By Atty. Kenneth Reyes
Being involved in an auto accident can be a frustrating and very disruptive experience to most people. Depending on your injuries, most likely you are unable to commute to work, unable to carry on your regular chores, or even unable to work at all. This is on top of all the pain and suffering that most people experience from such an incident. Then there goes the frustration of having to deal with the bureaucratic red tape of dealing with the insurance companies.
The most important thing to do right after an accident at the scene is to stop and exchange information with the other drivers especially when someone is injured. Not stopping and not exchanging information is a crime. When someone is injured, it is best to call the police or highway patrol and have them prepare a report regarding the incident. This will include statements from witnesses and their information. If the accident and injury is major, usually other witnesses would call 911 and paramedics would be sent to the scene.
If you are ambulatory, you may still want to have yourself examined at a hospital or urgent care to make sure there are no fractures or other injuries that are not readily apparent.
The accident should be reported to the DMV using the proper DMV forms such as the SR1 at least within 10 days for the accident. The accident should also be reported to the insurance companies. Parties with comprehensive insurance coverage are usually better off having their own insurance repair their own vehicles even if they are not at fault so as to avoid the delays caused by third party insurance investigation in determining fault.
Third party insurance usually will not cover repairs immediately until they have determined that their insured is at fault and they have accepted liability. Parties may also be entitled to rental car coverage while their vehicles are being repaired. Remember, you are entitled to have your car repaired at the shop of your choice regardless of whether the shop is a participating provider with the insurance company.
If you are suffering from sprain type injuries, it is important to seek treatment with either a physical therapist or chiropractor. Although most health insurance may not cover this type of treatment, you should check your automobile policy if you have medical payment coverage. This would cover the cost of reasonable and necessary medical care including physical therapy or chiropractic treatment. It is important that you seek treatment immediately and consistently after the accident. Any time gap between the accident and the treatment could be construed against you by the insurance company in evaluating your injuries.
The strength of your claim would also depend on your independent witnesses. It is easy for the parties to make a self serving story specially when there are no independent witnesses to the incident. The case would boil down to a he said she said type of scenario and comparative fault allocated to you. It is important to immediately obtain the recorded statement of all your independent witnesses early on in the case.
In evaluating your case, insurance companies usually take several factors into consideration. Insurance company would consider the degree of fault by the other party, the amount of property damage, and the amount of medical bills. These are guidelines insurance companies use in valuing your case. If you have lost time from work due to your injuries, you may also claim for loss of earnings. If the insurance company denies your claim or offers you a settlement which is inadequate in light of your injuries, your recourse is to file a lawsuit against the party that hit your car. In California, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in Superior Court. At this stage, your case will either be resolved through settlement, arbitration, or trial. If you need assistance in handling your case, you should contact an experienced attorney to represent you.
Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.