Automobile or Car Insurance. The only purchase you make that you really hope you never use. It can be expensive, and dealing with adjusters can be a pain after you have been in a car wreck. If you have been injured in a car a crash, you should know that insurance companies often have a reputation of trying to low-ball any settlement offer.
But you’ll be glad you have automobile insurance if you’re ever in an accident. In fact, it’s a requirement in Texas. In our experience, when an accident victim knows what to expect from their insurance company after a crash, the process is a lot smoother for all parties involved. Below is an overview to help prepare you if that day ever comes.
Know The Coverage For Property Damage to Your Own Car
All drivers in Texas are required to carry a minimum of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident for bodily injury liability and $25,000 in property damage insurance coverage. When two or more insured drivers are in an accident, Texas law states that the at-fault driver’s insurance pays for any injuries sustained in the accident.
Having underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage (UM coverage) is a good idea to protect you in the event you suffer injuries in an accident caused by a driver with minimum coverage or no coverage at all. This type of coverage also helps in hit and run accidents; your insurance will treat the absent driver like a driver without coverage.
Gather As Much Information As Possible
After calling the police, and while you’re waiting for them to arrive, learn as much as information as you can about the other driver: that includes the driver’s name, license number, registration number, insurance policy number, vehicle model, vehicle make, and a picture of the driver next to his or her car. Take a picture of other driver’s insurance card and drivers’ license.
Along the same lines, document as much about the accident scene as possible. Take pictures with your phone, talk to witnesses, and get their contact information. Try to write down as much as you can remember about what was happening before the accident like, where you were going, how fast you were traveling if there was anything out of the ordinary, and what you were doing in the car. There is no such thing as “too much information.” Let the insurance company and your personal injury attorney (if necessary) sort that out. They might even visit the scene after the accident on their own, too.
Notify Your Insurance Company As Soon As Possible
It is extremely important that you file your claim on time. Even if you were not at fault for the accident, your own carrier would rather be put on notice (in other words, hear about the accident from you) rather than the other party. Be cautious about giving a recorded statement.
A lot of what happens next depends on the automobile policy you have. For example, even if you were at fault for the accident, but carry certain coverage like Personal Injury Protection (PIP), then you can recover money damages from your own insurance company. Note that these types of policies often carry higher premiums.
On the other hand, if the other driver’s negligence caused the accident, then his insurance should cover your damages. You will file a claim with their insurance company, and you may be entitled to damages up to their policy limits depending on the nature and severity of your damages and injuries.
Do not wait to see a doctor, but hold off on car repairs, if possible. Your insurance company may ask to inspect the damage.
When it’s time to settle a claim, the insurance company wants to make sure the money they are paying in the initial settlement ensures no further discussion of payouts. In order to do this, they may ask you to sign a release stating that you are barred from filing additional claims on the same incident. Do not sign the release unless you are fully satisfied with the settlement amount and terms of the settlement. If you are unsure if your settlement offer is fair, factor in damages to your car and other unforeseen expenses like medical treatment. Often, your doctor will be able to estimate the price of a proposed treatment plan.
Potential Reasons for Insurance Claim Denial
It can be frustrating and upsetting when an insurance adjuster denies your car accident claim. But it doesn’t mean that your claim was weak or that you were wrong. Instead, insurance companies continue to play a numbers game because their profit margins depend on it.
Sometimes claims will be denied because your actions contributed to the accident. Under Texas law, an insurance company is under no obligation to cover your damages if you were more than 50% at fault for the collision. But if you contributed to the accident, and your conduct wasn’t its primary cause, then the insurance company can proportionately reduce your damages.
Another thing to expect is that the insurance company will dance around making full payment if you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as a back injury, arthritis, or other joint diseases. The adjuster will argue that it is impossible to say for certain if the collusion worsened the condition. However, Texas law applies a rule called the “eggshell skull doctrine” for personal injury claims. This rule states that even if you had a pre-existing condition that made you more vulnerable to injuries, it doesn’t make a negligent person any less responsible if they injure you.
As we’ve explained in other articles, many accident survivors don’t always immediately realize the extent of their injuries right after an accident. But insurance companies frequently (and erroneously) view delayed medical treatment as evidence of a fraudulent claim.
Strongly Consider Hiring an Attorney
This is an important decision and one that you should consider even if you are convinced you do not need an attorney and the insurance company is on your side. Under Texas law, you must file your injury claim within two years of the accident to comply with the statute of limitations.
An attorney has a legal and ethical duty to zealously represent your interests. He or she will always do what is in your best interest and does not have to abide by payment caps or quotas. Insurance companies, on the other hand, have a tendency to offer accident victims settlements that are much lower than they deserve. Working with an attorney before you file can protect you from damaging your right to recovery and help you handle negotiating a settlement. This can also help you avoid accidentally making statements that are harmful to your claims, such as admissions of liability where no such liability exists. Even if you have already filed a lawsuit, an attorney can assist you in proving fault in your case or appealing a denied claim.
Impact On Insurance Rates
Finally, you may be wondering what a settlement means for the relationship between you and your insurance company. Because Texas uses a fault system, you can expect your insurance rates to increase when your policy is renewed if you caused an accident in whole or in part.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles also uses the Driver Responsibility Program point system to evaluate how safe a driver may be. Drivers with six points or greater pay a surcharge. If you cause a crash in Texas, expect three points to be added to your record. Points can also be issued for other driving infractions, regardless of the state where the ticket was received. But, similar to a credit inquiry, they don’t stay on your report forever – they are removed from your record after three years.
When you’re in an accident, often times the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to collect as much information as possible and work with a reputable personal injury attorney.