Ashley is backing out of a space in a Chapel Hill parking lot when she is hit by a car coming pretty fast down the parking lane. The collision causes Ashley to hit her head on the window, and she feels woozy right away.
At the car accident scene, the police are called, and they decide to call an ambulance for Ashley.
X-rays at the hospital are negative, but the doctor diagnoses a concussion. He tells Ashley to rest and see her own doctor in a couple of days. After examining Ashley, her doctor prescribes continued rest.
Ashley has headaches, which don’t seem to be getting any better. After a month, the doctor refers her to a neurologist, who runs some tests, and tells Ashley that she has post-concussion syndrome, and that she will get better, but that it will take time. (Learn more about Headaches After a Car Accident.)
Finally, after eight months, Ashley's headaches go away, and she is sleeping better. She is a waitress and had to stay out of work for four months. But when she went back to her restaurant, she found that it had given her job to someone else. It took a month of looking before she was able to find another job as a waitress.
First off, Ashley needs to be aware of North Carolina’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for car accidents is three years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts.
If you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, you will probably lose your legal right to file it at all. 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 North Carolina car accident lawyer.
Ashley needs to keep in mind that North Carolina has a very strict rule regarding what an injured person can recover in court if they are found to be partially at fault for causing a car accident.
Under North Carolina’s “contributory negligence” rule, you cannot receive money damages if you are found to have been even the slightest bit at fault in the accident. Even if you prove that the other driver was negligent, and you are only found to be 1% at fault, you can’t recover anything.
The lesson here is that, in a case like Ashley’s, where there may be a serious question as to whether she was herself negligent for pulling out of the parking space when it may not have been safe to do so, it is crucial to establish that the other driver was solely to blame for the accident. (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 North Carolina’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 Ashley’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $26,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Ashley and her attorney decide that another $40,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Ashley’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident. However, they have to take into account the fact that Ashley may well be found partly at fault for the accident (which would cause her to lose the case outright, and receive nothing). With this in mind, they make an initial demand of $45,000 to settle the claim against the other driver. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Ashley accepts $20,000 as a final 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 Ashley’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle. Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.