Do Most Motor Vehicle Accident Cases Settle?
The vast majority of lawsuits brought to court never make it to trial. Personal injury cases involving cars, trucks or motorcycles are no different. In some ways these cases are a lot easier to settle than other types of civil litigation, because these defendants are often represented by insurance companies who usually want to settle the case as quickly as possible. In many instances, these types of claims have the ability to settle prior to the filing of a lawsuit. When deciding whether to settle or proceed with a lawsuit, you should take into consideration the numerous costs of trial, which will reduce the amount you receive if you win your case. Expenses include the filing fee for the lawsuit, the cost of finding and serving the defendant, the costs of taking depositions, fees for obtaining medical records and hiring an expert.
However, you also need to take into account the possibility of future medical expenses when deciding on settling. A quick settlement may be very tempting if you are short on cash. However, an early settlement could also prove to be a disadvantage to you in the long run if you discover after settlement that your injuries are more serious than you initially thought and require more medical treatment. Insurance companies are well aware that you only have one chance to settle and you could leave a lot of money on the table through an early settlement. You cannot renegotiate if your circumstances change. Hiring an Attorney can help you navigate the pros and cons of settling your case prior to trial.
Ideally, the settlement amount for a personal injury case should compensate you for your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. If you are married at the time of the accident, your spouse also has a claim for their loss of consortium (i.e. loss of companionship, support, affection or services). Having an Attorney will help to make sure you are fully compensated for all your losses and maximize your settlement amount.
Another thing to consider when deciding to settle is other parties’ right of reimbursement. Depending on how you paid your medical bills, you may have to reimburse certain providers after settlement. Medicare and Medicaid are both entitled to receive from your settlement a portion of the medical expenses that they paid on your behalf. Consulting an attorney may help you reduce the amount you will have to reimburse. For example, Medicare will often seek reimbursement of fees that are not related to injuries you received through your motor vehicle accident, and an Attorney will help you dispute those charges with Medicare.
Your health insurance company could also seek reimbursement for bills that it paid on your behalf and the rules for reimbursement can differ depending on whether or not your plan is governed by federal or state law. An Attorney will help you determine which law applies and also give you advice on how to reduce the amount you need to pay back to your insurer. Ultimately, it is your decision when to settle a case or proceed to trial, but hiring an Attorney will help you to avoid many pitfalls which reduce the amount of money you put into your pocket.
1. Recorded statements: You should cooperate with your own insurance company – simply be careful about the nature and extent of your injuries unless you really know what you’re talking about. Sometimes conditions worsen and subsequent medical care may disclose problems unknown to you. Your own insurer may oppose your uninsured or underinsured motorist claim so not all questioning by your own company is about helping you. Your insurer may be trying to defeat or lessen your claim so you should not guess about your condition.
2. Medical Bills – You may have medical payments protection under your own insurance. You should submit your bills for payment to your own insurers if possible. Do not expect that the striking driver’s insurance will pay your bills as they accrue. It won’t pay until your claim is over and you have signed a release. You should only give a medical release to your own attorney.
3. Duty to Notify – You should always promptly notify your own insurance of an incident. To be safe you should also notify the insurer for the striking driver. Late notice may be a defense, so you want to be sure that all insurers have prompt notice. This is one area, among many, where having your own attorney is very helpful.
4. Medical Care – You should always seek the medical care you need. Failure to seek care will be argued against you as an indication that you weren’t hurt. On the opposite hand, it is wrong and potentially devastating to your claim to “run up” medical bills or exaggerate your injuries. Juries like sensible people who seek a proper diagnosis, get timely and appropriate care and follow their doctor’s recommendations.
5. Evidence Preservation – It is always a good idea to have photos of the involved vehicles or whatever condition or product caused your injury. Similarly, you should have progressive photos taken of yourself and any medical devices (splints, stimulators, braces, etc.) that you have to use. Your bruises and scars will fade before a trial occurs. Witnesses should also be identified and interviewed.
6. Hiring an Attorney – It is usually in your best interest to involve an attorney soon after your injury. An attorney will give appropriate notices, clarify insurance, help preserve evidence and witness testimony and in general be able to structure your claim in ways a layman cannot. We handle personal injury claims on a contingent fee basis and it does not cost any more for us to be involved from the beginning and to help you all the way through. If we take your case, we will advance expenses and you will only pay us from the recovery we obtain for you. Delay in hiring an attorney is not a good idea as there are deadlines for notices and statutes of limitations for claims that may cut off your rights.
Statutes of Limitation in Georgia
Every type of civil lawsuit in the state of Georgia has a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations dictates the time period in which a person or entity must file a legal action, and this time period varies depending on the type of lawsuit you are planning to file. Waiting beyond the time period given in the statute of limitations may result in your inability to file a lawsuit.
Here is a general overview of some of Georgia’s statutes of limitation:
Personal Injury – 2 years (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33)
Breach of Written Contract – 6 years (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-24)
Breach of Oral Contract – 4 years (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-26)
Actions Against Fiduciaries (Executors, Guardians or Administrators) – 10 years (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-27)
Medical Malpractice – 2 years (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-71)
Libel/Slander/Defamation – 1 year (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33)
Listed above is just a summary of some of the statutes of limitations in force. But there are many other variables to consider in addition to the time period given in the various statutes of limitation for lawsuits. For example, certain claims require notice prior to the institution of a lawsuit. Lawsuits against the county, state or city government require that you provide them with prior notice of your intent to file a claim against them. Claims against the county or the state require notice within 12 twelve months of your injury and claims against the city give even less time, notice must be given within 6 months. Also there are specific requirements regarding the information in the notice, and that information varies depending on whether you are pursuing a claim against the city, county or state therefore it is important to consult with an Attorney regarding these matters.
Also there are various circumstances under which the statute of limitations can be “tolled”. When the statute of limitations is “tolled” that basically means the time period has been temporarily paused for a certain period of time giving the Plaintiff more time within which to file a legal action. A common situation in which a statute of limitations may be tolled is when the victim is a minor. In the case of personal injury actions, the statute is tolled until that child’s 18th birthday, but if parents of that child would like to file suit for their claims regarding medical expenses, their suit still needs to be within 2 years of that injury. Medical malpractice claims involving children has completely different rules regarding minors and the tolling of their medical malpractice actions, therefore it is important to consult an Attorney soon after the injury occurs, regardless of your child’s age, to make sure their claims and your claims are adequately preserved.
Another more recent addition to the application of tolling is regarding personal injury cases involving car accidents which were the result of a traffic violation. In the Beneke v. Parker case, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed personal injury actions where there was a violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road (such as following too closely) to be tolled until the prosecution of the Defendant’s traffic violation was finalized or otherwise terminated. 285 Ga. 733, 684 S.E.2d 243 (2009). Plaintiffs are therefore given more time to file their personal injury actions against striking drivers if the traffic citation is being prosecuted.
We can help to make sure that you fully understand all of your options. Our Attorneys can provide you with the legal aid and guidance necessary to pursue a lawsuit and can make sure that there are no legal exceptions that may apply to your case.
The Importance of Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Some of the wisest insurance money you will ever spend may very well be for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. In the event you are in a car accident, you cannot control whether or not the at-fault driver who struck you has insurance coverage, but you can choose to protect yourself. Unfortunately, many drivers do not have insurance or have low coverage amounts that do not adequately compensate you.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage protects you when the at-fault driver either has no insurance coverage or has coverage that does not fully compensate you for all your damages (medical expenses, loss of income, loss of consortium, etc.) You will also be covered if you are involved with a hit-and-run driver who flees the scene and you are unable to track down. Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is often inexpensive and definitely worth the peace of mind you can have knowing that you are protected.
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- American Arbitration Association
- Super Lawyer - Litigation
- Member, Product Liability Advisory Council
- Duke University (J.D., 1974)
- Judge For The Municipal Court Of Dawsonville, GA
- Mount Union College (B.A., Cum Laude With Honors, 1971)