Legal Issues of a Car Crash

  • By:Winer Bennett
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REPORTING THE CRASH

A motor vehicle crash should be reported to the police and/or the Department of Safety.  Although injury or vehicle damage may initially seem modest, any crash must be treated seriously.  At the scene, exchange name, address, and insurance company information.  If the police respond, they will make out a report.  That report will be available at the local police department and/or the Department of Safety in Concord.  You should file an Operator’s Report with the Department of Safety, if there is no police report, and damage appears to exceed $1,000.00 in value or if there is personal injury.

Immediately advise your auto insurance company of the facts of the crash.

If possible, take photographs of any vehicle involved, as well as of the scene of the crash and any visible injury, to assure that you have complete evidence.

DAMAGE TO YOUR CAR

The car insurance company of the responsible driver is to pay the cost for the repair of a damaged vehicle.  If the repair would cost more than the value of the car, then the fair market value of the car must be paid.

If you had collision insurance, you have the option of having your insurance company take care of the property damage.  Although, what they pay will be reduced by your deductible, it is sometimes easier to go initially through your company.  They will then seek reimbursement from the responsible driver’s insurance company, and obtain deductible reimbursement for you.

In either case, the processing of the property damage claim requires that you make your vehicle available to be examined for an appraisal of the repair costs.

The responsible insurance company will also be obligated to pay expenses incurred for a rental vehicle, for a reasonable time while the damaged vehicle is being repaired or until payment is made for the value of a totaled vehicle.

MEDICAL BILLS

The injured party must obtain the medical care necessary to diagnose and treat any injury suffered.  The treatment records from that care are essential to substantiate an injury resulting from a crash.  To pay for the required care, you may have two insurance options.

Submit your medical bills first to your health insurance company, if you have it.  Their obligation to pay depends upon the terms of the policy under which your health insurance was purchased.  Submit the bills for this determination.  Usually, health insurance coverage will cover the bills, subject to a right to eventual reimbursement, should you later receive compensation for your injuries by the responsible automobile insurance company.

A second option for funding medical care is your car insurance.  Under New Hampshire law, if you have liability insurance, a private passenger auto insurance policy must also have coverage for your medical bills and for those of your passengers.  The amount of this coverage depends on what you purchased.  This medical bill reimbursement is available regardless of who caused the accident.  This coverage is available even if you also have medical insurance to pay the bills.  If medical insurance pays your bills, this portion of your car insurance can be used to pay your deductible and/or co-pays.  Your automobile insurance company is not entitled to reimbursement out of any eventual compensation for your injuries from the responsible automobile insurance company.

Regardless of any such insurance payment, medical bills are included in what you are to be compensated for by the insurance company of the responsible driver.  The fact that you paid for insurance which covered your medical bills doesn’t relieve the wrongdoer of his responsibility to pay for the harms caused.  However, that payment for your medical bills, as part of a single eventual payment for all of your other losses, is not made until the eventual settlement or verdict at the conclusion of the case.

BODILY INJURY

The human body was not made to endure the forces involved in a motor vehicle accident.  As mentioned, be sure to get the medical care you need to receive an accurate diagnosis and the necessary treatment.  Substantiation of the physical injuries is necessary evidence to document the injury in a claim.

FULL, FAIR, AND ADEQUATE COMPENSATION

The reason we pay for car insurance company is to take care of losses resulting from a crash.  In this state, the compensation due from a negligent driver who is responsible for a crash is whatever is necessary to fully, fairly, and adequately compensate the injured party.  Punitive damages are prohibited in New Hampshire.  The injured party, therefore, is to be paid for the losses he or she has been caused, nothing more and nothing less.

If you are to be defended against such a claim, it is the responsibility of your automobile insurance company.  They will investigate the claim, retain and pay a lawyer to defend the claim, pay compensation due the injured party (within the limits of your liability coverage).  It is a condition of the insurance coverage that you cooperate with your insurance company.

For a claim on behalf of the injured party, it is essential to gather and preserve all the relevant evidence regarding the accident and its consequences.  The right to fair compensation is jeopardized without evidence to prove the facts.  You can be sure that a vigorous defense will be mounted to try to minimize or defeat the claim.  Evidence of the nature and extent of all the injured party’s losses must be developed, collected, and properly presented.  It is the party making the claim that has to produce the evidence to prove it.  The better the evidence, the stronger the case.  If the evidence is lacking, even a valid claim can fail.

The losses which the law provides are to be compensated include:  medical bills, incidental financial expenses, lost past and future wages, physical pain, emotional upset, loss of enjoyment of life.

Eventually, when the pertinent information and evidence regarding the crash are known, and when any resulting injuries have either stabilized or finally resolved, a claim can be valued.  The value of a claim cannot be ascertained until the facts which determine value are known.  Those facts include:  the nature of the injury; the extent, magnitude and duration of symptoms; the amount of medical bills; the extent and duration of the disruption of normal work and non-work activities; the extent of any disruption of income; the permanent consequences of the injury, etc.  What is “full and fair” compensation depends on the magnitude of the injuries and losses suffered, the strength of the evidence of legal fault of the other party, and “the marketplace,” i.e. the range of value which similar cases yield in local verdicts and settlements.

Settlement discussions are usually first attempted with the responsible party’s insurance company, with a view towards negotiating an acceptable settlement without a formal lawsuit or trial.  The vast majority of these cases are settled without the necessity of trial.  However, it is frequently the right and ability to bring suit which compels the responsible insurance company to discuss reasonable resolution.  If the insurance company is not acting fairly to resolve the matter, then a suit can be commenced in the appropriate court, if it has not already been.  Even though a lawsuit may have been started, the possibility of voluntary resolution can be explored at any stage of the process.

The commencement of suit is accomplished by formally serving the responsible driver with court papers notifying him or her of the claim.  The next stage of a suit is the exchange between the parties of all relevant or potentially relevant information, first by written questions, known as interrogatories, and later in an oral question and answer session, known as a deposition.

Eventually, if the matter cannot be resolved between the parties voluntarily, the evidence of the case will be presented to a jury for its unanimous decision on the apportionment of legal fault and the assessment of what they unanimously believe is fair compensation under the facts.  A jury consists of twelve randomly selected members of the public.

DO I NEED A LAWYER?

If injury is caused by a motor vehicle crash, New Hampshire law makes it the responsible party’s duty to provide fair, full and adequate compensation.  That includes more than just paying medical bills or lost wages. As anyone who has been injured can tell you, the bills are a small part of an injury.

Insurance companies are contracted and paid to provide fair compensation in the event of an accident. However, minimizing that compensation is in the business interest of a responsible insurance company.  Insurance representatives are trained and paid to serve that interest.

The protection of your legal rights will require commitment, experience and hard work.  At Winer and Bennett, LLP, you will receive the determination, expertise and resources you need to present a claim which commands the respect it deserves.

By:      Peter G. Webb

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Posted in: Personal Injury/Workers' Compensation

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