During just a few minutes of watching television last night, I must have seen 10 commercials featuring lawyers talking about getting money for all sorts of personal injury cases – drug defects, auto wrecks, trucking wrecks, and medical negligence. The commercials make it seem awfully easy to get insurance companies to pay big money for these types of cases. But I know from experience with my clients that this perception is simply not reality; insurance companies are sophisticated, and they do not easily pay big money on claims for personal injury. In fact, we too often see the opposite: folks make mistakes trying to handle their injury case and the insurance company was using those mistakes against them and refusing to pay them a fair amount. Or, sometimes, the insurance company denied the claim completely.
Here are some mistakes that can be very costly to a person who has been injured:
- Missing Statutes of Limitation and Other Deadlines: Lots of folks seem to know that there are statutes of limitations for personal injury cases in Georgia. These vary by the specific type of case. But many people do not know that there are all sorts of other deadlines that may apply to a claim, such as ante litem notice periods for claims against government entities, insurance claim notification periods (including uninsured or underinsured motorist claims), statutes of repose, and other deadlines that must be met. Sometimes it seems like insurance companies wait to negotiate fairly with folks in the hope that they will miss some important deadline.
- Talking to the Insurance Company: Insurance adjusters will usually call the injured person after an accident, and it’s not normally a courtesy call; instead the call is usually more like an interview or interrogation about the personal injury case and the person’s medical condition, and it may be recorded. This can cause trouble for an injured person. For example, sometimes folks will say they are fine before they even see a doctor even though they are in pain. It can take days or weeks or even longer for some injuries to become symptomatic, but by then the insurance company may have already tape-recorded you saying you were “fine” and they may use that against you. Keep in mind, though, that you may have a duty to speak with your own insurance company if you are making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim.
- Not Preserving Evidence: Even in an age of smart phones with good cameras built in, it amazes me how often people do not take lots of pictures of a wreck scene and the vehicles involved in the wreck. Some trucking companies even use such things as “Rapid Response Teams” to document the scene of a wreck as soon as possible, sometimes within just a few hours of the wreck. Evidence of this sort is very important because you will probably need to show the insurance company the damage done to your vehicle as well as the configuration of the roadway to show that their insured was negligent. You will also want to get the names of any witnesses and, if possible, locate any video cameras that may have captured any images of the wreck or the vehicles before the wreck.
These are some of the more common issues folks encounter after suffering a personal injury and having an awareness of these potential pitfalls will help you take the right steps to avoid them.