Q. What should I do immediately following a vehicular accident?
A. If you have been in a vehicular accident, your first concern should be complying with the police investigation and presenting proper proof of insurance to the investigating officer. You should give a full and detailed explanation of the accident to the investigating officer and should request information on the other driver and how to obtain an accident report. It would certainly be advisable to obtain a copy of the accident report as soon as possible. If possible, it would also be advisable to obtain the insurance information of the other driver at the scene of the accident. This would depend upon the level of cooperation you encounter from the at-fault driver.
After complying with your legal obligations at the scene, the next concern should be your health. If it is necessary, fully explain all of the problems and symptoms you are having to the nurses and doctors in the emergency room. If this is not possible, you might want to seek attention from your family doctor or even a walk-in clinic as soon as possible in order both to document the claim and to obtain relief from any symptoms you might be having.
If the accident is a serious one, then I think it is advisable to contact a lawyer after taking care of both these prior matters. By “serious,” I mean that if you feel that you will need medical treatment for a matter of weeks or months, or if you have missed time from work due to the accident, I think it is advisable to contact a personal injury attorney. I would welcome your call if you feel this would be helpful and if you feel your claim and injuries are serious enough to warrant legal representation.
Q. Following an accident, whom should I contact?
A. If you have been involved in a serious accident and feel that you will need to make a claim against your own insurer for property damage reimbursement, rental coverage, medical payments, or any other coverage, you would certainly want to call your insurance agent and advise him or her of the occurrence of the accident. If the accident is not your fault, notification and even making claims on various portions of your policy should not affect your future premiums. I find many individuals are reluctant to submit claims to their own insurance companies even though they have paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars in premiums. Their fear is that their premiums may go up in the future. According to underwriting rules, premiums should not be affected unless someone is found to be at fault in an accident. Nevertheless, payment of claims is the reason for paying insurance premiums. Therefore, I do encourage my clients to make full use of the insurance for which they have paid their hard-earned money.
Q. What are my legal rights following an automobile accident?
A. Under Louisiana law, the party responsible for an accident is obligated to pay all the damages caused by his fault. A system of comparative negligence is used to determine the fault of one or more parties if this is the case. Individuals injured in an accident have a right to assert claims for all past and future loss of wages; all past and future medical expenses; all past and future physical and mental pain and suffering; a claim for any permanent disability suffered; and a claim for loss of enjoyment of life caused by the accident. These claims are typically documented by virtue of the medical treatment which is required following an accident. All this information is gathered by a personal injury attorney and presented to the carrier of the at-fault party. I would certainly attempt to resolve an automobile claim first by settlement. However, if the insurer is not reasonable or is denying the claim, then the next step is to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant and his or her insurance company.
Q. What are my legal rights if I make a claim on my insurance company and it denies my claim?
A. Oftentimes, claims will be made by a client against his or her own insurance company arising from an automobile accident. An example of this would be a claim under the “uninsured/underinsured coverage” portion of the policy. If, for example, an at-fault party has minimal or no insurance, then this coverage provides for payment of such damages to the party purchasing the coverage. A claim may have to be made against the uninsured/underinsured carrier of a client and, if there is a dispute over this claim, it may have to be resolved through a civil lawsuit filed against the company. In such cases, if the uninsured/underinsured carrier is found to be unreasonable or arbitrary or capricious, there are certain penalties and attorney’s fees that can be included in the claim, as well.
Q. Will my automobile liability rates go up if I make a claim?
A. Normally, underwriting rules allow insurance companies to raise or adjust premiums only as a result of at-fault accidents. For example, if a client is without fault in an accident and makes a claim, for example, for benefits under the medical payments or uninsured motorist provisions of a policy, those premiums should not go up. Any underwriting abuse can be reported to the Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Louisiana.
Q. If I am involved in an automobile accident, how long do I have to make a claim?
A. Under Louisiana law, someone injured or damaged in an automobile accident must file a claim within one year of the date of the accident.