If you have been injured in a car accident in Seminole, you will likely have questions about the legal steps to take. At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we specialize in auto accidents in Seminole and have handled countless car accident claims there. Our office is only a few minutes from Seminole, so that makes us one of the best located law firms to be able to help.
This article seeks to walk an injured person through the process from the date of the injury to the conclusion of the claim. There are many steps along the way that you will need to address, but they are all standard under Florida law.
Seeking Emergency Medical Treatment
If you have a question as to whether you should go to the hospital or not, err on the side of caution. Because your no fault or PIP insurance will pay up to $10,000 of medical bills, your hospital visit will be covered. If your injuries clearly do not rise to the level of emergency room care, then I recommend to go to an Urgent Care. This immediate medical treatment is important for two reasons-you can get your injuries checked out and it prevents the insurance company from claiming that you weren’t seriously injured.
Handling the Damage to Your Car
After the car accident you will also have questions about how to get your car fixed, how to get a rental car, or if your car is a total loss, how to get a check for the value of the vehicle. I normally allow my clients to deal directly with the property damage adjusters. But, I understand that this process is not always easy. Some companies delay for extended periods of time claiming that they are still conducting an investigation. Sometimes, they don’t let you go to the auto body shop of your choice. The process can be frustrating. But, if you are patient, it normally works out. If you run the repairs through the at-fault driver’s insurance company, they will give you a rental car. If you run it through your own, you will have to pay the deductible and only get a rental car if you have paid for that coverage. The good news is that your insurance company should be able to recover the deductible from the at-fault company.
If your car was a total loss, go to kbb.com and find out what it was worth. If you had any aftermarket extras on the car, you will need to show proof. You can normally negotiate a little on the buy-out price. One word of caution, however. Your car is only worth fair market value, not what you owe on it. So, if you owe more than your car is worth, the check will go to the lienholder and you will still be responsible to pay off the balance. I know this isn’t fair, but I always try to make up that money out of the settlement of the injury case.
Speaking to Insurance Companies
After the car accident, you will be bombarded by phone calls from insurance adjusters. Knowing who you need to talk to can be confusing if you have never been through the process before. As a general rule, the only insurance company that you must speak to is your own. That may mean a property damage adjuster and/or a PIP adjuster. According to the terms of your insurance contract, you have an obligation to report the accident within a reasonable time and to cooperate with their investigation. You do not have an obligation to speak to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. After every car accident, I advise to hire an attorney immediately so that all communication with the insurance company will go through his or her office. While there is nothing wrong with setting up a claim or speaking to the other insurance company, it is better that your attorney handles those tasks or, at least supervises the communication.
Organizing Medical Treatment
Getting the right medical providers and in a timely fashion is crucial to any claim. Medical care is the most important area when it comes to an insurance company deciding how much to pay. There are several pitfalls when it comes to medical treatment that people should avoid. First, do not try to get an appointment with your family doctor or general practitioner. Most will set the appointment days later, then when you show up and tell them your injuries are from a car accident, they will send you away. Family care doctors are simply not set up to handle car accident injuries and the insurance billing that comes along with it. And, if they actually do see you, they usually just tell you that you will be fine and prescribe you muscle relaxers.
The two most important factors of your medical treatment are to avoid gaps in treatment and to see a specialist. As far as the gaps in treatment, you cannot go days or weeks in between appointments. You will lose money on your case and the insurance company will claim that you can’t be that badly injured if you can go that long in between appointments. As far as seeing a specialist, only doctors who handle car accident injuries are going to know what needs to be done to treat your injuries properly and document them for the insurance company. Using the above example about seeing a family doctor, I guarantee that the doctor simply took an x-ray. But, only MRIs can accurately find soft tissue damage like disc herniations are bulging discs that are normally the cause of pain. Specialists know to send you out for an MRI or any other diagnostic test to find the source of your pain. If you have questions about which specialist to see, please contact my office for a referral. We work with several reputable doctors in or near Seminole that will be convenient for you to see.
Sending a Demand for Damages
At the conclusion of the medical treatment, your car accident attorney will send out a demand for damages to the insurance company. It takes some time for the lawyer to update all of the bills, records and liens, so you must be patient. Normally, most of the records will already be in their possession, but they still have to be updated. Every bill, record or lien that you don’t send to the insurance company is a dollar that is lost.
The demand has several parts. I start with a description of the accident and why there is liability. I then discuss the injuries and medical treatment. I then list all of the bills, liens and out of pocket expenses. If there are lost wages, I discuss that as well. I also like to include a section about my client. I give his or her background and how the accident has affected their life. I then conclude with a demand for the damages. This money demand is based on the injuries, the bills, the future bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. I normally give the insurance company 30 days to review the demand and respond. If I can negotiate and maximize the case, I settle. If the offer is not fair or the insurance company delays unreasonably, I move to the next step in the process.
Filing a Lawsuit
The filing of a lawsuit is not a decision to be taken lightly, but it may be necessary depending on the circumstances. While the vast majority of all cases end without a lawsuit, no lawyer can control an unreasonable insurance company. If the insurance adjuster undervalues the case or refuses to recognize who caused the accident, then the only way to hold them in check is to file a lawsuit. During a lawsuit, written discovery is exchanged such as written answers called interrogatories. We also will exchange documents with the other side. Eventually, sworn statements called depositions will be taken of everyone who was involved in the crash. If the case cannot be resolved after this information is uncovered, the judge will order the parties to a mediation. A mediation is not a trial. It is an informal settlement process where both sides try to reach a settlement amount. If the case does not settle at this point, it is set for a jury trial. Very few cases actually make it to a jury trial, but sometimes it is necessary when an insurance company is stubborn or greedy.
Contact a Seminole, Florida Car Accident Attorney
Our law firm has been representing people who have been injured in car accidents in Seminole for over 60 years. We live and work in the area and know all of the doctors who would provide medical treatment for your injuries. Most importantly, we have a history of winning.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Seminole, you should speak to the best car accident attorney possible. We would be honored to speak to you about your claim. Our consultations are always free and we are happy to speak to you in person at our office, at your home, or over the telephone.