Marcie is sitting at a red light at an intersection in New Orleans. A car is coming through the intersection with the green light, but another car coming toward Marcie runs the red and collides with the first car. The collision knocks the first car into Marcie’s car. Although Marcie was wearing her seat belt, the collision throws her around in her seat. She injures her neck and back and is cut by broken glass.
The police come and call an ambulance for Marcie. At the hospital, x-rays are taken, and she is diagnosed with neck and back strain and gets twenty stitches to sew up some serious facial lacerations. (More: Common Car Accident Injuries.)
Marcie is referred to a chiropractor for her neck and back pain, and to a plastic surgeon for the facial lacerations. She sees the chiropractor regularly for a month, and her neck and back are like new. The plastic surgeon recommends some revision surgery to ensure that she won’t have any scars, and Marcie agrees. She has a surgical scar for a couple of months, but, within six months, the scars fade.
Marcie is a homemaker with three children and did not work outside the house.
The first thing Marcie needs to understand is her legal obligation when it comes to reporting a car accident in Louisiana.
Marcie needs to be aware of Louisiana’s statute of limitations, which sets a one-year deadline in any injury lawsuit filed after a car accident -- whether by a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or property owner.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the one-year time frame 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 a Louisiana car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
In any type of car accident case, you want to make sure that the adjusters have 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.
Even though proving liability seems relatively straightforward in this case, where one driver ran a red light, insurers always battle it out with each other in a multiple car accident. Since Marcie was just sitting at a red light, she is not going to be liable, but the most negligent driver’s insurer will try to pin even some responsibility on the other driver if it possibly can.
Louisiana follows what is called a "pure comparative fault” rule, meaning that your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. So 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. If, for example, you were awarded $300,000 in damages, but were found 10% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $270,000.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that, whenever possible, 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 Louisiana’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 that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Marcie’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $22,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Marcie and her attorney decide that another $60,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Marcie’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident. After negotiating with the other insurers, Marcie accepts a final settlement, with the insurer of the driver who ran the red light, in the amount of $50,000.
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 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 Marcie’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle her case. Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.