Phil is driving through a residential neighborhood in Huntsville, Alabama. He goes through an intersection at about 25 miles per hour. Phil has no stop sign, but traffic coming from the other direction does have a stop sign. A car runs the stop sign and hits Phil on the vehicle’s passenger side (this is known as a "t-bone" crash).
Phil’s passenger side is caved in, and Phil gets knocked around in the car, even though he was wearing a seat belt. Phil’s low back is hurting, and he also has pain in his left wrist where it was caught in the steering wheel.
The police arrive and call an ambulance to take Phil to the hospital. After nine months, Phil has recovered reasonably well, although he still has some twinges in his lower back and wrist, which was broken in the crash. Luckily, he only had low back strain and sprain. He missed two months of work as a logger because of his broken wrist.
Report the Accident and Get the Police Report
The first thing that Phil should do is report the incident to his own car insurance company, and to the other driver's insurer. If Phil delays, the insurance adjuster may think that Phil isn't hurt all that badly, or that the accident didn't necessarily happen the way Phil says it did. Since the police came to the scene, Phil should be sure to get a copy of the police report.
Stay Aware of the Statute of Limitations
Phil needs to be aware of Alabama’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Alabama, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. This deadline also applies to wrongful death claims arising from a car accident. However, if you only had property damage from the car accident, and you want to sue the other driver for damage to or loss of your vehicle, the statute of limitations is six years.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact an Alabama car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
Negotiations with the Other Driver’s Insurer: Alabama’s Shared Fault Rule
As Phil is recovering from his car accident injuries, he should keep the adjuster informed of his progress.
Make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports your claim for damages. You also want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. While a case like Phil’s -- where the other guy went through a stop sign -- is almost always the other driver's fault, you should make sure that you are aware of the rules that come into play when more than one driver may be at fault for a car accident.
Alabama has a very strict “contributory negligence” rule that applies if you are found to be partially at fault for causing your car accident. Under this rule, you cannot receive money damages from any other party if you are found to have been even the slightest bit at fault in the accident. Even if you prove that the other driver was negligent, and you are only found to be 1% at fault, you can’t recover anything. So, even in a case like Phil’s where the other driver went through a stop sign, you want to make absolutely sure that the adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
Settle the Claim or Retain an Attorney?
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Alabama's car insurance laws. That means bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $25,000 per accident. If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Phil’s case, his out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $12,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Phil and his attorney decide that another $8,000 in general damages is appropriate to compensate for Phil’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $20,000 to settle the claim. Finally, after some back-and-forth negotiations with the insurance adjuster, Phil accepts a final settlement of $17,500.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the two-year statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Phil’s case, he was ready to settle. He was pretty well recovered, and the adjuster’s final offer was a fair one.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.