Category: Personal Injury

The 7 Stages of a Car Accident Claim

If you or a loved one is involved in a motor vehicle or car accident, it is unlikely you will be prepared for what is to come.  Here is a simple step by step guide showing what you can expect:

  1. Car Accident: Of course, the first step is the car accident.  If you are in a car accident, it is imperative that you get immediate medical treatment.  It is not unusual for people injured in a car accident to think they are fine immediately after the accident, because their adrenaline is high or they are worried about something else besides themselves.  They refuse medical treatment, either an ambulance or a trip to the emergency room, but then later on or even the next day, they are in severe pain, because they have been injured.
  2. Hire an Attorney: Ideally, if you have been injured in a car accident, you should hire a personal injury attorney right away.  Once you have hired an attorney, the attorney can help you with every aspect of the case.  The attorney will help you get your vehicle fixed, get a rental car, find appropriate medical providers, settle your claim, and file a lawsuit, if necessary.
  3. Get Medical Treatment: There are many doctors that do not handle injured victims of car accidents.  Your attorney can help you find doctors that will help you get back to being yourself and that will not charge you anything up front.  It is very important to get medical treatment as soon as possible.  The longer you wait to get medical treatment, the more likely the insurance company will be to claim you were not actually injured in the car accident.
  4. Make a Demand: Once your treatment is complete, your attorney will collect ALL of your medical records and medical bills, as well as any documentation for your lost wages or any future medical bills.  This will be prepared into a demand package and sent to the insurance company.
  5. Negotiations: After the demand package is sent to the insurance company, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a favorable settlement for you with the insurance company.  This can be a time consuming process with many offers, demands, counter offers, and counter demands.  An experienced personal injury attorney, can help you set reasonable and realistic goals for the negotiations and give you an idea of what similar cases are worth in your area.
  6. Settlement: Congratulations!  But, the case isn’t finished just yet.  At this point, you still have to pay your medical bills, your attorney, and any of the costs or expenses associated with the claim.  Your attorney should negotiate with your medical providers to make sure all of your medical bills are paid and get you the money you deserve.
  7. File Lawsuit: If the case does not settle, your attorney will then file a lawsuit.  Keep in mind, even though a lawsuit has been filed, this does not mean your case will necessarily go all the way to a jury trial.  It is common for settlement negotiations to continue between your attorney and the attorney for the insurance company during the lawsuit.

Once you hire an attorney after a car accident, it is the attorney’s job to assist you with all aspects of your case and car accident claim.  Having an attorney assist you with the case, allows you to focus on the most important task, getting better and getting back to normal, while your attorney deals with the time consuming demands of the insurance company.  If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, call us today so we can take the pressure of having to deal with the insurance company off your shoulders and let you focus on getting better.

Top 3 Things To Do If You Have Been Sued

  1. IMMEDIATELY CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY: If you have been sued for a car accident, something that happened inside your home, or for any other situation where you might have insurance to cover the claim, immediately contact your insurance company and notify them of the lawsuit.  In situations like these, the insurance company has a duty to hire an attorney to defend you, but only if you promptly notify them.  In Oklahoma, you or your attorney only have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit or a default judgment could be entered against you, so it is imperative that you contact your insurance company immediately.  This gives your insurance company enough time to retain an attorney on your behalf and for the attorney to properly respond to the lawsuit.
  2. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY: If you have been sued (and you do not have insurance or your insurance is not going to defend you), immediately contact an attorney.  As we mentioned above, you only have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit once you have received it.  If a default judgment is entered against you for failing to respond, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to get a default judgment overturned.  It is much easier to simply respond on time and never have the default judgment entered against you, than to try and get a default judgment overturned.
  3. DO NOT POST ANYTHING ON SOCIAL MEDIA: This one may seem completely obvious or at least it should seem completely obvious, but defendants (and even some plaintiffs) post things on Facebook or Twitter or some other social media site that is damaging to their case.  In one case, I was representing a jailer that had been accused of strip searching a woman.  This was the central issue in the case, whether or not what happened was in a strip search.  Well, unfortunately, the attorney for the plaintiff found that my client had posted on myspace “a strip search with every accommodation” as her quote.  This was very damaging and we ultimately lost the case.  Likewise, 50 Cent is currently involved in a bankruptcy case.  Recently, he has posted photographs of himself with large piles of cash.  Because he has been posting these pictures, he was summoned to court to explain to the judge whether he was hiding assets, a very serious charge.  Turns out, he was posing with fake money, which is probably even more embarrassing for his public image and persona than the bankruptcy case.  The lesson here  is quite simply, do not post anything on Facebook that the other side could use against you in court.  Just don’t do it!

Should You Have Uninsured Motorist Coverage?

In Oklahoma, motorists are only required to have $25,000.00 in automobile insurance to cover potential injuries they may cause while driving.  Unfortunately, with the rapidly rising costs of healthcare, $25,000.00 does not go very far.  In many situations, an innocent individual, who just happens to have the misfortune of being hit by someone with these minimum limits, will be stuck with medical bills that far exceed $25,000.00.  If the individual is lucky, the doctors and hospitals may be willing to take a pro-rata share of the available $25,000.00 and call it even, but they do not always do so, leaving the innocent individual with thousands upon thousands of medical bills to pay for, even though they did nothing wrong.

What can you do to try and make sure this doesn’t happen to you?  Well the most important thing you can do is make sure you plan ahead and get the appropriate insurance coverage on your automobile policy.  In Oklahoma, drivers are given the option of purchasing uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or UM/UIM coverage for short.  Many Oklahoma drivers decline to purchase this insurance, because it is optional and it makes their auto insurance premium increase.  This is a huge mistake.  In a situation where your medical bills exceed the amount of available insurance from the other driver or even where the other driver has no insurance at all, you would be able to collect from your UM/UIM coverage – assuming you decided to purchase it.  And having UM/UIM coverage can be a huge boost in a case like this, because if you have more than just the state minimum coverages you could have $50,000.00, $100,000.00, or more in UM/UIM coverage to help pay for your medical bills and other damages associated with being injured.

Some people will argue that UM/UIM insurance is too expensive for such a remote possibility of being used.  But, I would disagree.  I have seen too many clients come to my office and tell me about an auto accident they were involved in where there was no insurance or not nearly enough insurance available to cover their medical bills to agree that this coverage would be rarely used.  In fact, on the occasions where my clients had UM/UIM coverage available and we did use it, they were all extremely grateful they had it.  Without question, I believe every driver that has automobile insurance, even if they have health insurance or other insurance available, should have UM/UIM coverage to help protect them and their loved ones.

Are My Medical Bills Covered?

If you have been injured in an automobile accident or a premises liability slip-and-fall case, one of the first things you have probably wondered about was how were your medical bills going to be paid.  This is a very important issue for you and there are several different factors and strategic decisions to be made.

  1. If the accident is your fault: If the accident is your fault, then the other driver’s insurance company will not be helping pay for your medical bills.  In a situation like this, you may still use your health insurance to help pay the cost of your medical bills.  You may also have medical payments (med pay) coverage on your automobile insurance policy.  Typically, med pay policy limits in Oklahoma are less than $10,000.00, but under Oklahoma law they are available to you regardless of who was at fault for the accident.  It is very important to contact your insurance company after an accident to determine if there is med pay coverage available to you.
  2. If the other driver is at fault: If the other driver is at fault for your accident and your injuries were caused by the accident, then the other driver or their insurance company will be responsible for reimbursing you for your damages.  Your damages include any medical bills you have incurred or any future medical bills you will incur.  But, and this is important, the other driver or insurance company is not required to pay your medical bills as you incur them.  In a normal case, they will only look at settling your case once you have completed all of your treatment.  Many hospitals and medical providers will agree to hold your bills and not turn them over to collections until your case has been settled.  However, some will require you to pay them immediately, to avoid having the bill turned over to collections.  It is important to communicate with the hospital or medical providers early on.  Keep in mind, even if the other driver is at fault, you can still receive your med pay benefits from your automobile insurance company.  In Oklahoma, you are allowed to “double dip” and receive a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company and receive your med pay benefits.
  3. If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident or other premises liability case: If you are not injured in a car accident, but are injured at a business or on someone else’s property, the business or property owner may be responsible for your medical bills.  Basically, if the business was negligent-legally responsible for your injuries- and failed to maintain their premises in a safe condition, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  If this is the case, typically, you will be able to get med pay benefits from the business and a settlement for your injuries.  However, even if the business was not negligent and, thus, not legally responsible for your injuries, you may still be able to recover med pay benefits to help pay your bills.

It is important to keep in mind that in none of these situations are your medical bills paid as you incur them.  An attorney can often help during this process by contacting the medical providers and letting them know that you are represented and that a claim is being made for your injuries.  An experienced personal injury attorney can also help ensure that you maximize your recovery through any and all available insurance.  Finally, an attorney can help to negotiate your medical bills with your medical providers, so that you end up with more money in your pocket.  If you have any questions or if you or a loved one has been injured and is trying to figure out how to pay medical bills that you have incurred, feel free to contact a personal injury attorney at The Cotton Law Firm for a free consultation.

How Much is my Personal Injury Case Worth?

The one question that I get nearly every time a prospective client comes into the office to discuss their personal injury case is always “how much is my case worth?”  This seems like a simple enough question, but in reality it is a complex question and the answer is based on multiple factors.  Here are some of those factors:

  1. Your medical bills:

The first consideration in the value of your case is how much are your medical bills.  This is generally the starting point for a damages award in personal injury cases.  Of course, it is never that simple.  Oklahoma, recently, passed a law that only allows for the amount of your medical bills that was actually paid to be considered in calculating damages and not the amount charged by the medical provider.  So, for example, if you went to the emergency room right after the accident and the ER billed $5,000.00 for their services, but your health insurance only paid them $1,000.00 and the remainder was “contractually adjusted” or written off by the ER, you would only be able to claim the $1,000.00 that was paid for your personal injury claim.

  1. The extent of your injuries and the quality of your care:

As one would imagine, if you are more seriously injured, your case is likely to be worth more.  For example, if you have broken bones or torn ligaments, your case will be worth more than if you just have whiplash or “soft-tissue injuries.”  The reason for this is pretty simple, injuries that a jury can “see” are more powerful and, as a result, typically result in larger jury verdicts.  Likewise, if you receive treatment right after the accident from an emergency room or you go to an orthopedic surgeon for intensive care or surgery, your case will be worth more than if you just went to a chiropractor and received a few adjustments.

  1. You waited to get medical treatment:

Lots of times potential clients will come to my office and tell me that even though they were hurt immediately after the accident and have been hurting for weeks or even months, they have still not sought any medical treatment.  The reasons for doing this are rarely nefarious; typically, people just don’t have the time to go the ER or simply believe that their symptoms will go away on their own.  Unfortunately, waiting to receive medical treatment is one of the most common ways people cause the value of their case to decrease.  Insurance companies look at someone that waited to get treatment for several weeks or months as someone that must not be very hurt – in their eyes, if someone is hurt that badly, they would have immediately gotten medical treatment.  As a result, the insurance company is likely to discount any medical treatment they ultimately received or even to completely ignore it.

  1. Lost wages:

If you missed time from work, you are entitled to recover your lost wages under Oklahoma law.  As a result, the amount of time you missed from work because of the injuries you sustained in the car accident typically has a direct correlation to the value of your case.

  1. The damage to your vehicle:

It may seem like this would have no relation to the value of your personal injury claim, after all these are separate claims and issues, but they are not!  Insurance companies closely look at how much damage was sustained by your vehicle.  If the car has very minimal damage, or by extension if the impact was minor, they will argue you should not have been injured.  This is a very powerful argument – juries tend to look at pictures of vehicles with very minor damage and believe there is just no way someone could have been injured in such a minor accident.  As a result, if your vehicle does not have extensive damage, the value of your case is likely to be less, regardless of your injuries.

  1. Who’s fault was the accident:

Obviously, if you are at fault for the accident, your personal injury claim would have zero value.  This is because insurance companies are only required to pay in situations where their insured was negligent and at-fault for the accident and for your injuries.  This becomes a big issue when there are questions as to whose fault the accident was.  In some situations, both drivers are partly at fault for an accident.  When that happens, the value of the case goes down correspondingly.

  1. Miscellaneous:

Unfortunately, there are many other miscellaneous factors that can affect the value of your personal injury claim.  For example, under Oklahoma law, the insurance company is now allowed to factor in whether or not you were wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident.  As you can imagine, if you were not wearing your seat belt, your case will be worth less, because the insurance company can argue that you would not have been injured if you had been wearing it.  Other considerations that attorneys typically have to pay attention to are your personality and likeability to a jury; the personality and likeability of the other driver; who your doctors are and are they good at testifying, if necessary; and even something like the relationship between your attorney and the insurance company’s adjuster can affect the value of your personal injury case.

The bottom line is personal injury cases are complex and to maximize the value of your personal injury claim and to get everything that you are entitled to according to the law, it is in your best interest to get an experienced personal injury attorney working for you as soon as possible.  Here, at The Cotton Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations, so that we can discuss the details of your particular case and give you the best chance to maximize the value of your case.

9 Things to do After Being in an Auto Accident

Odds are, you will be involved in a car accident at some point during your life.  On average, there are more than 6 million car accidents each year in the United States and more than 3 million people are injured.  If you have been in a car accident, there are things that you should do immediately to protect yourself and your rights:

  1. STOP – Immediately stop your vehicle after an accident and never leave the scene of the accident, even if it is just a minor accident.
  2. CALL THE POLICE – It does not matter if you believe you are at fault for the accident, or if you believe the other driver is at fault for the accident; whether the other driver admits it was their fault; whether there are injuries, or if it is just a minor accident—it is very important to call the police and have them create an accident report. Accident reports provide excellent evidence in case there is a dispute as to who was responsible for causing the accident.
  3. NEVER ADMIT FAULT – Accidents can be complex and confusing situations. Even when you believe you are at fault, do not admit that to the other driver, to any witnesses, or to the police.  Leave this to your insurance company, or to your attorney to sort out.  If you do admit fault at the scene (even if you just apologize to the other driver), this can be used against you later.
  4. EXCHANGE INFORMATION – Typically, the responding police officer will obtain this information; however, while waiting for the police to arrive, it is worth the time to go ahead and exchange information with the other driver. Specifically, this should include the name, address, and phone number of everyone involved in the accident (including passengers) and the other driver’s insurance information.  If there are any witnesses, get their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  5. TAKE PICTURES – While waiting for the police, take pictures of all of the vehicles involved in the accident, of the scene of the accident, and of any visible injuries. If you cannot take pictures at the scene of the accident, take them as soon after as you can.
  6. GET MEDICAL TREATMENT – It is very common for injuries caused by minor accidents to not become apparent for several days. Many of our clients tell us that they felt fine immediately after the accident, because of the adrenaline of being involved in an accident, but that they were in pain a day or two later.  Because it is so common for these injuries to become apparent after the accident, it is very important to go to your family doctor or to your local emergency room and get checked out.  Always remember, serious injuries can result from minor accidents.
  7. REPORT THE CLAIM – Make sure you notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible. Even if the accident is not your fault, your insurance company may provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or medical payments coverage to you, if you have been injured.  As long as the accident was not your fault, your insurance premiums should not increase as a result of submitting a claim for med pay coverage.  Keep in mind, if you hire an attorney, your attorney will gladly do this for you.
  8. KEEP RECORDS – Keep track of everything related to the accident—this includes the accident report, any communications with the other insurance company or your insurance company, medical records, and medical bills. Also, keep track of any out of pocket expenses related to the accident, such as a rental car, prescriptions, or other expenses, and any time that you have had to miss from work or school.
  9. TALK TO AN ATTORNEY – The most important thing you can do after an accident is talk to an attorney. The other driver’s insurance company is not here to help you, no matter what they say.  They have one job, and only one job:  to settle your claim for as little money as possible.  Often times, they will offer a quick settlement for any personal injury claims—do not accept it.  The worst thing you can do is settle an injury claim before you know how injured you are, or before you have completed your treatment.  Your attorney can handle all aspects of your claim:  from making sure you are properly compensated for the damage to your vehicle and injuries, to making sure you are getting the best medical treatment available.  And, don’t worry, at The Cotton Law Firm, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay us anything up front, and won’t pay us anything at all, unless we recover money for you.

If you have been in an accident and are in need of an auto accident attorney, give us a call and we will do everything we can to help you through this process.