8. If You Have a Serious Injury, Do Not Try to Settle Your Own Claim
If you have suffered a serious injury or injuries requiring follow-up medical attention such as physical therapy, MRI or numerous follow-ups with your doctor, you should at least call to consult with, and seriously consider hiring, an attorney to represent you. An experienced personal injury attorney will generally make sure that you receive the compensation that is due to you, usually more than will be offered in settlement by an insurance adjuster, even after attorney’s fees are paid. They will also typically assist you with getting your car repaired or paid for, and also assist in getting your medical bills processed. They will also be able to advise you regarding different medical treatment options, and assist you with gathering proper documentation about the crash.
If you choose to accept a settlement without seeking legal representation, you may receive a settlement that does not fully or fairly compensate you for your injuries. Once a claim is settled, it can never be reopened. The best rule is not to sign a release for at least six months following an injury. If you’re uncertain about whether (and when) to settle, talk to an attorney who handles personal injury cases. Most attorneys handle injury cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning there is no fee unless they recover compensation for you. Upon recovery, the attorney gets a percentage of the recovery for his or her fee. You are, however, responsible for out-of-pocket expenses, called “costs”, advanced by your attorney. There is usually no charge for you to meet and discuss your claim with an attorney.
9. Report Your Loss to Your Insurance Company, but Do Not Give a Statement to the Other Driver’s Insurance Adjuster
The odds are that a claims adjuster for the other driver will be assigned to your claim before you have been able to retain an attorney. This may happen as soon as a day or two after the accident. The adjuster will usually request permission to take a recorded or written statement from you. Whether or not you are considering hiring an attorney, you should not give a statement to an insurance adjuster for the other driver. Statements made to the other driver’s insurance company can seriously prejudice your claim. This is especially true when a police report was already done. Instead, tell the adjuster that you have decided to hire an attorney and instruct him or her to refer all further questions to your attorney. Proper questions will be responded to by your attorney. You should, however, immediately report the accident to your own insurance company. Tell them what happened, provide them with the names of witnesses and ask that a PIP claim be opened to allow your medical bills to be timely paid.
10. Do Not Sign Medical or Employment Records Authorizations for the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
The claims adjuster may also ask that you sign a medical or employment records authorization to allow them to get your medical or wage/time loss records. Never sign such authorizations before speaking to an attorney! If you do so, the adjuster cannot only obtain your private medical records and bills, but they can also request special reports or even talk to or meet with your own doctor! You must, however, sign a medical authorization for your own insurance company if making a PIP claim. Always keep a copy of the PIP application and authorizations signed, and caution your company not to provide any medical or other information to the other driver’s insurer without your consent.
11. Your Time for Making a Claim is Limited by Law
For every injury or death claim, there is a period of time during which you must file your claim with the court or the claim will be forever barred. This time limit is called a “statute of limitations.” In Washington, the period for bringing an injury or death claim is usually three years from the date of the accident, but there are some exceptions. The period for bringing a claim for injury to a child does not begin to run until the child’s 18th birthday. A claim arising out of the death of a child, however, is usually limited to three years. For accidents which occur in other states, the period may be as short as one year from the accident. Although you may have longer to actually file your claim with the court, generally, the sooner you can consult with a personal injury attorney following the accident, the more that attorney can do to help you on your claim.