The Insurance adjuster has contacted me and has requested a statement.

Why do they want that and should I give them a statement?

It is common practice for the insurance adjuster to ask for a recorded statement. This is true whether it is your insurance company or the other party’s insurance company. Their purpose in doing so is to a. to find out if there is the basis of a defense to bar the claim and b. to lock in your story so that if you remember something later and change your story it will look as if you are not telling the truth. It would be best to have an attorney present at the time the statement is given. The attorney should have sufficient information before the statement to assist you in making sure that all of the pertinent facts are brought out in your statement. If you do give a statement you should request that the adjuster provide you with a copy so that you can give this to your attorney and so that you will have it for future reference.

The insurance company for the person who caused the accident seems to be delaying the payment of my damages.

Why don’t they just pay me the money so that I can get on with my life?

The adjuster works for the insurance company. The insurance company is less interested in paying your claim than it is in trying to save the company money. Insurance companies are not in the business to pay claims; they are in business to make a profit. There may be several legitimate reasons for the delay. Unless the liability is very certain the company will not pay until they speak to their insured. The insured may not tell the story as you told it. They are also obtaining statements of witnesses. That is why it is important that you get information from anyone who is present at the time of the accident or who saw it happen. You will need to get statements from them as quickly as possible before their memory fades. You should also take pictures from all angles if you are able to do so. This way they have locked in the story of the witness before you or your attorney has had a chance to interview them. Often a witness can be rendered ineffective by having stories that are not consistent. The company may be trying to find someone to fix your car in a manner that can save them money by using used or imported parts. These parts may not meet the same standards as your original parts. Sometimes they are planning to deny your claim but just have not told you yet. It is best to hire an attorney at an early stage to combat some of these problems and to keep the process going.

The insurance company has denied my claim on the basis of contributory negligence.

What does that mean and how does it affect my case?

In North Carolina the law provides that if one party is 90% at fault and the other party is only 10% at fault then neither party can recover from the other. This is called the doctrine of Contributory Negligence. The insurance company is trying to say that you are partly at fault and that they will not voluntarily pay. Contributory negligence is usually for the judge or jury to determine. Just because the company is claiming contributory negligence does not mean that you will not recover. Often the issue of “Contrib” as it is called is used by the insurance company to lessen the verdict as opposed to eliminate entirely the verdict. Contributory negligence may be a factor in your case and you should take that into account when you are trying to determine the value of your case. Your attorney can tell you best how to handle this problem.

Why won’t the insurance company pay for my medical expenses so that I can get well from my injuries?

The insurance company will usually not pay for your medical costs unless they have determined that they are going to have to pay the claim. This is very rare and usually will not happen unless the case is one that has catastrophic injuries. The insurance company is only responsible for those medical costs that are reasonably necessary and the insurance company often contests what is reasonably necessary. If you have an insurance policy that has Medical Payment Coverage you can collect that to pay for some of your medical expenses. You can also use your health insurance, but many companies who provide health insurance will require you to pay back the money they advance for your medical treatment once you recover from the party causing the accident.

How much will I be paid for my case?

No reputable attorney will tell you what to expect from any case until all of the facts and the information about your damages have been determined. You only have one chance to recover for your damages and so you should be patient until the complete facts are determined. Facts about your damages include information about your past medical history and other factors not directly related to this one accident or injury. Some elements of damages that may be recovered in your case are lost wages, medical, hospital and pharmacy expenses, damage to property that is damaged in the accident and pain and suffering. In some cases you can also recover future medical expenses and future lost wages. No one can accurately tell you what a judge or jury might do in your case. If someone claims that they can do this then you should seek other advice from a reputable attorney.

The insurance company wants to see my income tax records.

Do I have to give them this kind of information?

If you are claiming lost income then your tax returns may have some relevance to the claim. Thus you may have to furnish this kind of information during the discovery part of your case. You do not have to give information about your spouse’s income or any income that is not affected by the case. It would be best if you spoke with your attorney about this before giving out such personal information. In this day of identity theft you should be careful about giving out such information without some restrictions. Your attorney can best protect you by getting a protective order so that the world will not have access to your information and so that you can get this information back after the case.

The insurance company has claimed my vehicle is a total loss but is offering me less than the amount I owe on my vehicle.

Am I required to take it? What will I do about the amount that is due on my loan?

Sometimes, especially with a new car, the amount owed is less than the fair market value of the vehicle. When you drive a new car off of the lot the value immediately diminishes.
When a car is totaled you are entitled to recover the fair market value of the vehicle as of the time of the accident. You may have to get other opinions as to the fair market value. Insurance companies use national guidelines to establish the value. They may or may not have anything to do with the market for vehicles where you live. Discuss the value with your car dealer and get his opinion of the fair market value in writing. Your attorney has the resources to assist you in determining the fair market value. Remember that dealers do not want to get involved in lawsuits and may be reluctant to give you a value if they think it will mean their having to go to court.

The insurance company has not offered me enough for my vehicle. What can I do about it?

Although many people do not wish to involve their own insurance company, if the other party is at fault you should consider getting your company involved. If you have collision coverage then you can get your car fixed and pay a small deductible. Then you have the right to bring suit against the other person’s insurance company for the value of your loss. If you recover you will have to repay your insurance company but you will have your car and you can take time to allow the legal system to pressure the other driver’s company into giving you a fair settlement. You are not restricted to the cost of repairs paid by your company. A wrecked vehicle, when fixed, still has depreciated value because it has been wrecked. You can collect the depreciated value from the other driver’s company. Don’t be too reluctant to use your own company. They have been accepting your premiums for this coverage for years and this is the reason you have been paying it.

The insurance company has claimed my vehicle is a total loss and will not give me a rental car. What can I do?

If your car is totaled then you are likely not entitled to a rental vehicle once the insurance company has offered you the fair market value of the vehicle. If you do not think your car is totaled you have a few options. You can contact your own insurance company if you have comprehensive or collision coverage. They might disagree that the vehicle is totaled and you can claim under that coverage and get your car fixed. If they agree that the car is totaled then you might be able to negotiate the fair market value of the vehicle and see if you can get them to give you the salvage for a small price. Then if you have the resources you can have the car fixed using the money and perhaps used parts. This can be effective for those who can do their own mechanical or body shop work.

The other party’s insurance limit is not sufficient to cover my damages. What can I do?

If you have collision or underinsured coverage you may can use your own policy to cover your damages. Underinsured coverage is coverage that adds to the coverage of the other party if theirs is not enough to cover your damages. It is limited by the amount of coverage that you buy. It is the cheapest insurance that you can purchase and may be the difference between taking a significant loss and being made whole. Be sure and speak to your attorney or your insurance agent about this possibility so that you may be fully informed.

How long will I have to file a suit?

Different cases have different deadlines to file a suit. It depends upon the type of case and the jurisdiction. These deadlines are called Statutes of Limitation or Statutes of Repose. You should discuss your case with an attorney at an early date so that you will not risk failing to file your suit within the time limit.

If I sue the other party how long will it take?

The time depends upon many factors. These include the county or court in which your suit is filed. It may also depend upon how long it takes for your doctor to release you from your treatment. A lawsuit is a process and you can usually expect it to last at least six months. In Cumberland County most suits are completed within a year. It is important that you begin early in the process and make notes or a journal that outlines all of the facts relating to your accident and to your rehabilitation. Time and the pain that you suffer will cause you to forget much of the problems you encounter. These notes will help you and your friends and family remember the pertinent facts when you finally get to try the case in court.

If I file suit will I still have an opportunity to settle the case before trial?

Yes. In North Carolina all cases in Superior Court are required to go through mediation. In this process the mediator listens to all sides of the case and then, using shuttle diplomacy, attempts to find common ground upon which the case can be resolved. It takes both sides wanting to settle for a case to be resolved. Both sides have to be willing to compromise their position or no settlement will result. Most cases are settled at mediation prior to trial.

If I have an attorney and I am not satisfied can I seek the advice of another attorney?

Most reputable attorneys will not discuss your case with you as long as you have another attorney. It is not fair to the attorney who is representing you, nor to the attorney whose advice you are seeking. Your relationship with your attorney should be one of trust and confidence. If you do not trust the advice of your attorney you should terminate his or her services and then seek another attorney. You should discuss this thoroughly with your current attorney before you make a change so that you fully understand the implications and complications that such a decision entails. If your attorney will not release your file you may file a complaint with the North Carolina State Bar as this is a violation of the rules of ethics. You may contact the State Bar or another attorney to have your rights fully explained.

I received a letter from an attorney or a complaint that was filed in the courts indicating that someone with whom I have had an accident is saying that I was responsible. What should I do?

You should immediately contact your insurance company and let them know that you have received the letter or suit papers. If you should fail to do so your insurance company might deny your coverage. If you are not sure who to contact with your insurance company then call the agent who sold you the coverage. The insurance company will furnish an attorney to handle the case on your behalf. If you receive a letter indicating that the company will not defend the suit then you should contact an attorney as soon as possible so that you can file a response within the appropriate time. If you feel that the other party is responsible then you may ask the attorney handling the case for the insurance company or hire your own attorney to file a counter claim for your damages.

My insurance company says that it is going to settle my case in spite of my objections. Can they do that?

Your policy provides that the insurance company has to right to settle or not settle any claim that is made against you as long as the settlement is within the policy limits. The company does not have to abide by your wishes to do so. If you think that you have a claim against the other party you may request the company not to sign any document that limits your right to sue the claimant. Before you do this you should contact an attorney to discuss the implications of that request before you communicate this to the company.