CAR ACCIDENT FAQ’S
I’ve just been in an automobile accident in Alabama, what do I do?
Try to stay calm. A cool head can make a difference. Locate witnesses and get their names, addresses and telephone numbers. Exchange information, including insurance data, with the other driver. Call the police. If there is debris from the accident, think about returning and taking photos. Don’t discuss the facts of the accident with anybody else, unless you’re asked by the police. Tell them the truth. If you have been hurt make sure you get medical care as soon as you can. Call your insurance agent and promptly report the accident. Don’t discuss any aspect of the accident or your injuries with the other person’s insurance company representative. No matter what that person tells you, you are not obligated to be interviewed.
If you are injured in an accident, it is important to seek treatment immediately. Sometimes serious injuries do not cause immediate pain. If you experience even minor pain after an accident, seek treatment immediately.
Remember to obtain the name, address, license number, and insurance information from the other drivers involved.
After an auto accident, who should I talk to and what should I say?
Whether it’s five minutes or five weeks after an accident, don’t discuss it with the other person’s insurance company representative. These people are called adjusters. They’re not bad people, but their job is to get as much information about your accident or your injuries and then try to use it against you. You can talk about the accident with your insurance company. In fact, your policy says you must cooperate with your insurance company. But even so, your insurance company is going to look out for its own interests before it looks out for yours. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you talk to any insurance company.
If the accident is serious, or if you are partially or totally at fault in the accident, you should contact a lawyer prior to speaking to anyone, if practical. Your lawyer can review the facts with you to ensure that your statement is clear and factually correct. If necessary, your lawyer can help you fill out any required accident reports and insurance claim forms.
You will be asked at some point to provide your version of the automobile accident, often by police if they are called to the scene. Most, if not all states, will require you to file an accident report with the department of motor vehicles. Your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company will also want your version of the accident.
The accident was not my fault. What rights do I have?
You have the right to have your medical bills paid and your wage loss reimbursed. You also have the right to make a claim against the driver who caused the accident. In that claim you may recover damages (money) for pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, loss of earning capacity and other losses that you may have suffered. We all know that the road to recovery after injury can be a very long so don’t miss out on any cash you could be entitled too. The money for these losses is paid by the other person’s insurance company. You also have the right to get your car fixed, or, if it’s totaled, get the value of the car as it was just before the accident. This is called a property damage claim. It can be made against your company if you have what’s known as “comprehensive” coverage. You may also have the right to collect that damage from the other person’s insurance company.
The accident was my fault. Now what rights do I have?
In Alabama , if you were the sole cause of the traffic accident, you cannot recover anything from the other party. If the other party was also at fault, they can not recover anything from you or your insurance company. If you have full coverage, you still can have your own insurance company pay for your property damage. Although they will not have to pay anything for pain and suffering, etc.
What can I do if my insurance company refuses to pay something it should?
After an automobile accident, many people find out the hard way that their insurance company isn’t the warm, fuzzy group portrayed in its commercials. Study after study has shown that in almost half of the claims submitted to insurance companies, legitimate requests for payment are denied. In many others, the injured person isn’t aware of his or her right to receive benefits, and the insurance company doesn’t go out of its way to set the record straight.
So what do you do if this happens to you?
First, dig out your policy and see what it says. Then call us. We can usually tell you just what your rights are–quickly and at no charge–and make sure the insurance company doesn’t take advantage of you.
Will my rates go up if I make a injury claim?
If the auto accident was not your fault, your rates won’t go up.
Can I make a claim against the person who caused my automobile accident–what does fault have to do with it?
You can make a claim for pain, suffering, disability and many other kinds of losses against the other person’s insurance if you can prove the other person’s fault was greater than your own. In many cases, that’s not a problem; for example, if the person who caused the accident rear-ended you. But sometimes proving the other person’s fault is not so easy, such as, if you both claim the light was green or if the accident happened at an uncontrolled intersection. Here’s where the concept of fault comes in. In every accident, the law says the fault of the participants must add up to 100%. Using our example of the rear-end accident, your percentage of fault would be 0% and the other driver’s percentage would be 100%. In some other type of accident, a jury may find your fault was, say, 20% and the other driver’s was 80%. If you’re found at fault in Alabama , you can not recover anything from the other driver. If both of you are at fault, neither of you can recover from the other party. In some states, if you are at fault, the money you would otherwise be entitled to collect from the other person’s insurance would be reduced by the percentage of fault attributable to you. This means that even if your injuries were worth $50,000, you would get only $40,000a 20% reduction based upon your percentage of the fault. There’s one more thing. If your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, you get nothing-no matter how badly you were hurt.
What’s my accident case worth?
To determine the value of a case, you have to look at a lot of factors. First, as we already discussed, you have to consider fault. Any percentage of fault placed on you reduces the value of your case by that percentage. In Alabama , if you are at fault at all, you can not recover anything against the other party. Another factor, and the one that’s most important, is the severity of your injuries. Information about the severity of your injuries usually comes from your doctor in a medical report in which he or she comments on your injuries. Doctors usually wait at least a year after the accident to issue a final medical report. Another important factor is how your injuries affect you. For example, a broken finger to most people is not that severe an injury. If you happen to be a concert pianist, however, a broken finger can be a terrible loss. Thus, it’s important that we know a lot about you and how your injuries have impacted your life. Other factors include the amount of your medical bills, the amount of your wage loss, whether you have any scars, what impact your injuries will have on your future earning capacity and a host of other issues. Every case is different and your attorney will rely on his skill and experience in determining what is fair.
Do I need automobile accident lawyers to obtain fair compensation?
Most of the time. As you can see, there are a great many factors and issues that need to be assessed in order to obtain a fair recovery. Also, you’re going up against a giant insurance company. Companies have scores of adjusters, lawyers and other personnel who spend all of their time dealing with cases just like yours. It’s unreasonable to think that you, who have probably never had to deal with something like this, can match experience and resources with a company that does nothing but work on accident claims. There’s also the matter of time. Bringing a claim takes a lot of time and energy. Most people hurt in a car accident are short of both.
If I decide to hire a lawyer, what kind of lawyer should I get?
The short answer: Get one with extensive experience handling claims like yours. Some lawyers (like us) handle only personal injury. They are the ones most likely to have the experience your case deserves. Be ready to ask tough questions: Who in the firm is going to have direct responsibility for my case? How often can I expect to hear from my lawyer? Will he or she answer my phone calls? What is their plan for my case? In the end, trust your gut feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable with a lawyer, you probably should keep looking.
What does it cost to hire a personal injury lawyer?
Virtually all lawyers who limit their practice to personal injury charge a percentage of the recovery, usually one-third. You don’t have to pay any money up front. If there’s a recovery the lawyer gets paid out of that. If there’s no recovery, most personal injury lawyers won’t charge you any fees at all. You don’t have to pay any hourly charges or lump sums called “retainers.” There’s also the issue of costs. “Costs” are out of pocket expenses like the amount of money a hospital charges for duplicating your medical records, or the filing fee the courts charge for filing a claim. Most law firms (like ours) pay those costs. We’re reimbursed for those costs when the case is settled. Remember: To hire a good lawyer, it won’t cost anything “up front.”
Is there a charge for the initial consultation?
No. There is never a charge for an initial consultation.
If I sign a contingent retainer agreement with your law firm and change my mind am I liable for any attorney’s fees?
If you notify us before any settlement offer is made or judgment is reached, there is no charge for attorney’s fees. You will be responsible for any costs associated with the case.
If I hire your law firm to represent me for my personal injury case does that mean I’m suing?
Not usually. A very high percentage of personal injury claims are handled without placing the case in the court system. The large majority are settled through a negotiating process, which is accomplished by an exchange of medical records and other documents after medical treatment is concluded.
If you are unable to settle my claim, will you litigate my case or do you refer my case to a trial lawyer?
We will not refer your case. Unlike many personal injury law firms, we handle all personal injury cases from initiation to jury trial. Randy W. Ferguson and Jackie D. Ferguson are trial lawyers who have successfully tried numerous bench and jury cases throughout Alabama and are well qualified to litigate your case.
Will you take my case if I am represented by an attorney already?
Yes. However, we caution all prospective clients to make sure that their expectations of their current attorney are not unreasonable and advise them that they may incur two attorney’s fees if they discharge their current lawyer without cause, or after a settlement has been offered or reached. You may have to pay their costs associated with their representation.
Do you represent insurance companies?
No. We represent clients who have claims against insurance companies and their policyholders. By not representing insurance companies, we avoid any potential conflicts of interest.
How much is my personal injury claim worth and how long will it take to resolve?
All personal injury cases are different and it is impossible to answer these questions until all the relevant information has been obtained. Any lawyer can not tell you what your case is worth when he first speaks to you, since you may need further treatment, and there may not be sufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for your injuries.
Will you meet me away from your offices if I am unable to come to your office for the initial consultation?
Yes. If we have made a decision to accept your case we will travel to your location to accomplish the initial signup if you are unable to come to our offices.
Will I be able to speak to an attorney after the initial consultation?
Yes. We understand how frustrating it can be when your attorney doesn’t return your call promptly. We always direct your call to your attorney if you request to speak to that attorney. The attorney or their paralegal/secretary will always return your call that same day or the following morning. If the attorney is unable to do so because of trial or vacation, his or her assistant will call you to advise you of this and attempt to assist you.
How will my medical bills be paid?
If you hire me as your attorney in your car accident injury case, as a service to you, our firm will make sure all of your medical bills will be paid at the end of your case, if you receive enough compensation from the at fault party. Otherwise, we will assist you in attempting to negotiate your bills down with your medical providers. All the bills will be directed to our office, and we will process them, forward them to the appropriate insurance company, and keep close track of the medical costs you incur. Further, if you have health insurance or medical payments coverage, they will pay your bills up to your policy limit. This provision pays medical or funeral expenses because of bodily injury. The coverage is generally in increments of $1,000 to $5,000 up to $10,000 per person per accident.
How long will it take to get a settlement from the insurance company?
Once again, this depends on the length of your treatment, since we don’t put in a claim until that is complete. From there, it depends on a lot of administrative factors, and whether the insurer is willing to settle or we need to sue in court. Generally, the quickest cases are resolved is 6 months from the time of your accident, if your medical recovery time is not too extensive and if it is a relatively simple case that the insurance company is willing to settle. For more complicated and serious cases, and if the insurance company isn’t being reasonable and we have to take them to court, it can be a year or more before your case is finally settled.
Will we have to go to court to get a fair accident settlement?
Only if the insurance company won’t give us a reasonable offer. About 90% of our cases settle out of court, which is generally best for the client if we can get a fair offer. That way you can get on with your life. We’ll do whatever it takes to get compensation that is fair and best for the client, even if that means going to court.
What are considered settlement damages from an
Alabama car accident? There are many different kinds of damages that can factor into an Alabama auto accident settlement when the other person is at fault. Any way that your life is negatively affected can be a factor. For example, our firm had a client who suffered back injuries in an auto accident and had to wear a back brace as a bridesmaid in a wedding party. Any kind of discomfort, inconvenience, and embarrassment can factor into negotiating a settlement. These are things that we’ll discuss with you during a thorough evaluation of you case.
After my case gets settled, can I go back for more if my injuries get worse or if I need more treatment?
Once you settle the case with the other person’s insurance company, you usually cannot go back for more. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced lawyer representing you-one who knows your injury and what you can expect in the future. We make sure you recover enough money now so you don’t have to worry about the future.
What if the person who caused the accident doesn’t have enough insurance to fully compensate me or has no insurance at all?
Every insurance policy in Alabama has underinsurance and uninsured motorist coverage, unless you waive the coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) applies when the value of your case exceeds the amount of the other person’s insurance. For example, let’s say your claim has a value of $100,000, but the person who caused the accident has only $25,000 in coverage. You would collect their $25,000 and then proceed against your company for the remaining $75,000 (if you have enough coverage). If you have more than one vehicle, you can stack the coverage in Alabama . You can stack up to three coverages on the same policy. There are no limits on stacking if the vehicles are on different policies. This is not a gift from your insurance company; part of every premium dollar you pay goes for UIM coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage (UM), on the other hand, applies when the person who caused the accident had no insurance. In that case, your uninsured motorist coverage compensates you for the damage caused by the other driver. Again, this is coverage for which you have already paid.
I’m not a “sue-happy person.” Should I make a claim?
That’s a question each injury survivor has to answer. There’s no right or wrong response. When you’re hurt in a car accident, you have lost something: your health, your ability to do the things you enjoy, income, time with your family and friends, etc. The money you receive for your losses isn’t a prize or a gift. It’s compensation for something you lost. You’re not coming out “ahead” and you’re not taking advantage of the system. Our state and federal constitutions make it a fundamental right for citizens to recover their losses. What you’re going through is real. And you’re entitled to make a claim if you decide it’s in your best interest to do so.
You hear a lot about phony claims and huge recoveries. What’s all that about?
Mostly just hot air. The great majority of personal injury lawyers are highly reputable and ethical people who really care about their clients and the wonderful system of justice we have in this country. As for huge and unjustified recoveries, most noise about that is propaganda started by people who would like to limit the rights of injured people. Our tort and jury systems work pretty well. Most people hurt in car accidents get fair, but not inflated, value for their damages.
Should I use health insurance or automobile insurance Med-Pay to pay for my medical bills?
Many accident victims, devastated by their injuries and trying to get their life back together, do not think about how their medical bills will be paid until it is too late. Although many attorneys do not bother discussing the issue with their clients, how your medical bills are paid can affect how much money you end up with in your pocket from your case recovery. Generally, it is better to have your health insurance pay your medical bills rather than using the Medical Payments coverage from your automobile insurance. This is because I can usually negotiate a reduction of the amount that you would have to reimburse your health insurance carrier, whereas most automobile insurance policies require the full amount of their Med Pay payments to be reimbursed from the proceeds of your recovery.
However, if your health insurance has a large deductible or co-payment, it may be better to use your Med-Pay coverage. In addition, some insurance carriers do not seek reimbursement of Med-Pay payments, and in that situation it is more economically advantageous for you to have Med-Pay cover your bills.
What is Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Even though many states have enacted “financial responsibility” laws, not all automobile owners comply. Uninsured motorist coverage pays for injuries sustained in an accident with an uninsured (or a hit-and-run driver). Underinsured motorist insurance covers the difference between actual losses sustained, and what an insured can collect from an at-fault driver, up to policy limits.