1 The 7 Biggest Legal Mistakes People Make After An Accident (And How To Avoid Them) Copyright 2011 Console & Hollawell P.C. 525 Route 73 North Suite 117 Marlton, NJ Toll Free: (866)
2 1 A Cautionary Tale Tom s Story Driving home from his job as a maintenance worker at a local high school, Tom was stopped in traffic at an intersection near his home. A truck traveling at a high rate of speed rear-ended Tom s car, forcing it into the path of oncoming traffic. Although his car was totaled, the truck driver s insurance company refused to pay him what his car was worth. When Tom came to our firm, he just wanted to receive reimbursement for his property damage and move on with his life. Sure, he was a little sore from the impact of the accident, but he assumed that the pain would subside with time, as soreness always had in the past. Tom didn t know that the extreme forces exerted in a car accident could cause unseen permanent injuries that get worse over time not better. While we quickly took care of his property damage claim, within a month, Tom was back and his pain was worse than ever. In addition to neck and low back pain, he suffered numbness and tingling in his fingertips and an uncomfortable sensation in his hip and thigh. He did not realize that these were telltale signs of herniated discs in his neck and lower back that were pressing on the nerves of his spinal cord a serious, potentially permanent condition that is common among victims of motor vehicle accidents. Still, Tom was reluctant to pursue his right to compensation for his injuries. He felt that he wasn t the kind of person who would file a lawsuit. *Note: This client s name has been changed to protect his privacy
3 2 Tom just wanted to receive reimbursement for his property damage and move on with his life. Little did he know that the routine soreness was to turn into a debilitating long-term medical condition a condition that the other driver s insurance company denied it was responsible to pay. We immediately made arrangements for treatment of his injuries by a doctor that specialized in the traumatic injuries often resulting from a car accident. Tom got relief from his pain and was getting better. In a tactic that is all too common among insurance companies, they attempted to cut off payment of his medical benefits, despite the fact that they were legally required to pay for this treatment. The insurance company attorneys made every argument in the book to avoid payment for his medical treatment and his permanent injuries. They argued that Tom wasn t really injured, and even if he was, it must have been from a different cause, since he didn t seek medical treatment until a month after the accident. To counter these arguments, we presented medical reports and the results of medical tests which showed multiple herniated discs resulting from the accident. We successfully fought for Tom. He was awarded well over $100,000 for these injuries. What can you learn from Tom s experience? Tom was smart. Despite the warm and fuzzy advertising slogans put forth by insurance companies, he recognized that they aren t necessarily on your side, and that he needed to act quickly in order to protect his rights to fair compensation under the law. Many people aren t so lucky they wait until it s too late. If you ve been injured by the carelessness of others, you need attorneys who will aggressively take on the insurance companies to ensure that your rights are protected. We handle your property damage claim and make sure that you receive medical treatment so that you can get better. We ll fight to get your medical bills get paid. We get your life back on track.
4 3 If you ve been involved in a car accident, you may have a lot of questions, including: What are the significant injuries people sustain in an accident that are often overlooked? Should you sign the forms sent to you? Should you give statements to anyone? Is a quick settlement ever a good idea? How do you select a lawyer? Why a clean x-ray at an emergency room may not mean that you do not have significant injuries. What common property damage mistake can cost you thousands of dollars? Why the insurance companies, even your own, are not necessarily Aon your How to make sure your medical bills are processed properly so you are not stuck with them. We believe that the following information in this book will enlighten you and provide information that can assist you in making important decisions pertaining to your vehicle accident case. Contact our office today for a free evaluation of your accident case. Toll free
5 4 Mistake # 1 Not Recognizing Significant Injuries After Your Accident The extreme forces involved in a vehicle accident can cause injuries which are quite different than the garden-variety strains and sprains people are used to getting. Vehiclerelated injuries often target the weakest points within the body such as the head, neck, back, wrist and knees. Immediately after the accident, you may experience some discomfort and soreness which feels like muscle strain from overexertion when you exercise too strenuously. However, unlike overexertion, where the pain goes away over time, vehiclerelated injuries often worsen over time. What s more, it can sometimes take a month or more for symptoms to show up after an accident. The pain can be debilitating and the injuries can be permanent. suffer from severe headaches, memory loss, mood swings, and cognitive difficulties (ie. losing their keys, forgetting what they were trying to do, etc.) Temporomandibular joint injury. This joint connects the jaw bone to the skull. Symptoms of this type of injury include a popping or clicking of the jaw, pain when chewing and headaches. Based on my experience handling thousands of vehicle accident claims, the following are the most common types of injuries resulting from vehicle accidents: Head injury. A concussion may result from the rapid acceleration / deceleration that occurs when a vehicle collides with another object. As a result, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and become bruised. This is called a concussion. Head injuries are one of the most overlooked types of injuries, and, in some cases, can result in prolonged brain damage. Victims can
6 5 Neck injury. The most common type of serious neck injury related to a car accident is a herniated disc. Bony vertebrae in the neck are cushioned by discs that are designed like a jelly doughnut. They have a leather-like exterior and an interior that is the consistency of toothpaste. As a result of an accident, the exterior of the disc tears, allowing the interior material to slowly leak out over time. The result is that the disc material presses against the nerves of the spinal cord. A herniated cervical disc can cause pain and stiffness from muscle spasms in the neck, and a radiating sensation into one or both arms, and numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers, particularly when first waking up in the morning. Lower back injury. A herniated disc in the low back is very similar to one in the neck. Symptoms include pain, muscle spasms, an uncomfortable sensation which travels from the low back into the hip or thigh and sometimes to the calf and/or foot. Victims are often unable to sit comfortably for extended periods. Symptoms often worsen over time. Wrist injury. The impact of an accident can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if the person braced themselves against the dash board or steering wheel during impact. The median nerve travels through the carpal tunnel into the hand, and due to increased pressure from the trauma, people experience pain in the wrist and hand. Knee injury. The knees are vulnerable to injury as they can make contact with the interior of the vehicle, or be traumatized upon impact. Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are not uncommon. A tear in this knee ligament can be both debilitating and very painful. When the ACL injury is chronic (long-lasting and recurrent), the knee joint may become unstable. The knee buckles or gives out, sometimes with pain and swelling. This type of injury is often treated with surgery and rehabilitative therapy. See the right medical professionals. If you are injured as the result of a vehicle accident, it is important to seek treatment from medical professionals who specialize in the assessment of traumatic injuries. Many of our
7 6 clients were treated immediately after their accidents in the emergency room or by their family physicians and given a clean bill of health at first, but, over time longer-term injuries such as those discussed above began to emerge. For example, an emergency room x-ray may show no fractures to the bony vertebrae of the back, but an MRI is often the best way to diagnose a herniated disc. We can assist our clients in finding qualified medical professionals experienced with diagnosing and treating the injuries often seen in car accidents. Contact our office today for a free evaluation of your accident case. Toll free
8 7 Mistake # 2 Waiting Too Long To Pursue A Claim As noted in Mistake #1, some injuries resulting from a vehicle accident do not show up until weeks after the accident. And if you then wait for your pain to just go away by itself, even more time passes. If you wait too long to look into a claim, you could forfeit all of your rights to compensation for your injuries, medical bills and property damage expenses. And when you have been injured or even disabled because of your vehicle-related injuries, the last thing that you want to deal with is the responsibility of paying mounting medical and property damage bills out of your own pocket. Unfortunately, the more time that elapses from the time that the accident occurs and the time that you pursue a legal claim, the more likely the insurance company will attempt to blame your medical injuries on something anything other than the accident. Remember Tom at the beginning of this book? Attorneys for the insurance company asserted that Tom s herniated disc injuries were from another source, despite MRI results that showed his injuries were text-book examples of a vehicle-related injury. If you ve been in a vehicle accident, don t wait to call an attorney! Contact our office today for a free evaluation of your accident case. Toll free
9 8 Mistake # 3 Thinking Your Insurance Company Is Here To Help You Anyone who s seen the thousands of insurance company commercials on television may think that the insurance company is their greatest ally when a claim must be filed after a car accident. Catchy slogans like You re in good hands, Like a good neighbor and on your side are intended to elicit trust from policyholders. But this trust is often misplaced. The cold, hard facts are these -- insurance companies are in business, first and foremost, to make money. They may pay out on a claim that you file, but they try to limit that payment as much as possible. That s why you may be offered a quick settlement (see Mistake #5) that pays out substantially less than what you deserve. Many people who come to our office with injuries resulting from a vehicle accident have not submitted their medical bills to their Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which is primary (health insurance is secondary). No Fault Law requires that every automobile insurance policy include an element of health insurance to pay for medical bills incurred by the insured or their household family members due to an accident. In addition, PIP coverage is provided to any person who drives your car with your permission and to any passenger in your car who does not have their own PIP coverage. For example, under a typical New Jersey policy, the insured s insurance company must pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses up to $250,000 per person per accident. The payment of medical bills is subject to a statutory deductible of $250 and a co-payment of 20 percent of the first $5,000 in bills. This means that you may be required to pay up to $1,200 of the first $5,000 of medical expenses. Sounds great, right? Except that as soon as you have an accident and file a PIP claim, as required to get your medical bills paid, your insurance company s interests are no longer the same as your interests. As stated above, they are in the business of limiting costs, and will do what they can to limit what they are paying out on your PIP claim, often refusing to approve necessary tests and treatment and cutting off benefits altogether. They also may ask you to sign authorizations and give recorded statements to discuss your injuries. My advice is to never give a statement or sign any document until you have spoken to an attorney first.
10 9 Our office provides free assistance to our personal injury clients in getting their medical bills paid by the PIP carrier. Our attorneys have not only extensive personal liability experience, but have previously been associated with some of the biggest names in the insurance industry, so we know how insurance companies play ball. The insurance companies have an army of attorneys and financial resources which they can use to limit compensation on personal injury claims. Don t let time run out on your chance to collect fair and appropriate compensation for your injuries and medical bills. Call us today, toll free
11 10 Mistake # 4 Making Property Damage Errors That Can Cost You Thousands of Dollars If your vehicle was towed from the accident scene to an impound lot, you can accrue hundreds even thousands of dollars in storage fees if the car remains there for any length of time because of an insurance company dispute. Don t find out the hard way how quickly these daily charges of up to $50.00 per day can add up. Our office provides free assistance for our personal injury clients in pursuing their property damage claim. Mistake # 5 Accepting a Quick Settlement When you are injured, medical bills are piling up and you may be unable to work, it can be tempting to avoid the claim process and accept a quick initial settlement from the insurance company. Often insurance companies ask injured parties to accept settlements that don t adequately compensate the victim whose injuries may worsen and who may be suffering with these injuries for the rest of their lives. Do not give up your rights to collect the maximum compensation under the law. By securing an experienced attorney on your case, you can avoid the devastation of uncompensated longterm injuries and medical expenses.
12 11 Mistake # 6 Believing That They Are Not The Type Of Person To Contact An Attorney Like Tom at the beginning of this book, some people are initially hesitant to file an injury, medical expense or property damage claim. Many of these people feel that they are not the kind of person to seek compensation from an insurance company, although they would not hesitate to have their health insurance company pay their bills for a checkup. There has been so much negative advertising by insurance companies that imply that it is somehow inappropriate to file a claim for a car accident. That s simply untrue. All drivers are required to have car insurance by law, and that includes Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance to cover medical bills, which is like a type of health insurance. The reason everyone is required by law to have insurance is to ensure that coverage is there so you can bring a claim. Consider this: The insurance industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and lobbying to put themselves in the most enviable position of any business: having a product (insurance coverage) that everybody is required to buy, but everybody feels reluctant to ever collect what they are owed. In 2000, the estimated economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the United States was $231 billion 1. Would anyone really propose that this cost should be absorbed by the victims, and not be compensated by the insurance companies? In some cases, your ability to file a claim could be lost if the claim is not filed within 90 days of the accident. 1 Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics
13 12 Your legal counsel can protect you from overreaching or aggressive representatives from an insurance company attempting to record your statement. You owe it to yourself to at least consult with an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case, get your questions answered and make sure your rights are protected. Once you have legal representation, the insurance companies MUST contact your attorney; they cannot contact you directly. What re more, your attorney can preserve legal rights that you may not even know you have. Based on the above, it seems clear that you are only hurting yourself if you do not at least consult with an attorney after an accident. Contact our office today for a free evaluation of your accident case. Toll free
14 13 Mistake # 7 Not Hiring The Legal Counsel That s Right For Your Case Plain and simple, the legal counsel that you select is perhaps the most critical element in receiving the maximum compensation to which you are entitled under the law. A few points to keep in mind: Your attorney must understand how to beat the insurance companies at their own game. The bottom line with the insurance giants IS the bottom line their bottom line. With inhouse legal staffs, these companies can afford to pull out all the stops to limit payment of monies that you deserve for your injuries and medical expenses. You need an attorney who knows the insurance company ropes and is a tenacious advocate for your rights. Your attorney should have a solid, successful track record in personal injury law. Just as you wouldn t go to your podiatrist for brain surgery, it s critical that you select a law firm with a thorough understanding of the complex statutory structure of Personal Injury law AND a successful track record in representing clients who have suffered injury and incurred medical bills as the result of a vehicle accident. Your attorney should be available to address your questions and concerns. Not only should your legal counsel answer any and all of your questions and address your concerns, he/she should keep you informed and engaged in the process as your case proceeds. Your attorney should care about you as a person and work with you to get your life back on track. If you re hurt, and possibly worried about how you re going to pay your bills if you can t work, the litigation process can seem overwhelming. As a client, you should be treated with respect, dignity and empathy.
15 14 At the law firm of Console & Hollawell P.C., we ve represented thousands of personal injury clients throughout New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania since We know that our clients situations and their cases are as unique as they are. That s why we treat each of our clients with the caring and respect that they deserve. Our telephone and in person consultations are always conducted at no charge. For clients that cannot come to our office for any reason, we ll come to them. Based on the specifics of the case and our years of personal injury experience, we ll determine a strategy that will get you the maximum compensation under the law. Perhaps, best of all, we handle all of our cases on a contingency basis, if we don t get you money, you don t owe us a penny. In addition, we keep our clients informed and engaged in the process. AMONG OUR SUCCESSES TYPE OF INJURY DETAILS RECOVERY AWARDED Medical Malpractice Overprescribing medication leading to wrongful death. $1,500,000 Brain Injury Personal Injury Worksite Injury Car Accident Car Accident Car Accident Car Accident Child suffered an anoxic brain injury due to negligence of home health care aid. Child sustained severe and permanent injuries to right ankle and foot requiring multiple surgeries after being run over by a forklift. Permanent injury and disability resulting from a trip and fall on an uncovered HVAC hole. Automobile accident resulting in severe injuries requiring surgery. Client was rear seat passenger; driver lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree. Client sustained extensive and permanent scarring to the neck and abdomen, as well as a severe injury to the small intestine requiring surgery. Client sustained severe disc herniations and spine injury after being struck from behind while waiting to exit the New Jersey Turnpike. Automobile accident resulting in hearing loss and disc herniations that required surgery. $1,500,000 $900,000 $825,000 $610,000 $450,000 $443,000 $427,000 Truck Accident Accident resulting in facial scarring to a minor guest passenger. $350,000 Car Accident Automobile accident resulting in disc herniations to the lower back as well as severe and permanent neck and shoulder pain. $350,000
16 15 WE GET YOUR LIFE BACK ON TRACK Whether it s securing medical treatment for the pain that you re suffering, getting the medical bills paid at no charge, assisting with your property damage issues at no charge, and taking on the insurance companies to get you the maximum compensation for your injuries, we re here to help you. Contact us today to learn more. Toll free DISCLAIMER This book cannot substitute for the advice of an experienced attorney who is familiar with the facts of your specific matter. Note that this book is not legal advice or does not create an attorney-client relationship. The law varies state to state, so you should consult with a licensed personal injury attorney in your state and not rely on this book for legal advice. With regard to our results, please note that every case is different and that these results are not a guarantee of what we will obtain in any specific case.