Have You Been in a Car Accident in North Carolina? Here is What You Need to Know.

Getting into a car accident is a horrible, traumatic event even if you don’t sustain serious injuries. And if you or someone you loved were seriously injured, the impacts can be even worse. The purpose of this car accident guide is to help you understand everything you need to know if you were in a car accident, from how to file your claim to how much money you can get for your injuries, to when you need to file your claim.

This post is a work in progress, and we will continue to add to it on a regular basis until it is completed. Once finished, this will be one of the most comprehensive blog posts on car accidents in North Carolina.

As always, if you have any questions or would just like to talk to a car accident lawyer about your specific situation, please feel free to contact our office at (919) 887-8582 or complete our online contact form.

How much Money can You get for Your Car Accident?

The amount of money you can recover for your injuries in a car accident in North Carolina will vary depending on the extent of your injuries and other factors. However, you should be aware that except for in very rare circumstances, to recover money damages if you have been in a car accident, you must not have been at fault for the accident. This is because of a legal doctrine called contributory negligence.

Without going into the nuts and bolts of contributory negligence in this article, all you really need to know is that if you weren’t the person responsible for the car accident, then you can recover financial compensation, or money to compensate you for injuries.

But exactly “how much money” can you recover is what you really want to know. The amount of money you can recover will vary greatly, from virtually nothing (for minor crashes) to a substantial amount of money where there were significant injuries.

Before evaluating how much money you might be able to recover, you need to understand the reasons why you are permitted to recover money if you are injured in a car accident. The law allows an injured person to be “made whole” if they are in an accident that was caused by someone else. The only way to do this is by compensating you financially. There are several different types of payments that you may be entitled to:

  • Your medical bills, including your treatment, prescriptions and medical testing);
  • The cost to repair or replace your vehicle; and,
  • Reimbursement for your time out of work, including past and future lost wages, due to the accident or your resulting medical treatment.

All of the above damages are considered your “special damages” and are connected to a fixed dollar amount or financial loss. However, you may have other damages that aren’t so easy to calculate with a fixed dollar amount. These damages include your “pain and suffering” and could include things like the pain you felt (and continue to endure) as a result of a broken arm, a lost limb or a permanent disability. And while this extra compensation cannot ever replace your physical losses, it will help to lessen the financial impact of your injuries. Depending on the severity of your injuries, this could amount to a few thousand dollars or substantially more if you experienced a life-altering injury.

In order to determine how much money or compensation you are entitled to, you must gather all of your actual bills related to the accident and add those to the compensation you lost from time off of work. This will provide you with a baseline of special damages that you will be entitled to. Any pain and suffering you have and will continue to endure will be added to the amount of your special damages to determine the total value of your claim.

How Do I Get the Most Money Possible for My Car Accident Claim?

In a perfect world, to recover for your car accident claim, you would submit your claim and paperwork to the insurance company, provide them information about your injuries, and they would write you a check for the full amount you are entitled to under the laws of North Carolina. However, our “world” is run by for-profit entities that are known as insurance companies.

The insurance companies make their money by paying you the least amount possible. So it is not surprising that minimizing the settlement value their goal with each and every car accident claim. Don’t be surprised if you find that they will try to reduce the amount you should be paid or deny your claim altogether. Here are some of the more common ways they may attempt to minimize your claim:

  • Claiming that you caused or were partially to blame for the accident. In North Carolina, if you were even 1% at fault for the accident (i.e. you were contributorily negligent), then you are not permitted to recover any financial compensation. While there are some exceptions to this rule, if the insurance company is denying your claim because of contributory negligence, you should talk to a car accident lawyer.
  • Disputing your injuries. It’s a despicable practice, but frequently the insurance adjuster will try to minimize your injuries or even argue that certain treatments weren’t medically necessary. They may even claim that certain injuries weren’t even caused by the accident and therefore are not covered.
  • Delaying Settlement. Insurance companies are notorious for dragging their feet on a claim for extended periods of time. They will reject your settlement proposals and try to force you to accept a lower overall settlement amount
  • Befriending You. Believe it or not, the insurance adjuster will often try to befriend you in an effort to gain your trust and let them know they are on “your side.” This may keep you from hiring a lawyer and as a result will help to minimize the value of your claim.

The best way to fight the insurance companies is to hire a lawyer to help you navigate the minefield that is your car accident claim. The insurance companies will hire the best and brightest lawyers to represent their interests and these lawyers know how to attack your claim and minimize the amount of money the insurance companies will pay.

The only way to level the playing field with these well-funded corporations is to hire your own lawyer to fight for your interests. An experienced car accident lawyer will know how to position your case to maximize its settlement value, gather evidence and witnesses, and prepare your case for trial if necessary. Having a lawyer on your side will allow you to focus on your medical care and treatment, not negotiating with an insurance company in a process that you know little about.

How can I find out exactly how much money I deserve?

Perhaps a better way to ask this question is “how can I find out how much money I am legally entitled to?” And the best answer is that you will need to talk to a car accident lawyer who can look at the facts and circumstances that surround your case, review your medical records, and give you an honest written assessment of what your case is worth.

Most lawyers are unwilling to provide a written assessment. Instead, they will have you come in for an initial consultation and then, based on a short conversation with you, tell you what they think your case might be worth. This dollar amount could be high, or it could be low. In our opinion, assessing the value of a case after one meeting with you is not only improper, but is borderline unethical.

At The Hart Law Firm, we will wait until you have finished your medical treatment to assess your case. At that point, we will have had time to contact witnesses, review your medical records and bills, determine what expert witnesses may be necessary to prepare your case for trial, and review your income information. Then, and only then, can we provide you with a written assessment of what your case is worth prior to sending out a demand package to the insurance adjuster. By providing this service, you will have a better understanding of a proper settlement range for your case.

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Have you been involved in a car accident in North Carolina? Do you have questions about what your claim might be worth? Click below to start an investigation with us. We’ll help you get answers to your questions.

What is the Average Payout for a Car Accident Claim?

We wish determining the amount of money you will receive in a car accident case were as easy plugging your personal information into a computer and getting a printout of the amount of money you will receive. If things were that easy, you wouldn’t need a car accident lawyer to help you. Unfortunately, no two cases are the same, and there is no way to truly understand how much money your case is worth without having a car accident lawyer review your file after you have finished your medical treatment.

How to Estimate a Car Accident Settlement

There are two types of damages in North Carolina car accident cases – special damages and general damages. Special damages are also known as “economic damages” and cover things such as your medical bills, lost wages, property damage, etc. These damages are fairly easy to calculate and are relatively straightforward.

On the other hand, general damages (also known as pain and suffering) are much harder to estimate. There is no set formula for general damages in North Carolina. Sometimes people use a formula such as a multiple of your medical bills. This multiple, if applied to your case, can vary based on the extent of your injuries and your future prognosis. Pain and suffering is a large unknown, and experienced car accident lawyers will take into account similar jury verdicts in your county, your personal employment history, whether or not you were “contributorily negligent” in causing the accident, the nature and extent of your injuries, and other factors to determine an appropriate valuation for your general damages.

In generally, we will not settle your case, and in fact we will not even send out a settlement demand on your case until after you have finished your medical treatment and have reached what is considered maximum medical improvement, or MMI. This can typically take anywhere from several months to a year or longer, depending on the nature and extent of your injuries.

Choosing a Cary Car Accident Lawyer to Help You

One of the great things about car accident cases is that you don’t need to pay a lawyer up-front to handle your case. Instead, lawyers will accept what is commonly referred to as a “contingent fee”. That means that our legal fee is contingent on the job we do for you. The more money we recover for your claim, the more we get paid. For many car accident lawyers in North Carolina, that fee will range from 33-40% of your final settlement amount.

However, not surprisingly, we are not like most car accident lawyers. At The Hart Law Firm, we charge a 25% fee if your case settles prior to filing a lawsuit, 30% if we need to file a lawsuit, and 35% if your case settles within 90 days of trial. In addition, if you hire us to review a settlement offer you have already received, we will only charge you on the amount we are able to recover for you over and above the amount already offered by the insurance company.

The most common objection we hear from client’s is, “can’t I just handle this on my own? Do I need to hire a car accident lawyer?” And you certainly can try to represent yourself, but we don’t recommend it. A car accident claim is extremely complex and if not handled properly, from the beginning, can end up costing you thousands of dollars and potentially much more.

The insurance companies spend billions of dollars each year on marketing campaigns, lobbyists, and corporate lawyer, all in an effort to minimize the amount of money they pay out in claims. They want you to believe that they are your friends, and will go to great lengths to influence you so that you will not hire a lawyer. They will try to convince you that you are wasting your money by hiring a lawyer. When you start negotiating with them, they will play the role of doctor and tell you that your medical treatment is unnecessary or unwarranted. They will try to convince you to go back to work before you are medically cleared to do so.

When you are considering whether to hire a car accident lawyer, you must ask yourself, is the insurance adjuster really on “your side” or are they looking out for what is in the insurance companies best interests?

Depending on your injuries, your case is probably worth more than you think, and it certainly worth more than the insurance company is telling you that it is. Talk to a Cary car accident lawyer today and learn more about your rights.

How Much is Your Car Accident Claim Really Worth?

To determine the total settlement value of your accident, you will add up all of your medical bills, car repair bills, prescription costs, lost income from being unable to work, cost of your rental car, and an estimate of your pain and suffering. In other words, you will add together your special damages and your general damages. This will give you a rough estimate of the total settlement value for your case. It goes without saying that the value of your pain and suffering (i.e. general damages) will be the biggest unknown. Here are several ways you can estimate the value of your general damages.

How to Calculate Pain and Suffering

There are numerous ways to calculate pain and suffering. Below we’ve outlined two of the most common methods. As car accident lawyers, we will also frequently conduct jury research to see how juries have handled similar injuries and accidents in the past. The two main methods for estimating pain and suffering are the multiplier method and the per diem method.

The Multiplier Method

One of the most common ways to estimate a value for your pain and suffering is by using the multiplier method. With this method you will multiply your expenses related to your medical bills, lost wages, and other out of pocket expenses, by a multiple of anywhere from 2 – 5. The multiple will depend on the facts surrounding the accident, the severity of your injuries, and your future prognosis. The worse your injury, the higher the multiple.

For example, let’s say you were rear-ended and suffered a neck injury. You were out of work for a couple weeks which cost you $2,500, and your total medical bills were approximately $5,000. You had property damage and other miscellaneous expenses that totaled an additional $1,750. The total value of your special damages was $9,250. Your total compensation would range from 2x to 5x your special damages, or somewhere between $18,500 to $46,250.

Here are a number of factors that may have an impact on the multiple used in your case:

  • Was the other driver drunk at the time of the accident or under the influence of any other form of drugs?
  • How severe were your injuries? Did you suffer only a soft tissue injury or did you break any bones or tear ligaments or tendons?
  • Did you lose the use of any limbs as a result of the accident?
  • Did you require surgery or extended time off of work?
  • What is your prognosis for recovery? Are your injuries permanent or just temporary?
  • Did you suffer any permanent scarring or disfigurement as a result of the accident?

When applying a multiple to a case, it is important to use some common sense. Some people suffer relatively minor injuries, but have higher medical expenses – this is frequent in soft tissue cases where repeated therapies and treatments are necessary to alleviate pain while you heal from the injury. In these cases, a lower multiple is appropriate.

On the other hand, there are situations where the injury could be more severe, but the medical bills are lower because repeated follow-up appointments are not necessary. In those situations, a higher multiple may be more appropriate.

The “Per Diem” Method

The “per diem” rate is another way to estimate the value of your pain and suffering. The per diem method will assign a daily dollar amount to your pain and suffering, say $100. This means that for every day that you experienced pain as a result of your injuries, you claim an additional $100 in damages. If you were in pain for 6 months from the date of your injury, then your total per diem damages would be 180 x $100, or $18,000. This would be added to your special damages to determine a total amount of compensation for your case.

One of the nice things about the per diem method is that it is easy to understand. If you have to go to court and explain to the judge why you are seeking a certain amount in damages, it is much easier to explain the per diem method of damages than it is to argue that you should be entitled to a multiple of your special damages.

Using a combination of methods to structure a winning case

Probably the best way to properly evaluate the settlement value of your case is to use a combination of multiples and per diem to determine an appropriate and fair settlement amount for your case. In every case, we start with the value of the special damages. After we have a good handle of what those damages are, we will work with our clients to determine what a fair amount for pain and suffering is. One of the major benefits to working with a car accident lawyer is that we can help you to properly evaluate the settlement value of your claim. Working by yourself, you may undervalue or in some cases, overvalue the amount that your claim is worth.

The bottom line is that you want to make sure that your total car accident settlement is enough to cover:

  • All of your medical bills
  • The cost to repair or replace your vehicle
  • Your lost income from being unable to work
  • The total cost for your past and future medical treatments
  • The pain and suffering you experienced for having to live with the discomfort of your injuries and their effect on your daily life

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Have you been involved in a car accident in North Carolina? Do you have questions about what your claim might be worth? Click below to start an investigation with us. We’ll help you get answers to your questions.

12 Ways to Make Sure You Get a Fair Settlement for Your Injuries

#1: Conduct a complete and thorough investigation. It is imperative that you collect as much information as you possibly can about the accident. Witness statements, police reports, and even recordings from traffic cameras are all important. Consider installing a “dash cam” in your car to record what you saw before the accident and even the accident itself. In some cases, you may need to hire a private investigator to help you or even an accident reconstruction expert. These professionals can help you to gather information and even safeguard physical evidence from the scene. Be assured that the at fault driver’s insurance company is doing all of this behind the scenes, without telling you. If you don’t conduct your own complete investigation you could find yourself at a serious disadvantage.

#2: Take pictures and/or videos of everything: You should take pictures or video of your car, the car that hit you, your injuries, the overall scene of the accident, etc. This is easier than ever with the cameras on our smart phones. If you don’t have a smart phone, you should keep a disposable camera in your glove box. Photographic evidence can be very persuasive to show a jury what the accident looked like.

#3: Don’t sign anything or release any records to the other party’s insurance company. A huge mistake we see clients make is to sign a medical release giving their medical records to the other driver’s insurance company. In North Carolina, the only instance where you should do this is if you are requesting the policy limits for the other party’s insurance. In that case you could be required by law to sign a release. But in many other cases, you should not release your medical records to the other party’s insurance company. The adjuster will tell you that they need this information to process your claim, but that is nonsense. They want this information to use against you or to give them information they need to deny or minimize your claim. Don’t do this.

#4: Don’t feel pressured to resolve your case. We’ve mentioned this on multiple times before – the insurance adjuster is not your friend, but they will act like they are. They befriend you because they know that if you like and trust them, you will give them a lot more information about your situation. In addition, you will be less likely to hire a lawyer to help you because they will make you believe that you don’t need one. Once you let your guard down, the adjuster will use tricky methods to get you to agree that the accident was at least partially your fault – which is the kiss of death to your claim in North Carolina because of contributory negligence. They may get you to give a written or a recorded statement that can be used against you later on if your case goes to trial. The adjuster’s primary goal is to get you to settle your case quickly, BEFORE you contact or hire a lawyer. They know that clients who have lawyers will receive better results on their case – and they want to minimize the settlement in your case. The best way to do that is to keep you from calling a lawyer. Don’t fall victim to their tactics. Recognize these tricks when you see them and call a lawyer for help.

#5: Keep a daily journal of your injuries. In the event you end up in a courtroom, which is unlikely but also very possible, having a daily journal that discusses how you were feeling, your pain level (scale of 1-10), whether you were having headaches or muscle spasms, how your injuries affected your daily life, etc. is very helpful. In the event you need to testify about your injuries and how you were feeling on any given day, a journal can be very helpful. Here is a specialized personal injury journal you can use for this purpose.

#6: Know your damages. Here is a quick list of the types of damages typical in a car accident case: (1) bills related to your medical care and treatment; (2) property damage to your car; (3) lost income for time off of work; (4) cost of a rental car or hiring a taxi service; (5) loss of consortium; (6) cost to hire at-home help, such as a housekeeper, cook, or someone to mow your lawn; (7) pain and suffering for your injuries; (8) cost of prescription medication; (9) co-pays for ongoing medical or chiropractic visits; and, (10) any other out of pocket or other expenses that resulted from your injuries.

#7: Keep all bills and receipts related to your accident. Just as it is important to keep a personal injury journal, you should also keep a folder for all of your bills and receipts related to your accident. Without this information, it becomes harder to prove your total damages. Some of the items you may need include doctor or hospital bills, receipts from the pharmacy, parking receipts for medical appointments, cost of medical devices, and any other related bills that you incurred because of your accident.

#8: Know all of your injuries. One of the reasons we like our clients to wait for several months to settle their claims is that they may not know the full extent of their injuries for many weeks or longer. Just because it doesn’t hurt immediately after the accident doesn’t mean there isn’t an injury. Some injuries just take longer to manifest themselves. Some victims may suffer from psychological trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which will make it harder to cope with the normal activities of daily living and other daily stresses that tend to become more difficult after a traumatic accident. If you sense something is wrong, talk to your car accident lawyer to determine what you should do or who you should see about your injuries.

#9: Know where the insurance is. In order to recover for your personal injuries related to a car accident, you need to know where the insurance is. Many people wrongfully believe that to recover for their injuries, the at fault driver is the one who will be paying them. This is incorrect – it is their insurance company that will be paying the settlement. But you need to know what insurance is available. In many cases, there may be multiple sources of insurance available, including from your own uninsured or underinsured motorist policy. Managing the multiple sources of insurance is something that a car accident lawyer can help you with.

#10: Don’t stop treating until your doctor releases you. At some point you will (hopefully) start to feel better and you may feel that you don’t need any further treatment. But don’t make the mistake that many people do – they stop going to the doctor when they start to feel better. You need to continue treating with your doctor until they determine that you are at maximum medical improvement and release you from their care. If you can’t afford the continuing cost of treatment, call our office – we may be able to negotiate a medical lien on your behalf. Alternatively, you should make sure you have exhausted all of your medical payments coverage (aka med pay) on your insurance policy.

#11: File your lawsuit as soon as possible. As a victim in a car accident case, you are in the driver’s seat (no pun intended) when it comes to your settlement options. Although it may not feel this way when you are going through this process, you have quite a bit of control over when and how your case will ultimately settle. Here’s why – the insurance company wants you to settle quickly and for a dollar amount that is far less than what your case is actually worth. They want information from you including your written or recorded statement, your medical records, your income information, etc. You don’t have an obligation or duty to provide them with anything. Depending on the case, we may send a written settlement demand package with a limited amount of information so that the insurance adjuster can evaluate your case and negotiate a settlement, or we may simply file a lawsuit without sending anything to the adjuster. We like to keep the insurance company on the defensive – which gives us the leverage we need to settle your case. Insurance companies have a strange way of settling a case when they know that a court date may be approaching. Filing a lawsuit will put pressure on them to get serious.

#12: Ask a qualified car accident lawyer to evaluate your case. If you have a medical condition, you go to the doctor. If your car breaks down, you go to see a mechanic. Doesn’t it make sense that if you are in a serious car accident that you should go see a lawyer who can evaluate your claim and counsel you on how to proceed? As mentioned before, the insurance company wants you to settle your case quickly without talking to a lawyer. As car accident lawyers, we can review your file, look at your police report, medical bills, lost wage information, and other documents. After reviewing the evidence related to your case and discussing the situation with you, we can talk to you about next steps and what you should or shouldn’t be doing to maximize the value of your claim. At the conclusion of your medical treatment, our office will provide you with a written evaluation of your claim, including strengths, weaknesses, and projected settlement valuations.

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Have you been involved in a car accident in North Carolina? Do you have questions about what your claim might be worth? Click below to start an investigation with us. We’ll help you get answers to your questions.

What is Average Car Accident Settlement?

There is no straight answer for what an average car accident settlement will be. There are so many different factors at play in determining the average payout. Some of those factors, which have been discussed previously in this article, include:

  • The facts and circumstances surrounding the accident;
  • Whether or not you were at fault for the accident;
  • The amount of damage to your car and the cost to repair or replace it;
  • The cost of your medical treatment and care;
  • How much time you lost from work and what your lost wages were;
  • Whether you required surgery for your injuries;
  • Whether you suffered any permanent injuries or scarring;
  • The cost of your future medical care, if any;
  • Whether you suffered any psychological injuries or trauma; and,
  • The amount of insurance that is available to pay the claim.

So as you can see, the amount of the average car accident claim can vary greatly. In addition to all of the above referenced factors, you will also need to take into account the population (i.e. the jury pool) in the county where the accident took place. Here in North Carolina, some of the rural counties will produce very conservative juries who are likely to return a smaller verdict than some of the more populous counties.

Where does the Average Auto Accident Settlement Payment Come From?

The money to pay a car accident claim comes from the auto insurance that you and every other driver in North Carolina is required to purchase when you get a driver’s license. The minimum amount of coverage that you must purchase is $30,000 of bodily injury for each person, $60,000 of bodily injury for the entire accident, and $25,000 for property damage. Your North Carolina policy must by law also include underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage. Many policies have much higher limits, and we recommend that all of our clients purchase the largest automobile policy that they can afford.

To understand how this works in practice, let’s take an example. Assume that you were in an accident with significant injuries. You had to miss several months of work and your medical bills were $30,000. A $100,000 settlement would not be unreasonable in your case. When you make a demand to the other insurance company, you determine that the other driver was only carrying the minimum insurance. Therefore, you will receive $30,000 from the at fault driver’s insurance policy, plus the cost to repair or replace your vehicle up to $25,000. What about the other $70,000?

Underinsured Motorists (UIM) Coverage will provide protection when an underinsured driver, who is at-fault, causes injury to a covered individual. An underinsured driver is one whose limits of liability are less than your UIM limits, and not enough to cover the losses of the people the underinsured driver injures in an accident.

What this means is that if you carried enough UM/UIM coverage on your policy, then your policy would pay the difference (assuming your adjuster accepts the claim as well). However, if you only had the minimum amount on your insurance, then there is no difference between the limits of the other driver’s policy and your UIM coverage, so your policy would pay nothing. If you had $60,000 of UIM coverage, then your policy would pay an additional $30,000 (to make up the difference).

This still leaves $40,000 that is unaccounted for. To recover these damages, you could either sue the other driver and attempt to recover those funds from him or her personally, or you just accept what the insurance company offers to be done with the case.

There is another component that could help you in this situation. In North Carolina you can also purchase what is called MedPay or Medical Payments coverage. We highly recommend that you purchase as much of this coverage as you possibly can. MedPay will pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses due to an automobile accident up to the limits listed in your policy. So if you had $100,000 of MedPay on your policy, then in the above example, this benefit would kick in and pay $30,000 of your medical bills. And since MedPay is a form of “no-fault” insurance, you won’t need to wait for that payment – you will receive a claim number after your accident from your insurance company and they will pay for approved medical expenses. An added benefit to MedPay is that it doesn’t need to be paid back when you settle your claim, unlike traditional health insurance.

When Should You call a Lawyer for Your Car Accident?

There are many people who believe that they can save money and manage their own car accident claim without hiring a lawyer. In certain cases, this may be true. If you have minor injuries, very little property damage (under $1,000), and missed less than a week of work, then you could probably handle your own car accident claim. We wrote an extensive article on how to manage your own car accident claim here.

However, even if you ultimately decide to handle your own claim, we still recommend that you seek out and consult with a car accident lawyer to make sure you are managing the process the right way. At The Hart Law Firm, we will meet with you for a free consultation to go over your situation, answer any questions you may have, and make sure you are handling your claim properly. There is no downside to consulting with a lawyer – it may end up saving you thousands of dollars in the long run and will cost you nothing.

However, where you have significant bodily injuries, lost more than a week of work, and had significant property damage to your vehicle, in most cases you will more than make up the fee you pay to a law firm in an increased overall settlement. Would you rather have 100% of $10,000 or 2/3 or $30,000? Can we guarantee that you will recover more by hiring a lawyer? No, but we will guarantee that we won’t take a fee off of a settlement offer you have already received from the insurance company.

In other words, if you are talking to the adjuster the week after your accident, and they offer you $10,000 to settle your claim, but then you hire our firm and 6 months later we are able to secure you a $30,000 settlement, then we will only charge a fee on the $20,000 we were able to obtain that is over and above the original settlement offer.

Negotiating a car accident claim is complicated and there are many legal rules and procedures that could trip you up if you tried to handle your case on your own. A car accident lawyer can help you by performing the following services:

  • Finding and interviewing witnesses;
  • Collecting evidence;
  • Hiring expert witnesses;
  • Helping you stay on top of your medical treatment;
  • Handling all communications with the insurance adjuster so that you don’t have to;
  • Preparing a written analysis and recommendations prior to sending out a demand letter;
  • Preparing a written demand package to send to the adjuster;
  • Negotiating the best possible settlement offer for you;
  • Preparing and filing a lawsuit when negotiations break down;
  • Representing you at pre-trial mediation;
  • Communicating with the defense lawyer and defending any pre-trial motions;
  • Preparing for and conducting a jury trial on your behalf;
  • Reviewing and editing any settlement documents prepared by the insurance company or their lawyer; and,
  • Keeping you informed every step of the way and giving you peace of mind that you do not have to manage this process alone.

Need Answers About Your Situation?

Have you been involved in a car accident in North Carolina? Do you have questions about what your claim might be worth? Click below to start an investigation with us. We’ll help you get answers to your questions.

How to Request a Copy of Your Medical Records (HITECH Request)

Your medical records are some of the most important documents that you will need to gather for your personal injury or auto accident claim. Without sufficient documentation showing the nature and extent of your injuries, or the invoices to back up your claims for special damages, the insurance company will deny your claim. We recommend that you make a HITECH request for your records.

While you are treating with your medical providers, you may visit several doctors and medical offices. This could include everything from the hospital to a specialist (or two or three) to a chiropractor. You may also go to a separate facility for x-rays and/or an MRI.

You must keep a running list of each and every facility and doctor that provides you with medical treatment. When you are finished treating with that particular facility, you must request a copy of your medical records.

The purpose of this article is to help you understand not only that you can request your own medical records, but also how the insurance company may try to have you sign a release so that they can get your records for you (and why this is a very bad idea).

As always, if you have any questions, this article is not to be construed as legal advice and we highly recommend that you consult with an experience personal injury or auto accident lawyer about your specific situation.

Medical Records and HIPAA Privacy Laws

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (commonly referred to as “HIPAA”) serves to protect your personal health information (or “PHI”). HIPAA guarantees certain privacy protections with respect to your PHI, and provides limitations on who can access and retrieve your private medical information. It also guarantees you the right to obtain copies of your own personal medical records.

In guaranteeing you the right to obtain your own medical records, HIPAA provides a framework for the states to follow when regulating how you may go about accessing your own medical records. Some of the regulations include:

  • Establishing fees for processing and copying your medical records (North Carolina’s fee schedule can be found here).
  • Providing a time limit on how long a provider has to respond to your request (currently it is 30 days);
  • Regulating how and where you may review your medical records (in your doctor’s officer, for example); and,
  • Other reasonable restrictions on access to your records.

Each state (North Carolina included) has its own set of rules and regulations pertaining to access to medical records.

When people talk about HIPAA, most people understand that this is a law that protect you against the unauthorized release of your medical information. What this means is that not just anybody can call up your doctor and ask for a copy of your medical records. This includes your spouse, other family members, and of course, the defendant’s insurance company. Before anyone may request this information, they must have your signed permission.

And that is the work-around that many insurance companies will use to get your medical records. They will simply ask you to sign a personal release. Unfortunately, the release they provide to you is, more often than not, over broad and will ask for the records of any medical provider you have ever treated with, anywhere.

For this reason, we recommend that you control the access to this information. In other words – first you get the records from the provider and then you send the relevant records to the insurance company.

How to Request a Copy of Your Medical Records

There are two primary ways that you can request your medical records. The first, and most common method, is to simply make a request under HIPAA. The second, and preferred method for reasons that will become clear in a moment, is to make a “HITECH” request. In this article we will focus on making a “HITECH” request.

Requesting your own medical records is typically a very easy and straightforward process. When you hire a lawyer, the lawyer’s office will ask you to sign some documents so that they may request your medical records on your behalf. At our office, we request records using the “HITECH” method to save money (more on that in a bit). The paperwork for a HITECH request is a bit different, and must come directly from you.

If for some reason you are physically or mentally incapacitated, you may need a valid power of attorney so that your “healthcare agent” can request your medical records on your behalf.

When you are requesting the records from a medical provider that treated you for your accident-related injuries, you must make sure to request every document in your file for the period that you treated with the doctor. This will include notes, test results, diagnoses, x-rays, MRI’s, and billing statements. Because of the “Bill v. Paid” law in North Carolina, we recommend that you ask the provider not to include the payment information with your medical bills – only the amount that you were charged.

At the end of this article is a sample letter you can use to make a HITECH request for an electronic copy of your medical records.

The Cost of Obtaining Your Medical Records and Why You Should Ask for a Digital Copy

When making a request under either HIPAA or HITECH, you should understand that the provider will almost always ask that the request be made in writing, and that the patient must be the person making the request.

But wait, won’t our lawyer get our records for us?

Yes, as described above, we certainly will. But a HITECH request can’t come from us, it must come from you with directions that the records be sent to our office.

In making this request, many providers will construe your request as a traditional HIPAA request, and will seek to charge you a per-page cost for copying the records. Under North Carolina Law, they are permitted to charge up to seventy-five cents (75¢) per page for the first 25 pages, fifty cents (50¢) per page for pages 26 through 100, and twenty-five cents (25¢) for each page in excess of 100 pages. The minimum copying fee is $10.00.

However, those rates only apply to the cost of preparing paper copies. If you make a HITECH request, you can avoid these exorbitant fees. Consider, for example, if you had a lengthy hospital stay and your medical file was 2,500 pages long. The cost to copy these pages under North Carolina Law is $656.25. A request under HITECH would cost much less, perhaps as low as $10.00, since the records provider is only permitted to charge you the labor cost involved in preparing and sending the records.

Hopefully it is apparent to you now why making a HITECH records request is so important!

Sample Letter for Making a HITECH Request for Medical Records

Here is a sample letter that you can use when making a HITECH medical records request.

Name of medical provider
Mailing address of medical provider
ATTN: Medical Records Department

RE: HITECH Medical Records Request

Your full name
Your date of birth

Your social security number
Your patient ID number (if applicable)
The date(s) of your treatment
The reason for your treatment

To whom it may concern:

I am a patient of your practice. I am requesting that you provide me with a copy of my medical records which should include, but not be limited to:

  • Admitting charts and notes about my admission;
  • My medical history;
  • Notes from treating physicians and nurses;
  • Medical narratives;
  • Diagnoses and prognoses;
  • Any test results and reasons for tests ordered;
  • Notes about consultations and/or referrals; and
  • All other information related in any way to my treatment.

Please note that this is a HITECH request. I’m asking that you provide an electronic copy of these records on CD or DVD and that you certify the records.

Please mail the requested records to me at the address listed above. [Or you may include the mailing address of your attorney here].

I will [or my attorney will] pay the HITECH charges for these records. I will pre-authorize any amount below $30.00, but request that you send me a pre-bill for any amount over that threshold.

If you have any questions, or if the information contained in this letter is unclear in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me at [insert your phone number].

Sincerely yours,

If you have any questions about how best to go about requesting your medical records, or if a medical care provider is requiring a substantial pre-payment to provide the records in violation of the Federal laws, we recommend that you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer right away.

What if the Insurance Adjuster asks you to submit to an Independent Medical Exam?

As you can imagine, there are many instances where an insurance adjuster and a claimant may disagree about the nature and extent of the claimant’s injuries. It is not uncommon for an insurance adjuster to believe that your injuries are just not as severe as you have claimed.

In the event that you are unable to reach an agreement about the extent of your injuries during settlement negotiations, then the insurance adjuster may ask you to submit to an independent medical examination (“IME”) with a doctor of their choosing. The purpose of these exams, at least from the insurance companies perspective, is to give a second opinion on your injuries.

While these appointments are called “independent” medical exams by the insurance companies, in reality they should be called “hired gun who will agree with us that you aren’t hurt exams”. Because that’s what typically happens with these exams. The insurance company has longstanding relationships with doctors that they know will provide a favorable opinion to them. The insurance company is basically paying a doctor to get evidence that they can use to deny or diminish your claim.

We typically advise our clients against submitting to an independent medical exam unless it has been requested by your own insurance company as part of a uninsured/underinsured motorist claim – in which case you may be contractually obligated to submit to the exam before they will agree to a settlement.

In all other situations, however, we recommend that you politely decline the insurance adjusters request for you to submit to an IME.

If you do submit to an IME, you should understand that the insurance company may be permitted to keep the results confidential. If this happens, you will need to hire a personal injury lawyer who can file a lawsuit on your behalf so that they can request the records of the exam through a legal process called discovery.

Final Thoughts on Requesting Medical Records or Submitting Records to the Insurance Adjuster

Always remember that if you were injured in an accident, you are the victim. You do not have to “do” anything, and you don’t even have to turn over any records at all to the insurance company if you don’t want to. I know attorneys that file a lawsuit first, before engaging in settlement negotiations with the defendant’s insurance company.  This way they can keep the adjuster on their heels throughout the entire process.

Adjusters have a funny way of settling cases when they see a trial date looming and they aren’t quite sure of what their exposure is just yet!

If you feel like the insurance adjuster is putting undue pressure on you and you aren’t comfortable providing the information they are requesting, then the best thing you can do is stop talking to them and call an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Return to the Personal Injury Claim Guide

If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 887-8582. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.

First Party vs. Third Party Claims: What’s the Deal?

When you have been involved in an accident, there are two types of insurance claims that you may file: a first party claim or a third party claim. The type of claim you pursue will depend on a variety of factors, including who was at fault for the accident and the amount of coverage available.

A first party insurance claim is one that you file with your own insurance company. A third party claim is one that you file with the insurance company of the person who you were in an accident with. If you were injured in an accident, one of the very first things you need to do is report that claim to the appropriate insurance company. In almost every situation, you will file a claim with your own insurance carrier so that you can get access to important benefits such as Med Pay and so that you can get your vehicle repaired.

Filing an insurance claim is the most common way to obtain compensation for your injuries. The other method is filing a lawsuit.

An Overview of First Party Claims vs. Third Party Claims

As discussed above, a first party claim is one that you file with your own insurance company and a third party claim is one that you file with someone else’s insurance company. Determining which company you will file your claim with depends in large part on who it was that caused the accident.

Fault as a Measuring Stick

If you caused the accident that lead to your injuries, then you will be dealing primarily with your own insurance company in what is considered a first party claim. For example, if you were following too close to someone and then rear ended them, then you were at fault and any damages you incurred will need to be handled with your own insurance company.

On the other hand, if the other person was at fault for the accident, then you would primarily pursue a third party claim against their insurance company. In North Carolina, every auto insurance policy is required to maintain the following minimum policy limits:

  • $30,000 bodily injury for each person;
  • $60,000 total bodily injury for all persons in an accident;
  • $25,000 for property damage.

Assuming that the person who hit you has insurance, then this is the minimum amount of coverage that would be available to pay for your injuries and property damage.

It is also possible that you would file a claim with both the other person’s insurance company (a third party claim) and your own insurance company (a first party claim). This is most common when the person who was at fault for the accident either doesn’t have enough insurance for the accident, or you aren’t sure what type of coverage they have. In this situation, you would be making a claim under your own policy for an underinsured or uninsured motorist.

The Process for Filing an Insurance Claim

Regardless of who was at fault for the accident, you will want to file a claim as quickly as possible. Filing a claim is as simple as calling your insurance company and/or the at fault parties insurance company to let them know you were in a crash and that you want to initiate a claim.

They will ask you if you are “alright”. Make sure you tell them that you don’t know yet, you will be going to the hospital or you don’t yet know the extent of your injuries.

While it is important that you be truthful and honest with the insurance company  about what happened, you don’t need to get into details about your injuries and how you are currently feeling. Just tell the that you were in an accident, that the other person hit you, and that you are seeking treatment. Anything else and it is possible the insurance company will use what you tell them against you later on.

After you report the claim, the insurance company will assign a “claims adjuster” to your case. Their job is to elicit as much information from you as possible and try to settle the case as quickly as possible for the least amount of money. They will try to get you to sign forms and give a recorded statement.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, sign any insurance company forms or give a recorded statement until such time as you have spoken with a lawyer. We can coach you through what to say to the adjuster and what not to say so that you can increase your chances of getting the financial compensation you deserve.

After you have finished your medical treatment and the insurance company has completed its investigation into your crash, you may want to send a demand letter that describes the accident, your injuries, and the financial compensation you are seeking.

Although there are times when drafting a demand letter and negotiating with the insurance company without a lawyer is possible, we still recommend that you talk to an auto accident attorney before you attempt to do either. The insurance company will do one of three things after receiving your initial demand letter:

  • They will accept your demand and write you a check for the amount of money you asked for (possible, though not likely);
  • They will deny your claim outright;
  • They will offer you less compensation than you requested and attempt to negotiate a settlement with you.

If you are able to agree with the claims adjuster on a settlement that adequately and properly accounts for your injuries and anticipated future financial losses, you will need to execute a number of legal documents before they will write you a check.

Accepting a personal injury settlement comes with a number of legal and financial consequences. Not surprisingly, we recommend that you speak with a lawyer before accepting a check or signing any paperwork.

If, on the other hand, you are unable to come to a settlement, either because the insurance company denies your claim or because you are unable to negotiate a settlement that is adequate for you, then filing a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity responsible for your injuries may be the next logical step. However, filing a personal injury lawsuit has a number of its own legal and financial consequences, and requires a through understanding of the laws involved, how the legal system operates, the rules of civil procedure, and evidence rules.

If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 887-8582. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.

The Ultimate Guide to Settling Your North Carolina Car Accident Case Without Hiring a Lawyer

The Ultimate Guide to Settling Your North Carolina Car Accident Case Without Hiring a Lawyer

If you have been injured in a car accident and are wondering how to settle your car accident claim without a lawyer, look no further because this comprehensive guide was written just for you.

Here are a few of the things that this guide will teach you about your auto accident claim:

  • Whether or not you need a personal injury or car accident lawyer to help with your claim
  • How to properly document the scene of the accident to protect your claim
  • How to get your insurance company to pay your medical bills related to the accident
  • Tricks and tactics that the insurance adjuster will use to scare you into a low-ball settlement
  • How to know whether or not you REALLY can handle your case on your own
  • Documentation that you should be prepared to send to the insurance adjuster
  • What is the true “value” of your case?
  • What is the best way to negotiate with the insurance adjuster
  • What happens after you agree to a settlement?

In addition, at the bottom of this post we will be including links to various sample letters and documents that may be helpful for your case.

It’s important to start with the basics before we jump into the nuts and bolts of what you need to do to settle your case without calling a lawyer.

And that’s to figure out whether your case is the type of case that can even be settled (or should be settled) without working with a car accident lawyer.

Stop Here… You Should Call a Lawyer Immediately if…

Let’s start with the types of cases that absolutely, positively need the help of a car accident lawyer. And this part is pretty simple.

If the accident caused a fatality, then you need to call a lawyer.

If the accident caused a serious bodily injury or permanent deformity (i.e. multiple broken bones, head wounds, amputation, etc.), then you need to call a lawyer.

If the accident caused the injured person to go into a coma or otherwise miss more than a week or so of work, then you need to call a lawyer.

There’s no hard and fast rule here – but if the injuries were serious enough, and you aren’t sure what to do, or if you are too traumatized by the entire event to talk to anyone, then you should call an accident lawyer.

What about the rest of the cases?

What Type of Case Can Be Settled Without a Lawyer?

Here is a sampling of cases that most likely can be settled without hiring a lawyer:

  • There is minimal or no property damage. Maybe a small ding or scrape to your vehicle.
  • Your injuries were nothing more serious than minor bumps or bruises.
  • Your only treatment was with a chiropractor, and you didn’t treat for longer than 3-4 months before your life returned to normal.
  • You did not seek emergency medical care immediately after the accident… because you didn’t need it.
  • You have stopped treating with your doctor and are 100% positive you will never need any additional treatment for your injuries.
  • You lost less than a week of work.

Every single day in North Carolina people are involved in minor “fender benders” that require little more than a day of rest and some Tylenol to return to normal. These are not the types of cases that require the help of a lawyer.

However, if the accident caused a broken bone (or bones), permanent scarring, or anything more severe than that, then you very likely could benefit from talking to a personal injury lawyer.

And here’s the biggest benefit of all – coming in to see us won’t cost you a dime, and if you have already received an offer from the insurance company but have yet to accept it, then if we take your case we will only charge a fee on the amount we recover over and above your initial offer. Put another way, it costs you absolutely nothing to talk to a car accident lawyer from our office, regardless of whether you have already received a settlement offer from the insurance agent.

A Word About Timing

One thing you absolutely, positively must be aware of if you decide to handle your own case is the importance of timing. The legal terminology for this is the statute of limitations.

In North Carolina, you have 3 years to file a lawsuit for damages from the day that the accident took place. There are some exceptions to this rule in the case of minor children or if there was a death as a result of the accident.

But in the vast majority of cases in North Carolina, you have three years to settle your case.

[alert type=”danger” dismiss=”no”]NOTE: This is the law in the State of North Carolina. If you live in another state or country, the law could be different from the law here in North Carolina and you may have more or less time to file a lawsuit. If you were in an accident in another state but LIVE in North Carolina, then the law of the state where you were in the accident would apply.[/alert]

When I refer to filing a lawsuit, I mean that you must have sued the proper party in the proper court. If you sue the wrong person in the wrong court before the three years is up, but that lawsuit gets dismissed, then you are screwed and have lost your opportunity to seek redress in the courts.

Here’s another caveat, if you were injured by a State or Federal agency, (i.e. hit by a government vehicle such as a mail truck or school bus), then the time period to file a lawsuit may also be different, and in some cases can be as little at 2 years and there may be a requirement to give notice to the government of the claim before you file suit.

If you were in an accident that involved a government vehicle, we highly recommend that you contact an attorney for assistance.

Don’t Wait To Call an Attorney!

If you do decide that you need to hire a lawyer, do yourself a favor and don’t wait until the last-minute. At our office, if there is less than 4-6 months to go before the statute of limitations runs out, we probably won’t take your case. That’s because it may take us several weeks or months to do a thorough investigation of your case and determine whether or not it is a case we will accept.

This is likely true of any good attorney that you would want to hire. So do your investigation early and don’t wait until the last-minute to call an attorney because you may find that nobody will accept your case.

Initial Steps to Take if Your Were in an Accident

If you have ever been in an accident, you know that the scene of the collision can be chaotic. Regardless of how serious the accident is or how seriously you were hurt, it is important for you to keep a level head about things. In times of crisis it is easy to say and do the first thing that comes to your mind. But acting in that way won’t help you or your case should you need to go to court as a result of this one event. But if you can stay calm and collected and follow the steps listed in this checklist, one-by-one, then you give yourself the best opportunity to reach a settlement that can help you put your life back in order.

1. Stay Calm and Breathe. If you have been in an accident, the first thing you need to do is stay calm. This is easier said than done. Try to breathe and take initial inventory of how you and everyone else in your car is doing. If you are injured, stay put and try not to move. You may have injuries to your back or head that you aren’t initially aware of. After you have taken a minute or two to collect yourself and determine that you and the other occupants of your vehicle are safe, it is ok to move on to the next step, calling the police.

2. Call the Police. Before you talk to anyone and before you exit your vehicle it is important to call 9-1-1 and let them know you have been in an accident. Chances are, someone else has already called in the accident for you unless you are in a rural area where there is little vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

3. Call a Friend or Relative. If your accident was serious, chances are you won’t be able to drive your vehicle home. (And if you were injured, you may not be able to drive anyway.) You are also likely to be stressed, pumped full of adrenaline, and not capable of thinking straight – all of which are completely normal after an automobile crash. It’s always helpful to have a friend or loved one to help you during this traumatic time, collect information, take photos, get you to the hospital, etc.

4. Obtain detailed information about the crash. If you are safely able to do so, you should start to gather information about everyone involved in the accident. You will need their names and contact information (phone number, address, email), license plate number, driver’s license number, make and model of the car, and insurance information. Ask the other driver if they own the car, and if they don’t ask them for the name and contact information of the registered owner. Don’t forget to get the names and contact information of any occupants of the other vehicles that were involved in the crash. If you see anyone that witnessed the accident, flag them down to ask for help and get their contact information as well. Make note of the address or intersection where the crash occurred. Is this a lot? Yes, but it is absolutely crucial for your claim.

5. Do not discuss the collision with anyone other than the police. You are going to feel an enormous pull to talk to the other driver and ask them questions, etc. Don’t do it. If they want to talk to you, feel free to let them, but don’t respond unless they start blaming you for the accident, at which point you should stop talking to them (but be aware that they are going to tell the police the same thing). If you call your insurance company to advise them of the accident, don’t get into what happened and who was at fault. Just tell them the basic facts of the accident, and that you have property damage to your car. If they ask you if you are ok, tell them you aren’t sure yet. You may feel pressure to say “I’m ok” or “I’m not hurt” – but you don’t know this for sure, so you shouldn’t tell your adjuster that. You may have injuries that will not manifest themselves until several hours or days later after the adrenaline and stress of the accident has worn off.

6. Take photographs or have a friend take photographs. Have you ever heard the phrase “a picture is worth 1,000 words”? No where is this more true than in an accident case. We are fortunate to live in a world where everyone has a smart phone with a camera. (If you don’t, get a disposable camera to put in your glove box). Take pictures of everything from your vehicle (outside and inside), to the other cars, to the people at the scene, to your injuries, etc. If you can take a video of the scene, then take several videos showing what is happening. You should photograph your car from various angles, as well as the street signs and any skid marks on the road. There is no limit to the number of photographs you can take, so we recommend you take a lot. If you are too injured to do this, have the person you called in step #3 take care of this for you.

7. Report the crash to the other drivers liability carrier. Assuming you have received the other driver’s insurance and registration card, you will want to call their insurance company to report the accident. Don’t rely on the goodwill of the other driver to do this. Again, don’t talk to the adjuster except to give them notice about the accident so that they can open up a file and begin to do their own investigation as to what happened.

8. Get yourself examined by a medical provider. When you called the police, they may have asked you if you needed medical assistance or called an ambulance on their own initiative. You should get checked out by the paramedic and follow-up with the emergency room or your own doctor immediately. The EMT will take you to the hospital if they feel it is necessary. If you have a friend or family member at the scene that can drive you to the closest hospital emergency room, then you should have them do so before you go home. The excitement, stress and adrenaline of an accident can mask your pain, so you may not initially feel that you are hurt. That’s ok – you should get checked out anyway. If you don’t go to the hospital, it is easier for the defense attorney to argue to a jury that you must not have been hurt, or else you would have sought out this treatment. Assuming you have Med Pay coverage on your insurance policy, your auto insurance should pay these bills, even if you don’t have your own health insurance.

9. Call your own insurance company. After you have left the scene, while you are driving to the hospital, either you or someone you trust should call your insurance company to notify them of the accident. Again, they will ask you if you are “ok”. Don’t respond to this question. Just tell them that you are still trying to figure that out. Don’t joke with them or make light of the situation. Just give them the information they need, including the other driver’s name, and their contact and insurance information, and get off the phone. You can tell them that you are headed to the hospital and don’t feel like talking. The are likely to give you a claim number that you can use at the hospital and to obtain a rental car (if you have elected this coverage, which I highly recommend). They may also send out a tow truck and tell you where they want your car taken for repairs.

10. Provide your information to the other driver. Before you leave the scene, make sure you give your name, contact information and insurance information to the other driver. However, don’t talk to them about the facts of the case, including how the accident occurred, whose fault it was, etc. You must be truthful when answering law enforcement questions, but you are under no obligation to share this information with the other party or even talk to them, except to exchange contact and insurance information.

11. Secure your vehicle. Chances are that you will need to leave your vehicle or have it towed. Make sure that you have removed all valuables and any personal belongings (purse, work bag, garage door opener, etc.) that you may need. Lock the glove box and secure the car. It may be several weeks before you will have access to your car again, and you will have no control over what happens to the inside of the vehicle. Make sure that the car is moved off to the side of the road, and away from the flow of traffic. The police will help with this if you are unable to. You should decide whether you need to go to the emergency room immediately, or wait for the tow truck to arrive. Regardless of what you do, don’t leave without first talking to the police office and keeping them advised as to your plans.

Going through a car accident can be an extremely stressful, especially if there were serious injuries. But remember to try to stay calm and follow the steps in this checklist and you will be ok.

How to Pay Your Medical Bills

In North Carolina, auto insurance carriers are required to offer a type of insurance coverage called Med Pay, short for “Medical Payments”. You may have this coverage in your policy and don’t even know it.

Basically, Med Pay will pay for all of your medical bills if you have been involved in a car accident and the car was insured by someone who has Med Pay in their policy. This coverage extends to anyone who was riding in the car at the time of the accident. If the car you were riding in was not insured for Med Pay, but you do have Med Pay in your auto insurance policy, then you are still covered by your own policy.

The most common Med Pay limits in North Carolina are one to two thousand dollars. Personally, I keep the maximum amount of $100,000 in Med Pay coverage on my policy. It only costs about $20 each for my Wife and me to have this coverage every six months. If that isn’t the cheapest non-deductible health insurance money can buy, I don’t know what is!

One of the great things about Med Pay is that it is not subject to subrogation. What that means is that, unlike your default health insurance which may be permitted to ask for reimbursement from your settlement for the bills they paid on your behalf, Med Pay is statutorily prohibited from asking for any type of reimbursement.

Another great thing about Med Pay is that if you are a passenger in a car driven by someone who does NOT have Med Pay on their policy, then you can still collect your Med Pay benefits from your own auto insurance policy. Pretty cool, huh?

The final note on Med Pay, for now, is that collecting these benefits is typically fairly easy. All you need to do is notify your insurance company that you were in an accident, and provide any documentation they require, such as the police report or any medical bills. That’s it. You likely won’t even need a lawyer to help you with this part of your claim.

How to Document Your Accident

Properly documenting your accident, even if it has been several days or weeks since it occurred, is vital to protecting your claim. We recommend that you start a physical or virtual file that contains all of the following information, especially if you intend to represent yourself in your accident claim.

  1. A Word document that details everything you can remember about the accident. At a minimum, this document should include the following information:
    • Date/time of the incident
    • Location of the accident
    • Name and contact information for the at-fault driver
    • Name and policy number of the insurance company for the at-fault driver
    • A short description of what happened
    • Police Report Number
    • A list of witnesses, including their phone numbers, addresses, and email
    • Whether or not you were transported by ambulance
    • A list of all medical providers that treated you
    • A list of your injuries
    • If you took time off of work, a log of the days that you took off (make sure to include information for any days missed due to doctor’s appointments) – You may want to create a separate spreadsheet for this
    • Information on where your car was towed and the repair estimate
    • Did you have to pay a deductible to have your car repaired or any towing/car rental fees? List these out.
  2. Include print outs of any photos that were taken of the scene
  3. Draw out a diagram of the intersection and show where the cars were located before, during and after the accident occurred
  4. Order a copy of the police report and place it in your file
  5. If there were any temporary obstructions (i.e. tree limbs, construction cones, vehicles parked out-of-place, etc. that contributed to the accident, be sure to includes notes about where these obstructions were located and how they may have contributed to the accident. Pictures of these obstructions are even better.)
  6. Records and bills from any doctor’s appointments you have had.
  7. A payment log for any out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident, including bills and receipts. You should keep a record of the amount you were billed by health care providers and the amount that was paid by either you or an insurance company on your behalf.
  8. Complete “a day in the life”, which is a one page document that explains how your life is different after your accident as opposed to the way you lived your life before the accident.

The reason it is so important to document your accident in this way is that every single detail matters. And the more detailed you are about your accident, the more likely you are to recover a better settlement for your and your family.

In addition, if at some point you decide to hire a lawyer, having this information ready will help the law firm push your case forward that much faster.

How to Talk to the Insurance Adjuster

At some point in the days following the accident, you are likely to be contacted (either by phone or mail) by the insurance adjuster for the party that caused the accident. They will typically ask you for several items:

1. A signed release so that they may obtain your medical records

2. A signed release asking for your work records

3. A recorded statement

Let’s go through these items one at a time to discuss whether you should voluntarily provide this information.

But before we do, I wanted to impress upon you the importance of being nice to the adjuster. What do I mean by this?

The insurance adjuster has hundreds of files that they are working on at any given time. They deal with a lot of mean and pushy lawyers, other accident victims that aren’t so nice, and supervisors who are on their case to settle cases quickly for as little as possible.

As a result, they may take out some of their frustrations on you and your file. Don’t take this personally. Instead, keep your head above water and treat them with the kindness and respect that every human being deserves. (If you haven’t read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, now would be a good time!)

When dealing with an adjuster, they will react favorably to people they like. Instinctively, whether we want to demonize these people and the company they work for or not, and insurance adjuster is a person just like all of us, and if given the opportunity to help you out (presumably because they like you), they will.

[alert type=”danger” dismiss=”no”]Bottom line: Getting mean and cranky and yelling a the adjuster if you don’t initially hear what you want from them will never help you with your case or to recover an appropriate settlement.[/alert]

Should You Provide a Medical Release?

In our experience, it is never smart to sign the release provided by the insurance company. More often than not, the release they ask you to sign will contain very broad language and allow them access to any and all of your medical records. Not only that, but you will have no way of screening the records before they are sent to the insurance company.

A better practice would be for you to request the records on your own and send them into the insurance company after you have had a chance to review them. You will want to send the records of any hospital or medical service provider that you treated with as a result of the accident. In addition, you should probably also send in copies of any medical bills you have received that show the amounts that were charged by the insurance company as well as the amounts that have been paid.

We never recommend that anyone sign a release from an insurance company without having a lawyer review it first – even if you do plan to represent yourself on your claim.

Should You Provide a Work Release?

Not surprising, we are not in favor of you signing an authorization to allow the adjuster access to your work records. They will ask for everything your employer has in your file, which could include performance reports, write-ups and warnings for poor performance, managerial notes about you, etc.

The only information you need to send to the insurance adjuster is a log of the days you have missed work due to the accident. This log should include the dates missed, your rate of pay, and your job description and title.

Should You Provide a Recorded Statement?

Here is where things can get a little dicey. You should tell the adjuster (nicely, see above), that you wold be willing to provide a recorded statement if they will provide you with a recorded statement from the at-fault driver.

Probably ten times out of ten they adjuster will ask if you are joking and politely decline. Then they may tell you that without your statement, they cannot take any further action on your claim.

At this point, you are stuck – you can either give the statement and risk them using it against you in some way (insurance companies like to do that) or you can hire a lawyer. If you absolutely, positively, don’t want to hire a lawyer, then your only choice is to provide the statement.

Ask the adjuster if they have any questions that they will ask you related to the accident and have them email or mail those to you ahead of time so that you can adequately prepare. Then, we recommend that you write out your statement ahead of time and read it back to the adjuster over the phone while they are recording you.

One other thing – before you give the statement, ask if they will send you a copy of the transcript for you to review and correct after the recording is completed. Remember, if there is any way the insurance company can use the statement against you, they will.

How to Value Your Case

The question of how much a case is “worth” is a highly subjective exercise. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a “magic formula” that will tell you what your case is worth based on the amount of time you were out of work, the damages to your vehicle, and the extent of your injuries.

Many people falsely believe that their case is worth a multiple of the medical bills that were incurred to treat them. This simply isn’t the case. It would be great if it were this easy, but if you think about it, you likely wouldn’t want your case valued in this way.

There are many injuries that are not that expensive to treat, but which may a long-lasting effect on your life, such as the loss of a body part like a finger or eye, and other injuries which would be every expensive to treat, but from which you would fully recover. Think about the case where you were hospitalized for several days and then discharged. Within a month or two, your life is back to normal.

So how do you put a value on a personal injury or auto accident case? In a word… experience.

The question is, if a jury was handed this case, how much would they award in damages? Not surprisingly, the insurance companies have huge databases of information and past case results that will tell them what damages have been awarded in prior cases that are just like or very similar to yours.

When a jury gets your case, they also get a lot of evidence. And after looking through that evidence, they will make a decision about who is at fault for the case and what damages are appropriate. They are not given a formula or spreadsheet or computer program that they can use to calculate a damage value – they will sit and discuss the merits of the case and make a decision.

That decision will take into account several factors:

  • What witnesses were the most credible?
  • Did they believe your client or the other person?
  • Was your client sympathetic?
  • Did they like your lawyer (or you, if you aren’t represented)?
  • Was there sufficient evidence for them to make a decision on the case?
  • Did they buy the story you are selling to them?

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then you will win your case and the jury will award you damages. If, on the other hand, the jury doesn’t like you or doesn’t think you are telling the truth, or possibly even thinks you are wasting everyone’s time by coming to court on this case, then you will lose or recover a very modest amount.

There are resources available to determine what juries have previously awarded in your jurisdiction. The easiest (but most time-consuming) way to do this is to go down to your local courthouse and talk to the clerks. Let them know you would like to look at some old car accident files that went to verdict to see what the juries awarded.

After looking through enough of these files, you will start to see general trends. Typically, juries don’t like drunk people. So victims that were hit by drunk drivers tend to receive larger verdicts than people who were in the same accident with a sober person. The same could also be said of texting while driving. If the person who hit you was looking at the phone instead of the road, they are more likely to get dinged for a large damage verdict than someone who was just lost in thought and took their eyes off the road for a second to change the radio station.

Another way to get this information is to go online. There are websites such at verdictsearch.com and juryverdicts.com that publish past verdicts. For a “small” fee you can access these databases.

A final way to figure out what your case is worth is to hire a lawyer. Many lawyers probably won’t give you this information over the phone without meeting with you in person and retaining you as a client. And even then, they would want to review your medical records, interview you in person, get more information on the person who hit you, talk to witnesses, and develop an in-depth report of what your case would look like if presented to a jury.

Based on all of this information, your lawyer should provide you with a written analysis that gives a range of possible settlement values. If you talk to a lawyer that is unwilling to give you such a detailed settlement analysis, this should raise red flags for you that they may just be interested in settling your case quickly, with no intention of ever going to trial.

As I write that, I realize that many of you may never want your case to go to trial – and that is ok. But your lawyer must treat your case as if it is going to go to trial and proceed to verdict. Every little detail of your case matters. You never know what testimony or piece of evidence a jury will use to come to their final decision about your case.

So facts matter.

Details matter.

These are the things that ultimately will determine the value of your case, whether that valuation is agreed to in pre-suit negotiations, at mediation, or after a jury makes its decision.

How to Negotiate Your Case

There are two big mistakes that many consumers make when trying to settle their auto accident claim on their own:

  1. They agree to a quick settlement, far too early in the process.
  2. They are too emotionally involved with the case to be reasonable and realistic about the settlement value of their case.

As a result of these two mistakes, many unrepresented claimants will leave a lot of money on the table during the course of their negotiations with the insurance company.

There is a reason that insurance companies love dealing with unrepresented individuals and will do everything they can to keep you from hiring a lawyer. It’s because they can smell blood in the water. They know they are about to make a big profit for their employer.

Let’s look at a couple different scenarios to illustrate how this could play out.

Example #1 – The Quick Settle

In the first example, the victim (let’s call him “Bob”) was hit by a drunk driver. Fortunately, Bob sustained nothing more than some minor injuries to his arm and back, and he thinks he will be back to normal soon. Bob hasn’t been to see a doctor yet (he doesn’t have health insurance and is afraid of the bills), and has lots of consumer debt of his own. The insurance company offers Bob $25,000 a week after the accident. This is more money than our hero will see in a year from his employment.

Bob still has some back and arm pain from the accident, but gladly accepts the payment, signs the forms and moves on with his life. At least now he can go see a doctor.

What Bob didn’t know when he accepted that check is that he actually suffered a small fractured in his back during the crash, which was causing his pain. In the weeks and months that follow, his pain gets worse, and after finally going to see the doctor, Bob realizes that he needs an expensive surgery to fix his back.

Had Bob retained a lawyer to help walk him through his claim, he would never have made the mistake of settling for the insurance company’s low-ball offer.

Example #2 – The Unrealistic Dreamer

In this next example, we meet Tina. Tina was hit by a high school student who was driving Mom and Dad’s BMW to school and texting while driving. Although there was a great deal of damage to Tina’s car, she drove a Japanese car with some amazing safety features that allowed Tina to walk away from the accident relatively unscathed.

Tina decided very early on in her case that she wouldn’t accept anything less than $100,000 to settle her claim. She saw a high school student with rich parents who made a mistake. Unfortunately for Tina, she was unable to see that in reality, her case was not worth very much. That same $25,000 that Bob received would have been a great settlement for Tina.

And in fact, Tina got lucky. The insurance company was scared by the fact that a texting high schooler caused this accident. They offered Tina $25,000 to settle this case within months of the accident.

But Tina persisted. Without providing any of the records that the insurance company requested of her to support her demand, Tina would not back down from her request that the insurance company pay her $100,000 in restitution. You can guess what happened next.

The insurance company told Tina to pound sand and did nothing. They even withdrew their original offer of $25,000. Not realizing that there was a three-year statute of limitations on her case, Tina started calling around to auto accident lawyers to see if anyone would take her case two years and 9 months after the claim. Not surprisingly, nobody would because it was too close to the three-year deadline to file a lawsuit.

Tina was left out in the cold, and although she was able to get her car repaired, Tina never did recover any additional money from that high schooler’s insurance company.

The proper way to negotiate your case is to finish treatment before you even begin to engage with the insurance company for the person who hit you. You need to know how serious your personal injuries are, and what your long-term prognosis is. You also want to know how much your total medical bills were as a result of your accident, and how much time you were forced to take off of work.

Only after you know this information can you start to decide what your case may be worth.

So you are finished treating… what next?

If you have been paying attention so far, then you know how important it is to keep accurate records of everything that has happened in your case thus far. That means that you will need copies of all of your medical records, bills, and documentation of how much time you were out of work.

At this point you will need to draft what lawyers call a “demand letter”. This is a letter that outlines your formal request for financial compensation. If your property damage was modest, and your injuries minor, this may be a fairly short letter. But if you had significant injuries, or missed a great deal of time from work, then you will have a much more in-depth demand letter.

When we are drafting demand letters for our clients, they are typically broken up into the following sections:

  • Introduction and description of the accident
  • Background information on our client
  • Medical Diagnosis as a result of the accident
  • Medical History (including a summary of all major appointments) and Discussion of Injuries
  • Summary of all Treatments and Testing
  • Chart Showing All Medical Expenses
  • Discussion of Lost Wages
  • Personal Impact Statement
  • Demand for Damages

If this seems like a lot of information, it is. We believe in overwhelming the insurance company with so much information that they have no choice but to accept our demand.

(Bear in mind, just because you send a lot of information to the insurance company is no guarantee that they will see things your way. They are still likely to reject your initial demand outright, low-ball you, or otherwise force you to file a lawsuit to collect the compensation you are lawfully owed).

When drafting your initial demand letter, you will want to give the insurance company enough time to respond, typically 30 days. If they don’t respond, they respond with a low offer of their own, or outright reject your offer, then you will need to be prepared to file a lawsuit.

For purposes of this article, let’s assume that you are able to negotiate a settlement that works for you.

So now you have a settlement agreed to in principal. What’s next?

Before we get there, we need to discuss what would happen if the person that hit you either did not have any insurance at all, or if they did not have adequate insurance to pay your claim.

What if the Other Driver Had No Insurance?

Even though every North Carolina driver is required by law to maintain liability insurance on their vehicle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they do. Believe it or not, not everybody follows the law.

If you are in an accident that was caused by a driver without insurance, you would need to make a claim against your own insurance policy. In this case, your insurance carrier would act as if they represented the person who hit you. This is called uninsured motorist coverage and every insurance policy includes this coverage.

In addition to uninsured motorist coverage, every policy also includes underinsured motorist coverage. This is exactly what it sounds like – coverage that will pay out if the at-fault driver had insurance, but not enough to cover your injuries.

To make a claim under your underinsured motorist coverage, you must allow your insurance carrier to approve your settlement with the insurance policy for the at-fault driver. If you don’t, they may deny your claim.

What Happens After a Settlement is Reached?

Once you have agreed to a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, they will send you what is called a “release” agreement. This is a legal document that will ask you to waive “any and all claims” against the insurance company.

Be careful, once you sign this document you are locked in. There is no going back. If you have questions about whether or not you should agree to your settlement, now is the time to consult with a lawyer.

Although we can’t speak with other lawyers, if you meet with us to review your settlement and we determine that you are entitled to more than you have agreed to on your own, we may agree to accept your case and would only charge a fee on the amount we recover that is over and above your initial settlement agreement.

So for example, if you reach an agreement to settle your case for $10,000 and after reviewing your case, we believe you could do better if you let us take over your file, then you can retain us to represent you. If we obtain a $25,000 settlement for you, then we would only charge you a fee on the $15,000 that is over and above the amount you already agree to.

We don’t believe in charging a fee on a recovery that you could have achieved on your own.

I Got My Check – Anything Else I Need to Be Concerned About?

So you signed your settlement paperwork, and you received you check.

Is that the end of the story?

Of course not – and here are some pitfalls that the insurance adjuster generally won’t tell you about.

Just because you received your settlement check doesn’t mean your case is over. There are a number of other parties that may want (and be legally entitled to) a piece of your settlement check.

Generally speaking, anyone that paid your medical expenses on your behalf may be entitled to a piece of your settlement check. Here is a quick list of the various entities that could receive a portion of your check:

1. Medicare or Medicaid – if they paid any of your medical bills that were related to the accident they are entitled to reimbursement from your settlement.

2. If you are covered by an ERISA health care plan that is self-funded, it may be entitled to reimbursement from your recovery.

3. If your bills were paid by a military or any other government health care plan, it may be entitled to recovery.

4. Any medical bills that were not paid previously may claim a lien on your settlement proceeds.

Here’s what you need to know about paying back your health care plan for bills they paid on your behalf.

First, this is an extremely complex area of the law. Even the most experienced of lawyers agonize over the rules related to the repayment of these expenses, and do a great deal of research before paying these expenses out of their client’s settlement checks.

Second, if you don’t payback these bills you could find yourself on the receiving end of a Federal Lawsuit requesting an order that you pay back these expenses.

It is possible that you will receive a letter from your health insurance company notifying you that they will be seeking reimbursement. If you receive such a letter you should examine it closely to make sure that the bills they are seeking reimbursement for are accurate and indeed are for treatment that was related to your accident.

If you fail to payback your own health insurance company, then could deny payment for future claims or sue you in Federal Court. If you fail to pay back Medicare, the Federal Government could sue you. If you fail to pay back Medicaid, the State of North Carolina could sue you.

As stated before, these are extremely complicated issues and even experienced lawyers have to tread carefully when dealing with subrogation issues. The insurance adjuster that you just settled your case with will not advise you that you may need to repay these bills. And just because you receive a letter from your health insurance company demanding repayment does not mean that they are legally entitled to that payment.

Consulting with a lawyer about these issues is highly recommended.

What If I Can’t Settle My Case?

If you have tried to get your case settled outside of the court system and without a lawyer, but you can’t get the insurance company to either make you an offer, or make you an offer that you are willing to accept, then your options are limited at this point.

Although we don’t typically recommend filing a lawsuit without a lawyer, it is possible and people do it everyday.

The first thing you need to do is determine in which court you will file your lawsuit. In terms of the proper court, you must decide in which division you will file your lawsuit, and in which countyyou will file your lawsuit.

Related: What must you prove in court to win your personal injury claim?

In North Carolina, each county has three different judicial divisions in which you could file your lawsuit.

If you are not seeking more than $5,000 in damages, then you may file your claim in small claims court. Small claims in North Carolina has a relaxed set of procedures, and cases are heard by a magistrate.

In you are seeking up to $10,000 in damages, you would file your case in District Court. District Court cases can be heard by a judge or a jury, and may be sent to mediation or arbitration before they are tried.

If you are seeking over $10,000 in damages, which is the majority of auto accident cases, then you would file your lawsuit in Superior Court. Superior Court cases are heard by a judge or a jury.

Once you decide in which division you will file your case, the next decision is where to file the lawsuit. In other words, you must decide which North Carolina County has proper venue. This can be an important decision as you may have the opportunity to file your case in more than one county, and this choice can have a profound impact on your case in terms of the jury pool that you will draw on from that county. Entire cases can be won or lost based on the choice of the venue alone.

If you are faced with the prospect of filing a lawsuit in Superior Court, we highly recommend that you consult with a lawyer first. The defendant will have a lawyer that is hired by the insurance company, and they will have the advantage of not only knowing the law, but also knowing their way around the courtroom. They will send you discovery that you must respond to. They will bombard you with motions. They will attempt to dismiss your case at the outset with a “motion to dismiss” as well as after discovery has been completed by filing a “motion for summary judgment”. Unless you know what you are doing, you might lose your case before you ever get to trial.

As a final parting thought here – it is vitally important that you sue the correct defendant and serve the lawsuit on them properly. If you sue the wrong person, or fail to properly serve them, then your case could get dismissed or the statute of limitations could run before you even get started. If you are suing a corporation, you must check to make sure you are suing the proper person. A quick search of the Secretary of State’s website could be helpful here – but hiring a lawyer would be the smart move.

Things to Do to Maximize the Value of Your Case

One of the benefits of having a lawyer represent you is that we will act as a sort of “coach”, keeping you on track and making sure that you are doing the things you need to do to maximize the value of your case.

Many times, the value of a case can vary widely based on what happens long after you were in the accident. And the tips here don’t just help you to maximize the financial settlement you may receive, but they will also help you recover your health and return your body, as close as possible, to where you were physically before the accident as fast as possible.

Here are five things you can do to maximize the value of your claim:

1. Follow the recommendations of your doctor. It cannot be overstated how important it is that you follow the recommendations of your doctor. If the doctor tells you to go to physical therapy, you go to PT. If the doctor tells you to get your MRI, you get it scheduled for the next day if possible. If you are to get some sort of treatment, massage, injection, etc. you need to get it done as quickly as possible. If you have a valid reason for NOT following the doctor’s recommendations, such as you would like to follow a more conservative treatment plan before getting surgery, that is ok. You just need to make sure you have a conversation with your doctor about this so that it can be properly documented in your medical records. The last thing you want is for a defense attorney to be cross-examining you about all the things your doctor recommended that you never did, or that you delayed doing.

2. Keep a journal of your progress. The next thing you should do is keep a journal of your progress. This can be as simple as purchasing a spiral notebook and keeping track of your appointments each day, how you feel when you wake up and go to bed, how well a certain treatment worked, your pain level on a scale of 1-10, etc. This doesn’t have to be fancy, but it will be helpful to show your progress and create a timeline of when your treatment has started to plateau.

3. Keep a log of the time you missed from work. You will also want to keep track of the days you missed from work. This isn’t quite as important as the first two items, as we will be able to get this information from your employer, but it is still helpful to document what appointments you went to that caused you to miss work, how far you had to drive to get there, what you did at that appointment, and what your next follow-up appointment is.

4. Schedule tests and follow-up appointments as quickly as possible. This is where a lawyer can really come in handy. We will stay on top of you to make sure you are scheduling your follow-up appointments as quickly as possible. When you are treating, it is important that you get your treatments done as quickly as possible. Moving your treatment along will move your case along. And with a three-year statute of limitations, you don’t have time to dilly-dally. I realize that 3 years seems like a long time, but in the overall scheme of things, it will fly by faster than you can imagine. For that reason we recommend that you schedule your tests and follow-up appointments as quickly as possible. And along these same lines, it is important that you don’t miss your appointments if at all possible.

5. Don’t over-exert yourself at home. Stories of personal injury claimants over-exerting themselves at home are wide-spread. I’m sure you could do a quick search on YouTube and find some videos shot by private investigators of accident victims out mowing the lawn, working on cars, repairing the roof, etc. You name it and it has been done. If you are claiming to have serious personal injuries, but you are out doing physical labor at home, not only are you delaying and hurting your medical progress with your injury, but you are also potentially committing insurance fraud. If you are a client of ours and we find out that you are lying about your injuries and you get caught, we will fire you immediately.

How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take?

One of the most frequently asked questions from injured folks that call our firm is “How long will it take to resolve my case?”

The answer, quite obviously, is that it depends. Here are some of the factors that will have an impact on how long it will take to resolve your personal injury claim:

  • The severity of your injuries
  • How long it takes you to reach maximum medical improvement, or MMI
  • The insurance company and adjuster who is assigned to your file
  • The circumstances surrounding your accident
  • Whether or not there was any gross negligence on the part of the person who caused the accident
  • Whether or not you contributed in any way to the accident through your own negligence (remember, if you were even 1% at fault, you recover nothing in a court of law)
  • The amount of insurance that the at-fault driver has
  • The amount of UM/UIM coverage that you have on your auto policy
  • Whether or not a lawsuit is necessary to recover in the case
  • The biggest factor of all is going to be the nature and severity of your injuries. The more severe your injuries, the longer you will need to pursue medical treatment to get better. On average, we see clients treating between 6-9 months, sometimes closer to a year.

Another major factor is who the insurance adjuster is that is assigned to your file. If you draw an adjuster who believes that every plaintiff is out for a quick buck, then they may be less likely to offer you a reasonable settlement. But if you draw an adjuster who truly wants to help you out, then you are more likely to receive a quick settlement.

Generally speaking, smaller dollar cases will resolve faster than higher dollar cases. That’s because most insurance companies don’t want to pay out lots of money unless they are forced to by getting dragged into court. And if your case is the type that requires a lawsuit to recover what it is reasonably worth, then you should stop reading this and call our firm immediately. Although it is in theory possible that you could file and prosecute your own lawsuit in Superior Court, the likelihood that you would be successful is small.

So what’s the bottom-line? How long will your case take to resolve?

A good rule of thumb is that your case would take anywhere from 6 months to several years to resolve, longer if a lawsuit is necessary.

Should You Hire a Lawyer for Your Case?

Way back in at the beginning of this article, I talked about the types of cases that are most suitable for someone to resolve without hiring a lawyer. To recap, you probably don’t need a lawyer if your case had little to no property damage to your vehicle, very minor injuries, and you didn’t miss more than a week of work.

On the flip side, if you had extensive damage to your car, if you suffered significant injuries (including broken bones, dislocated joints, head trauma, or back injuries) that required significant treatments with an orthopaedic surgeon or other medical specialist, injections, or even surgery, then you probably need to seek the help of a lawyer.

What Can I Expect if I Call Your Personal Injury Firm?

If you call our firm, you will be immediately transferred to someone who can review your situation and begin the process of taking the burden of your case off your shoulders.

When you hire a lawyer, you are hiring the peace of mind that you no longer have to worry about the legal aspects of your case – you only need to worry about getting better. As lawyers, our focus is to make sure that we fully investigate your case, order a copy of the police reports, employment records, and medical records and bills, place the insurance company for the at-fault driver on notice that you now have a lawyer, interview witnesses, visit the accident scene, and take any other actions that may be necessary to preserve evidence and put forth the best possible case for you in court.

Whenever we take on a case, we assume that case will end up in front of a jury at some point. So the more steps we can take early on to preserve and protect the evidence in your case, the better.

Every case has a story.

What is yours?

If you are able to handle your case without hiring a lawyer, we wish you the best of luck and are here to help you if you falter. But if you have decided, after reading this article, that you need a lawyer to help you after all, please give us a call at (919) 887-8582 or fill out the online contact form below.

If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 887-8582. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.









What is a Personal Injury Claim and What Must You Prove to Win Your Case?

personal injury caseYou may, and likely have, seen ads for “personal injury” lawyers and you are probably wondering what those lawyers do. It seems obvious to me because I went to law school, but to the average person, you may have no idea what a personal injury lawyer is. There are many different ways for a lawyer to say that they handle a personal injury case, including “auto accident lawyers”, “medical malpractice lawyers”, or “wrongful death lawyers”. But all of these phrases are just subsets of the much larger pool of personal injury lawyers.

All of these terms are just fancy ways that lawyers can say that they help people who have been injured by someone else’s carelessness, stupidity, or both. In the case of an auto accident, another driver may have hit them. In a medical malpractice case, a doctor made a mistake that caused them harm. In a wrongful death action, someone died because of the careless or outright wreckless actions of another person or business.

When we are dealing with an auto accident, there are actually two different types of claims that can be brought. If you were in a small “fender bender” and your car was dinged up but you weren’t hurt, then you wouldn’t have a claim for personal injuries, but you may have a claim for property damage to your car. If you were personally injured and your car was also damaged, then you would have a claim for both personal injuries and property damage.

RELATED: 5 Things You Must Do After a North Carolina Car Accident

We don’t handle cases where the only damages were to your vehicle, but there are lots of attorneys that would, and we would be happy to provide you with a referral.

In situations where your car was damaged, then either your insurance company or the insurance company of the person that hit you will pay for the damage to your car.

If the careless actions of another person caused someone’s death, then you can bring a claim for “wrongful death”. The laws on this issue are complicated and vary by state. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of representing the estate of someone who died due to the negligence of someone else in North Carolina, then you should talk to North Carolina attorney about whether a wrongful death action should be brought.

What Must You Prove to Win Your Case?

If you are injured in North Carolina, you are facing an uphill battle from the beginning. The insurance lobby has deep pockets and has spent lots of money to convince politicians to pass laws that tip the balance of power in favor of corporate profits.

This whole movement has gained lots of steam in the past few years and is called tort reform. If you want to get a better understanding of how the insurance company is trying to stack the deck in its favor, you should watch a documentary called “Hot Coffee” that details the lengths that the insurance companies will go to in their effort to deny justice to everyday Americans.

Here is a quick snippet:

Honestly, until you or someone you know was injured, what was your impression of lawyers that represented accident victims?

Don’t answer that question…

In any event, if you have been injured due to the actions of someone else, it’s not enough to ask the insurance company to pay your damages. If the insurance company presents you with a low-ball offer or denies your claim entirely, your only recourse is to file a lawsuit against the person responsible for your injuries.

When you go to court, you must not only prove that the other person or company was negligent, but you must also prove that their negligent act caused your damages and that you were not at fault in any way. (More on that in a minute).

If you can’t prove that the other person was negligent… you lose.

If you can’t prove that you weren’t partially to blame… you lose.

If you sue the wrong person or company… you lose.

If you wait until after the statute of limitations has run to file suit… you lose.

In North Carolina, if you were at anyway at fault for your accident… you lose.

A Word About Contributory Negligence in North Carolina

In North Carolina we have a rather harsh law (that’s probably an understatement) called “contributory negligence”. What contributory negligence says is that if you were even 1% at fault for the accident, and the other person was 99% at fault, you will still LOSE.

I know what you are thinking… “hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t seem fair?!”

And you know what? You are right.

Who do we have to thank for this ridiculous law? The insurance companies that dreamed it up, and the state legislators that wrote and supported this law.

North Carolina is one of only four states and the District of Columbia that keep this stupid rule on the books. Most states use what is called “comparative negligence” to apportion damages in proportion to the percentage that the plaintiff and defendant were at fault.

So if you come to us and ask us to take your case, we must be absolutely certain that you weren’t at fault in any way for the accident, not even 1%.

If you were, we can’t take your case.

The Accident Claim Process in North Carolina

Generally speaking, there are three different phases of an accident claim in North Carolina. The first is the treatment phase, followed by pre-litigation negotiations and finally, filing a lawsuit and scheduling a trial.

Let’s take these one at a time.

The Treatment Phase

During the treatment phase, you are tasked with one thing, and one thing only. You should be following the advice and recommendations of your doctor and trying to get better. Behind the scenes, we will be gathering information such as your medical records and history, work and paystub information, witness statements, police reports, and insurance information for the person who caused the accident.

Once you have finished treating with your doctor and reached what is called “maximum medical improvement” or MMI, we will lay out a settlement strategy with you, including providing you with a very detailed and confidential written settlement evaluation for you. The whole point of this exercise for the lawyer and client to be on the same page in terms of what a reasonable settlement value is BEFORE settlement negotiations begin.

Which leads us to phase two…

Pre-Litigation Settlement Negotiations

There are a number of reasons that you may want to settle your case pre-suit. Some common reasons are that:

  • North Carolina is a very conservative part of the country in terms of jury verdicts
  • You have personal information that you want to keep confidential or that would otherwise hurt your case if it became known by the insurance company
  • Your attorney fee will be less
  • Your net settlement could be more as a result of not having to pay various costs that are associated with going to trial (court costs, expert witness fees, court reporters, etc.)
  • There is always the possibility that you will lose at trial and recover nothing

Prior to filing suit, your lawyer will put together a comprehensive settlement demand package to send to the insurance company. Once you know what the insurance companies’ best offer is, you can decide whether or not it is acceptable to you.

In some cases, it doesn’t make sense to engage in pre-suit negotiations. This happens when we are dealing with an insurance adjuster who is known to low-ball their settlement offers, and is just using the pre-suit period to gather as much information about you, your lawyer and your doctor as possible. Their end goal is to try to low-ball you or prepare for trial if you refuse their settlement offer.

Some lawyers will wait until the statute of limitations has almost run out to file a lawsuit. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations is three years. We believe that waiting this long to file a lawsuit is not a good strategy. Not only do you run the risk of suing the wrong defendant and getting your case dismissed, but it also leads to general chaos, confusion and stress for the lawyer handling your case and you as an injured party. For that reason, we typically will not take cases where the statute of limitations is set to expire in less than 6 months.

The final stage of the process is to file a lawsuit and schedule a trial.

Lawsuit and Trial

The most lengthy part of the lawsuit/trial process is called “discovery”. Discovery is where the defendant may ask you questions about the accident, and gather documents about your medical and work history. They may also choose to ask you questions under oath in a legal proceeding known as a deposition, or have you submit to an independent medical evaluation with a doctor of their choosing.

You will also be permitted to ask written and oral questions of the defendant under oath. After discovery is completed, there may be various pre-trial motions filed and hearings scheduled, followed by a jury trial.

Health Insurance Subrogation (say what?)

One of the most complicated areas of the accident claims process doesn’t happen until after your case has been settled – and that is the potential reimbursement of medical bills that have been paid by your health insurance provider. The fancy term for this is “subrogation” and it is extremely complicated and easy to mess up.

Here’s the thing – in North Carolina, and many other states, a private health insurer is prohibited from seeking reimbursement from an accident victim who recovers from the person who caused the injury.

However, (surprise, surprise) that little “nuance” doesn’t keep the health insurance companies from seeking this reimbursement anyway. That’s because if the health insurance is covered by Federal ERISA law, then they can still seek reimbursement by filing an action in Federal court.

The implications of this are straightforward – you must find an attorney who is able to review your health insurance policy and if necessary, negotiate the payment of these bills with the insurance company before allowing you to agree to a settlement.

But those aren’t the only health-related pitfalls that you need to be aware of. If you have unpaid medical bills, those providers will be seeking payment as well in the form of a lien. However, for them to get paid they must have “perfected” their lien, which is a legal process that allows them to secure payment against your settlement.

So even though you think that you will only be negotiating with the insurance companies for the at-fault driver and potentially your own insurance company, in actuality there may be multiple insurance companies and medical providers involved, all of whom want a piece of your settlement.

If you aren’t careful, and don’t negotiate these liens and payments carefully, you could risk losing your entire settlement to medical providers and health insurance companies.  A personal injury lawyer can help you to navigate this process.

Click here for more information and resources, or if you have been injured in a car accident in North Carolina.

Return to the Personal Injury Claim Guide

If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 887-8582. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.

5 Things You Must Do After a North Carolina Car Accident

5 Things You Must Do After a North Carolina Car Accident

If you are involved in a car accident in North Carolina, it is vital that you take the appropriate steps to protect your claim – assuming that you are well enough to do so. The reason this is so important is that North Carolina is one of 4 states and the District of Columbia which recognize a pure contributory negligence rule (the others are Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland).

Under the pure contributory negligence standard, if you are even 1% at fault for your accident, then you recover nothing in your case. Although this may seem unfair, and we don’t disagree that it is, it is the current law in North Carolina and as a result, you must be diligent in following these 5 steps to protect yourself if you are injured in an accident.

#1 Photograph the scene

In this day and age of cell phones, it is important that you collect as much information as possible from the scene of the accident. You need to photograph your car, the car that hit you, the location of the accident, and even the condition of the road. If there are skid marks in the road, you will want to photograph those. You will also want to have someone take pictures of you and your injuries.

If is amazing how quickly the police and other emergency personnel will clean up the scene of an accident. If you don’t photograph the scene of the accident right away, all that evidence could be lost forever.

#2 Speak with the other driver and collect information

If you are able to do so, you should talk to the other driver. See if they will admit to causing the accident. If they do, or if they apologize for the accident, keep a record of that. Record it if possible. You may need this information to give to the police when they come. Also make sure to get the other driver’s contact information and insurance information. Photograph their insurance card if you can.

#3 Speak with any witnesses and collect their contact information

If you see any witnesses, get their names, phone numbers, and email addresses. It is important to get their statement about what happened. Do not admit to them that you may have been at fault, for the accident, even if you were. But try to get a feel whether they would be a good witness and cooperative if they were called upon.

#4 Seek medical attention

This should probably be at the top of this list, but it goes without saying that you absolutely, positively must seek medical attention if you are injured. Make sure that the EMT’s take your vital signs and check you over before you leave the scene. Even if you don’t think you are injured, it is possible that some injuries may take several days or longer to manifest themselves (i.e. back injuries, among others).

#5 Call 9-1-1

Last but not least, you need to call 9-1-1. When the police come, give them an honest statement about what happened. If the other person was at fault, make sure they are cited.

Many people would rather avoid calling the police. However, if your accident was serious, you should not make the mistake of letting the other drive leave without calling the police. You will need the accident report and the witness statements that the police officers are trained to write-up and obtain.

Make sure you read through the policeman’s notes and let them know if they made any mistakes. It is a lot easier to have the policeman correct their notes at the scene than to have them change a filed police report.

If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 887-8582. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.


Lies and Tactics the Insurance Companies Will Use to Prevent You From Hiring a Lawyer

Lies and Tactics the Insurance Companies Will Use to Prevent You From Hiring a Lawyer

Insurance Companies will stop at nothing to keep you from recovering a fair and equitable settlement for your injury claim. You see, the less money they pay out, the more money they get to keep as profit.

Before we get into the lies you might expect from the insurance companies, let’s touch on how the insurance companies actually make money.

How the Insurance Companies Make Money

Insurance companies collect money in the form of premiums from a large pool of people who are trying to insure against a loss of some sort. In the case of auto insurance, the loss could come in the form of property damage (to a vehicle), or bodily injury.

The insurance company is making a bet. They are betting that they will take in more money in premiums than the money they pay out in losses. If they do this, they make money. If they don’t, then they go out of business.

They hire lots of really smart people, called actuaries, to calculate the risk that any given customer is likely to sustain a loss that they will have to pay for. The higher the risk, the higher the premium that customer will pay.

But here’s the thing, none of that matters if you are in an accident. The insurance companies’ job at that point is to pay out the claim. That’s what you contracted with them to do. That’s why we have auto insurance.

But the corporate CEO’s that run these companies know that they need to make a profit.  The fewer claims they pay out, the more profit the insurance company makes.

That’s why insurance companies will stop at nothing to pay out as little as possible on the claims side. So even if they offer you a $10,000 check to settle a claim, which may seem fantastic to you at the time, they know the claim might really be worth $30,000. By sending you a check early on the process, before you have had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer, they are betting that they will pay out less overall, thus making more money for their shareholders.

And frankly, this is a tactic that works, which is why they keep doing it.

For years, insurance companies have been taking advantage of hard-working, honest members of the general public who, quite frankly, don’t know any better. Many people assume that the insurance company will do the right thing and every action the claims adjuster takes from the minute they receive your file is geared towards becoming your friend and keeping you from hiring a lawyer.

It is not unheard of for the insurance company to use fear tactics (“if you hire a lawyer, they will just take 1/3 of your settlement check”), to keep people from even talking to a lawyer and getting the advice they need.

But here’s the silver lining in all of this – you may not need a lawyer anyway! (Yes, I realize as a lawyer that it is against my financial interest to tell you this, but it’s important that you understand that not every case needs a lawyer).

That being said, if you choose to settle your case without talking to a lawyer or firmly understanding the rules of the game, then you are fighting an uphill battle that you are certain to lose.

Even though a personal injury case seems relatively simple and straightforward, there are a number of nuances and landmines that could blow up in your face if you don’t recognize them early on.

Medical Liens are a Huge Personal Injury Trap

A great example is dealing with medical liens. In certain situations, you may be surprised to hear that you could be required to pay a portion of your settlement proceeds back to the insurance company that paid for your treatment or to the medical providers that treated you. But how and when you need to do this is not something the insurance company will help you with because they don’t really care about you.

You won’t know what hit you until it is too late.

All the insurance adjuster cares about is closing their file and getting you to sign a release of all claims against them… as quickly as possible.

But those aren’t the only tactics you will encounter. Here are some of the more popular tactics the insurance companies will use:

  1. Asking for Information They Don’t Need. Insurance companies are worse than lawyers when it comes to asking for information. As soon as they find out you won’t settle your case quick, they will start asking you for unnecessary information. They tell you they need this so that they can properly “evaluate your claim”. This information may have nothing to do with their settlement offer, and in fact wouldn’t affect their offer anyway. But by asking for it, then can delay paying you a check for another couple months and continue earning interest on YOUR money.
  1. Using Delay Tactics. Getting involved in an accident is going to put you in a financial bind. The insurance companies know this. They know you are out of work, not getting paid, have medical bills coming due, a mortgage, children to feed, etc. Even if you have good health insurance (which is no longer a given in America), it may be difficult for you to pay the deductibles and co-pays. You may not even be able to pay the premiums for your insurance and run the risk of losing your insurance entirely. Because of this, they will take their time with your claim to force you into a low-ball settlement.
  1. Disputing Your Medical Treatment. This has to be my favorite. I have yet to meet an insurance adjuster that has been to medical school. However, why is it that every single adjuster seems to have a firm grasp on what medical procedures you do and don’t need? Here’s what’s really happening – they are looking at how much they have paid for medical treatment so far and have decided that you must be better based on the amount of money that has been paid out. If you aren’t getting better, you are just receiving unnecessary treatments. 
  1. Misrepresenting How Much Insurance is Available. When you purchase insurance, don’t you typically buy it all from the same company? Auto, home, life, etc.? Yes, you do. So when the insurance company tells you that the person who hit you only has $25,000 in auto coverage – take that with a grain of salt. If a lawsuit is filed you may find that the defendant actually had an Umbrella Policy as well. Amazing how the insurance company forgot to share this information.
  1. Acting Like Your Closest Friend and Promising You That Everything Will Be Alright. This is probably the worst of the offenses. The adjuster will become your closest friend. They will call you daily. They will show up at the hospital or your home and promise you that they will take care of everything. If you suggest that you are thinking of hiring a lawyer, they will inform you that if you do that, they can’t be your friend anymore. L So you don’t, and they get you to agree to a low-ball settlement. Don’t believe me? Read the following case summary.