If you've been in an automobile accident, you are probably feeling a bit lost and confused - you may be wondering, "What's next?"
How do I document my injuries, and how do I go about proving liability or the amount of damages? How do I get paid?
Every auto accident case is different and predicting every detail of your case is impossible. But, here is a rough sketch of what your Myrtle Beach auto accident attorney at Axelrod and Associates will do - and how you can help - to demand full compensation for your injuries.
What Should I Do Immediately After an Auto Accident?
There are several things that you can do to help ensure that you get full compensation after a car wreck, beginning at the scene of the accident.
When possible, you can help to gather and preserve evidence that you will need in your case, you should get medical treatment immediately and follow any recommendations from your doctors, and you should immediately get an experienced personal injury lawyer on your case.
Start Collecting Evidence Immediately
If you are able, call the police to the scene of the accident. When they arrive, make sure you tell them exactly what happened. You want to ensure that responding officers have accurate information because their accident report will be a primary source of information for insurance company representatives, your attorney, and others involved in the case.
Before you leave the scene, if it is safe to do so, you should also preserve any evidence that can be used in your personal injury claim or lawsuit:
- Take photos of the scene of the accident;
- Take photos of all vehicles involved in the accident;
- Take photos of any injuries you suffered, as well as any damage to your vehicle;
- Talk to any witnesses and try to get their name, phone number, address, and email address; and
- Ask witnesses to write a statement describing what they saw.
Get Medical Care Immediately
You should get medical care as soon as possible after the accident. Let the paramedics check you out at the accident scene and follow any recommendations that they give to you.
Even if you feel certain you are not injured, take the time to go to an emergency room or at least visit your regular doctor - if you are not hurt, get a doctor to give you a clean bill of health before you move on with your life.
You may have injuries you are not aware of or injuries that are worse than you realize - it's a fact that some types of injuries, including soft-tissue and spinal cord injuries, do not always manifest immediately.
If an injury develops or worsens in the days or weeks after the accident, the at-fault driver's insurance company can - and almost certainly will - use your failure to immediately seek medical care to argue that you were not actually injured, that your injuries are not all that serious, or that they were not caused by the accident.
Why would the insurance company do that?
Because it's part of their business model. Insurance is an extremely lucrative, high-growth industry because the companies collect premiums from millions of customers, deny as many claims as possible, and pay as little as they can when they do honor a claim.
Call an Auto Accident Attorney Immediately
If you get hurt in a car wreck, you need to get an auto accident attorney immediately.
Not just any attorney - choose someone who has a reputation for fighting to make sure their clients are fully compensated rather than settling cases quickly. Choose someone who has experience negotiating with insurance companies and winning cases at trial when negotiations fail.
When the friendly, helpful insurance adjuster calls you to ask questions and to attempt to settle your case on the cheap, you need to be able to refer them to your attorney - once you have retained an attorney, the adjuster will understand that you are not going to give them statements that could hurt your case and that you are not going to sign a release in exchange for peanuts.
Liability and Damages in an Auto Accident Case
Whether you settle your case with the insurance company or go to trial, you will have to prove both liability and the amount of damages that we are claiming - how do we do that?
The first thing we need to determine is liability. Did the other driver cause the accident, did the accident cause your injuries, and how do we prove it?
We will determine this by collecting evidence, records, and testimony, which could include any or all of the following:
- Medical records showing that you suffered your injuries during or as a result of the accident;
- The accident report;
- Photos of the scene, your injuries, and the vehicles involved in the accident;
- Eyewitness testimony;
- Statements made by the other driver; and
- Expert witness testimony, which may include an accident reconstructionist, a cell phone expert, or other experts to establish how the accident happened and why.
Determining the Amount of Damages
We also must determine the total amount of damages - including not just your medical bills, but also pain and suffering, lost wages, and any other losses that you suffered because of the accident.
Medical records and expert testimony will help to establish the amount of damages, including:
- Medical records detailing the nature and extent of your injuries;
- Records detailing the medical care you have already received;
- Records indicating what medical treatment your injuries may require in the future;
- Medical and vocational rehabilitation experts who can detail how your injuries affect your ability to make a living and function in daily life;
- A life care planner to determine how much money it will take to provide long-term care over the course of your life if you have suffered a long-term or permanent injury; and
- Economic experts to determine the amount of money you will lose because of your injuries - this could include lost wages, a loss in earning capacity, payments made for services you needed as a result of the injuries, or any lost business profits.
Settlements and Jury Trials
Most people want to settle their claim and get paid as soon as possible - we have the same goal, but there is a process that usually must be gone through before the insurance company will agree to pay full compensation.
Negotiations and the Demand Letter
Once we have established liability and determined what full compensation is in your case, we will send a demand letter to the insurance company.
This is typically when the negotiations begin - they will make a ridiculously low offer, and we make a counteroffer. Often, this back and forth goes on for a while, and it's important to be patient. They want you to be in a hurry and accept an early offer because it will save them money.
In many cases, insurance companies will not settle a case for full value until a lawsuit has been filed and you have gone through the discovery process, including taking depositions of all critical witnesses. Your case could settle at any point in the process, after you have finished all medical treatment, including:
- Early in the case, before a lawsuit is even filed;
- Immediately after a lawsuit is filed;
- During the discovery process;
- During mandatory mediation proceedings; or
- Just before or even during a trial.
Although our client makes all decisions regarding whether to accept any settlement offers, our goal is to refuse to settle until they offer the compensation you deserve. If they won't, we will take our evidence to court, and, with the help of expert testimony, ask a jury to force them to pay full compensation.
What Happens If We File A Lawsuit?
Many auto accident lawsuits are settled before a lawsuit is filed, but it is often necessary to file suit. Once you have filed your lawsuit, here is what you can expect going forward:
- The discovery process: Your attorney will demand documents and other evidence from the defense, and we may depose witnesses. During discovery, negotiations often continue.
- Mandatory mediation: A neutral attorney will listen to both arguments, point out strengths and weaknesses in each, and try to help us find an acceptable compromise. If we still can't get full compensation, we will be ready for trial.
- The trial: We will ask for a jury trial, and both sides will argue motions. Both sides will make opening arguments, the jury will be presented with evidence and testimony, and both sides will make closing arguments.
- Verdict: The jury will deliberate and return a verdict, and a judgment will be entered.
- Appeal: Either side can file an appeal after a jury verdict, based on mistakes made by the judge during the trial.
If you have been in an auto accident, it is critical that you get an experienced personal injury lawyer on your case as soon as possible. Call and speak to your attorney on the Axelrod team now at (843) 916-9300 or send us a message through our website to discuss your case.