For people seriously injured in an accident...
I think these are the top 10 ways an injured person can really hurt a car accident, truck accident, or motorcycle accident case without trying.
1) Talk to the insurance company without a lawyer.
Let’s say you were hurt in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence. In the legal industry, you would be called the “plaintiff” and the negligent person would be called the “defendant.” Sometimes after an accident, the defendant’s insurance company will call the you, the plaintiff, for a statement. I’ve seen many plaintiffs view this as a good sign and interpret this to mean that the defendant’s insurance company thinks their insured has screwed up and if the right thing is said, the defendant’s insurance company will be making payment to you without much effort. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The purpose of the statement is more than just to get your side of the story. It is to commit you to a story and hopefully get you to commit to some version that will leave a liability defense or injury defense open for their defendant. Please remember if you get a call from the insurance company for the person that caused your injuries that insurance company is looking to protect their insured and their own pocketbook, not you. If an insurance company calls you, it means that if their client is hit for any money award because of your injuries, they are on the hook for the money. This call is all about the money. This insurance company is trying to get you to commit to a story that will limit the money they may have to pay later. Don’t fall for it.
2) You think the defendant’s insurance company is your friend.
The defendant’s insurance company is definitely not your friend. They may be friendly. They may sound concerned or even be genuinely concerned about you. At the end of the day, however, their job is to protect their money. They are on the other side of your case. It’s the way the system works. You have to protect your rights and the defendant and his insurance company have to protect their rights.
3) Tell the insurance company you’re not sure if this accident caused your injuries.
Any statement along these lines will come back to haunt you. If it is early in the process, your insurance company or perhaps the defendant’s insurance company will call you and almost certainly ask you about the accident, your injuries, and any injuries you may have had before this accident that are similar to what your suffering from now. If any insurance company gets you to make a statement that you are not really sure whether this accident caused your injuries, you have just said something that will be written down, and follow you around for a very long time and probably greatly reduce the amount of money you would otherwise have gotten in the way of a settlement, or even with a jury verdict, on account of your injuries.
4) Tell your doctor not to give you any work restrictions so you can keep working.
This is a big one. Injuries from accidents are always unexpected and many times people have bills that need to keep on being paid. I’ve seen a lot of hard-working people tell their doctor to give them “no restrictions” from working because they need to keep paying the bills. In the short term, this will get your bills paid. In the long term, it might severely cut into the amount of money you would have otherwise gotten for your injuries. If you’re testifying at a deposition or trial at a later date along the lines that “I told my doctor to return me to work so I could keep working but he did not really want me to go” you can see where this testimony sounds self-serving. The written record will have your doctor’s note saying “no restrictions” from work and that can be awfully hard to get around, if not impossible.
5) Wait too long to go to the doctor.
This is another really big one. In reality, your insurance company is going to use your decision to seek medical treatment quickly or any delay in seeking medical treatment against you. If you seek treatment immediately, I have seen the insurance company argue that you are litigation prone and you had a lawsuit right in mind from the get-go. However, I’ve also seen the insurance company argue that your accident could not have caused your injury since you did not seek medical treatment immediately. Either way, the insurance company will try to make your decision look bad. Nevertheless, in my experience, I think it is much worse to wait to get medical treatment. If you need medical treatment, go get it immediately. Please do not wait thinking this will get better on its own. At least you can start the record.
6) Tell your doctor you’re not sure if this car accident caused your injury.
If your accident caused your injuries, you must tell your doctor point-blank that the accident caused your injury. You cannot say it might be something else. You cannot say that it might have happened somewhere else. You cannot say this might be an aggravation of what you had 10 years ago. When you make a statement to your doctor, it is going to be written down as if you had made it to an insurance company. I encourage everyone to be absolutely truthful about what they tell their doctor, and if you have an accident that caused injury, you must make that known. You have got to stay firm in this statement. After all, if you are not firm in your opinion, if and when the time comes, you can expect your doctor won’t be able to testify that your injuries arose out of your accident.
7) Let the insurance company’s nurse or case manager direct your medical care.
You have an absolute right to confidentiality and physician patient privilege with your doctor. You have the right to seek out and accept or deny any treatment for your injury. You do not have to let anyone else direct your medical care, and no one else has an absolute right to attend your doctor visits unless you say so.
If a case manager or a nurse wants to be in the room when you are talking with your doctor and receiving treatment, and insists they accompany you, you have an absolute right to say no. If they tell you that this will affect whether the insurance company will pay for your medical bills that should tell you something. It should tell you that that insurance company is already playing “hardball.” Your visit with your doctor should be your concern and no one else’s. If your doctor insists on talking to your insurance company against your wishes, it might be time to choose another doctor.
8) Attend the insurance company “independent medical examination (IME)” without asking any questions and believing this will make you look really honest.
I have got news for you; the insurance company doctors are not in the business of supporting your case. You do know the insurance company pays the doctor? I’m not saying these doctors are dishonest but I do think their opinions tend to be very one-sided in favor of the person paying their bill. I have seen thousands of these reports over the years and I have only seen a few reports from one of these examinations that actually favor the injured person’s case. There is one purpose and one purpose only to these examinations. They are defense medical examinations. The insurance company will always call them an “independent medical examination” (IME), but they are nothing of the sort. They are not independent in any way. How could they be? The insurance company has picked the doctor, pays for the doctor, arranges the appointment, and the doctor has a lot of repeat business from the insurance company. Does that sound independent? Talk to your lawyer before you go see the insurance company’s doctor.
9) Staying with your favorite doctor even though this doctor doesn’t support your case.
I can certainly understand this one. When I like a doctor, I want to continue treatment with that doctor. However, in the context of a car accident, motorcycle accident, or truck accident case, if a doctor is making clear that your case is not going to be supported; your path to reasonable money arising out of your injuries is going to be long and difficult. You really need your doctor to support your case. If your doctor is not going to go to bat for you and write reports or testify that your injuries are significant because of your accident and deserving of compensation, the insurance company and their lawyer certainly are not going to believe that your injuries are significant and deserving of compensation. In a like manner, a jury is not going to believe that your injuries are significant and worthy of money. You just cannot stick with a doctor that does not like litigation or, in particular your case. There are a lot of fine doctors out there and you should be treated by someone that is going to support your case.
10) Have the wrong type of insurance coverage long before you are in an accident.
In 1973, the legislature passed the no-fault act. This law established minimum bodily injury liability coverages at “20/40.” The “20/40” means that a defendant’s insurance company is obligated to pay a maximum of $20,000 per injured person and $40,000 for all injuries that occur in an accident. That number has not changed since 1973! I have got to hand it to the power of the insurance lobby because I don’t know of any product or service that costs the same today as it did in 1973.
There are a lot of people driving out there with this minimum coverage (or no coverage). If your injuries are worth more than $20,000, that means the insurance company for the defendant is on the hook for the first $20,000 as a result of injuries from your motorcycle accident, car accident, or truck accident. If your case is worth more than $20,000, the balance must be collected from the defendant’s pocket. Good luck if the defendant has no job, no money, and no collectible assets.
The good news is the availability of fairly inexpensive coverages that protect you in the event you’re injured by someone with minimum coverage or no coverage at all. These insurance coverages are called “uninsured motorists” and “underinsured” motorist”. Make sure you talk to your agent about these coverages and make sure you buy them.