As a personal injury attorney, I receive a lot of phone calls from people who were recently injured. They call me to find out what their rights are and what they should and should not do as they consider their options. The first thing I do is find out what type of accident caused their injury. The details surrounding the incident in question are important to me as I determine liability, causation, and begin to start understanding the complexity of their case.
Frequently, they've been involved in a motor vehicle accident and the other driver was clearly at fault. It is always recommended to have the police come to the scene of the accident to create a narrative of what happened. In Oregon, it is also a requirement of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to file an accident report if the damages are greater than $2500. It is imperative that you keep a record of what happened and how it happened. Even if you are unsure about the potential value of damages at that early moment, it is recommended that you file the accident with DMV.
Next, you want to make sure you receive the other party's insurance information and drivers license identification. Take pictures of these documents if possible.
Taking pictures at the scene of the accident can also be very useful. The old adage "a pictures worth a thousand words" has never been more accurate. Photographs can help your attorney reconstruct the story when presenting the narrative of what happened to your insurance company. And if your case proceeds to a lawsuit, the photographs of the scene, or of your injury at that moment in time, might be very compelling to an insurance adjuster or a jury.
So here you are, you've just experienced an auto-accident and you're feeling pain. What do you do now? That answer is simple, you need to seek health care immediately. Don't wait. Go the ER or urgent clinic. You need to create a record of your injury and do so as quickly as possible. This way you can prove to anyone who might question you that you were injured and you sought treatment as soon as possible. This has two excellent benefits: 1. you receive the health care that you desperately require, and 2. you begin developing your insurance claim with evidence of your injury.
In Oregon, you are required to have a minimum of $15,000 Personal Injury Protection, which we refer to as 'PIP.' PIP coverage is on your own policy and when seeking health care, you will route those bills through your own auto insurance coverage. This seems counter-intuitive: you've been injured by the negligence of someone else and yet you are paying for this with your own insurance?! Don't worry, there is good reason behind this. This is the fastest way for you to receive the necessary health care you require. Your insurance company is there to assist with this immediately and this is designed to ensure that you don't get lost in the shuffle while the insurance companies determine who was at fault. At the end, when you settle your claim, the at-fault driver's insurance company will reimburse your insurance company for everything that was spent.
Here is the part that most people do not understand...injury claims take time to resolve. In Oregon, there's a two year statute of limitations which means that you have two years from the date of the injury within which to resolve the dispute or file your lawsuit. Assuming you were injured, this two year period is important time during which you seek health care and treat your injuries as far as necessary to feel better. I caution my clients not to over-treat their injuries, but by all means don't under treat! Now is your time to receive the massage therapy, or physical therapy, or to receive the MRI, XRAY, or CT imaging. The goal here is to make sure you receive the health care that will mend your injured body. A side note about over-treating: most doctors are aware of your PIP coverage and frequently push to treat you all the way through the end of your PIP allowance, and then when their care maxes out at $15,000, you are miraculously cured! This can have the unintended consequence of the insurance adjuster recognizing that you've over treated for your basic injury, and often results in a smaller settlement. In my opinion, this is likely due to the fact that the insurance company is responsible for paying for your rather large medical bills, more than what is typical for your injury, and therefore your eventual settlement for the non-economic pain and suffering portion is reduced. In the end, the doctor or chiropractor is the one who wins big, and you are left with a minimal settlement, and all that wasted time over-treating.
So now we fast forward: you've been treating your injury and after 8 months of chiropractic, massage, and physical therapy you're done treating and you're ready to move to the final resolution.
Here is the critical point at which legal representation can really make or break your case. I can tell you from years of doing this work, having legal representation will almost always change the way the insurance adjuster evaluates your claim. When you're represented by legal counsel, the adjuster knows that they must treat your injury seriously and offer something reasonable, otherwise the lawyer will ratchet up the pressure and potentially file a lawsuit. This will be costly for the insurance company, so they try and avoid this at all cost. Your attorney will request a complete medical record and billing ledger which details your care and includes doctor's notes about your injury along your recovery. With this information, your attorney drafts a demand letter which explains your injury and provides details around your damages - how this has affected your life and ultimately presents a dollar value for your non-economic loss commonly known as 'pain and suffering.'
The more professional and experienced your attorney's demand letter reads, the more compelling it is to the adjuster, the more likely you will receive the settlement you deserve.
Now here's the final point to make, and I believe separates the attorneys into two categories - those who are willing and able to go all the way through litigation and trial, and those who are hoping to get out of this easy and simply settle your claim. Don't get me wrong, it is often your best option to settle short of actually filing a lawsuit...but you want and need an attorney who will advocate for you to the bitter end, even if this means a battle in court.
This is a simplified overview of a basic motor vehicle accident but hopefully gives you some information to consider.