It only takes a few seconds for a car accident to happen, but it can have long-lasting consequences for you and your family. You may suffer serious injuries, costing you time at work – not to mention the medical bills. Worse, you could be in pain for a long time, even chronically, as the result of your injuries. Meanwhile, your car is damaged, and your monthly creditors aren’t interested in pressing pause on your bills so you can recover.
You might think this is the right time for your insurance company to make good on all those promises their commercials make about how much they care for their clients. But let’s consider whose insurance company you need to call. The first thing you should know about insurance companies and car accidents is:
We’ll talk a little more about what’s “covered” later. But for now, let’s start with the concept of fault in North Carolina car accidents. North Carolina law uses contributory negligence as a basis for ruling on fault in personal injury cases (if they go to trial). Under these statutes, if someone involved in a car accident or other injury situation is found to be even one percent at fault for the incident, they are not eligible to collect any damages from the other party (or their insurance). Naturally, this leads to a lot of claims that the other party was at least partly at fault.
So you make a claim with the other driver’s insurance, believing they will cover your expenses. One thing that could happen is that they deny your claim. This can happen for a lot of reasons, but commonly the insurance company will claim you were at fault (often the other driver says this too). You might have the impulse to call them up and explain why they’re wrong, but that is not recommended because of the next thing you need to know about dealing with insurance companies:
This is true whether it’s your insurance company or the other party’s. The simple fact is that all insurance companies really answer to their shareholders, and their shareholders are happier when they make more profit. One way to do that is to pay fewer claims or pay less than the claims are worth. So no matter who is paying the policy premium, the insurance adjuster is going to look for reasons not to pay the claim.
So what should you do if your claim has been denied? Resist the urge to call the insurance company and argue with them. Yes, it can be frustrating, but you have nothing to gain by calling them immediately. In many cases, people accidentally say things that can weaken their case later on if they decide to challenge the insurance company with a lawsuit.
Instead, contact a North Carolina car accident attorney for a free consultation about your situation. They can let you know if you have a strong case, and if so, your lawyer may be able to talk with the insurance company on your behalf. If need be, your lawyer can also represent you in court. If it does look like there is ample evidence that you shared some fault in the accident, your attorney may be able to suggest alternative options for getting your claim paid (more on that later).
It’s also true that you don’t have to talk to the insurance company if they call you right after your accident. Again, it’s better if you don’t talk to them right away, even if the representative calls up saying they really want to get your claim resolved. This tends to make people very agreeable and talkative because hey, you want your claim paid! In fact, you might be so eager to get this taken care of and receive your check that you don’t even think twice when the representative says something about recording the call.
Then they start asking you questions. These may seem innocent, and you may think you’re saying the right things. The accident wasn’t your fault, the other driver pulled out in front of you, etc. But sometimes people accidentally say things that the insurance company might paint as admitting to a shared fault in the crash. It’s easy to misspeak or to say something without realizing how the insurance adjuster might misinterpret it.
And that’s if you’re even in a good frame of mind to have a conversation. If you’ve been hurt, you could be in a lot of pain. It’s hard to think clearly or even know what you’re saying when your broken leg is throbbing or your back is killing you. On the other hand, if you’ve been prescribed strong pain relievers, that can also cloud your mind or affect your memory or judgment.
For all of these reasons, we recommend you don’t talk to the insurance company right away after your accident. You can ask a friend or relative to screen your calls or only answer for numbers you recognize. If you do answer a call and find an insurance company rep on the other end, you don’t have to talk to them. Simply say that now isn’t a good time and you’ll call them back, then hang up. When you’re feeling up to it, schedule a consultation with a car accident attorney. This will help you learn the value of your potential claim before talking with the insurance company. That brings us to the next thing you should know about dealing with your insurance company after a car accident:
Sometimes, the insurance company rep may accept that they’re unlikely to get out of paying your claim. But they can still save money if they just…don’t pay you as much as your claim is really worth. It’s not uncommon for the insurer to reach out with an offer that may actually sound good – but doesn’t really cover all the injured party’s expenses.
First, you should consider all the potential damages you might seek from the responsible party/their insurance company following a car accident:
Figuring out which of these damages apply to your case and how much you should ask for each of them is not easy. Most people have no idea where to start. Fortunately, your attorney will be able to calculate how much you should seek for each category. They may suggest you collect all your current bills as a starting point, then ask you questions as needed.
If the insurance company has made you an offer that doesn’t rise to the amount you and your attorney believe is fair, your lawyer can negotiate with the insurance company. Some people decide to do this on their own, but it often doesn’t work out well. The fact is that it’s hard to even know what your claim should be worth if you’re not a lawyer or insurance company employee. Plus, insurance adjusters are often knowledgeable about laws affecting your claim, and again, will use anything they can against you. People who have an attorney are not only more likely to receive payment for their claim, but they also receive larger payouts, on average.
Now, what if your car accident really was your fault? Or, what if it was the other driver’s fault, but they were uninsured or underinsured? What if you thought you were covered for certain things but found out that you weren’t? Are you out of luck?
In some cases, no. Another thing you should know about insurance companies is that there are sometimes other options for getting your claim paid.
North Carolina state laws only require drivers to carry $30,000 in bodily injury liability insurance and uninsured motorist insurance, as well as $25,000 for property damage, including damage caused by uninsured motorists. In other words, these are the minimum amounts of coverage if you cause an accident where you or someone else is injured, or if an uninsured motorist causes such an accident. These are minimum requirements, and we don’t recommend limiting yourself to the minimums. If you’re currently dealing with medical bills, you probably understand just how quickly $30,000 can go.
Even if the insurance company doesn’t give you a hard time about paying your claim, they are not obligated to pay anything beyond the $30,000 policy limit. That could easily be spent on one surgery, leaving you the bills for all your post-surgical care, physical therapy, prescriptions, mobility devices, etc.
If you have purchased full coverage insurance, this includes collision and comprehensive coverage (amounts vary depending on how much coverage you choose). Collision insurance will pay repair costs for single-vehicle accidents, including situations where you hit a solid object or flip your car. For example, if you skid on an icy road and crash into a tree, your collision coverage should take care of your car repairs up to the policy limits. Comprehensive coverage works similarly if a falling object lands on your car, or if it is damaged by weather, natural disasters, animals, vandalism, or theft.
What about your medical bills? Medical bill pay is an optional, no-fault type of coverage you can add that will help you with healthcare costs in situations where another driver’s insurance will not cover your claim. If you have med pay in an accident where you were at fault or the other driver isn’t sufficiently insured, the policy will cover your expenses to the policy limit. Many people think that med pay is included in “full coverage” insurance, but it isn’t – you have to buy this coverage separately.
What if you only have the minimum insurance coverage and your damages far exceed the policy limit in a situation where you share fault, or the other driver is uninsured/underinsured? Speak to an attorney right away to figure out if there are other possibilities. In some cases, you can sue the other driver directly. However, this may not be worth the effort if the other driver has no real assets you can seize.
In other cases, there may be third parties you can sue, such as manufacturers of a defective car part that contributed to the crash or failed to protect you. In certain situations, if you were injured by an underage drunk driver, you may be able to sue the business or person who supplied them with alcohol under North Carolina’s dram shop laws. You may also be able to sue a party who provided alcohol to a person who was already intoxicated, knowing they were likely to drive. However, in these situations, it is necessary to prove the other party was actually negligent in serving the inebriated driver. Your lawyer can help you figure out if you have a case in any of these situations.
Auger & Auger has worked to assist car accident victims throughout the Carolinas for over 26 years. We know how to fight the insurance companies both in and out of court, and we’ll fight for you to get compensation for your damages.
Give us a call today at (855) 969-5671 or contact us online for a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer.