Top ten considerations for avoiding mistakes in an accident case in Indiana:
Most people would prefer not to go to the doctor or hospital. However, when you have been harmed by the fault of another person, it is very important to seek prompt medical attention for your injuries. If you decide to bring an accident claim, the documentation of your injuries in hospital and doctor records will be the strongest evidence available to prove to an insurance company (and if need be, a jury) not only what injuries you sustained, but your pain, as well.
Oftentimes, a person will go to the doctor for the first few weeks or months following an accident and then, even though he continues to have pain and symptoms from his injuries, only returns for treatment months later. It may be that the person feels the treatment is not helping. The insurance company for the responsible person will invariably seize upon a delay or gap in treatment to try to discredit or downplay your claims. The insurance company will tell you, if you did not see a doctor for a three-month period, then you must not have been hurting enough to warrant medical treatment, and we shouldn't have to pay for any treatment you received after the delay. A delay or gap in treatment will also permit the insurance company to attempt to blame a subsequent accident or event for aggravating the original injury and to try to deny payment for additional medical treatment and damages.
It is very important for you to comply with your doctor's recommendations. Failure to do so will leave you vulnerable to a charge that you did not recover as quickly or fully from your injuries as you might have because you did not follow your doctor's orders.
Similarly, failing to keep doctor's appointments, including physical therapy appointments, is something that insurance companies and their lawyers will focus upon in an effort to undermine your claims. It may become difficult to make it to all appointments, especially if you require treatment over several months or even years. Arranging transportation, time off from work, and juggling other obligations, on top of hurting from your injuries, can lead to feeling overwhelmed. If you must miss an appointment, always call to cancel, rather than simply failing to show up. If possible, reschedule or make up any missed appointment.
A blanket authorization will allow an insurance company to obtain not only your records related to the collision, but all of your past records which they will scrutinize for any past treatment you received that might serve to weaken your claim.
For example, you may have had a prior shoulder injury which required surgery, but for which you have had no treatment for years. If you are in an auto collision and suffer a neck injury, the insurance company may well focus upon your prior unrelated shoulder injury and contend that the symptoms caused by the collision are not new but merely a continuation or aggravation of the former problem. This is a common tactic in their efforts to evade responsibility.
While you may become obligated to disclose prior injuries or medical conditions if a lawsuit is filed in your case, it is not to your advantage to do so unless it is required.
You will need to provide copies of your medical records and bills and documentation to support any other aspect of your claim for your accident-related injuries. However, signing a medical records authorization is not a condition of bringing a claim.
Such a statement is only likely to hurt your claim, as the insurance adjuster is trained to try to get you to say things that they can later use against you, when you seek to settle your case. This is not a condition of receiving a settlement.
For example, the description of how the collision occurred you give the adjuster may (unknown to you) differ in some way from what you told the investigating police officer. The insurance company will seek to exploit any inconsistencies in the statements you give of the events surrounding the collision. The fewer opportunities you provide for the insurance company to find such inconsistencies, the stronger your claim will be.
Important rules determine how long after an accident a person must bring a claim. A lawyer skilled in representing persons in personal injury matters can properly advise you on how these rules apply to your situation. As a general rule, in Indiana, a lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date of the accident; otherwise, the claim is likely to be forfeited. Further, if the claim involves a government entity (perhaps because a government-owned vehicle was involved or improper road signs or design played a role in causing the collision), it will also be necessary much earlier to serve a notice of potential claim on the correct entities.
Also, early involvement of a lawyer can be crucial to the proper investigation of an accident, including taking statements from witnesses, gathering and preserving evidence, and taking photographs. Waiting until the two-year deadline is close to expiring before contacting a lawyer may affect the lawyer's ability to properly investigate your claim and discover and locate all of the persons potentially at fault in causing your accident. Additionally, a lawyer can offer important guidance regarding a variety of matters relating to your claim including the submission and payment of medical bills, medical treatment, ways to document how the injuries have disrupted your life, lost wages, and other matters.
When you bring a lawsuit as a result of an accident, your life becomes an open book. The insurance company for the other person and his lawyers are entitled to gather information regarding you in just about any area of your life, even if that information would not be admissible in court. You might believe that a prior accident in which you were involved has no relevance to your present accident claim and this might very well be the case. However, it is very important that you reveal any such accident to your lawyer because your opponents are likely to discover it on their own and, more importantly, they will seize upon your failure to reveal the prior accident and charge you with attempting to conceal the information.
A claim of concealment such as this can serve to undermine the credibility of your statements regarding the current accident and your injuries.
As with past accidents, it is important to be very upfront and honest with your lawyer regarding all past injuries you may have suffered, even those you believe are totally unrelated to the injuries you sustained in the current accident. In order for your lawyer to properly distinguish unrelated past injuries from your current injuries, the lawyer must be aware of the past injuries in the first place. You should assume that the lawyer who is representing the other person will discover, through your medical records or otherwise, any past injuries.
For such information to first come out in your sworn testimony, without you having first discussed it with your lawyer, is likely to be very damaging to your claims. Your credibility with all persons involved in your claim—attorneys, insurance adjusters, doctors, other medical providers, and jurors (should the case go to trial)—is of the greatest importance.
You may have a claim for lost income as a result of the injuries that you sustained in an accident because of time you were unable to work or as a result of medical treatment. Serious injuries may limit your ability to return to your prior job duties or, in some cases, any work at all.
In order for your lawyer to properly assist you in bringing a claim for your loss of income, it is important that your income records and tax returns support such a claim. If you bring such a claim, the insurance company and its lawyers will be entitled to copies of all of your income records, tax returns, and employment-related records. It is strongly advisable that you immediately acknowledge to your lawyer any problems that may exist with your tax returns, including underreporting of your income or mistakes of which you are aware. You should assume that your opponents will pore over all of your records very carefully.
If you conceal such problems from your lawyer, he will be poorly equipped to assist you if such problems are revealed. And, your credibility on other aspects of your claim will be damaged.
The extent to which your injuries have affected your daily activities is one of the most important parts of your claim. These activities may include employment, house and yard work, recreational activities, and ability to care for children or other persons. It is very important that you be honest with your lawyer and the opposing party regarding how the injuries have affected your ability to engage in regular activities.
If you make claims of impairment to these activities that are not supported by your medical records and other evidence, including witness testimony, you will be vulnerable to a charge of exaggerating your injuries. In some cases, insurance companies hire investigators to photograph or film a person engaging in activities he alleges he is unable to do. Any misrepresentation of your activity level can serve to undermine the legitimacy of your claim.
The insurance company for the other person may approach you and offer a quick settlement. The money, perhaps several thousand dollars, might seem like a lot at the time.
However, if you:
(1) are still receiving medical treatment for your injuries,
(2) have not yet fully recovered from the injuries, or
(3) do not yet know the full extent and permanency of your injuries, you are vulnerable to settling your case for far less than you may be entitled.
Your law firm should obtain the necessary medical, economic and other information necessary to properly assess the full value of your case. Only after such an assessment has been made, should they recommend approaching the insurance company to discuss a possible settlement. If the insurance company is not willing to pay a fair settlement, then filing a lawsuit is likely to be necessary.
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WayNet Member: Burton & Simkin Attorneys
Member Website: http://www.burtonandsimkin.com
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