HOW DOES INSURANCE WORK?
We all know how dangerous the roadways have always been. Motor vehicle crashes kill and injure more people in America than any other type of trauma. In Alabama, the law requires drivers to have a minimum of $25,000.00 of liability automobile insurance. Liability automobile insurance coverage is insurance that pays for the property damage and bodily injury that occurs if YOU cause a car crash. If someone carries LIABILITY ONLY insurance and they CAUSE a crash, that insurance is used to pay for the other party's damages and injuries. It WILL NOT pay for YOUR property damage and bodily injury. Comprehensive automobile insurance (which costs more money to purchase) will cover YOUR property damage. Comprehensive automobile insurance WILL NOT compensate you for YOUR bodily injuries. Alabama law only requires that motorists carry liability insurance to pay for the damage that they cause other motorists. If you use your comprehensive auto insurance to repair YOUR vehicle, you will have to pay a deductible as agreed upon in your contract with your automobile insurance company. It can get tricky for sure.
AFTER THE CRASH
It goes without saying that if you are involved in a motor vehicle crash, call 911 and have law enforcement come to the scene to conduct an investigation and make a crash report. In Alabama, the crash report is known as an AST-27. In my law enforcement career, I would estimate that I've completed over 500 AST-27 reports. No one knows their way around the AST-27 better than me! If there are injuries, make sure that paramedics are called to the scene to treat the inured. If the paramedics suggest that you need to go to the hospital....GO TO THE HOSPITAL! The investigating police officer will take statements from the involved drivers and any passengers or witnesses that have information regarding the crash. When the officer has gathered all of his necessary information, he will give you a card with a case number on it and his name and badge number. It usually takes 3-5 days to get a copy of the AST-27. The card that the officer gives you will also have information on where to get a copy of the report. Sometimes you have to go to the police department and pick up a copy of the report. Some departments have a website that you can retrieve your report from. Almost always you will have to pay a small fee for a report. For example, Birmingham Police Department will charge you $5.00 for a copy of the crash report. The Alabama State Troopers will charge you $17.50 for a report. You can only get their reports online.
REPORTING THE CRASH TO INSURANCE
Most automobile insurance companies require you to notify them immediately after you are involved in a crash. My advice is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer....like me...before you make notification to ANY insurance company about ANY motor vehicle crash REGARDLESS as to who is at fault! Remember, from the time that you call the insurance company, you are being recorded and things that you say could damage your chance of recovering a monetary award....SO CALL ME! If the crash was not your fault and you try to handle the claim yourself, you will quickly see how difficult it is to deal with an insurance adjuster. Insurance companies do not take you seriously unless you are represented by an attorney. Don't make this mistake and try to handle a claim on your own. Doing so will seriously jeopardize the amount of money that you could recover. Trying to save money will cost you money and may actually lose your case.
After you call me, I will be glad to get your crash report and save you the hassle. Once I look over the report and we have a meeting (I will come to your house or your business!) I will evaluate if you have a case or not. Since each circumstance is different, there is no way for me to describe in a blog post all of the possible legal issues that determine whether or not you have a viable case or how much its likely to be worth. However, in a future blog post I will go over the elements of liability for personal injury case in Alabama. The best clients are the informed clients!
If you have a good case, I will offer to represent you in what is known as a contingency contract. That is a contract where you pay nothing to me unless I settle or win the trial case for you. My fee is based solely upon a percentage of the money that I collect for you. My contingent fee for settling motor vehicle crash claims is 33 1/3 %. That means that my fee is one-third of what ever I collect for you. If we are not able to settle the case and YOU decide after hearing my advice that we file a law suit and sue the driver who hit you (known as a tortfeasor) and his insurance company, my fee goes up to 40%. Obviously, it costs more money to prepare for and put on a trial than it does to settle it...that's why my fee goes up. The more money I make for you on the claim, the more money I make...Its like an incentive contract. If we lose the case, YOU PAY ME NOTHING. All personal injury lawyers work off of contingency contracts. Each lawyer's percentages may vary from lawyer to lawyer.
GETTING YOUR CAR REPAIRED OR REPLACED
Your car will need to be inspected by the tortfeasor's insurance company before it will be repaired of replaced (if it is totaled). YOU have the choice of where you want to have your car repaired. If you pick the location where your car is to be repaired and it isn't repaired properly, YOU will have to pay to have the repairs addressed and completed over again. If you allow the insurance company to use one of their preferred repair shops, the repairs are guaranteed for as long as you own the vehicle. Either way, the choice is yours, NOT theirs.
A car is deemed to be totaled in Alabama if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds 75% of the value of the car on the date of loss. Insurance companies use a format similar to NADA or Kelly Blue Book to value your vehicle. No one is ever really happy with the insurance company's valuation of their vehicle. If your car is totaled, the insurance company is not obligated to provide you a rental car. Rather, they are only legally obligated to give you a check for the value of your car. If your car can be repaired, the insurance company IS obligated by law to provide a vehicle of "like kind" until the repairs are completed. So that means that if your 2002 Chevy Malibu is in the shop being repaired, you won't be provided with a 2020 Ferrari to drive around town!
HIPAA FORM FOR PROTECTED HEALTH INFORMATION
After you sign the contingency contract, I will have you sign another document called a HIPAA Form. This is a form that grants me your permission to obtain copies of your medical and billing records...also known as protected health information. Federal law requires that absent a court order, I need your permission to obtain protected health information. I will need these records to present to the tortfeasor's automobile insurance company adjuster to make a claim on your behalf.
LETTER OF REPRESENTATION
After we have conducted our interview and signed the paperwork, I will obtain the crash report (if I haven't gotten it already) and contact the tortfeasor's insurance company and set up the claim. I will give them specific details of the crash based upon witness statements, your recollection of what occurred and the police report. I will then receive a claim number which identifies your specific claim. I will the compose a Letter of Representation and fax or email it to the adjuster. A Letter of Representation is a standard industry letter that officially puts the insurance company on notice that I am your attorney and they are not to contact you for any reason without my permission and knowledge. This prevents the insurance company from trying to pull a fast one on someone making a claim....its like lawyering up in a civil action way!
ADDITIONAL MEDICAL EVALUATION AND TREATMENT
If you require additional medical treatment, such as a chiropractor, physical therapist or need MRIs for the injuries that you sustained in the crash, I work with very good medical professionals who will treat you even if you don't have health insurance! This is done by way of a Letter of Protection. A Letter of Protection is a contract where the chiropractor or physical therapist will treat your injuries and then take their bill out of the money you are awarded in your claim. This is a common practice and is a lot more affordable than you can imagine!
When you are finished with all of your medically required treatment, I will gather up all of the medical records and billing records and put together a legal demand package. A legal demand package consists of copies of the medical records and billing records and a legal analysis and conclusion that sets out the legal basis for why you are legally entitled to be compensated and how much money you should receive. The demand letter is the key that can make or break your case from a legal perspective. This package is sent to the adjuster, who reviews the medical treatment you received and the associated bills. My experience as a Navy Corpsman, a Registered Paramedic, a former police officer and a traffic accident reconstructionist and a lawyer will help YOUR case!
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE ADJUSTER
They look over the legal rationale behind your case and confer with the insurance company's legal department. They either accept or reject the amount of money I demand and counter offer with a dollar figure. This negotiation can be intense and heated for sure! I employ advanced negotiating skills that I have acquired of many years of negotiating with adjusters. This is where I squeeze every dollar that I can out of your case. As each offer and counter offer is made, I call you and discuss the dollar figures and rationale and tempo of the negotiations with you. I advise you....but YOU decide if the money is good enough...NOT me.
Insurance companies are not in the business of paying out claims. They are in business to make money and NOT pay out claims if at all possible. It's my opinion that insurance companies adhere to 2 main rules: (1) Don't pay any claims! (2) If they have to pay on a claim, pay as little as possible!
SETTLEMENT OR FILE LAW SUIT
If the dollar figure is right and you and I have discussed the pros and cons of your case, you may decide to either accept the offer, continue negotiating, or file a law suit. If you agree to settle the claim, the adjuster will send me a Release of Claims for you to sign. Once signed, I will send it to the adjuster and the adjuster will send a settlement check to me. I will then deposit the insurance company's check into my Client Trust Account. I will then cut your check, my check and the chiropractor's check (if a Letter of Protection was used for additional treatment). I will then present to you a Claim Reconciliation Form that shows you where EVERY PENNY OF THE CLAIM WENT.
If you decide to file a law suit, I will draft a Complaint and file the case in the appropriate court. This step is more involved and takes a lot of time, energy and work. After the insurance company responds to the Complaint in an Answer, the court will set up a timetable for Discovery to be completed. This is very involved and includes things called interrogatories and depositions. I will go into further detail on the filing of a civil action in a future blog.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
General negligence claims in Alabama have a 2 year stature of limitations. That means that you have 2 years from the date of the crash to either settle the claim or file a law suit. If a claim falls under an issue of contract, such as an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist claim (someone causes a crash and either doesn't have automobile insurance or doesn't have enough liability insurance), there is a 6 year statue of limitations. If a claim exceeds the time sensitive statute of limitations, YOU ARE BARRED FROM RECOVERY FOREVER!
SIZE DOESN'T MATTER....REALLY!!
I am a solo practitioner. I don't have 500 billboards around town or television commercials that repeat 50 times day that irritate the $#!% out of people. I don't have a fleet of lawyers working under me. That means that when you call my firm at (205) 478-2498, I answer the phone....not a secretary or an assistant or an answering service. ME. I answer the phone and I answer your questions. I give personal service to my clients. I am the person who handles your claim. Not a staff of people. ME. You deserve to talk directly to the LAWYER who is handling your claim, NOT some random case manager. I am experienced and good at what I do.