Jim is in his car waiting at a red light in Anchorage. A car comes up behind Jim at about 15 miles per hour, never slows, and slams into him while the light is still red.
Jim’s car is severely damaged, and requires approximately $5,000 in repairs. Jim immediately experiences neck, upper back, and lower back pain. An ambulance has to be called to take him to the hospital.
It has now been eight months, and Jim isn't much better. He still has neck and back pain that has been impacting his work and personal life. He has only been able to work part-time as a self-employed electrician due to neck and back pain, and he has not been able to work out and engage in recreational activities such as basketball and hiking.
The first thing Jim needs to do is report the accident to his own car insurance company, and probably also to the insurer of the person who hit him. In Alaska or anywhere else, if you delay reporting the accident to an insurance company, the adjuster may think the accident wasn't all that serious, or that you weren't really hurt, or even that the accident didn’t happen the way you say it did. Especially if you're dealing with the other driver's insurance company, don't give them that kind of ammunition to use against you.
Jim may also be legally obligated to report the accident to law enforcement or some other agency. (Learn more: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Alaska?) If a law enforcement officer comes to the scene of the accident, Jim should be sure to obtain a copy of any police report that is generated in connection with the crash.
In any personal injury case, you need to be aware of the statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit against the person or business that caused your injuries.
If you have not settled the case within the time window set by the statute of limitations, and you fail to file a lawsuit within that time frame, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions to the statute. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, either file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer to file the suit.
In Alaska, 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 year from the date of the accident to properly file a lawsuit. This two year statute of limitations also applies to vehicle damage claims after a car accident, as well as wrongful death claims arising from a car accident.
As Jim is continuing treatment and recovering from his car accident injuries, he should keep the adjuster informed of his progress and provide updates on new developments. He should also make sure the adjuster has all the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident.
You want to make sure the adjuster knows the other driver was negligent and that you were not. While a rear-end collision like the one in Jim’s case is almost always the trailing driver's fault, it's important to understand Alaska laws on shared fault for a car accident.
Alaska follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule when the person who is making an injury claim also bears some amount of blame for the underlying accident. So if you're party at fault for the car crash, this means your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000.
Get more information: Car Accident Laws in Alaska.
All drivers in Alaska must carry car insurance and must have bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $25,000 per accident. Some drivers may also have personal injury protection insurance (PIP or “med pay”), which pays the medical bills of anyone involved in the driver’s accident, regardless of whether that driver was at fault. (More: Car Insurance Requirements in Alaska.)
It doesn't sound like Jim's damages would exceed these minimum coverage requirements (assuming that's what the other driver is carrying in terms of coverage), but you want to keep coverage amounts in mind when you're deciding whether to settle your claim or turn it over to a lawyer. If your medical bills and other damages exceed the amount of coverage carried by the other driver, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
You also don’t want to settle your claim too early -- meaning until 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 Jim’s case, it is too soon to settle. It’s only been eight months, and he is still recovering. The statute of limitations is two years. He should wait until the eighteen month mark, and then decide what to do. If he wants to hire a lawyer, that gives the lawyer enough time to do some investigation and then file suit without feeling stressed for time.
Learn more about Car Accident Settlements.