The chances of becoming involved in a car accident in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, Summerville and surrounding areas are increasing by the day with the steady influx of new residents, increased congestion, and ongoing smart phone use. We all hope it doesn’t happen to us, but if it does, we all should have a basic understanding of how to deal with the other driver(s), the police, insurance companies and medical treatment for you and your passengers.
Here are several things to consider:
- Call the Police to the Scene
In many cases, one party may ask the other to not call the police, to work it out between the parties, especially in relatively minor car accidents. While there is no requirement to call the police, it is a good idea to do so, to have a short investigation conducted and a collision report issued. With police involved, it prevents a driver from giving false information. People have been known to promise to pay for the other person’s damages, then provide a false name and telephone number. While this is rare, it is something to consider. Additionally, it provides an independent third party to verify who said what at the scene, and to verify the location of vehicles post-accident.
The officer studies the roadway for skid marks, gauges in the road; and in serious collisions involving serious injuries and/or fatalities, the officer will call the Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT), to conduct a formal accident reconstruction. Many smaller municipalities do not employ a certified accident reconstruction expert. The MAIT Team assists officers in this regard.
Police protocol is to interview each party separately, and any available witnesses, if liability is being disputed by either of the parties. The officer requests driver’s license, insurance and vehicle registration information, which is written on a South Carolina Form FR-10. Each driver is required by law to give the FR-10 form to his their respective liability insurance companies, and report the accident ot the insurance company within 30 days of the car accident.
The officer will also prepare a more thorough Collision Report, which also contains a narrative and sometimes diagrams of the accident scene and vehicles. Having an officer prepare these forms helps insurance companies expedite claims.
- Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company Immediately
South Carolina law dictates that each party must report every accident, and turn the FR10 form into their insurance company within thirty (30) days. We recommend that you politely ask the at-fault driver to contact his or her insurance company right away to allow property damage and rental vehicle matters to be investigated and paid for quickly. Typically, an insurance company will not issue a rental vehicle to the non at-fault party until the at-fault insured driver reports the accident and gives a statement to his or her insurance company. Once 30 days passes, insurance companies will typically take care of the claim on their own if it is apparent that they owe on the claim.
- Filing a Collision Claim with Your Own Carrier
When an at-fault driver is not cooperative or for any reason there is a substantial delay in claims processing, it is always an option to file a claim for property damage under your own auto insurance policy. Your insurance company will process the claim, then contact the at-fault party’s insurance company for reimbursement.
- Call an EMS if Needed
If you have been injured, don’t hesitate to call EMS. Do not be shy about your aches and pains. If it hurts, if you feel dizzy, nauseas, or anything out of the ordinary, report it. EMS personnel prepare an EMS “Run Report.” This tells of your complaints, symptoms and their treatment provided, prior to taking you to the hospital. This is the beginning of your medical story, as outlined in your medical records.
- You Choose the Hospital
If you are not comfortable going to a hospital chosen by EMS, choose another; tell them to take you there. They will do it, if it is within a reasonable range of miles. For example, if they are taking you to Trident Hospital near Summerville, you can request to be taken to MUSC downtown instead, or Roper Hospital, or Roper St. Francis. You are in control of your healthcare.
- Delayed Onset of Symptoms
Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning feeling aches and pains you did not feel at the scene, in the EMS, or in the emergency room. This is very common and expected with injuries to the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
- Have Someone Photograph Vehicle Damages and Visible Injuries
Do this to preserve evidence for later property damage and injury claims.
- Use Private Health Insurance or Government Medicare or Medicaid
Your health insurance company has pre-negotiated reimbursement rates to health care providers, so there is a financial advantage to you for using health insurance. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield may have negotiated to pay 500.00 to the health care providers for MRI scans; but the actual charge may be $1800.00. Once you have met your deductible and co-pays, the health insurance company will reimburse the health care provider per their rate schedule, and the provider will write off the difference.
Companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield have “subrogation” departments. They will seek to be repaid when you receive your bodily injury settlement, but that is alright. Due to a common law rule called the Collateral Source Rule, the at fault party is responsible to pay the full charges for medical care. So, if the MRI costs $1800.00, then the at fault party’s liability carrier will pay the $1800.00, but your reimbursement to Blue Cross Blue Shield, would be $500.00 using the example above. If you hire an attorney, the attorney can ask for a Cost Procurement Reduction and get the health insurance carrier to reduce their lien by a percentage. All of the negotiation tactics are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say, there is a financial advantage to having and using your health insurance if the provider will take it.
Recently, there has been a trend for health care providers to refuse to take health insurance and hold the bills in house with a law firm representing the health care provider. Hospitals often find that their bills are paid at a higher rate by negotiating directly with an attorney at the time of settlement. They end up with 60 to 70 percent of their charges being paid, rather than sometimes lower health insurance reimbursement.
Medicare (for the elderly and disabled), and Medicaid (for the indigent), Typically reimburse at lower rates that health insurance companies. If you have Medicare or Medicaid most health care facilities accept this; and if they do, they cannot discriminate and refuse to take it. Your attorney will seek payment for the actual charges from the at fault driver’s insurance policy, then negotiate the Medicare or Medicaid lien, per federal legal requirements.
- An Experienced Personal Injury Law Firm such as the McKnight Law Firm Can Help you With Access to Healthcare if you Have No Insurance
By law, the EMS and Emergency Room must provide you with treatment. However, you may find you need additional care that you are unable to afford, such as chiropractic care, MRI scans, and/or orthopaedic evaluations and care. We have a network of trusted quality health care providers who will provide treatment and receive payment at the time of settlement, if you are represented by us. They trust us to protect their interests by issuing a Letter of Protection and having you sign a lien that is put on file, ensuring they will be paid at the time of settlement.
- Use Your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments Coverage to offset your Medical Bills
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments Coverage is optional coverage you may have on your own policy, which provides payments to you for medical bills you may incur, whether or not the car accident is your fault. Because you pay extra premiums for these types of coverages, they too, like health insurance, are considered a collateral source; and therefore, do not act as an offset to you claims with the at-fault driver’s liability insurance claims in South Carolina. Nor will your insurance rates go up for filing a PIP or Medical Payments Claim when the car accident is not your fault; so use these coverages to reduce your medical bill balances. This is in addition to health insurance as well. An experienced attorney can coordinate the various coverages, claims and liens to maximize the amount of money you put in your pocket after a car accident.
- If the At-Fault Driver has no Insurance or Leaves the Scene and is not Apprehended, File an Uninsured Motorist (UM) Insurance Claim on Your own Vehicle Insurance Policy.
South Carolina statutes require that every policy issued in the State of South Carolina contain a minimum amount of UM insurance: $25,000.00 per person bodily injury/$50,000.00 per accident (total payout)bodily injury/and $25,000.00 property damage. (Commercial trucks are required to have more; consult an attorney on all serious truck accident cases)
If another driver runs you off of the road, and there is no evidence of another vehicle’s impact to your car, you must obtain an affidavit from an independent witness.
- If Your Damages Exceed the Limits of Coverage held by the At-Fault Driver, you may be able to file for Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Insurance Coverage.
The vehicle in which you are riding may have optional UIM coverage to cover bodily injury or property damages that exceed available liability coverage. This is so even if you are a passenger in another person’s vehicle (primary UIM); and you may have additional UIM coverage available to you through your own auto policy, or that of a resident relative, even though the insured vehicle was not involved in the car accident. It is best to have UIM claims evaluated by an experienced personal injury law firm, such as the McKnight Law Firm, so that you don’t make a mistake. Under certain circumstances, both UM and UIM coverages can be stacked to increase total monetary limits.
- Call Jody McKnight of the McKnight Law Firm in matters involving serious injury or death
Some minor claims can be handled just fine between the parties involved and the insurance companies; but in matters involving serious injury or death, it is very important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney right away. Property damage, medical care, health insurance and automobile insurance issues can be very confusing and complicated. After you, a friend, or loved one has been seriously injured, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney, such as Jody McKnight of the McKnight Law Firm, as quickly as possible. And
In cases of wrongful death, the closest family members should consult with an attorney immediately to determine who will be the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person. This is the person who has the right to hire an attorney, on behalf of the estate of the deceased person. This will ensure matters are being properly handled, to give you and your family the comfort and peace of mind you deserve following catastrophic losses.
These are just some things to consider following a car accident. Please contact attorney Jody McKnight of the McKnight Law Firm to get the quality of representation and peace of mind you deserve. Jody McKnight has been a serious personal injury and wrongful death attorney since 1993.