Julie is driving down a South Bend street when a car pulls out of a parking lot and slams right into her vehicle on the driver side.
Julie’s left leg is broken. At the hospital, the ER doctor puts her in a cast and refers her to an orthopedist. She sees the orthopedist periodically for the next several months. The leg heals slowly, and the cast has to stay on for ten weeks. Finally, it comes off, and the orthopedist refers Julie to physical therapy. She does physical therapy for another six weeks to get her strength and flexibility back and then continues with home exercises. By eight months post-accident, she is feeling 95% better. The orthopedist says that she should expect a full recovery by a year post-accident.
Julie is an assembler in a light equipment factory. She was unable to work while she had the cast on, for ten weeks. She received short-term disability benefits through her union for those weeks.
The police came to the scene of Julie's accident, so she probably doesn't need to notify anyone else about the crash, except for her car insurance company, of course. Learn more: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Indiana?
Julie needs to be aware of Indiana’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets the deadline for filing different kinds of lawsuits. In Indiana, the statute of limitations for lawsuits over car accidents is two years.
If Julie has not settled the case, and doesn’t get her lawsuit filed within the two-year time period, her case is over unless she falls within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock.
Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Indiana.
As Julie is recovering from her car accident injuries, she should keep the adjuster informed of her progress, and make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports her claim for damages.
Julie also wants to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. This is important in any case. And even in Julie’s case, where liability seems pretty straightforward because of the way the accident happened, the defendant’s adjuster and lawyer may still argue that Julie was driving too fast or that she could have done something to avoid the collision.
Indiana has what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule when the person who is making an injury claim may also bear some amount of fault for the underlying accident. Under this rule, if you are found to be in part negligent with respect to your injury, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault, up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $50,000 in damages, but were found 10% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $45,000. However, if you were found to be 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 Indiana’s car insurance laws. 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 Julie’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $25,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Julie and her attorney decide that another $60,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Julie’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $85,000 to settle the claim. After presenting their demand to the insurance adjuster, they find that the other driver only had coverage of $50,000 per person. Julie thus accepts the other driver’s policy limits of $50,000, and then makes a claim against her own insurance carrier against her underinsured driver coverage. After further negotiations, Julie accepts an additional $25,000 from her own carrier, for a total settlement of $75,000. However, she has to repay the disability income insurer from the settlement. (Remember: If you get disability income insurance, you almost always have to repay the insurer from the settlement.)
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 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 Julie’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.