Georgia Car Accidents FAQ
Most car accident victims are victims for the first time and have little idea about what the right steps are. The following questions may be helpful as you navigate the claims and litigation processes:
If the other party’s insurance adjuster calls me and wants a statement, do I give it?
Answer: No. You are under no obligation to give a recorded statement and you should not do it. You may say something that can jeopardize your claim. For instance, you may say you don’t remember facts such as the speed limit, distance you traveled after impact, or the sequence of events. Misstating or misremembering could affect liability. If your adrenaline is rushing you may say that you did not feel injured at the time. Also, many injury symptoms do not appear until days after the accident. An insurer can use your statement to dispute liability and/or your claim of injuries and make a low-ball settlement offer.
My accident was clearly the fault of the other driver. Why do I need a lawyer when I can handle the claim myself?
Answer: In rear-end accidents or where neutral witnesses can support your version of events, you likely will win the liability fight. But that’s just the first part of the fight. You need to establish what your “damages” are and how those damages have affected you. Your injury claim is largely based on the nature and extent of your injuries. The other party’s insurer may feel that your injuries were not as serious as you claim, that your medical treatment was excessive or unreasonable, or that you had a pre-existing condition. For instance, if you failed to mention that you had prior treatment for injuries to the same part of your body injured in this accident, then the insurance company adjuster may accuse you of lying. The reality is a skilled personal injury lawyer knows what to do to get your case ready for trial, if the case needs to go to trial. Studies have shown that in the overwhelming number of cases, victims who have legal representation obtain significantly higher settlements than those who handle their own cases, even accounting for legal fees. Any good injury lawyer will tell you whether you need a lawyer or whether you don’t. A good injury lawyer will talk with you for free and answer your questions so that you can make an educated and informed decision specific to your case.
What do injury lawyers charge for car accident injury cases?
Answer: Our legal fees are contingency-based, which means that we do not charge you anything until and unless we get you a settlement or win a verdict at trial. In most cases, we charge 33.33% of the settlement amount. However, if the claim is complex or if we file a lawsuit and your case goes to litigation, then our fee might go to 40%. Some lawyers charge 45%, but we never do. The most we can get paid is 40% of the amount we can win for you.
How long do I have to contact the insurance company to make an injury claim?
Answer: You generally have 2 years from the date of the accident to file your lawsuit in court although that 2-year window can actually be longer in some cases. For instance, if the at-fault driver who hit you received a citation, then the 2 year clock doesn’t begin to run until after the citation is paid. The 2 year time limit is called the statute of limitation. So long as you file your case within 2 years and serve the at-fault driver, you could resolve your case after 2 years.
Your own insurer likely has a time limit for filing a claim with them, but that time limit is rarely defined. This is called “uninsured motorist coverage”. In uninsured motorist coverage claims you need to notify your insurance company within a “reasonable” time.
What happens if the at-fault driver is a Lyft or Uber driver? What are the insurance limits?
Answer: In accident cases with Lyft and Uber drivers, the applicable insurance coverage depends on whether the driver had his/her app on and was accepting ride requests, was en route to pick up a passenger, or if the driver was transporting a passenger. If the app was not on, then the insurer will be the driver’s personal carrier. In Georgia, the minimum policy limits are $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. Per the Lyft and Uber websites as of January 2020, if the app was on but no passengers were in the car, coverage is provided by Lyft or Uber at $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident. But if a passenger was in the ride-share vehicle, coverage is up to $1 million.
What if my medical insurance won’t cover all or a portion of my medical expenses and care?
Answer: Your health insurance should pay for your treatment. If it doesn’t, your lawyer should contact the provider to see if the provider will treat you on a “lien”. A lien is where you receive medical care without having to pay any money until you win your case at which time your medical provider then gets paid for those treatments you received.
What damages can I claim in a car accident?
Answer: You may claim damages for your economic losses and your noneconomic losses. Some people call these damages “special damages” and “general damages.” Economic losses aka special damages include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost income, and property damage. Non-economic damages aka general damages includes compensation for pain and suffering, headaches, mental anguish, scarring and emotional distress. In some cases, you may pursue a third type of damages called “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are only in egregious cases where the at-fault driver’s conduct was really bad like choosing to drive drunk or if the driver has a history of routinely texting and driving.
How are the damages for pain and suffering calculated?
Answer: There is no formula. It depends on how serious your injury was and the effect it has had on your quality of life. You, your doctor, physical therapist, spouse, and friends can testify about your daily pain, pain medications, the time you needed to recover from surgery, your inability to engage in daily routines such as showering, driving, shopping, or playing with your children.
What if the driver who hit me was not insured?
Answer: Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, if you have it through your auto insurance policy, will provide coverage when the driver who hit you was uninsured. You still have to prove that the other driver’s negligence caused the accident and your injuries. Your UM coverage steps into the non-insured driver’s shoes and so in theory you your UM insurer becomes adversarial to you.
What happens if my accident was a hit-and-run?
Answer: You must still report the accident to police and your own insurer and get a police report. If there were witnesses, get their contact information to confirm that another vehicle was involved and that it was not your own negligence that caused the accident. If the other driver is not located or is found and was uninsured, then you can make a claim for damages and your injuries under the uninsured (UM) provision of your own policy.
My injuries and damages are substantial but the other driver’s insurance policy limits are minimal. Can I collect more compensation from him or from some other source?
Answer: Yes. If your own auto insurance has underinsured (UIM) coverage that is more than the other party’s policy limits, you can collect more compensation through your policy. For example, if the other party’s limits were $25,000 and your UIM coverage is $100,000, you can collect an additional $100,000. If you were living with family members at the time of the accident, you can pursue the UM insurance through your family members’ UM policies. This is what is known as “resident-relative” UIM coverage. The term “resident-relative” is a technical term, and it is generally defined as the person(s) whose name appears on the policy (the named insured); the spouse and relatives of that person(s) who reside in the same home; and any person(s) who uses the covered vehicle with the named insured’s consent.
You can also pursue insurance against the owner of the car that the other driver was driving. In some situations, you can even pursue the insurance companies for the other driver’s relatives.
Your attorney might also pursue other parties that contributed to the accident such a body shop that negligently serviced the defendant’s brakes, or there was defect in roadway design or maintenance.
How do I know if I should accept a settlement offer?
Answer: There are a lot of factors that go into this. Your attorney should be an experienced professional who can advise you on what is a reasonable amount based on the severity of your injury, the medical testimony your doctors gave in your case, the amount of your medical expenses, your past lost income, what your future looks like, and how your injuries have affected your life. It may also depend on what insurance or other compensation is available. Your lawyer should know what juries historically do and what other cases like yours have settled for. But not matter what, don’t ever feel pressured into accepting a settlement offer you don’t want. You have the right to a jury trial; don’t let any lawyer or insurance company tell you otherwise.