What to Do After a Car Accident Injury
If you are injured in a car accident, what you do at the scene and in the hours and days after it can be the difference between a fair settlement or a long fight for compensation.
If you are injured in a car accident, what you do in the minutes, hours and days after the accident could determine the outcome of a settlement that covers your medical bills, treatment, lost wages and more.
The second the cars strike each other, practically every move you make related to the accident will have an impact on your settlement.
You may never have thought about what you’d do if you were injured in a car accident until that moment. After it, you’ll think of nothing else. How and when you get treatment, your insurance coverage, who’s at fault, and more, all will affect how your medical bills get paid.
Settlement amounts are not public, but the Institute of Insurance Information reports that the average liability insurance payout in 2021 for bodily injury was $22,734.
Getting to the point where you’re offered a fair settlement is a complicated process, and if you are injured in a car accident, you should talk to a personal injury attorney.
An industry survey found that plaintiffs represented by an attorney in car accident cases got a payout 74% of the time, as opposed to 54% for those who didn’t. They also got higher payouts, $44,600 compared to $13,900.
First Steps After the Car Accident
It’s possible you’ll be so incapacitated in the immediate aftermath of a car accident that other people will make the decisions for you. If you are able to take care of yourself, or at least advocate for yourself, your focus should be on avoiding making your injuries worse and getting treatment.
If you’re able:
- Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. Don’t move if you are seriously injured. This also goes for seriously injured passengers.
- If your injuries allow it, move your vehicle out of traffic.
- Call 911. Tell the dispatcher there are injuries. If you’re not able to, ask someone else to call 911.
- If you’re able, get the other driver’s contact information, check for witnesses and get their information, take photos of the scene and your vehicle.
- First responders will examine you at the scene, and possibly treat you there. If your injury isn’t obvious, be sure to let them know you are hurt. They may ask if you want to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Insurance will only pay for an ambulance if it’s a “medical necessity,” which means you require immediate medical treatment at a hospital. If you are seriously injured, the important thing is to get to the hospital and worry about the bill later.
- Be careful what you say at the scene. Downplaying an injury, apologizing, arguing about fault, and other statements may be used against you by the insurance company or in court.
- Notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as you can.
- If you don’t take an ambulance to the hospital, see a medical professional as soon as possible.
- Seek treatment if there was significant vehicle impact, even if you don’t think you were hurt. Be on the lookout for symptoms that show up hours or days after the accident and seek immediate treatment.
Treating Your Injuries
“It’s easy to not notice an injury in the aftermath of a car accident, and a driver may think they’re not injured, but then realize they are later,” Don Wruck, of Wruck Paupore PC Injury Firm, said.
Seeking treatment after an accident can prevent it from becoming worse, he said. Getting checked out and treated as soon as possible after an accident also strips the other driver’s insurance company or attorney of the ability to argue the injury happened some other way besides the accident.
Tests to Get After a Car Accident
MRIs, CAT scans and X-rays are the most common tests to get after a car accident, because they diagnose head, neck and back injuries that can cause long-term and debilitating health problems. They also may not show up right away or can be more severe than they first appear.
Hospital emergency departments are the best place to get those tests on short notice, Wruck said, because it can take a while to get an appointment with a primary care physician.
He also said to follow instructions for care from medical professionals. If you don’t, it can have a negative effect on your insurance settlement.
» Learn More: Common Car Accident Injuries
Should You Go to the Emergency Room after an Accident?
If you are seriously injured, immediately go to a hospital emergency department. Your top priority is to get diagnosed and treated. Worry about who will pay the bills later.
If your injuries are not serious, but the accident happened at night or on a weekend or holiday, you should also go to the ER. Doctors will be available to evaluate you, and you can get the tests needed to determine the extent of your injuries right away.
An urgent care clinic is another option for less serious injuries. You can walk in without an appointment and wait times are usually quicker than at the ER. Be aware that some urgent care clinics refer car accident victims to the ER instead of treating them, because of insurance concerns. Many urgent care clinics also don’t have the equipment for diagnostic tests.
If your injuries aren’t serious, you can also make an appointment with your primary care professional, but if they can’t see you right away, ask them to recommend another option that will allow you to get immediate attention.
A specialist, such as an orthopedist or chiropractor, is also an option for limb or back injuries.
How to Pay Medical Bills
You are responsible for medical bills after the accident. Reimbursement, the amount and where it will come from, depends on your insurance coverage, the other driver’s coverage, who is at fault and what state you live in, among other things.
When you get medical bills after a car accident, what you do with them also depends on which insurance company will be paying. If you have health insurance, personal injury protection or MedPay, the medical provider will likely submit them to the primary insurance company, which will bill you for deductibles or things that aren’t covered. Pay any parts of bills you’re responsible for. Insurance claim cases can take a long time to settle, and not paying the bills can hurt your settlement as well as have an impact on your credit.
If you get a settlement, you’ll be reimbursed for what you pay out of pocket, minus any deductibles that apply.
Keep all documentation and receipts and follow doctor’s orders. The more attentive you are to your treatment, bills, payments and other details, the easier it will be to sort it out with insurance, or a lawsuit, if it comes to that.
Here’s a look at the most common ways medical bills get paid after a car accident:
If you have health insurance, your medical expenses should be covered, with you responsible for your deductible. Health insurance pays the bills quickly, and if there’s no dispute over charges, the only part you’ll have to pay is the deductible. The insurance company will be reimbursed if you get a settlement.
If you have PIP or MedPay, health insurance will cover what’s left over after they pay.
If the other driver is at fault and has liability insurance, it should pay your medical bills … eventually. It can take a long time to sort out a claim against another driver’s insurance (this is called a third-party claim). You must still pay your bills as they come in. If your health insurance, PIP or MedPay pays some of your bills, they will also be reimbursed from the settlement.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Drivers in no-fault states are required to have PIP, which covers their medical bills up to a maximum amount, no matter who is at fault. If your medical expenses are higher than your PIP coverage, and the other driver is at fault, you can file a claim against their insurance for the rest.
Some at-fault states also require drivers to have PIP, or MedPay coverage, that is used ahead of health insurance and can pay medical bills from an accident or fill coverage gaps. In other states, it’s offered as an option.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance will pay medical bills, lost wages and more if the at-fault driver does not have insurance, or doesn’t have enough coverage to pay the injured driver’s medical bills. Some states require a minimal amount of UMI; in other states it’s an option.
If you’re hurt in a vehicle accident while on the job, you may be covered by workers compensation insurance, no matter who is at fault. There are strict rules, so if you are hurt in a car or truck accident while performing your job, be sure to follow instructions and attend required appointments.
If the other driver is at fault and their insurance coverage isn’t adequate, or won’t pay a claim, hiring an attorney may be enough to get a settlement. More than 90% of car accident insurance claims are settled before they go to court, and people who hire an attorney are far more likely to get a settlement, and to get a higher settlement, studies show. If the suit ends up in court, having an attorney is essential.
If You Were at Fault
If you were injured in an accident and at fault, you are responsible for your medical bills, and options for reimbursement are limited.
Health insurance will pay medical bills after an accident, no matter who is at fault. You’ll have to pay your deductible and there’s no coverage for lost wages or other related issues.
If you have PIP or MedPay, it will also pay medical bills up to your coverage limit.
If the other driver was injured, you’re on the hook for their medical bills. Your liability insurance will cover it, assuming you have it. If you live in a no-fault state and the other driver’s injuries exceed their PIP coverage, you may also be responsible for the balance of their medical bills.
» More About: What Happens If You Were At Fault for an Accident?
If You Were Not at Fault
If you are not at fault in a car accident, you are responsible for paying your medical bills, but will likely get reimbursed.
You, your health insurance and/or your PIP or MedPay will cover your bills, short term.
You must make a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company in order to get reimbursed. States have different laws about what type of injury damages can be paid, all include medical and disability expenses, but rules vary on lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
If the other driver wasn’t insured and you have uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance coverage, it will pay your medical bills up to your coverage limit.
If the at-fault driver wasn’t insured and you don’t have UMI, you can file a lawsuit, but since you’re suing an individual, it may take a while, or never, to get a settlement to pay your medical bills.
» More About: What to Do After an Accident That Is Not Your Fault
Settling an Injury Claim
The purpose of a car accident settlement is to pay your medical bills, as well as reimburses you for lost wages, property damage bills, pain and suffering, and more.
Most states have a deadline for how long after an accident to file a claim, usually 30 days.
To file the claim, you’ll need accident details and documentation, as well as know how much to ask for.
Any injury that has an impact on your livelihood, short-term or long-term, requires extensive treatment or therapy, or is disabling, will mean a more complicated, more expensive claim that will take longer to settle.
Determining Pain and Suffering Amounts
Medical bills are black and white. An insurance company can dispute whether they’ll cover it, but the amount of the treatment, service or medicine is clear.
An intangible like pain and suffering is harder to measure with money. Most insurance companies use a multiplier system. They add up the “special damages,” which are the costs that can be measured, like medical bills, and then multiply that amount by a number between 1.5 and 5. Things like how serious the injuries are, length of recovery period, proof of pain and suffering, and more, determine what the multiplier will be.
Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, consult with an attorney before you file a claim. The initial consultation is usually free. The attorney may take your case on a contingency basis, meaning they will get paid from a portion of your settlement. You can also hire one at a flat fee or hourly basis to help you with specific aspects of filing a claim.
Car accident lawyers know how to calculate the amount that should be asked for in a bodily injury claim, are versed in their state’s compensation laws, understand the negotiation process and how insurance companies operate, and know the ins and outs of documentation, the court process and more. Their representation can help you get the money you need to pay your medical bills, and more, if you’re injured in a car accident.
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