The days that follow a devastating car accident can be frustrating and confusing. If you have severe injuries, you likely need help to navigate the steps you must take to recover your losses and hold the at-fault party responsible. When unsure, an experienced car accident lawyer can help you build your case, but first, consider your options and how you can best protect your right to compensation.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
The best source of evidence for an injury claim is medical records. When the accident is serious and the injuries severe, you need emergency medical care. However, a common mistake for people who are hurt but do not need first responders is failing to see a doctor. In general, it is best to seek a medical evaluation within the first 72 hours following your accident for three critical reasons:
- Catch injuries with latent symptoms. Car accidents can cause a burst of adrenaline that can last for hours after an accident, masking pain receptors that usually inform you of a painful internal injury. In that short period, your body could undergo irreparable damage. If you see a doctor immediately, they will conduct a complete medical exam and likely catch any internal injuries before the harm is too severe.
- Speed up the insurance claim process. Some insurers allow you to start your claim online because they have an automated process that covers essential questions. For example, they commonly ask if you saw a doctor within 72 hours of the accident. Answering no will slow down the claims process.
- Timely medical care can support your claim during negotiations. For example, suppose you wait too long to see a doctor for your injuries. In that case, the insurance company will likely use that gap to argue that your injuries could have been sustained in another way, tweaking your ability to negotiate a fair settlement. On the other hand, when you seek immediate care, you can provide those records to support your claim, giving your attorney a stronger argument in your favor.
Personal injury claims require damages, and damages require proof. If you suffered injuries but have no medical records linking them to the accident, you will face challenges when trying to recover compensation.
Should You File a Claim With Your Insurance Company?
Filing an insurance claim is the first step in recovering damages. However, with whom’s insurance should you file? If you suffered only minor injuries and minimal property damage, you might be able to recover everything you need from your no-fault auto insurance. However, if your injuries and losses are more severe, you could file a claim with the other party’s insurance or seek compensation through a lawsuit.
Utah’s No-Fault Auto Insurance Laws
Utah is one of only a few states that require drivers to carry no-fault auto insurance. In a no-fault state, personal injury protection and liability coverage are part of the mandatory policies. In practice, you would file a claim through your PIP policy following an auto accident and receive compensation for medical bills and a portion of your lost wages if your injuries resulted in missed work. Additionally, PIP insurance covers you, your passengers, anyone who drives your vehicle, and any pedestrian injured during the accident.
One of the benefits of PIP coverage is that fault does not play a factor in providing coverage. However, there are cons to the no-fault system. For example, you cannot recover non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress, and it does not cover all your lost wages. For victims with severe injuries, the losses may be too substantial for PIP coverage. In that case, Utah has a threshold for injury that allows you to bypass the no-fault requirement as long as your medical expenses amount to at least $3,000 and your injuries constitute permanent impairment, disability, disfigurement, or dismemberment.
When Can You File a Lawsuit Against the At-Fault Driver?
If your injuries meet the qualifications of the serious injury threshold, you can file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance or sue them for damages. You will be able to recover the total amount of your lost income, property damage, medical bills, and non-economic losses. However, you will also be responsible for proving the other party’s negligence and providing evidence to support every loss you claim.
Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Case
To prove fault in an auto accident case, you must support all three elements of a negligence claim:
- The other driver owed you a duty of care, meaning they had a responsibility to act with reasonable safety on the road.
- The driver did not respect that duty of care. For example, they violated a traffic law, such as speeding or driving recklessly.
- Their acts resulted in the accident that caused your injuries.
Once you prove these three elements, the law recognizes that the driver is liable for damages. First, however, you must provide proof of those damages. This includes medical records and bills to correlate your injuries with the accident, estimates from a mechanic to show the cost of vehicle damage, and pay stubs or tax returns to prove lost wages. Proving the non-economic losses is more complex because they do not have an inherent monetary value. However, your attorney will gather the evidence needed to support and adequately value them.
Shared Fault and the Comparative Negligence Rule
If you are partially liable for the accident, the law also states you are partly responsible for damages. In Utah, the state will apply the modified comparative negligence rule to determine if you can recover compensation and how much. According to this rule, you must be less than 50% at fault to recover anything. If you are less than 50% at fault, they will deduct your percentage of liability from the total available damages. Again, your attorney will help you understand this as it applies to your case.
When Should You Contact a Car Accident Lawyer?
You can contact a car accident lawyer at any point following your accident. Even if you think the process for recovering damages will be simple and direct, you should still speak with an attorney to ensure you understand every option available. If you suffered severe injuries and property damage, you might need to file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver. In that case, your legal representative will:
- Handle all contact with the insurance company, including negotiations for a settlement
- Investigate your accident to gather evidence that will support your negligence claim and the losses you sustained
- Draft the demand letter you will present, which includes your details of the accident, allegations of fault, and a list of demands
- Protect your rights and explain the legal process
- Access experts, such as an accident reconstruction specialist or medical professionals, who can help confirm your claim
- Provide compassion during a difficult time and professionalism while acting in your place
At Siegfried and Jensen, our team of car accident lawyers has over 30 years of experience helping victims of personal injury in Utah. We understand the importance of having someone looking out for you when dealing with a combative insurance company. Our job is to ensure no one takes advantage of you, and when we take on your case, you can focus on healing while we handle all the paperwork and legalities. Contact Siegfried and Jensen at (801) 845-9000 to schedule your free consultation and speak with a car accident attorney today.