Frequently Asked Questions
If you are facing a personal injury concern, you may have some questions before taking the first step to litigating your claim. Here are some frequently asked questions about personal injury, car accidents, and how a lawyer might help.
Do I need a lawyer?
Depending on the severity of your accident, you will need a lawyer to handle your personal injury claim. If the facts of the accident are complex, your injuries are significant or unusual, or the at-fault party is contesting their liability, it is advisable to put a lawyer on your side to fight for your right to damages and recovery. Additionally, if a lot of money is at stake (e.g., medical bills, lost wages) or your case requires expert testimony, success will heavily depend on the hand of a lawyer. An attorney can better help you collect the appropriate evidence to build a strong claim, complete all settlement-related documents, and represent you in court or the negotiations room.
Can I do this on my own?
In simpler cases, it may be possible to resolve the incident without a lawyer. For instance, if you were involved in a rear-end collision where the other driver was undoubtedly at fault and neither driver was severely injured, you might be able to resolve the claim by negotiating with the insurance companies on your own. Complications may escalate to requiring legal guidance if the other driver denies their fault or refuses to cooperate.
What about my car?
If your car is still able to be driven, your first step should be to contact the other driver’s insurance company to ask for an estimate of the repair cost. After you get an estimate, you can then take your car to a body shop for a second estimate. From there, the two estimates should match reasonably, and the insurance company will issue you a check to the body shop to pay for the repair. Note that some insurance companies may not have local estimators and could instead ask you to get 2-3 estimates from local body shops, after which they will issue you a check for the lowest estimate.
If your car is not able to be driven anymore, the insurance company will send an adjuster to estimate the damage to your car, and they will then issue a check to pay for the repairs. If your car has been towed to a repair shop or salvage yard, it is imperative to move the car as soon as possible to the body shop for repair. Keep in mind that you may have to pay a fee for this move.
In the unfortunate instance that your car is totaled, the insurance company may compare the amount your car could have been sold for before the accident (fair market value) to the estimated cost of repairing your car and pay you the lesser amount.
In many cases, while your car is being repaired or you are waiting on payment for totaled car, you may want to rent a car. Some car insurance policies may include optional coverage for a rental car, which will provide you coverage to pay for a rental car. If you don’t have rental reimbursement coverage on your policy, you can open a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance, where an adjuster will work with you to arrange for coverage for a rental car. Note that the rental car will be comparable to the vehicle that was damaged or totaled.
What if I don't have health insurance?
If you require medical care after a car accident, you should use your personal injury protection (PIP) and MedPay auto insurance coverage, which is separate from conventional health insurance. PIP is a form of automobile insurance that reimburses you for medical expenses and some other costs like lost wages after a car accident. Medical payments coverage, or MedPay, is similar to PIP, in that it typically applies to medical and funeral costs, but not lost wages or living expenses. It is sometimes sold as an add-on to PIP coverage or a less-expensive alternative to PIP.
Do I talk to the insurance company?
Most car insurance contracts usually require drivers to report a car accident to the insurer soon after the accident. The sooner the insurer knows about the accident, the sooner it can start trying to defend the claim. Be aware that if you fail to report an accident within a reasonable period of time, it is possible that the insurer may deny coverage in connection with the crash. An insurance company could define a “reasonable period of time” as being as little as a couple days, depending on the circumstances of your accident. So, even if your car accident was minor and did not rise to the level of a "reportable accident" in California, it is still advisable to report it to your insurer to make sure that the carrier will provide coverage for the accident should you need it.
What if I miss work?
Lost wages can be covered by damage awards in a successful claim. Under California law, having to miss work and thus lose wages is an economic loss that may be covered by damages compensated by the at-fault party. After all, in such incidents it is the negligence of the other party that has contributed to your loss in income or employment that you otherwise may have retained.