who hit you.
Car Accident Injuries
The accident injuries you could sustain depend on several factors. These factors include the size of the vehicles involved, the speed of the vehicles, whether you have airbags and are using your safety belt, and how the other vehicle hits you, whether head on, a rear-end wreck, sideswipe, or a T-bone.
While car accident injuries could range from a minor scratch to catastrophic injuries or even death, even seemingly minor injuries can become something significant. You should always seek medical attention after a car accident, as it begins the documentation to recover compensation for medical expenses and other damages.
Common car accident injuries include:
- Scratches, cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Ear injuries, including deafness, if the accident results in an explosion.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Road rash.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Internal injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries, including paralysis.
- Amputation of a digit or a limb.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Sprains and strains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
You could also sustain secondary injuries—those caused by injuries you sustain in a car accident. For example, a cut from broken glass could become infected just as easily as a surgical wound from an accident injury.
Finally, accident injuries could exacerbate existing injuries and illnesses. The at-fault driver or other parties share responsibility for the extra medical expenses and pain you might suffer.
Who Can I Hold at Fault in a Car Accident?
After a car accident, the two things you should do as soon as possible are get medical attention and call a car accident lawyer. The sooner you can start documenting car accident injuries, the less trouble you’ll have with the at-fault parties and their insurance companies.
As for finding a car accident attorney right away, chances are, your legal team will need to investigate the accident. Evidence tends to disappear rather quickly. In many cases, people and the elements inadvertently destroy evidence. In some cases, the at-fault parties could purposely destroy evidence.
For example, the driver that hit you could have his or her vehicle repaired, thinking it is acceptable since the police released the vehicle to him. This inadvertently destroys evidence. In other cases, the weather could destroy evidence left at the accident scene or in/on a vehicle left in the police impound lot.
Finally, the constant traffic could destroy evidence if the accident happened on a busy road.
When you retain an attorney, they might retain forensic accident investigators, medical professionals to consult on your injuries, and other professionals.
The other action your legal team takes is determining who you should sue.
Those who could share responsibility for your injuries include:
- Another driver. When another driver makes poor choices, they may be negligent. Whether driving under the influence, distracted, or tired, they put your life in their hands.
- A vehicle manufacturer. The most common issues are recalls. It takes a manufacturer some time to issue recalls, but as long as you prove the vehicle was defective from the factory, you most likely do not need a recall to prove negligence.
- An auto technician. If an auto tech installs a part incorrectly, you could have some recourse, whether on your vehicle or on a vehicle that hits you.
- A truck inspector. Some companies use inspectors to inspect big rigs before they go out. If an inspector does not write up a truck for poor maintenance, the inspector could share responsibility for an accident.
- A trucking company. Sometimes, a trucking company that “encourages” drivers to ignore the regulations to get a load delivered on time could share responsibility for your injuries. Additionally, if the trucking company has in-house mechanics, inspectors, and dispatchers who err, the trucking company could be responsible for your injuries.
- A third-party dispatcher for a trucking company. If the dispatcher does not work for the company and “encourages” a driver to break the laws to get a load delivered on time, the dispatcher could share in the responsibility for your injuries if the driver crashed because she was breaking the rules.
- A third-party mechanic for a trucking company. If a trucking company or other commercial business that uses drivers uses a third-party mechanic, you could hold the mechanic responsible if his negligence caused the accident. Negligence might include installing a part incorrectly or installing a part that the tech knows is defective.
- A commercial truck lessor or lessee. In some cases, you can hold the truck’s lessor or lessee responsible for accidents, such as the lessor or lessee who is responsible for maintenance yet ignores it.
- An independent trucker. Often truckers own their vehicles and work for themselves. They are responsible for truck maintenance and their actions.
- A municipality that improperly maintains its roads. If road conditions, such as potholes or roads that are washing out, cause an accident, you could sue the municipality responsible for keeping the roads in good condition. The municipality might be the state, county, city, or town.
- The weather. In most cases, the only way to sue a driver who wrecked because of weather conditions is to prove that the driver was driving too fast for the conditions.
- An aftermarket parts manufacturer. If the manufacturer sold parts it knew were defective, and the part caused the accident, the manufacturer might share responsibility for your injuries.
If any of these people or entities had a hand in the accident, you could recover full or partial compensation from them and the driver.
The Car Accident Lawsuit Process
It may be unclear who to pursue a claim against after a car accident and how to calculate the damages the at-fault party should be responsible for. Some explanation about the context of the legal process of seeking compensation for damages might help. Below, we address the impact of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance on car accident lawsuits, followed by the administrative part of receiving compensation if you prevail in your claim. Speak with a personal injury attorney today to learn about your legal options and strategy.
PIP Insurance Reduces the Amount of Damages Car Accident Victims Receive
Many states, including New York and New Jersey, require that drivers who register a vehicle carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with no-fault insurance laws. When an accident occurs, each person files an injury claim under their own PIP policy to cover medical expenses and lost wages up to their policy limit. Unfortunately, after a car accident that leads to severe injuries, it is common for policyholders to quickly meet or exceed their policy limit, making it necessary to sue to recover additional losses.
Also, PIP coverage does not pay benefits for non-economic damages like pain and suffering and loss of consortium. In most cases, you must meet a certain threshold to step outside the no-fault insurance system and sue the other driver. An experienced car accident lawyer can evaluate your case, help you exhaust all PIP insurance options, and try to get the ball rolling on a lawsuit, so you have the best chances of receiving full compensation for your car accident injuries.
Recovering Damages After an Accident
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in an accident, you could recover compensation for damages, including medical expenses and pain and suffering. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you could recover compensatory damages in the form of economic and non-economic damages.
Most people can recover economic damages, which have a monetary value and include:
- Medical expenses, including doctor’s appointments, surgeries, follow-up appointments, hand controls for your vehicle, medical equipment such as oxygen, prescriptions, prescribed over-the-counter medications, and updates to your home, including but not limited to widened doorways, wheelchair ramps, handrails and grab bars.
- Therapy expenses, including physical, psychological, occupational, and cognitive therapies.
- Lost income for the time you were out of work through the time you settled your case or won a trial award.
- Loss of future earning capacity if you suffer long-term or permanent disabilities because of accident injuries. You can collect future wages from the time you settle through the time you would usually retire. You could also recover loss of future partial earning capacity if your injuries force you to take a job that pays less or if you can only work part-time.
- Damaged or destroyed personal property, including your vehicle and anything of value in the vehicle, such as a cell phone or computer.
- Death-related expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate costs, and probate attorneys’ fees and costs.
If you suffered injuries that lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, or if you lost a loved one in an accident, you could recover non-economic damages, which do not have a clear monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make changes such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship or consortium if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or attend family activities and events. If you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse, you could recover compensation for loss of consortium.
- Loss of use of a body part or bodily function, such as a finger, leg, eyesight, or bladder function.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do chores you usually do, including but not limited to house cleaning, grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, and home maintenance and repair.
- Excessive scarring or disfigurement.
Settlement and Trial Award Recovery Process
Once you settle with the insurance companies or win a trial award, there are still several steps your case goes through before receiving a check.
First, one of the attorneys drafts a settlement agreement or final judgment. The non-drafting attorney reviews the document and forwards it to you. If neither you nor the attorney wants to make changes, you sign and notarize the document.
If you need changes, your attorney must discuss the changes with the defendant’s attorney. Once everyone agrees on the agreement or final judgment, the defendant’s attorney or the court processes the document.
If you win a trial award, the court must review the final judgment and execute and file it. Once both attorneys receive a confirmed copy, the defendant’s attorney will cut a check to your attorney.
After your attorney receives the check, they:
- Deposit the check into an escrow account. Your attorney must wait until the check clears before taking the next step. Depending on the amount of the check, it could take up to 14 days to clear the bank.
- Pay any outstanding medical expenses. Be sure to submit any open invoices so the attorney can pay them.
- Reimburse your auto and health insurance companies if you used them to cover medical expenses while waiting for your settlement or trial award. Because it was someone else’s fault for the accident, their insurance company should take the financial hit—not yours.
- Deduct the firm’s percentage for attorney’s fees.
- Deduct any costs the firm fronted for you, including but not limited to expert witness costs, filing fees, deposition fees, and other hard costs. Your attorney’s fees and expenses are in the contingency agreement you signed when you retained your attorney.
- Write you a check and forward it to you.
Once you receive the check, you can deposit it and spend it as you need.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, contact a car accident lawyer for a free case evaluation.
Receiving Payment After Winning Your Case
If you prevail in your car accident claim, you can likely expect one of two different outcomes in most cases. The most common outcome is to reach a settlement agreement before going to court. Sometimes this requires a lawsuit, and other times, a lawyer can file an insurance claim with the other party and send a demand letter to initiate negotiations. Most car accidents settle before going to trial because litigation is expensive. Neither side wants to take on the extra costs or risks associated with letting a jury decide their fate.
However, sometimes disputes over liability and the right amount of compensation force lawyers to take a car accident case to court. If your case goes to trial and the jury rules in your favor, it can award you compensation based on your claim. It can take some time before you receive any money from your case. Once you sign a settlement agreement or a court awards damages, the other party must pay accordingly. In most car accident claims, the insurance company will cut a check within a few weeks.
Typically, the insurance company sends the check to your attorney. Your lawyer will use the funds to pay any outstanding medical bills related to your injuries, deduct their attorney fees, and subtract other costs of representation. Finally, you will receive the balance of the funds from your lawyer. In rare cases where you have to directly sue someone (often an uninsured or underinsured driver), you might have to take further action to collect the money if they do not have the financial resources to pay the claim.
Contact a car accident attorney to get started.