Dealing with the consequences of a motor vehicle collision caused by another driver’s negligence can be overwhelming. If you’ve been injured, you’ll likely be left dealing with medical expenses, pain, and calls and letters from insurance companies, as well as your daily obligations, at a time when you may not even have a working vehicle. The obligations of the insurance companies to repair your property damage and pay for medical expenses and pain and suffering can be difficult to understand, let alone navigate. Hiring a personal injury attorney can provide you with not only an advocate, but also a guide for what can be a confusing and lengthy process.
Who will pay for my property damage, and when?
If you were driving your own vehicle at the time of the collision, repairing your vehicle is probably one of your immediate concerns. The at-fault driver and his or her insurance company are generally responsible for paying for damage caused by the collision. Depending on your insurance policy, your insurance company may also be responsible for paying your property damage, after payment of a deductible.
If there is a dispute about who was responsible for causing the collision, resolution of your property damage claim can be significantly delayed. A skilled personal injury attorney can potentially examine the facts of the collision and what the insurance companies have done to investigate it to help expedite resolution of your property damage claim.
How much should the insurance company offer for the damage to my vehicle?
Once liability for causing the collision has been established, the insurance company responsible for paying your property damage might offer less than it should. Insurance companies sometimes dispute whether certain items of damage were caused by the collision, the costs of certain labor or replacement parts, or whether they are responsible for paying for your rental car. Whether or not these positions are justified will often depend on whether delay or other issues are attributable to the at-fault driver’s negligence or some other factor outside, such as delay by a body shop you chose.
There are also certain Colorado regulations governing how much an insurance company should offer on a property damage claim, for example that they should use credible sources and fair and consistent methods when valuing total losses. Another important regulation is that insurance companies cannot determine what they offer by comparing several credible sources and choosing the lowest value among them.
Other tricks insurance companies can use to attempt to minimize payment on property damage claims include claiming deductions for minor scrapes and dents on older vehicles, when valuation tools such as the Kelley Blue Book already account for a vehicle’s condition based on its mileage.
Who will pay my medical bills?
The at-fault driver and his or her insurance company are generally responsible for paying your medical bills. However, the other driver’s insurance company is unlikely to actually pay the bills unless you agree to a full and final settlement. If you have ongoing pain and medical treatment, you may not be in a position to agree to a full and final settlement because the full extent of your medical expenses and pain and suffering are not yet known. So while the other driver and/or his insurance company are generally responsible for paying your medical bills, you will likely not be in a position to settle with them immediately after the collision.
Until you’ve dealt with the other driver’s insurance company, there are other ways to get your medical bills paid. You may be entitled to medical payments benefits under your own automobile insurance policy, the one on the vehicle, or an automobile insurance policy belonging to a relative you reside with. Most, but not all, automobile insurance policies that include medical payments benefits will provide up to $5,000 in benefits. You can also generally get medical treatment through your health insurance, including Medicare or Medicaid, though it will probably have a right to be repaid out of any settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Additionally, some medical providers and provider networks will provide medical treatment and agree to be paid later, out of an eventual settlement.
Who will pay for my lost wages?
The at-fault driver and his or her insurance company are generally responsible for paying for your lost wages caused by the collision. However, as with your medical bills, the other driver’s insurance company is unlikely to actually pay the wage loss until you agree to a full and final settlement.
There are ways to cover for lost wages during the difficult time after being injured in a motor vehicle collision. You may be entitled to disability insurance benefits, for example through your employer. If you are unable to work for an extended period of time after the collision, you may also become eligible for social security disability benefits.
Last, there are some third party companies which will loan you funds and recover from an eventual settlement. However, these companies sometimes charge high interest rates and fees, so it is important to be aware of the terms of a loan before agreeing.
Can I sue the at-fault driver?
Pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver is generally an alternative to settlement, rather than an additional source of recovery. Whether or not it makes sense to pursue a lawsuit often depends on factors such as:
- the at-fault driver’s policy limit (the most his or her insurance company would pay on a settlement or judgment);
- whether there are liens or health insurance subrogation claims that need to be repaid;
- whether you have your own underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage; and
- whether the at-fault driver has significant assets that could be used to satisfy a judgment in excess of his or her policy limit.
A personal injury attorney can generally determine some or all of the above issues and help you evaluate whether or not to pursue a lawsuit. Because of the difficulty of collecting a judgment, it often makes sense to attempt to settle rather than to pursue a judgment. However, this evaluation can be difficult, and can sometimes require retaining investigators to help evaluate the at- fault driver and his or her insurance policy.
What if the at-fault driver has no insurance?
Even if the at-fault driver has no insurance of his or her own, he or she may have access to coverage through other sources. For example, an employer’s insurance may provide coverage if the other driver was on the job, or there may be coverage through the rental car company if the other driver was on the job. If the other driver was driving for a popular ride sharing entity like Uber or Lyft, there may be coverage through that entity. Additionally, it may be possible to recover under the other driver’s relatives’ policies, for example if the at-fault driver was a minor driving the family car.
If the other driver has no insurance coverage at all, you still have the option to sue them, however any resulting judgment may be difficult or impossible to collect.
Additionally, you can pursue a recovery under your own automobile insurance policy if you purchased uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage before the collision.
Can I recover money from my own automobile insurance policy?
Generally yes, if you had uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage at the time of the collision. However, if the other driver had at least some liability insurance coverage, your own automobile insurance company is entitled to take an offset for that policy limit when extending underinsured motorist benefits.
Additionally, when evaluating and making offers on your uninsured/underinsured motorist claim, your insurance company owes you obligations to act in good faith and to not unreasonably delay or deny benefits. If it violates these duties, it can give rise to common law and/or statutory bad faith claims, which a personal injury attorney can help you evaluate and assert.