Question
My daughter had a car accident yesterday afternoon. The other driver had insurance and admitted to my daughter that he was just not paying attention and must have run the light. There were a couple of folks who saw the accident and stopped to see if everyone was all right, but my daughter did not get their names. The police were not called. Now we have heard from the other driver’s insurance company and apparently he is claiming that it was my daughter who ran the red light. The other driver’s insurance company is now denying liability. In addition to the damage to her car it appears that my daughter has injured her back, although we have not yet seen a doctor. Should we hire an attorney, send my daughter to the doctor or what should we do?
Answer
Your question presents a number of issues that I will attempt to deal with. All to often an injured party’s opportunity to make any recovery from the responsible party hinges upon the actions of the injured party immediately after the accident.

First and foremost always call the police and always get names of witnesses to the accident. All to often the responsible party, while initially apologetic will change their story once they are out of your presence. By obtaining the names of the witnesses to the accident and calling the police for the purposes of having an officer write an accident report you will preserve the evidence necessary to establish fault without having to rely on the other party’s admission. The need for witness information is particularly important in a disputed red-light intersection case such as your daughters as it is next to impossible to prove who ran the light if both drivers are pointing their fingers at each other.

Once you have left the scene of the accident you should contact both your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company. You may ask why contact my insurance company when the other driver was at fault but, if you will read your insurance contract you will find you have the legal obligation to notify your carrier of any accidents regardless of fault. Failure to comply with this contract provision with your insurance company may interfere with obtaining the benefits and assistance you are entitled to from that company. By contacting the other driver’s insurance company you can learn whether he has acknowledged fault and how they will handle your claim. Generally they will either repair your car or pay you the fair market value of the damaged vehicle, whichever cost less, an provide you with a rental car in the interim. If you have been injured, they will also assign an adjuster to begin working with you concerning claims for your personal injuries. I f you have been seriously injured, you should consider consulting with an attorney prior to contacting the Defendant’s insurance company to insure your rights are adequately protected.

The question of whether to hire an attorney is a difficult one that depends on the individual circumstances of your case. However, you should always consult with a personal injury attorney concerning your rights and responsibilities in situations such as these. Most good personal injury attorneys will not charge you for this initial consultation.

As a general rule if the Defendant’s insurance company has accepted responsibility for the property damage and your injuries are quite minor and require little if any medical care it may not be in your best interest to employ an attorney. However, if you have been seriously injured do not assume that you will be treated fairly and receive the compensation you are entitled to without proper legal representation. While a majority of insurance adjusters are honest good people like the rest of us remember that they are employed by the insurance company and their job is to minimize the cost to their insured and to their company. Their job is not to look out after your interest and they have no legal responsibility whatsoever to do so.

Finally your question asked about whether your daughter should seek medical care. That is really not a legal question, it is a medical question. Decisions concerning medical care should be made independently of any possible legal action. Attorneys, because they deal with clients’ medical injuries on a daily basis, know of doctors that can assist you and can refer you to one of those doctors. However, as a general rule you should seek your medical care directly with your family doctor and providers rather that through your attorney’s office. Your family doctor knows you well and can make a proper referral. Additionally you avoid appearance that some how your attorney is arranging your medical care. If the attorney does arrange medical care for you, the other driver’s insurance company will make sure this matter is brought to the attention of a jury. They will imply that the doctor’s opinions about your injuries cannot be trusted because of the involvement of the attorney. Although I know of no doctors whose opinions vary based on whether or not an attorney referred a client to them there is, nonetheless the perception by simply obtaining your medical care independent of your legal representation if at all possible. Good attorneys will not become involved in arranging and directing their client’s medical care except as a last resort because of the impact that has on juries or on the settlement value of your case.

If you would like to submit a question please fax directly to Tom Oxford at 832-2893. While we will not be able to answer all questions sent in we hope to answer those that impact the greatest number of readers.
In reading this article please remember we are providing general answers to broad questions, your individual situation is unique and cannot be dealt with throughly in the space of a newspaper article. When you are facing a serious legal issue, you should always consult with an attorney about your individual circumstances and how they impact the general principles discussed in this article. You should also not hesitate to call Waldman & Smallwood (Main) Beaumont 833-9151, Tuscany Park Beaumont 866-4140 or Nederland 727-7711, and I will be happy to visit with you.

Tom Oxford, Attorney
Waldman Smallwood Law Firm, P.C.

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