Given how common automobile accidents and resulting personal injuries have become, it is not surprising that the process by which claims in such cases are resolved has also become well established. Immediately after the accident has occurred and up to the time a lawsuit for negligence is filed against the insured, at-fault driver, an entire process has evolved between accident victims and insurance companies for the settlement of personal injury claims.
Notify All Interested Parties
The first act an injured party should do after an accident is to notify all parties who might have an interest in a personal injury claim. This includes some form of notice to all parties who may have been responsible for the accident. Once you have let responsible parties know that you have been injured and plan to submit a claim, those interested parties will likely be unable to later claim that you have surprised them unfairly with your claim. In addition, early notice will often increase the chances of settling the claim more quickly.
Seek Medical Treatment
If there are injuries from the accident that require immediate medical attention, this is of primary importance. Be advised that your objective after the accident is to obtain maximum medical improvement from the accident-related injuries. Sometimes that means a return to your condition prior to the accident. In other situations, that may not be possible, in which case one recovers as best they can.
The deadline by which you must file a legal claim against the other driver is likely to be at least one to three years, known as the statute of limitations. In light of this, it is usually best to take the time to exhaust all appropriate medical treatment to heal those injuries. Typically one should wait for your doctor to release your from treatment before you start to worry about legal issues. However, it is likely that the insurance company for the other driver will attempt to contact you shortly after the accident occurred.
Either on your own or with the recommended help of your DC car accident lawyer, start to gather information that is relevant to the accident. This evidence might include anything that would indicate how the accident occurred, such as weather conditions, dangerous street conditions, skid marks, and property damage to your vehicle. Medical records and bills are also evidence of the nature of the injuries sustained and the cost to treat them. If the other driver was charged with a traffic offense, you may want to obtain the police report and the outcome of the charges against the other driver.
The Demand Letter
Once medical treatment has been exhausted and the relevant evidence supporting your accident claim has been gathered, you and your attorney can work together to formulate a demand upon the at-fault driver and his or her insurance company. This demand letter should factually outline how the accident occurred, the injuries sustained by you, the medical treatment that was required, the amount of the medical bills incurred for treatment, and any other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident. In addition, an accident victim may be entitled to claim a sum for pain and suffering, which is generally added into the total amount demanded.
Once the demand letter has been delivered to the insurance company, it is quite common for there to be a period of negotiation that ensues, where offers and counter-offers are made back and forth. Most claims are settled at this point and, in exchange for a release of liability, a settlement check may be delivered to you and your attorney. If a settlement is not reached and you continue to believe your claim has merit, it may be necessary for your attorney to file a lawsuit with the appropriate court seeking damages.
Thanks to our friends and co-contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into the personal injury claims process.