Samuel Saks Article
The Ins and Outs of Car Insurance and Insurance ClaimsDriving is probably the riskiest thing you do every day. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, there were over 100,000 car crashes in the state last year. On average, two people were killed on Arizona roads every day as a result of vehicle accidents. Car accidents in Arizona cause almost $3 billion in damage every year. For these reasons, car insurance is mandatory. In Arizona, all drivers must have at least $15,000 in liability coverage (and at least $30,000 for accidents involving more than one person). Other types of auto insurance coverages are not required, such as coverage for damage to your vehicle, coverage for your medical expenses, and protection against uninsured drivers or drivers with minimum insurance.
Accidents often involve complicated legal issues, such as traffic laws and safety regulations (e.g., for trucks and other commercial vehicles), legal issues relating to negligence and liability, wrongful death claims from fatalities or serious injuries that lead to death, vehicle and other property damage, and medical treatment expenses.
Insurance Companies and Attorneys
Insurance is a complicated, competitive, and highly regulated industry. It is no wonder there are so many commercials on television. Lots of money is at stake: auto insurance companies took in over $107 billion dollars in premiums in 2013 according to the Insurance Information Institute. Insurance companies employ teams of people trained to investigate and evaluate claims, called “claims adjusters.” The job of a claim adjuster is to collect information, review records (including police reports, witness statements, and medical records), and determine the extent of the insurance company’s liability. But make no mistake: adjusters are employees of an insurance company.
While insurers play an important and valuable role in society, the reality is that insurance companies do not make money by paying the maximum possible amount for your claim or by paying you as quickly as possible.
Insurance companies maximize their profits by minimizing their risk and payouts whenever possible. And they have the resources and motivation to do so. Most claims adjusters have dealt with thousands of accident cases and attorneys. How many have you dealt with? Due to this power imbalance many people choose to hire attorneys to represent them when it comes to accidents involving an injury, a death, or property damage. A lawyer can help navigate the insurance process, which can be time-consuming and frustrating, and help resolve a claim fairly and efficiently.
Pitfalls to Avoid
By their nature, accidents are stressful and unexpected. If you are the victim of the accident you are likely to be in a very vulnerable position and unprepared to think clearly. So what are you to do? Here are some basic tips for dealing with an accident:
• Call the Police and Get Medical Treatment. This is obvious, but surprisingly overlooked. You have to focus on your immediate safety and health, not the damage to your vehicle, the other driver, or the possibility of a ticket. Under Arizona law (A.R.S. § 28-661), you are required to stop and remain at the scene of an accident you have been involved in. Try to stay as calm as possible. Keep in mind that some injuries can be internal and due to the adrenaline pumping through your body or the shock of an impact, you many not feel any severe pain. If you have any reason to believe you are injured or you feel any pain at all, consider going to the hospital as soon as possible. Some other symptoms to look for are dizziness, ringing in the ears, confusion, and nausea. If you feel pain after the accident, find a trusted medical provider or urgent care facility that can see you and evaluate you.
• Cooperate with the Police and Be Honest. When talking to a police officer, make sure you give him all the information he asks for. Do not leave anything out. Do not exaggerate or lie. Just be honest. If you don’t remember something, say so. If you are asked whether you are injured make sure you report all of your symptoms, even if they seem minor to you. Don’t assume that you are injured only if you can see blood. The recent news about NFL football players and concussions / brain injuries underscores the brain damage that can be caused by sudden impacts or collisions.
• Collect Information. If it is safe to do so, take pictures of your vehicle and the other driver’s vehicle. If you have injuries like swelling or bruising, take pictures of it, as they will not likely take pictures at the hospital. Get the name of any witnesses just in case they leave before the police have a chance to talk to them. Arizona law (A.R.S. § 28-663) requires drivers involved in an accident to exchange at least the following information: name, address, registration, driver’s license. You are also required to “[r]ender reasonable assistance to a person injured in the accident, including making arrangements for the carrying of the person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if the carrying is requested by the injured person.” Make sure the other driver gives you his information as well. Usually, the police will have you fill out an accident information exchange form (see below for more about this form). The accident exchange information form will contain the necessary information as well as a report number. Typically, reports are not available until several days after an accident. In Phoenix, traffic accident reports are available online at: https://secure.phoenix.gov/phxssld/tars/home.jsf. If the Arizona Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) responded to your accident, you have to fill out a form to get your report. For more information on obtaining a traffic accident report, go to http://www.azdps.gov/services/Records/Department_Records/#5.
• Take Action. Once you have taken care of your physical condition, consider contacting an attorney. Most insurance policies require you to report your claim to them after an accident. Many times, the other driver’s insurance company may contact you and attempt to get you to give a recorded statement. Your insurance company may make a similar request. In general, you do not have a legal duty to agree to a recorded interview as soon as the minute they ask you for one. A skilled adjuster can ask the “right questions” or re-characterize certain statement to minimize the value of your claim and foreclose or limit your practical ability to recover much for it. If the recorded statement is taken shortly after the accident, you may not realize the true nature of your injuries and level of pain: many people report increasing pain in the days following an accident. If you have any questions or concerns, you may want to contact an attorney for guidance.
Who is at Fault?
How do you know who is at fault for an accident? Sometimes the answer seems obvious: you were rear-ended while at a stoplight. The other driver was speeding or was drunk driving and was ticketed for a DUI. While these may seem like obvious cases (and usually are), keep in mind that the other driver may telling a different story to the police. Arizona law recognized the concept of “comparative fault” which means that both parties may be partially at fault for an accident. For example, if the other driver was trying to make a left turn but you were speeding, the other driver might be deemed 80% at fault and you might be deemed 20% at fault.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney/client relationship.
Contributing Attorney: Sam Saks. Sam is the founder of Legal Aid of Arizona and a partner at the law firm of Guidant Law
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