Do you have the green light to handle your own Louisiana fender bender?
“You may not need to hire an attorney for your car wreck claim.” That’s something you won’t hear from one of those TV lawyers! But it’s true. If your car wreck involves minimal vehicle damage, you aren’t injured, and nobody required require medical attention, you should be able to handle the claim yourself.
Was the car accident your fault?If the wreck was your fault, or even if the other driver is blaming you, you should call your own insurance company immediately to report the claim. DO NOT talk with the other person about the wreck or offer to pay their bills. Your insurance company has a duty to handle any claims made against you, including the other person’s claims for damages and injuries, and to defend you if the other person files a lawsuit against you. In such as case, don’t make the mistake of unknowingly violating your own insurance agreement by waiting too long to report the claim or by promising to pay the other person’s bills.
Reporting the car accident claim
If, on the other hand, the wreck was the other person’s fault, you should file a claim with their insurance company. Remember, Louisiana law does not require you to submit to a recorded statement or sign documents allowing the other person’s insurance company to get your medical records. However, the at-fault insurance company may want to get a copy of the police report before agreeing that their insured was responsible for the wreck.
Your vehicle repair and rental
The at-fault insurance company is responsible for your vehicle repair and rental. However, you have the right to choose which repair shop to use. Typically, the at-fault insurance company will send out an adjuster to assess your damage or provide you with a list of repair shops where you can get a damage estimate. The insurance company will either pay the shop directly or provide you with a check, which you can sign over to the repair shop at the conclusion of the job.
Using your own insurance to get your vehicle repaired fasterIf the other person’s insurance is dragging their feet, you may be able to get your car repaired quicker and get a rental car faster by using your own insurance (if you have collision and rental coverage). In that case, your insurance stands in the shoes of the other company, takes care of the damage, and then seeks reimbursement from the other person’s insurance. (If you have a deductible, they may try to collect that for you on your behalf). In Louisiana, in most cases your auto insurer cannot increase your premium or cancel your insurance for filing a claim for an accident that was not your fault.
Beyond your property damage claim
In addition to your property damage, you also have a claim for general damages, which include money to compensate you for your own harms and losses, including pain and suffering, inconvenience, lost income, doctor’s bills, etc. Assuming you didn’t have to go to the hospital or doctor as a result of the wreck, these general damages may be small.
Beware of the release!
After repairing your vehicle, the at-fault insurance company will want you to sign a form, releasing them and their insured from any and all liability relating to the wreck. Do not sign a release unless (1) you are 100% sure that you are not injured and don’t need medical treatment; (2) you are sure that you have been 100% compensated for your property damage and general damage claims; (3) you are sure that you will not owe any third parties payment or reimbursement (such as doctors, hospitals, your health insurance company) from the settlement proceeds; and (4) you have read and understand the release.
Potential road hazards! When to pump the breaks.
Even small car wreck claims can get complicated in a hurry. Here are a few major issues to consider before getting too far into your own claim.
Were you injured in the car accident?
Don’t even consider settling with the insurance company before you have fully recovered. Once you sign on the dotted line, you can’t go back and ask for more, even if an unknown injury crops up.
Did your health insurer pay bills related to the car wreck?
They likely have a right to be reimbursed from settlement funds. They may or may not send you a letter asking questions about the wreck. Under no circumstances should you try to settle your case without accounting for the full amounts (not the discounted rates) of all of your bills. Whether you have private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, you should find out if they paid for your medical expenses and understand their expectation of reimbursement prior to settling your case.
Do you have Medicare?
If you are on Medicare or even have a Medicare replacement policy, Medicare has a legal right to be reimbursed for any medical payments made on your behalf. In such a case, the process is to file a claim with Medicare, notifying them of your wreck. They will then respond by sending you a Rights and Responsibilities/Acknowledgment letter followed by a Conditional Payment letter, identifying any payments they may have made on your behalf. Once your case is settled, you have to tell Medicare so that they can provide you with a Final Demand letter, specifying the amount they claim to be due from your settlement proceeds. If a Medicare recipient settles a car wreck claim without taking Medicare into account, the consequences can be very serious, including the loss of future benefits and garnishment of social security benefits.
Is the insurance adjuster pushing you to settle your car accident claims?
This should set off a red flag. Slam on the brakes and take a minute to fully assess your claims. Remember, this is a negotiation. Their first offer is rarely their last. Every time you speak with them, they are sizing you up.
Almost out of gas?
In Louisiana, victims of car wrecks have one year from the date of accident within which to file a lawsuit. This means that if you cannot settle your car accident claim within a year, you must file a lawsuit before that year is up in order to preserve your claims. If you don’t file a proper lawsuit within that time…poof… your claims are gone.
The good news is that a majority of the time, minor car wreck claims can be settled within a year if you have done your homework. However, if you are approaching the deadline and still don’t have a handle on your claim, it’s time to seriously consider getting help. J
Take advantage of our Free and Confidential CAR ACCIDENT CRASH COURSE!
If your car wreck claim is getting too complicated or you just don’t have time to handle it properly, don’t make the mistake of waiting too long to seek help.
What’s included with our Crash Course?
Our Crash Course is a free and confidential 15-minute call during which our attorney will personally discuss your car wreck claim with you and cover some important topics including:
- How to properly file a claim (what the insurance company will ask you and why).
- Your rights and responsibilities.
- How to get your car repaired and get a rental.
- What happens if my car is totaled?
- How medical bills get paid and how to remain compliant with your health insurer.
- Different insurance coverages you may not know about.