Brakes squeal, glass shatters, and lives can be altered forever. The physical and mental trauma that follows an auto accident can stay with a person for years, especially when there are injuries involved. It’s a situation that demands quick, sound decision-making — on who’s at fault, what actually happened, and how any medical issues should be addressed. But in the immediate aftermath, it can be difficult to focus on anything outside of the shock and the pain.
“It’s extremely hard to remember what you need to do,” says Amber Goodman, Attorney at Siferd & Associates, LPA. “Your top priority should be taking care of yourself, and making sure you’re getting better. But you have the financial aspect of this, too. That’s why it’s important to hire somebody right away who can check in with you —about bills, getting to a doctor, getting everything written down. You really do need somebody in your corner guiding you.”
Beyond the physical recovery, navigating the aftermath of an auto accident can be trying for anyone not well-versed in the areas of insurance and compensation. How should you treat your injuries? How should you deal with the insurance adjuster? What type and how much compensation are you entitled to? How should you handle medical bills? An attorney can cut through the web of questions, and often facilitate a more financially beneficial outcome for the client.
“It’s important not to wait,” Goodman says. “If you wait six months and you didn’t do certain things you needed to do, we can start to rebuild and recover that. But it’s way easier for us to be involved from the beginning.”
Medical treatment and memory
The first step is receiving medical treatment — which is how any injuries stemming from the accident will be documented. It does not have to be at a hospital emergency room, and it may not have to be immediately, given that injuries may manifest themselves days later. But it’s important to seek treatment soon afterward, and to mitigate any injuries by following the recommendations of physicians.
“If your doctor is telling you to get physical therapy, and you don’t and keep going about your day to day life, maybe you end up tearing something or causing further injury because you didn’t follow your doctor’s advice,” Goodman says. “Your injuries can be offset because you didn’t follow your doctor’s instructions. You, in fact, made the injury worse.”
It’s also important to ensure that medical providers bill your insurance. Hospitals sometimes try to charge patients full price instead of the cost negotiated with insurance carriers — and given how long cases can take to settle, personal credit can be ruined by thousands of dollars of unpaid hospital bills. Bring all medical bills to the attorney, and keep a notebook to document everything that happens after the accident.
“People insist that they will remember, because their injuries are so bad,” Goodman says. “The fact of the matter is when we get two, three years down the line, when you’re starting to feel better, you never truly remember those first few days.”
Insurance and compensation
What type of compensation you may receive from the accident depends on who was at fault. If you caused it, you’re not entitled to compensation, Goodman says. If someone else causes it and they have insurance, you’re entitled to compensation through their insurance. But there are caveats: if you’re a passenger in a car with a spouse or parent that you live with, for instance, you may not be entitled to compensation.
If someone else causes the accident, you may be eligible to receive up to the limits of their policy; in the case of a state minimum $25,000/$50,000 policy, that would mean one person could get up to $25,000, and no more than $50,000 would be paid out in total. If the driver at fault is uninsured, your policy would kick in. If the driver is underinsured — the cost of your medical bills are worth more than their policy can pay out — your policy may pay. Uninsured and underinsured coverage are generally part of a standard auto insurance policy.
Beware the insurance adjuster, who typically calls soon after the accident, records everything you say, and is trained to elicit responses that can reduce how much the insurance company will pay. “They’re going to be very, very friendly,” Goodman says. “That way they can build trust with you, and you start saying things you shouldn’t, like, ‘Oh, I don’t remember if the light was red or green.’ They have lots of training to reduce how much the company pays you.”
The adjuster may keep calling, under the guise of checking in, to try and mine as much information as possible to be used against you. They won’t stop unless you hire an attorney, who sends the insurance company a letter telling them they represent you and ends the flood of calls.
Hidden costs of payback
Some drivers also have a policy called Med-Pay, which covers up to an initial dollar figure of your medical bills — typically the first $5,000, and usually no more than the first $10,000. If you caused the accident, that money covers medical bills and doesn’t have to be paid back, because there’s no other compensation. But if you didn’t cause the accident, be prepared — many forms of compensation need to be repaid, a fact those involved in accidents may be unaware of.
“Med-Pay usually has to be paid back unless you caused the accident. If your medical insurance has paid out, they also are going to need to be paid back. If you miss work and were under a short-term disability policy, that would also need to be paid back,” Goodman says. “What an attorney does is work with every one of these providers to reduce how much you owe. They’re not willing to work with John Doe as much as they’re willing to work with John Doe’s attorney. So we can help mitigate how much you pay back.”
It’s just one of the reasons why hiring an attorney can make the best financial sense for someone injured in an auto accident. What about recouping mileage to and from doctor visits or medical treatments, making up for wages lost during recovery, or shepherding the claim through the months or years it may take to get resolved?
A firm like Siferd & Associates handles that, so you can focus on getting better and getting back to work.
“The difference here at Siferd is, you don’t talk to our assistants often. Usually we talk to you personally,” Goodman says.
When you have a legal question while you’re going through this, the attorneys can answer that, the assistants can’t. So you don’t have to wait for that call back, or have an assistant give you one answer and then have to call you back after talking with an attorney. We don’t do that here.”
Have you suffered injuries in an auto accident, or are you looking for a law firm that can guide you through the compensation process? Reach Siferd & Associates at (419) 222- 5045, fill out their online contact form, or visit their website at Siferd.com for more information.