Owen, a student at the University of Nebraska, is a passenger in a car driven by a friend of his, another student. The friend is driving too fast on a country road near Lincoln, and the vehicle hits a tree. Owen suffered a broken right collarbone and shoulder, and a broken leg.
The police come and call an ambulance for Owen. They also give the friend a ticket for reckless driving. At the hospital, Owen’s leg is put in a cast, and his shoulder is put in a sling.
Owen is referred to an orthopedist, who he sees regularly for three months. After the cast and sling come off, Owen goes to physical therapy for another two months for both his leg and his shoulder. He continues home exercises as recommended by the physical therapist, and, one year post-accident, feels about 90% recovered. The orthopedist tells Owen at his final visit that it will take some time, but that he should recover completely.
Owen was not working at the time of the accident, but, since the accident occurred only a week into the semester, he decided to take that semester off to focus on recovering from his injuries.
The first thing that Owen should do is report the incident to the insurer of the friend’s car and to his own car insurance company. Since the police came to the scene, Owen probably doesn't need to notify any authorities about the accident under Nebraska law. (Learn more: Do I need to report a car accident in Nebraska?)
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. In Nebraska, the statute of limitations that applies to car accidents gives you four years to file any lawsuit over injuries stemming from the crash (the same deadline applies whether you were a driver or passenger).
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the four-year period, 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 Nebraska car accident lawyer.
As Owen is recovering from his car accident injuries, he should keep the adjuster informed of his progress, and also make sure that the adjuster has all necessary medical and financial documentation.
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 important in any case, even in a case like Owen’s, where the accident is pretty obviously the friend’s fault.
If, for example, Owen wasn't wearing his seat belt, the insurance company could argue that, under Nebraska's “modified comparative fault” rule, Owen bears some amount of blame for his injuries. If Owen's case were to go to court, his total damages award could be reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is his. Learn more about this shared fault rule -- and how it works in the real world -- in our article Car Accident Laws in Nebraska.
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Nebraska’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 Owen’s case, his out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $38,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Owen and his attorney decide that another $100,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Owen’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $140,000 to settle the claim. The defendant only has $50,000 of liability insurance, and so, after negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Owen accepts the policy limits of $50,000.
Owen has $100,000 of underinsured driver coverage, and so makes a claim against his own car insurance for underinsured coverage. After negotiating with his company, he accepts an additional settlement of $50,000, for a total of $100,000.
Passenger injury claims can present some unique challenges after a car accident. Learn more about Car Accident Claims by Injured Passengers.