Sam is driving through an intersection in a residential part of Savannah, when he is hit broadside by another driver. There was no stop sign or traffic light at the intersection. Sam didn't see another car as he approached the intersection, thought that he had the right of way, and thought that the other car was going way too fast. Sam feels immediate back pain as soon as the collision occurs.
The police come, give the other driver a ticket for failure to yield, and call an ambulance for Sam. X-rays at the hospital show a fractured vertebra, and so the doctor refers Sam to an orthopedist. The orthopedist decides to do a kyphoplasty, a special surgery to fix a fractured vertebra. Afterward, Sam feels a lot better, and, three months later, he feels fully recovered. Sam is a lawyer. He did not come into work for ten weeks. He worked part time from home during that time, and so his firm paid him his usual salary.
The first thing that Sam should do is report the incident to his own car insurance company, and to the insurer of the driver that hit him. If Sam delays, the insurance adjuster may think that Sam isn't hurt all that badly, even though he was, or that the accident didn't necessarily happen the way Sam says it did. Learn more about Reporting a Car Accident: Steps to Take.
Since the police came to the scene of the accident, Sam should be sure he gets a copy of the police report, to make sure there are no surprises that the adjuster might try to exploit during settlement talks.
Sam needs to be aware of Georgia's statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Georgia, 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. If you are only filing a property damage claim (to get your car fixed, for example), the statute of limitations is four years.
Why does the statute of limitations matter? If you have not settled the case, and you don't file a lawsuit within the time period set by this law, 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 Georgia car accident lawyer. Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Georgia.
As Sam is recovering from his car accident injuries, he should keep the adjuster informed of his progress.
You want to 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. This is especially important in a case like Sam's, where proving liability may be difficult because of the lack of traffic controls (stop signs, traffic signals) at the intersection. Accordingly, Sam needs to be aware of the rules of comparative negligence because the person that hit him could claim that Sam was negligent for not letting him through the intersection.
Georgia follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when your own negligence may have played a role in causing your accident. Under this rule, your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the "fault" the judge or jury believes is yours. In other words, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault, but only up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $60,000 in damages, but were found 10% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $54,000. However, if you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant's adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Georgia's car insurance laws. In Georgia, a driver is only required to carry 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 Sam's case, his out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $30,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Sam and his attorney decide that another $60,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Sam's pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $120,000 to settle the claim. The defendant only has $100,000 of liability insurance, and so, after negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Sam accepts a final settlement of $87,500.
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 Sam's case, he was at MMI, and so he was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.