What are the first steps to take after an auto accident?
Our firm is always concerned about what a client says at the scene of an auto accident. Surprisingly enough, a lot of very nice people get out of their vehicle and say they are sorry even though the accident was not their fault. Anything you say at the scene is called a res gestae statement. It is fancy Latin meaning the statement is later admissible at trial. So, you want to be guarded. You do not want to talk about liability or who was wrong. You certainly want to stay at the scene and call the police.
If you are injured, be sure to seek prompt medical attention. That may mean calling an ambulance and gong to the E.R., or setting up an appointment with an appropriate physician or other healthcare provider, depending on the nature and severity of the injury. Use your common sense, and always follow the instructions of your doctor. If you wait too long or do not see a healthcare provider for your injuries, the negligent party’s insurance company may use this as a basis to say that you were not injured at all, you were not injured very much, or that you exacerbated your own injuries by not seeking medical attention in a timely way.
Be sure to try and obtain the insurance information of the other driver. If a police officer is called to the scene, he or she should be able to help you get that information. In some cases, the insurance company for the at-fault driver may contact you directly. Remember, the negligent driver’s insurance company is not your friend and does not have your interests in mind. They want to get you to settle your claim for less than its worth. That is why it is important to be represented by an attorney who understands the process and is looking out for your best interests.
What are you entitled to if you have been into an auto accident?
When you have been injured by another’s negligence, you are entitled to money compensation for the negative consequences to you which are a direct result of that negligence. That may include the cost of medical care, lost wages and income, pain and suffering, loss of bodily function, loss enjoyment of life, and mental and emotional anguish. Obviously, some of these, such as cost of medical care, are easier to put in money terms than others, such as mental anguish. Nonetheless, you are entitled to compensation for these so-called “non-economic” damages regardless of the fact that they are hard to put into concrete dollars and cents terms.
Any lost wages when a person misses work as a result of being injured in an accident may be recovered. Most everyone who has had any kind of halfway or very serious injury or worse, has medical bills which they are entitled to recover. Texas and New Mexico and all states allow you to recover for your mental and physical pain and suffering. So, we build the case from the ground up. The size of the medical bills, the size of your lost wages, and the amount of property damage are better said and really dictates the size of the case. If your medical bills are $500 after you have had a small intersection accident, then that is obviously not nearly the size case you would have if your medical bills were $50,000. We look very closely at lost wages and whether you were able to go to work or not. That is a very viable area of recovery and one that again sets the standard for the foundation of how big your case is.
If you have an accident with an uninsured motorist, can you still receive compensation?
The statistics here on the border of Texas and New Mexico are rather astounding. As much as 67% to 70% of people in this area may be either uninsured or underinsured. When you buy insurance from your insurance company, you have the option to purchase what is called UIM coverage, which is uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage.
Underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage is not legally required; therefore, if you purchase only the minimally required coverage, you will not have the benefit of UIM coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage comes into play if you are in an accident with someone who has no liability coverage at all of their own. Underinsured coverage, on the other hand, addresses a situation where the at-fault driver has some liability coverage, but it is insufficient to cover your damages. This can be very important, because most people only have the legal minimum level of liability coverage which may not provide enough funds if you are in a serious accident which results in significant injuries.
A typical UIM policy will cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and property damage. Some other types of voluntary coverage may also provide compensation in the event you are struck by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, such as Personal Injury Protection or Med Pay.
If you do not have UIM coverage, you will likely have significant difficulty securing compensation. You have the option to sue the negligent driver directly, but this is rarely a viable option in light of the fact that the typical uninsured motorist is not in a financial position to pay you compensation directly from his or her own pocket even if you can win a verdict against him or her in a trial.
Why should I consult with an attorney after I have had an accident?
There are many complex issues such as: statements at the scene; witnesses at the scene; evaluating the coverage of the opposite side; the people who were at fault or if you were at fault and studying your insurance policy coverage; if they are at fault to see if you have UIM. In these days, there is nothing illegal about an insurance company contacting the victims of the accident. You do not want to talk to the insurance company until you have hired counsel. Typically, as the victim of an auto accident which was caused by the negligence of another driver, you will be at a significant disadvantage in dealing with the at-fault driver’s insurance company directly. The insurance adjuster has significant experience and knowledge in settling claims for as little as possible. Indeed, some adjusters will take a default position of denying your claim on the assumption that the average victim will not challenge their decision. A lawyer can prepare your claim and represent your interests with the insurance company to ensure that you are compensated for your injuries.
Tommy Gilstrap has been practicing in personal injury claims since 1975, and has done it on both sides of defense. Insurance companies hired him to defend their insured from 1975 to about 1990. The insurance companies that he represented undertook this practice and we see it today. My firm exclusively represents people who are injured in accidents. We see insurance companies that will have people follow you and take photos and even video of your daily life activities. So, you always have to make sure to a hire a lawyer and be cognizant that those things can happen. Insurance companies can follow you and photograph you without your consent.
What personal experience do you have with handling auto accident claims?
Mr. Gilstrap started practicing law in November 1975. When he started, he did a lot of insurance defense work. A prominent national insurance company hired him on many cases to defend doctors that had been sued, to defend companies that had been sued for anything from products liability to workers comp, to auto accidents, to slip and falls, trip and falls. So, he was raised in the business going way back, learning the business from the defense side. In February 1987, he left the defense firm and set up my own firm, which has focused in plaintiffs’ personal injury representation.
Since then we have built our own building, and we have two other lawyers working for me in my office. Our firm focuses on representing people who have been harmed, hurt, injured, or killed, whether it is an 18 wheeler accident, whether it is an auto accident, or whether it is other related claims. We do a variety of other litigation and claims as well.
What makes your firm the best choice as an attorney for this type of claim?
We have seen a distinction over our nearly 40 years of practicing in this area of the law of the difference between the lawyers who were trained on the side of defense work and learned how to deal with insurance companies as to what the insurance companies want to know, and how honestly they want to hear it, and how to deal with them in an honest and good faith manner. Many of the younger lawyers representing injured people in auto accidents think they know a lot. Actually, the insurance adjusters are more in a specialty field. All they do is handle auto accidents and those kind of claims.
The insurance companies with a lot of money send their adjusters to attend many instructional classes and seminars and give them a lot of material to study. They are very good at what they do. Many times they know more, much more, than the lawyers who are trying to settle the claims. A younger set of lawyers who many times tried to settle these claims, we have found, talk down to the adjusters. They have the attitude that “I am a lawyer and I know what I am talking about”, whereas it is an experience process.