Personal Injury

Rick Chaidez - Personal Injury Lawyer

by law am i required to have insurance?

The soft expectation that some automobile liability insurance will pay every injured person's damages is based on the statutory requirement that every driver and every owner of a motor vehicle is required to have a statutory form of financial responsibility. Financial responsibility may be established by an insurance policy a bond or deposit, or a certificate or self insurance, or in any other manner authorized by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Required coverage limits are not less than the statutory minimum ( currently $15,000 per person for personal injury, $30,000 per accident and $5,000 for property damage).

if i have an auto accident, what am i expected to do?

California law says you must stop whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. If you drive away, you can be charged with "hit and run" - even if the accident was not your fault.

  • Hit- and- run penalties are severe. Depending on the damages or injuries, you may be fined, sent to jail or both. You also could lose your driver's license.
  • If you hit a parked car or other property, try to find the owner or driver. If you cannot, the law says you may drive away only after you leave behind you name, address and explanation of the accident, and the name and address of your car's owner (if other than yourself). You also must notify the local police or California Highway Patrol (CHP) either by telephone or in person as soon as possible.
  • You must call the police or the CHP if the accident caused a death or injury. An officer who comes to the scene of the accident will conduct an investigation. If an officer doesn't show up, you must make a written report on a form available at the police department or CHP office as soon as possible.
  • As a general rule, the driver of every motor vehicle which is involved in an accident, resulting in property damage of $500 or in bodily injury or death of any person, must within 10 days report the accident on a form provided by the DMV. Failure to report an accident can cause a license to be suspended.
  • Both the driver and the owner of the motor vehicle involved in an accident must prove the existence of required financial responsibility under Veh C 16054. Failure to do so may result also in a suspended driver's license.
  • If you are hit by a hit and run driver, you must report the accident to the police within 24 hours and file a statement under oath with your insurer within 30 days.

what should i do if someone is injured?

The law requires you to give reasonable assistance to injured persons. For example, you may need to call an ambulance, take the injured person to a doctor or hospital.

To help prevent additional collisions, try to warn other motorists that an accident has occurred. Placing flares on the road (if there are no flammable fluids or items nearby), turning on your car's hazard lights and lifting the engine hood are usually good ways to warn others on the road. Try to arrange to get help for any injured persons, and try not to panic.

how can i get help?

As soon as you can get to a telephone, call 911. Explain the situation and give the exact location of the accident, so help can arrive quickly. Be sure to mention whether you need an ambulance or a fire engine. Remain on the telephone until the operator tells you it is okay to hang up.

what information should i gather at the accident scene?

Since many records now are confidential under the law, you may not later be able to obtain the information that you want from the Department of the Motor Vehicles (DMV). So be sure to get as much correct and complete information as you can at the scene of the accident. You and the other driver should discuss or exchange:

  • The other driver's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver's license number and expiration date, and insurance company.
  • The other car's make, year, model, license plate number and expiration date, and vehicle identification number
  • The names, address, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car's legal and registered owners- if the drivers does not own the car.
  • The names, address, dates of birth, driver's license numbers and telephone numbers of any passenger in the other car.
  • The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Ask them to stay to talk to the CHP or police. If they insist on the leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down.
  • Try to identify people at the accident scene, even if they will not give their names. For example, if someone who saw the accident drivers off, take down his or her license plate number. Law enforcement officials can trace the owner's name and address.
  • The name and badge number of the law officer who comes to the accident scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of the any accident report.
  • A simple diagram of the accident. Draw the positions of both cars before, during and after the accident. Mark the positions of any crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights or streetlights. If you have a camera with you, take pictures of the scene, and of the other drivers and occupants. However, DO NOT PLACE YOURSELF IN A POSITION OF DANGER IN ORDER TO COMPLETE AN ACCIDENT DIAGRAM! Be aware to traffic conditions and skip any measurements that could place you in a position of harm.

Be aware of traffic conditions, make notes, too, on weather and road conditions. If the accident happened after dark, note whether the streetlights were on. Estimate your speed and that of the other vehicle. Be sure to record the exact time, date and place the accident happened.

if i think the accident was my fault, should i say so?

Do not volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You should first talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer or both. Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later.

Do not agree to pay for damages or sign any paper except a traffic ticket until you check with your insurance company or lawyer.

should i get a physical checkup after the accident?

A checkup may be a good idea for both you and your passengers if any of you have concerns about your health. You could be injured and not know it right away. You may wish to call your doctor or another health care provider for advice. Your automobile insurance may pay some or all of these health care bills. You should consult your policy or agent for details on what is covered.

Damages or settlement dollars are directly related to the injuries you suffer and the treatment you must go through because of these injuries. All medical records and bills should be requested a soon as possible. These include the costs of medical treatment, hospitalization or other institutionalization, nursing and attendant care, physical therapy, psychotherapy, diagnostic procedures, medications (both prescriptions and nonprescription). Oftentimes your medical bills will be paid by an insurer, it is still important to get copies of all medical bills or itemizations directly from the medical provider in order to calculate the unadjusted cost of medical treatment/expenses.

Some types of damages for medical expenses are often overlooked. Under nursing and attendant care, damages may be recovered for services furnished by a family member or any other person as long as they are reasonably necessary.

These damages are normally recovered by the injured plaintiff rather than the person providing the services. The recovery, however, is for the reasonable value of the services, not the loss of income given up by the other person in order to provide care for the injured party. Damages are also recoverable for the expense of traveling to obtain medical treatment (s).

With regard to future medical treatment, it is generally necessary to have a treating physician testify as to the expected costs and recommended course (s) of future treatment. This is another reason to go see a doctor early on.

do i have to report the accident with any particular form?

Yes.

First, you may need to call the CHP or the local police.

Second, report the accident to your insurance company.

You should fill out an SR-1 Report of Traffic Accident form from your local DMV office, CHP, or insurance company office.

who pays?

That depends on who is a fault, whether you and the other driver have insurance and what kind of insurance you have. There are two major types of automobile insurance: "liability" and "collision".

  • Liability. If you are to blame for an accident, you liability insurance will pay the other driver for property damage and personal injuries up to your policy's limits. If you are not at fault, the other driver's liability insurance pays for your car damage and/or personal injuries up to the policy limits of the other driver's policy.

    In California, if you and the other driver both have car damage or injuries and you both are partly responsibly for the accident, you each may be able to collect part of your loss, but not all of it. How much each of you collects from the other's policy's (or from each other's assets if there is no insurance) depends on the amount of your damages and on how much each of you is at fault.

    If you loan your car to someone who has an accident, your insurance can also help pay for the damages.

  • Collision. No matter who is at fault, your collision insurance pays for the damages to your car (not your medical expenses), minus the policy deductible.
  • You may have other insurance too. Your health insurance, for example, may pay your medical bills. Also, your automobile insurance may have medical payments coverage. If so, it can pay the costs of your necessary medical treatment up to your policy limits.

what should i do if the other driver does not have insurance?

If the other driver caused the accident and is not insured, your own policy can pay for your personal injuries - if you have "uninsured motorist" or "medical payments" coverage, up to your policy limits.

If the other driver's insurance is not enough to pay for all of your damages, your own insurance may pay the difference- if you have "underinsured motorist" coverage. If you don't have these kinds of insurance or if your damages are more than the policy's limit, you can sue the other driver. However, even if you win the case, you cannot be sure that the other driver has the money to pay.

If the collision insurance, it will usually pay for damage to your car, minus your deductible, no matter who is at fault.

what if someone sues me?

Contact your insurance agent and/or your lawyer right away. Generally, your insurance company will assign a lawyer to handle your case. But, if you are sued for more money that your policy covers, or if your insurance company indicates it may not cover you for everything, you may also need your own attorney. Also, insurance company lawyers do not handle traffic citations or criminal cases, such as hit-run charges.

what if i want to make a claim for my injuries?

If the other driver was at fault, you may be entitled to compensation - for your personal injuries, car damage and other expenses, such as lost wages or the cost of a nurse needed after the accident. If you had your own insurance at the time of the accident, you may also be able to sue for "pain and suffering". You should make a claim with the other driver's insurance company. But, if you are not satisfied with the amount they offer, you may want to sue.

If you plan to sue, do not delay. There are time limits for filing various types of claims - usually one year after the accident for personal injuries, but sometimes much less- so act quickly.

You can sue for $5,000 or less in small claims court. A lawyer can't represent you in court. A lawyer can't represent you in court, but you can talk with one beforehand.

If you want to sue for a larger amount, you will need your own lawyer. An insurance company lawyer cannot represent you if you are the person who is suing ("the plaintiff"). Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a "contingency fee" basis. That means you don't pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of money you get. Most lawyers charge a smaller percentage if the case is settled before the lawyer does all the work necessary to go to trial. If you and your lawyer agree to a contingency fee, the lawyer must put the agreement in writing and give you a signed copy. The contract should explain what percentage the lawyer will get if you win and how it might vary. It also should state who will pay four any court or other costs.

insurance company "trickies".

  • THE "FAST SETTLEMENT". To some degree many insurance companies offer injured victims a fast settlement. This often does not justly compensate the injured person because they don't know the full nature and extent of their injuries until they have been evaluated, examined, tested, and treated by a medical professional. Don't rush to settle, know your rights Wait a while.
  • "YOU MAY LOSE YOUR CLAIM". Often injured persons are told that they might lose their claim because they have no "real" injuries. This coming from an insurance company representative who is not medically trained and may benefit if you take nothing or a very reduced amount. No one should even fake an injury, that is a given. But even slight injuries could manifest themselves later if not treated properly. Don't listen to someone who has a vested interest in a quick fix. Listen to your body and someone who wants to protect your rights.
  • "YOU DO NOT NEED AN ATTORNEY". This self serving phrase is spoken to you by a professional mitigator/low baller. The claims adjuster is usually very experienced and well seasoned and wants you to make final decisions on her/his uneven playing field. The adjuster knows the law, knows the policy, knows the rules so why wouldn't she/he encourage you to do battle/settle with her/him alone. They've got you at a complete disadvantage.
  • "SIGN HERE". Never fall for the quick fix. Make sure you understand fully what rights you may be signing away. There is no hurry to end a claim. Most incidents allow one full year before you must file a lawsuit to protect your rights. Know what you're signing, and always read the fine print.
  • "YOU'L SAVE MONEY". When an insurance agent/adjuster echoes those words ask your self. "Just whose money will you be saving", yours or theirs? The quick fix often means that you save THEM money, AT YOUR EXPENSE. Know your rights. Get proper legal counsel.

what steps should be taken to obtain a fair settlement.

  • See a qualified medical practitioner who can properly assess and diagnose your injuries. Receive the proper treatment if necessary.
  • Make sure NOT to talk to anyone regarding your injuries or the details of the details of the accident until you speak to a qualified attorney about your rights.
  • Go to the police station and get a copy of the police report. Read it to insure its accuracy. Bring it with you when you go for you FREE CONSULTATION with a qualified attorney.
  • Ask questions of your attorney. Get clarification on each issue that you are uncertain of. There is no such thing as a bad question.
  • Hire a competent attorney to represent you. Your primary concern is to treat your injured body. Let the professional deal with all the other matters relating to your claims. You don't need the added stress of paperwork, property damage, forms, reports, and bills when you are ailing. What you do need is someone who is trained to protect you while you recover.

how can i receive maximum compensation for my case?

  • CHOOSE THE RIGHT DOCTOR. A doctor with a good reputation in the community and with the insurance companies, lends credibility to your claim. Your family doctor may not be the best choice especially if he or she tends to "fluff off" an injury with a pain medication only. Sometimes this does not address the injured areas.
  • TELL YOUR DOCTOR "EVERTHING" THAT HURTS.If you fail to do this it may be difficult to bring these matters up. Be honest with your doctor. Start with the top of your head (headache?) to the bottom of your feet. Point out related bruises, cuts, etc. They will take down all the information and transcribe this into a report, which can be used later.
  • FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR'S ORDERS. If a doctor tells you to get therapy 3 days a week, but you only go once a week, you not only damage your claim, but you will not heal properly. The insurance company will say "you could not be truly injured, or you would have followed your doctor's recommendations", and will reduce their settlement offer to you.
  • KEEP A DIARY TO DOCUMENT YOUR INJURIES.Few people ever think of writing down how they felt. You need to remember the details of your injury and how you felt on a day-to -day basis. A diary helps to provide accurate accounts of your injuries and how they affected your ability to function on a daily basis. Your diary will help you remember the extent of your injuries, and can mean a higher evaluation of your claim.
  • BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY. They will use anything and everything you tell them against you. And no matter what DO NOT LIE. The best policy is to state the basic facts with the least amount of embellishment and never let them record you over the phone!

if injured because of some else's fault, what are you entitled to?

  • Pain and Suffering. Ordinarily, the most "valuable" element of your bodily injury claim is the right to compensation for physical pain and mental anguish you have suffered and will endure in the future because of your injury. These general damages are in addition to and may be far more than the amount of your lost earnings and medical expenses.
  • Medical Expenses. he costs of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred and the are reasonably certain to be incurred in the future because of your injury, are recoverable. These expenses include past medical expenses and also future medical expenses, which may be the product of the original injury.

    All forms of care and treatment, whether ambulance, hospital, medical, therapy, nursing, diagnostic testing, surgery, physical rehabilitation or pain management are included. You may recover the full value of your medical expenses from the responsible party even if your health insurer has paid all or part of your bills.

  • Loss of earnings. You may be entitled to recover the loss of earnings suffered from your injuries. Thus, wages, commissions, bonuses, and all other earnings and fringe benefits are recoverable.
  • Future Loss of Earnings. If your injuries permanently limit your, ability to earn, you may recover the value of the reduction in earning capacity with reasonable probability which will occur in the future. There damages compensate you for your lost earning power over the remainder of your working years.
  • Death. Damages for "wrongful death" are available for the wife, husband, parent and child of the deceased person. Sometimes, persons related by blood or marriage, who were dependent upon the deceased may recover, Damages are not limited to the economic loss and may include damages for mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance or education. Damages may be available for the deceased's estate as well.
  • Disfigurement. If the injury causes scarring or other unsightly marks, you may be entitle to recover for the disfigurement and humiliation or embarrassment associated with the disfigurement.
  • Damage to the Marital Relationship. Serious injuries to one spouse may cause damage to the marital relationship. If this occurs, you may be entitled to recover for the loss of society, affection, assistance, conjugal fellowship and loss or impairment of sexual relations that occurs.
  • Damage to your Vehicle or Other Personal Property. You are entitled to be made whole for any damage to your personal property. Where they can repair your vehicle, you are entitle to recover the reasonable costs of restoring the vehicle to its condition before the collision. In addition, you may recover the costs of substitute transportation necessarily incurred while they are repairing your vehicle. If the costs of repair is more than the value of your vehicle (a "total loss"), you are entitled to recover the full value of your vehicle before it was damaged.

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