Georgia Car Accident Dos and Don'ts

Georgia Car Accident Dos and Don'ts

Many of my clients tell me that in the early days after a serious collision, they are confused about their rights and duties.  Common questions include:
With these thoughts in mind, let's go through a list of key dos and don'ts:            

Dos


1) Do Call your own insurance company and tell them about the collision. Calling will allow for smoother sailing with the repair and property damage claim if the other insurer denies responsibility for the crash or denies coverage and you will satisfy the notice provisions for your Georgia Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist insurance. Failure to notify your own insurance company can void the Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Some policies will cut you off as early as 30 days after the wreck. It will also let you know if you have Georgia medical payments insurance.

2) Do give a recorded statement to your own insurance company, with some caveats.  They may want a recorded statement and you do owe them that under the contract for insurance. My advice is to tell them you will give them one shortly. If you have sustained a serious injury, call a Georgia car accident attorney first and make sure that you are comfortable before the statement. If it is recorded, so you need to be cautious as they will sometimes put words in your mouth. Why? Because if the injury is serious, your uninsured motorist coverage is in play and the insurance company will try to damage your ability to make a recovery by getting you to say things that downplay the injury or exaggerate a prior condition. You and your insurance company are enemies once you need the Uninsured Motorist Coverage.

3) Do Visit the Hospital or Your Family Doctor if you are injured.  If you are seriously injured, go to the hospital, if it is not bad; go to your family doctor. Delays in seeking medical care will be used against you by the insurance company if the injury lingers and you are forced to make a claim down the road. If your family doctor refuses to see you because it stems from a car accident (as many do), then find another general practice MD that will see you. Just a warning; many insurance companies and some Georgia juries do not take chiropractic care seriously, so go at your own risk. If you have no health insurance, the hospital is always an option as they cannot turn you away but remember, you will need to pay them back for your care. A less expensive alternative is urgent care clinic is only around $60.00. Whatever you do, do not hope for the best if you are in serious pain.  That said, do not get medical care just to make money. Personal injury claims are not a money-making venture and you undermine the legitimacy of the court system if you do this.

4) Do Bill all Medical Care to Your Health Insurer. If you go to the hospital make sure that you provide them with your health insurance card and follow up to ensure that they billed your health insurance. Start calling to follow up a week after the crash and be politely persistent. Many Atlanta hospitals now hold off on sending the bill to your health insurer because they don’t get paid as much from health insurance as they do from a personal injury settlement.  Your health insurance company has an agreed upon fee schedule so that procedures are cheaper for members. If the hospital does not bill your health insurance, it will get paid out of any settlement at a much higher rate. Your health insurer may be entitled to reimbursement under their contract, but you will still come out much better than if they put a medical lien on your case. In no circumstance will the other driver’s insurance company pay your medical bills unless it is a final settlement so do not believe the hospital when they tell you they will just send the bill to the other insurance company.

5) Do Immediately Gather Evidence: Take Photos of the Cars involved, the Scene of the crash and skid marks and Do Get a Copy of the Accident Report. The report will be ready 3-5 days after the crash. People do change their stories and evidence disappears so  BE SURE TO GET CONTACT INFORMATION FOR EYEWITNESSES!

6) Do call an Atlanta injury lawyer soon if the injury is serious. There are major mistakes that you can make in the first few days when you go it alone and while it may not matter if the injury is minor, with serious injuries, some errors can be irreversible. What do I mean by a “serious injury?”  If it was a hard impact and you went to the emergency room and you are not starting to feel better within the week, then you should err on the side of caution and get a free consultation with a lawyer.  Remember all lawyers advertise a “free consultation!” Take advantage of it. It is better to at least talk with a lawyer before you decide whether to proceed on your own. Remember to insist on an in person meeting with an actual lawyer and interview several of them.  Do not talk to an assistant or an “investigator.”

7) Do contact the other driver’s insurance company and report the crash. Tell the adjuster basic information about the crash and it’s OK to tell them if you have been to the doctor, but do not give a recorded statement.

8) Do Call a Friend to Take Your Valuables Out of your Car. Personal items are frequently stolen. The sad fact is that theft of personal items is very common at car storage lots. 

9) Do present the Gross Total of your Medical Bills when you make a settlement demand. Present the total amount that the doctors and hospitals billed you as this is what you are entitled to under Georgia law.  Make sure you also present your lost wages, regardless of whether you used vacation time or sick leave.  You are entitled to recover for used vacation and sick leave time.

10) Do Fire Your Georgia Lawyer if they don’t return your calls or give lousy customer service. Some people make the mistake of hiring the lawyer they see on TV and later come to find out that they never actually get to meet the lawyer and that the firm does not actually go to court very often.  YOU CAN FIRE YOUR LAWYER AT ANY TIME! This does not mean you can hire them, have them do the work and then try to screw them; it means that you don’t have to accept sloppy lawyering. This also does not mean that you should expect to hear from your lawyer every week. Good lawyers have lots of cases and stay busy. You should expect return phone calls within 24 hours, however. In Georgia, you may fire your lawyer before an offer is made on your case and you will owe any costs they have paid out on your behalf and the value of the actual time they put into your case and that is all. It gets more complicated if suit has already been filed or if an offer has been made.


Don'ts

1) Do Not Give a Recorded Statement to the other driver's insurance company. You do not have any duty to do so, and it is an ambush waiting to happen.

2) Do Not Believe the Insurance Adjuster when they tell you to send them your medical bills and they will be paid. To put it bluntly there are never payments in Georgia from other driver's insurance company unless they are settling out the case once and for all. Except in very rare cases, they will not pay your bills as they are accrued. 

3) Do not sign a medical release to allow the other driver’s insurance company access to your records: They will tell you that this is a requirement for them to consider your bills and this is a lie. You can collect your records and bills on your own and submit them yourself.

4) Do not accept any Money or Sign anything unless you are prepared to settle once and for all. Although there are some rare exceptions, if you are getting a settlement check for injuries, you are releasing the claim forever.

5) Do Not assume that the insurance company will settle with you rather than fight you just because it costs them money to litigate.  This is a common misconception. All of the major insurers own their own law firms in Georgia and have lawyers on salary to handle cases. Insurers are willing to spend more money defending a case that it would cost to settle because it is part of a larger business strategy of deterring claims. Before consultants got involved with auto insurance, it was true that they would do a cost benefit analysis on whether it was worthwhile to pay a lawyer, but those days are gone. They will fight you on any case over $1500.00.

6) Do Not Hire a Doctor, Lawyer or Chiropractor that Contacted You After the Crash. This is an illegal practice known as running. The lawyers and chiropractors that do this are breaking the law, and they are the scum of the profession. They cannot get business through legitimate sources so they pay people to work in hospitals and to cull through Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Reports. They are the lowest of the low. 
 
7) Do Not Treat with a Chiropractor on a Lien if you Have Health Insurance. If you have health insurance, use your insurance and go to doctors in the group. It simply makes no economic sense as you will have to pay the chiropractor out of your car accident settlement, and their medical care is not taken as seriously as care provided by medical doctors by insurance companies or juries.

8) Do not Wait to See a Medical Doctor if you are in Pain: If you are really hurt, make sure it is medically documented. The insurance company will use any gap in medical care against you and argue that you were not really hurt. Most of us are conservative and don’t like running out to the Doctor or the emergency room unless we are bleeding. The insurance companies take advantage of that fact and will even tell you that they won’t pay for medical care to dissuade you from going. If you are seriously hurt, trying to tough it out by waiting for 3 or 4 months between visits is admirable, but the insurance company will argue that you were either not hurt or that  and some unrelated event intervened and caused a new injury.  

9) Do not assume that a jury will side with you against the evil insurance company. In Georgia, the lawsuit is presented to the jury as You v. Defendant Driver. The insurance company’s name never comes up unless it is an uninsured motorist case or a tractor trailer accident case.

10) Do Not Assume that the at-fault Insurance company will pay your medical bills.  They will not pay as you go, so you need to form a plan as to how you will pay for your medical care if you do not have medical payments insurance or health insurance.

11) Do Not Expect to Get Wealthy from a Car Accident: Insurance companies and juries award compensation for real injuries; they do not provide lottery tickets. I settle cases for six figure sums for people all of the time but each of my clients would gladly trade the money to have their health back. You do not get large settlements unless you are seriously injured.

Frequently Asked Questions by Actual Callers:


1. Can a brother make an injury claim against a sister after a car accident claim?
My kids were involved in an accident in November. My son was driving and was cited for improper left turn. The Chevy Aveo they were in was struck in the passenger side by a guy driving a pickup truck. I don't think the other driver was cited but I am not sure. My daughter, the passenger in the car, was knocked unconscious and this resulted in an ambulance ride and ER evaluation at Children's including a CT scan. They diagnosed her with a concussion.

 I have Progressive. The car was insured only for liability, but we carried medical payments of $5000 per person on it. My primary health insurance, United Healthcare, picked up the bill for the ambulance, ER, pediatrics, and chiropractor visits. Now I'm under subrogation to them for that amount, which, at last check, should fall under the $5000 total.I have been frustrated because the Progressive claim agent for the medical stuff has been terribly hard to find. When I was in the accident you helped me with, the at-fault driver had Progressive and Progressive pestered me - a lot. I was expecting that since I am the policy holder and that my family members (one of whom is old enough to be listed on the policy) were in the car, we'd be treated together. Instead, I have received materials addressing my son's care, but NOTHING regarding my daughter. Phone calls go unreturned, etc. It seems she's fallen into a gray area of neither being the insured nor the other driver.

 My question is this - do I need to treat them as an "opposing party" for the purposes of getting this claim settled and getting United paid out? Or, is it reasonable to expect that they should be handling this smoothly because she's part of the family that is insured and that it's simply a poor customer service issue? I'd like to be able to get this resolved, but I don't know how this works in this instance and what my next steps should be."

The general questions asked here are: 1) can a sibling claim against a sibling for causing the crash and recover under the liability insurance policy? 2) How does medical payments coverage play into it?

1) Yes, in Georgia a sibling may sue a sibling for liability for injuries. The rules are different for unemancipated children suing their parents and vice versa.

“Every person may recover for torts committed to himself, his wife, his child, his ward, or his servant.” OCGA § 51–1–9. Emancipated children may sue their parents and parents may sue their emancipated children, Davis v. Cox, 131 Ga.App. 611, 614, 206 S.E.2d 655 (1974). The appellant is an emancipated child who is being **857 sued by a sibling.FN1 The doctrine of family immunity is not involved.

FN1. Actions between siblings who are minors have been uniformly allowed. Prosser and Keaton on Torts (5th ed.1984) § 122 at 906."

Arnold v. Arnold 259 Ga. 150 (1989)


2) How does medical payments play in? Here the family has a $5,000 medical payments policy that also covers the victim sister. If the medpay pays out on her claim, Progressive will get a credit for that payment and will not have to double pay.

3) Yes, treat Progressive as the opposing party but understand, you still have a duty to cooperate under the insurance contract.

 





Copyright © 2013 by Christopher M. Simon, All Rights Reserved