Willie is stopped at an intersection in downtown Reno, waiting to make a left turn. He has the green light, but is waiting for oncoming traffic to pass. When the traffic clears, he makes his left, but gets hit by an oncoming car that seems to come out of nowhere. The car hits him on his right front door. Willie, who was wearing his seat belt, suffers immediate neck and back pain.
The police come and offer to call an ambulance for Willie, but he declines. The officers do not give either driver a ticket at the car accident scene.
After a couple of days, Willie isn’t feeling any better, so he goes to a walk-in clinic. The doctor on call diagnoses neck and back strain and prescribes rest. Alternatively, he tells Willie that he could go to a chiropractor. Willie decides to go to the chiropractor, who he sees four times a week for three weeks, and then twice a week for four months.
By five months post-accident, Willie is feeling like himself again, and ends the treatment. Willie is a blackjack dealer at a local casino. The accident was causing him problems with standing for long periods of time, so he had to stay out of work for three weeks. He would have like to stay out longer, but he needed the money and did not want to lose his job.
The first thing that Willie should do is report the incident to the insurer of the car that hit him, and to his own car insurance carrier. Learn more: Do I need to report a car accident in Nevada?
Willie needs to be aware of the statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Nevada, the statute of limitations for lawsuits over car accident injuries is two years. If the accident involves only property damage, you have three years to file a lawsuit.
If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations period expires, it may be time to contact a Nevada car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
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 important in any case, and particularly in a case like Willie’s, where the adjuster is certainly going to argue that Willie made a left in front of oncoming traffic, and that it was his fault for not waiting until the other driver passed by.
Nevada follows what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule when the person making an injury claim also shares some fault for the accident. Under this rule, any damages award you receive after a court trial is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. If, for example, you were awarded $200,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $160,000. However, if you were found to be 50% or more at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever from the other driver.
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 Nevada’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 Willie’s case, his out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $14,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Willie and his attorney decide that another $25,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Willie’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $37,500 to settle the claim. The insurance adjuster argues strongly that Willie is at fault for this accident. After much negotiating back and forth on the issue of fault, Willie agrees to accept $10,000 in full settlement of the case, understanding that, if he went to trial, there was a good chance that he would lose.
You always 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 expires. 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 Willie’s case, he was at MMI, and so he was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.