18 Mistakes that Can Hurt Your Auto Accident Claim in Louisiana, and How to Avoid Them
Being in an automobile accident in Louisiana can be anything from a minor inconvenience to a life-changing event. Indeed, auto accidents are the leading cause of personal injury and preventable death in America. While a fender bender can make you late for an appointment, a major crash can be devastating to you and your family. And if you are injured badly, your ongoing pain and medical treatment can last for years. An accident can also cause financial hardship due to missed work and mounting bills.
Sadly, it is a mistake to believe that any insurance company, be it yours or the other driver’s, will pay for everything, and that your compensation will be immediate. In fact, insurance companies will do whatever they legally can to minimize payments and/or delay them whenever possible. That is why people who are the victim of another driver’s carelessness, or even their own mistake, most often have to rely on the help of an experienced personal injury or car accident attorney to receive the compensation they deserve.
If you are involved in a car wreck in the greater New Orleans area of Louisiana, there are a number of things that you should know. You need to make sure that you do, and don’t do, certain things, because particular things can be held against you in an accident claim or court case.
Here is a list of 18 mistakes that you need to be aware of, and how to avoid them. Any one of them can hurt your chances to receive the compensation you deserve:
1. Leaving the Scene of the Accident Unless Law Enforcement Tells You To
If you have a car accident, stop immediately. Louisiana law requires that you not leave the scene of a crash, even a minor one. In some cases, especially in an accident that causes injury or death, a driver who leaves the scene can be subject to criminal charges. If you are not seriously injured and can safely move your vehicle out of traffic, do so. If not, warn other drivers by turning on your hazard lights, waving your hands, and/or lighting road flares if you have them.
2. Not Calling the Police and Failing to Obtain a Police Report
During the claim process, a police report may end up being a very vital piece of evidence. Not getting a police report that provides details on how the accident occurred gives the responsible party an opportunity to change his or her story after the fact. Because of this, never let the other driver talk you out of calling the police. While some police departments will not come to the scene of a minor accident, call them anyway and let the police decide if this applies in your case. Also, when discussing the accident with the police, do not admit fault. You may initially believe that you caused or contributed to the accident, only later to discover that the other driver was to blame. Finally, make sure to get the name and badge number of the officer writing the report. Be sure to note what police agency he or she is from (City Police, Sheriff’s Department, State Police, etc.), and always get the incident or item number. This information will allow you or your lawyer to easily obtain a copy of the report when it is ready.
3. Not Exchanging Insurance Information
Regardless of how minor an accident may appear, failing to exchange insurance and other information is a major mistake. Vital pieces of information include the name of the other driver, his or her home and work addresses, home, work and cell phone numbers, driver license number, name of the insurance company, policy number, license plate number, and make and model of the other vehicle. Also, if the vehicle’s registered owner is different from the driver, be sure to obtain the owner’s complete name, address and telephone numbers as well.
4. Not Gathering Witness Information
In addition to a police report, witnesses to an accident can give an unbiased version of what happened. For this reason, it is very important to seek out witnesses and get their complete contact information (full name, home and work addresses, home, work and cell phone numbers, etc.) and a statement. It may be necessary to have them testify during a deposition or at a trial sometime down the road.
5. Not Taking Photographs and Videos at the Accident Scene and of Your Injuries
These days, almost everyone has a cell phone with a camera. Taking pictures of everything at the accident scene including vehicle damage, vehicle positions, the surrounding area, and any injuries, bruises or scars will help establish your claim. The right photograph can be powerful. It can motivate an insurance company to make a fair settlement offer. It can be the difference between a good settlement and a great one.
If a photograph is worth a thousand words, video must be worth a million. Video is very effective as it can show the “complete” picture of the accident scene. It can also capture “emotion,” and show things like the “loss of range of motion” and pain following an injury.
The simple point is this: the more you document your case, the better you can prove it. So, when in doubt, film it!
6. Not Seeking Prompt Medical Attention (Can Weaken Your Case)
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Sometimes, after an accident, an individual may be in shock and not realize that he or she has suffered any injury at all. After representing many car accident victims, I can say with reasonable certainty that you will feel worse one, two or three days later than you do immediately after. So, do not assume that just because you do not feel pain right away, you are not injured. Getting to a doctor as soon as possible is a no-brainer.
Also, know that if you do not go to the doctor soon after an accident, or try to “tough it out” the first week or so, this will be used against you by the insurance company. Specifically, the insurance adjuster will say “Well, if you were really hurt in that accident, why didn’t you immediately go to the doctor?” Further, not having a medical professional document an injury promptly can invite an argument from the at-fault party or their insurance company that the accident at issue did not cause your injury. Instead, they will claim that something else must have occurred between the time of the accident and the doctor’s visit to bring on your pain.
7. Not Keeping Doctors’ Appointments or Not Cooperating Fully With Your Doctor
Missing medical appointments makes it looks as if you are not injured or not feeling any pain because of your accident. You have a better chance of receiving compensation for medical expenses and injuries if you can show that you are serious about getting well. So, you must make a commitment to your health and to your recovery by keeping your doctors’ appointments, even if it is time consuming to do so
8. Giving a Statement, Accepting Payments, or Signing Papers Without First Getting Legal Advice
Almost immediately following an accident, the insurance companies (both the other driver’s and yours) will reach out to you via telephone and request (actually, push) you to give a statement before you have an opportunity to speak to an attorney. The adjuster might seem friendly and sympathetic, but remember, the adjuster has to answer to his or her bosses at the insurance company, and the bosses are NOT your friends. Often this call will come at a time when you are still in shock, or are under the influence of medication. This is exactly what the insurance companies want.
In order to fully protect your rights, you should not give a statement to any insurance company without first consulting an auto accident injury attorney.
Likewise, do not accept any check or sign any papers sent to you from an insurance company without first having your lawyer inspect them. With regard to checks, I have seen insurance companies put “Full and Final Payment” in the memo line or on the back of the check when it is well known additional payments are expected. Likewise, I have seen checks that were meant to only cover property damage include language that they release and cover “all claims.” While this may be a simple clerical error, it could be a deliberate attempt by the insurance company to trick you into releasing all of your rights. Either way, if you negotiate that check, or sign documents stating such, it can and will complicate your claim for injuries later on.
9. Apologizing, and/or Discussing Fault with Anyone – Especially the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
Do not share details about the accident with anyone except your insurance agent and your attorney.
Doing so exposes you to potentially saying something that can hurt your case sometime in the future. Many times, after an accident, the other driver’s insurance company will try to get you to apologize or admit fault for all or part of the accident. Again, refusing to make a statement without benefit of an attorney is your best defense against saying something or certifying something in writing that you might later regret doing.
10. Not Having Your Car Damage Evaluated By a Repair Shop of Your Choosing, and Not Insisting on Use of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Parts
Make sure that you have your vehicle inspected by a trustworthy mechanic who can properly document the damage that has been done as a result of the accident, how much it will cost to repair, and what parts may be needed. Taking your car to the insurance company’s “preferred” body shop might result in your being shortchanged of the full repair or replacement value.
Also, be sure to request that the repair estimate be written, and the actual work performed, using “OEM,” or original equipment manufacturer, not aftermarket or “junk,” parts. OEM parts are “sourced” or bought from the actual manufacturer of your car, not some chain auto parts store or a junkyard. They match the parts that came on your car when it rolled off the assembly line. For example, if your car is a Ford, the OEM parts will come from Ford. If it is a Chevy, the OEM parts will come from Chevy. Etc. Use of aftermarket parts will affect the “book” value of your car when you go to trade it in or sell it in the future as many aftermarket parts are inferior in quality, do not fit properly, and lack the warranties associated with OEM parts.
11. Not Keeping Sufficient Medical Records and Bills, and Records of Any Lost Wages or Other Expenses Incurred as a Result of the Accident
The insurance company is not going to take your word for anything. If you want to recover for the medical bills and lost wages you suffered as a result of an accident, you are going to have to prove every penny you lost.
Records should contain the name, address, and telephone number of every medical and treatment provider and the date of your visits. Other information to document includes a log of all mileage driven to and from all accident-related medical appointments; all time missed from work; all expenses or losses incurred as a result of the accident such as costs for medical treatment, medication, medical supplies, a rental car, towing expense, needed assistance around the house, or any other expenses incurred since the time of the collision.
With regard to lost wages, these are normally proven through statements from your employer regarding time off from work, and copies of check stubs. If you are self-employed or work on commission, you will likely need copies of your tax returns for both before and after the injury to prove your claim.
12. Waiting Too Long to Contact a Car Accident Attorney or Pursue a Claim
In most places, there is a limited amount of time to pursue a claim after an accident. For example, under Louisiana law, you only have one year to file suit after a wreck. This means you must have your evidence together and case filed with the court before one year has passed or your claim will be barred forever.
Putting together an injury case takes time. The longer you wait to speak to an attorney, the less time he or she will have to investigate your claim by talking to witnesses, gather complete copies of your medical records and accident report, discuss potential settlement with the insurance companies, etc. Because of this, many attorneys will not accept cases that are near the time limit for filing suit. This is why is it important to contact a qualified car accident injury attorney right away after you have been involved in an accident. Waiting too long to contact an attorney may prevent your ability to sue for damages.
13. Not Understanding Your Rights or the Types of Damages to Which you are Entitled
Most people are not schooled in the law and are unaware of the types of damages and expenses for which they can be compensated after an accident, such as:
- property loss
- medical bills
- pain and suffering
- loss of consortium
- diminished value of a vehicle
- lost wages
That is why it is so important to work with an experienced car accident attorney who can negotiate with the insurance company or take them to court in case they refuse to award certain benefits or cover a specific expense.
14. Not Telling the Truth About Prior Accidents or Pre-Existing Injuries
In addition to telling the complete truth about the facts of the accident, you must also be honest about any prior accidents or pre-existing injuries or medical conditions you may have. It is a big mistake to try and hide anything from your doctor, your attorney, or the insurance company. If you are caught in a lie – even a minor one – or you withhold information, you risk losing all credibility in in the eyes of the insurance company and court. Also, the doctor needs information regarding your pre-existing injuries to better treat your injuries.
At the end of the day, your lawyer can handle just about any problem if he or she knows about them. However, if you do not tell your lawyer, and your lawyer gets “ambushed” by the insurance company with such damaging information, your lawyer will have no time to prepare a defense, and you will probably lose your case.
15. Not Hiring a Car Accident Injury Attorney
While your insurance company usually will be more attentive to your needs than the other driver’s insurer, it is important to remember that all insurance companies are looking out for their best interests and not yours. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free, no-obligation consultation after an accident. While you may think that you can handle your case without professional help, most people are simply not able to navigate the claims process without expert advice and counsel.
People usually fail to hire a lawyer after an accident for one of a few reasons:
- they do not really know if they need a lawyer,
- they do not know a lawyer personally, and do not want to spend time finding one,
- they do not know if they can trust a lawyer so they do not want to use one, and
- they believe it when the insurance company tells them that they will end up with less money if they hire a lawyer to represent them (this is absolutely untrue as studies have shown that hiring a lawyer usually INCREASES the amount of an injured party’s settlement).
None of these are good reasons to avoid hiring a lawyer. While people like to make jokes about lawyers, there are many ethical and honest attorneys who can help you deal with the insurance company and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.
16. Hiring the Wrong Auto Accident Injury Attorney
Just like with doctors, accountants, contractors, or any other professional, all personal injury or car accident lawyers are not created equal. It is well known that some personal injury law firms are merely “factories.” They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) per year running flashy “my pain is your gain” television commercials promising that if you simply make “one phone call,” all your worries will be over. Then, once you sign up with them, they quickly settle your case for much less than they might have in an effort to “clear their plate” and make room for the next client. If they cannot settle a case quickly, they refer it to another law firm to handle.
I suggest you steer clear of this type of law firm. You need a law firm that will handle your case from beginning to end. You need a law firm that will pay personal attention to you, and be there when you need them. Again, despite all the lawyer jokes out there, there is a difference! Hiring the RIGHT lawyer for your job or case simply takes a little extra work on the front end.
Do your homework on the attorneys you interview for the job. A complete list of questions you should ask any attorney before hiring them for your auto accident case can be found here. However, at a minimum, you will want to ask whether the attorney has any written policies guaranteeing excellent client service. For example, if you are dissatisfied with the way the firm is handling your case in the first thirty days, can you take your file with you and owe them no fee? Also, you will want to know if the attorney has a written Client Bill of Rights detailing how you must and will be treated as a client of their firm. Further, you will want to know if the attorney can provide you with copies of reviews from former clients in an effort to get an idea of what it is truly like to work with them. Doing so will help you weed out the dishonest or lazy ones.
With regard to fees and costs, most auto accident injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means that if you do not recover any money, they do not get paid. However, not all attorneys charge the same rates. While most Louisiana personal injury law firms charge a 33-40% fee for auto accident cases, here at the Law Office of Keith L. Magness, LLC, our fee starts at 25%. This means that at the end of the day, our clients get to keep more of the compensation they deserve! You can learn more about our unique fee structure and why Attorney Keith Magness charges less than his peers by clicking here.
17. Hiring a Lawyer Who Promises to “Loan” You Money
May people who are involved in a car wreck are in bad financial shape. Often, they cannot work as a result of the accident, and have mounting bills coming in from doctors, hospitals, auto repair shops, etc. Because so many families live on a “check-to-check” basis, when the mounting pressure of a car accident starts to hit home, it is tempting to hire a lawyer who will offer a “loan” against your settlement.
There is a real problem with this though: it is against the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct for a lawyer to loan money to their clients, even when the client promises to pay the lawyer back when the case settles. Any lawyer who loans money or offers to loan money to a client or potential client is committing a serious ethical violation, and risks having their license suspended or being disbarred. Even if you would not turn the lawyer in, it still poses problems. First, would you really want to do business with a lawyer who would violate ethical rules with you when you first meet them? Second, if someone else turned in the lawyer and the lawyer got suspended or disbarred, where does that leave you and your case? Answer: you would be left out in the cold. For this reason, you should steer clear of any attorney who offers or promises to “loan” you money against your case.
Please know that lawyers are permitted to advance money on behalf of clients for expenses such as court costs, subpoena fees, transcripts, medical records, etc. In the field of auto accident injury law, it is actually customary for lawyers to do so. This money is charged to your file as an expense, and paid back at the conclusion of your case out of your settlement or judgment.
18. Hiring a Lawyer Who Promises You a Quick or Fast Settlement
Not a day goes by where I do not see multiple TV commercials where some personal injury lawyer brags that he or she gets their clients money “fast.” Everyone wants to have their case resolved quickly; however, reaching a fair settlement should never take the back seat to resolving the case quickly. This is because fast settlements are often cheap settlements.
Any lawyer who advertises or promises that they can get your case settled faster than another lawyer is telling the whole world their story – I am a quick buck artist who does not like to work. The insurance companies know who these lawyers are (adjusters watch TV and get the phone book too after all), and they know they can settle cases with these lawyers for much less because the lawyers are not willing to do the work necessary to handle the cases right.
Even if you have a very serious injury, you can bet the insurance company will not treat you fairly if you hire a quick buck artist to represent you. Instead, look for a lawyer who has and will take the insurance companies to task via trial in order to ensure their clients receive fair and just compensation. Trust me, the insurance companies know who these lawyers are too.