I've been in an accident. What should I do?
Car Crash Do’s:
1. Take Pictures. Take lots of pictures. Take pictures of all cars involved in the crash. Take the pictures from multiple angles and multiple distances. Take pictures of the roadway, skid marks, and debris on the roadway. Take pictures of applicable street signs such as stop signs, no-turn signs, etc. If you have bruising, cuts, scrapes, or abrasions, take pictures of them every day until they go away.
2. Get the Names of Witnesses. Independent witnesses could be your only way of proving who was at fault for the car crash. The insurance company will almost always claim that you were at fault, or at least partially at fault. Get the witnesses’ name, address, and telephone number.
3. File a Police Report. Sometimes the at-fault driver will ask you not to call the police. Don’t listen to them; call the police! Insurance companies look at car crashes without a police report as being very minor, and thus not worthy of a reasonable settlement. Besides, Florida law requires a crash report on all car crashes that involve injuries.
4. Take Notes. If the person who caused the car crash apologizes or admits his wrongdoing, write it down. It’s best if you can take down his exact words. A person’s apology or admission of fault can be used against him or her in the future.
5. Go to the Right Doctor, Right Away. Don’t delay. Timely documentation of your injuries is critical. If you don’t go to the doctor within 14 days after a crash, you may lose $10,000 in PIP benefits. Not all doctors are created equal. Most doctors are excellent clinicians and do wonderful work for their patients. However, not all doctors know how to properly handle and document treatment arising from a car crash. Many primary care physicians who routinely handle colds, checkups, cholesterol monitoring, and other general medical treatment are ill-equipped to handle car crash injuries. There are many doctors who specialize in treating people who have been injured in car crashes. Those doctors include chiropractors, orthopedists, neurologists, and pain management specialists. We prefer doctors whose practices are a blend of car crash victims and managed care patients. We do not recommend treating with doctors who only handle car crash claims. Also, be cautious about going to the emergency room. Hospital emergency rooms are extraordinarily expensive and can use up most or all of your available personal injury protection insurance benefits in a single visit. Obviously, if you have a life threatening injury you should go to the emergency room. For a list of some quality doctors we have worked with, click here.
6. Use Your Health Insurance. Although your PIP coverage is the primary insurance used to pay for your medical bills arising from a car crash, if you have health insurance you should use it as well. PIP insurance only covers 80% of your doctors’ bills up to $10,000 (and maybe only $2,500). You can use your health insurance to pay medical bills that are not covered by PIP. Make sure you provide your health insurance card to each doctor, MRI facility, and other medical provider you treat with. In most cases, your medical providers will have a contracted rate with your health insurance company, which means that your medical bills will be lower. Your health insurance company will be entitled to be paid back from your settlement, but it’s still better than having to pay outstanding medical bills that would otherwise be much higher. Additionally, if you have health insurance and you fail to use it, the car insurance company will claim that you failed to mitigate your damages.
7. Hire the Right Lawyer, Right Away. “Choosing the right lawyer is no accident.” Virtually all personal injury lawyers will handle your claim on a contingency fee basis. Just because a law firm has lots of billboards and television commercials, does not mean they are the right lawyer for your claim. You have the right to know your lawyer’s education, training, and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer if he or she will go to court to protect your rights if necessary. The lawyers at Swope Law, P.L. have successfully handled more than 1,000 auto crash claims over the last 15 years. To find out why you should hire Swope Law, P.L., click here.
8. Keep Logs. Insurance companies are very effective at dragging out and delaying the resolution of your crash claim. Claims that can’t be settled oftentimes need to be litigated. The litigation process can take a year or more. Keeping the following logs will help you prove your damages:
a. Pain Log. Keep a log of the pain you experience. Your pain log should include: 1) intensity (how bad is your pain on a scale from 1 to 10); 2) frequency (how often do you experience the pain); 3) location (what part of your body hurts); and 4) type (is the pain stabbing, dull ache, burning, etc.). Over time, your pain symptoms will likely change. Documenting those changes is crucial to your claim. Here’s a sample pain log you can use.
b. Lost Wage Log. Keep a log of your lost wages. Your lost wage log should include: 1) the dates you missed work; 2) the number of hours you missed on each date; 3) your hourly rate of pay; and 4) the reason you missed work, i.e. doctor’s visit, pain, etc. Missed work due to appearances at depositions or court are not compensable and need not be logged. If your employer keeps records of time you miss at work, you should obtain copies of those documents to support your log entries. You are entitled to compensation for lost wages even if your employer paid you sick pay. Here’s a sample lost wage log you can use.
c. Out of Pocket Expenses. Keep a log of any expenses you pay with your own funds. Common out of pocket expenses include physician co-pays, prescription medications, and over-the-counter medications, i.e. Advil. Here’s a sample out-of-pocket expense log you can use.
I've been in an accident. What shouldn't I do?
Car Crash Don’ts:
1. Don’t Give a Recorded Statement to the Insurance Company. Many insurance companies will try to get you to give them a recorded statement about the car crash. Don’t do it! They will use your own words against you in the future. Insurance adjusters are trained to ask questions that will benefit them, not you. Obviously, you should never admit wrongdoing. Call us at (727) 725-0200 any time of the day or night if an insurance company is trying to force you to give a recorded statement.
2. Don’t Settle without Consulting a Lawyer. Many insurance companies will offer you a few hundred dollars for the “inconvenience” you were caused by their insured. Don’t take it! The insurance company will require you to sign a release that will prevent you from recovering money for your injuries. Many people who are seriously injured in car crashes do not realize how badly they are hurt for many days or weeks after the crash. Only after you have consulted with a qualified doctor who has performed all appropriate tests on you – and you know the full extent of your injuries – should you consider settling your claim. You should consult with a qualified lawyer who is experienced in handling car crash claims before you settle your claim. The lawyers at Swope Law, P.L. can advise you about your rights and help you maximize your financial recovery.
3. Don’t Stop Going to the Doctor. You should continue going to the doctor as long as your doctor recommends that you continue treating. Significant gaps in treatment, missing doctor’s appointments, failing to undergo recommended procedures, and failing to take prescribed medications can reduce the value of your claim. A negligent defendant is not obligated to pay damages if the damages were caused or made worse by the injured person’s failure to follow the doctor’s recommendations.
4. Social Media Posts. Don’t post things about your car crash on your Facebook page or Twitter feed. Also, don’t post pictures of yourself until you have consulted with a lawyer. We’ve seen relatively innocent pictures come back to haunt our clients’ claims.
I'm not happy with the lawyer I hired. What can I do?
Don’t make a $10,000 mistake! Don’t hire a lawyer to represent you in your crash claim until you know your rights.
1. Attorney’s Fees. You don’t have to agree to a set percentage. Most lawyers charge 33% to 40% of the amount recovered. At Swope Law, we frequently represent clients for lower percentages than those charged by other lawyers. Call us at (727) 725-0200 to discuss your case and learn how much you can save in attorney’s fees by hiring us.
2. Right to Change Lawyers. If you are dissatisfied with the legal representation you are receiving, you have the right to terminate your lawyer and hire a new one. If the termination is for “good cause,” you may not even owe the lawyer a fee. Many clients who hire us to handle their crash claims were previously represented by lawyers who failed to return phone calls or otherwise ignored their clients. If our clients owe a fee to a prior lawyer, we pay the former lawyer from our share of the recovery, not yours.
3. Know Your Lawyer. You have the right to know your lawyer’s education, training, and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer if he or she will go to court to protect your rights if necessary. The lawyers at Swope Law, P.L. have successfully handled more than 1,000 auto crash claims over the past 15 years. Scott Swope was a Sheriff’s Office traffic homicide investigator and uses his training and experience handling fatal car crashes when handling his clients’ claims.
4. Referrals. Your lawyer must tell you whether he or she plans to refer your case to another lawyer to handle. Be careful! Some of the “big box” lawyers who advertise heavily never take their cases to court; they refer them to other lawyers if they can’t get them settled. The insurance companies know which lawyers go to court and you should too. At Swope Law, P.L., we handle all of our cases in-house from start to finish so you will not have to worry about your claim being transferred to another lawyer who knows nothing about you.
5. Costs and Expenses. Ask your lawyer how costs and expenses are handled. Do they charge for making copies and sending faxes? If they don’t recover money for you, will they ask you to reimburse them for their costs? At Swope Law, P.L., we never charge for making copies or sending faxes, and we never ask our clients to pay us anything out of their own pocket. When we are successful in recovering money for our clients (and most times we are), then we get reimbursed for our out-of-pocket expenses out of the insurance proceeds recovered.
6. Settlements. You have the right to make your own settlement decisions. Don’t let your lawyer pressure you into settling your claim for less money than is appropriate under the circumstances. You also have the right to know where every penny of your settlement money is going. At Swope Law, P.L., we present each of our clients with a closing statement that shows where every penny is going and how much our client is going to receive.
7. Information. You have the right to know what is going on with your claim. Some lawyers fail to return their clients phone calls or fail to keep their clients informed about the status of their claim. Some lawyers make their clients talk to a paralegal, rather than talking to the clients themselves. At Swope Law, P.L., our clients have 24 hour access to their file, which is maintained electronically in a password protected environment on our website. Our clients also receive the personal cell phone numbers and email addresses of our lawyers so they can call their lawyer 24 hours a day.
8. The Florida Bar. All lawyers in Florida are governed by The Florida Bar. If you believe that your lawyer is acting inappropriately, you may file a complaint with The Florida Bar by calling (800) 342-8060.
How much is my claim worth?
I've been in an accident and the person who caused the accident did not have insurance. What should I do?
First, you need to make sure that the person really doesn’t have insurance. Under Florida law, both the driver and the owner of a motor vehicle are liable for injuries caused by their negligence. Therefore, even if the driver doesn’t have insurance, you need to find out if the owner has insurance. Also, you need to find out if the driver was on the job or on a mission or errand for another person or company. Under Florida law, employers are liable for the actions of their employees and agents acting within the course and scope of their employment.
You should be entitled to some payment from an insurance company even if the at-fault driver had no insurance. Your own PIP insurance may be available to pay up to $10,000 in medical bills and lost wages. Additionally, if you were smart enough to purchase uninsured motorist insurance then you can pursue a claim against your own insurance carrier. Click here for more information.
Should I use my health insurance for treatment I receive relating to my accident?
Although your PIP coverage is the primary insurance used to pay for your medical bills arising from a car crash, if you have health insurance you should use it as well. PIP insurance only covers 80% of your doctors’ bills up to $10,000. You can use your health insurance to pay medical bills that are not covered by PIP. Make sure you provide your health insurance card to each doctor, MRI facility, and other medical provider you treat with. In most cases, your medical providers will have a contracted rate with your health insurance company, which means that your medical bills will be lower. Your health insurance company will be entitled to be paid back from your settlement, but it’s still better than having to pay outstanding medical bills that would otherwise be much higher. Additionally, if you have health insurance and you fail to use it, the car insurance company will claim that you failed to mitigate your damages.