The insurance company has offered me money for my accident. Should I take it?
In most cases involving injuries, you should not. If you take the money you normally have to sign away your right to further compensation. Typically, if the insurance company offers you money, it is far less than what you could receive if you were represented by an attorney and, if you have been injured, far less than you will need to cover your true losses. This is a standard tactic that insurance companies use to limit their costs.
Talk to an attorney before you sign anything or cash any checks. Most motor vehicle accident attorneys offer a free initial consultation. That is your opportunity to find out whether your car accident claim is worth pursuing or if it is time to take the offer and cut your losses.
What if I was partly to blame for my accident?
That depends on the laws in your state. “Contributory negligence” refers to the victim’s contribution to their own accident. In the past, if you were at all to blame for your accident, you were not allowed to sue for your injuries, even if the other person was mostly responsible.
Today, most states have adopted a comparative negligence system, in the interest of fairness. Comparative negligence allows you to sue even if you were partly to blame and reduces your compensation by your percentage of fault. In states which use pure comparative negligence you can collect compensation even if you were 99% to blame. Under modified comparative negligence you have a case as long as you were less than 50% to blame.
I have heard that I cannot recover compensation for my injuries because I was not wearing a seat belt. Is that true?
Failure to wear a seat belt does not automatically bar you from compensation. The “seat belt defense” is very controversial and its application varies from state-to-state.
In many states, seat belt use is irrelevant and lack of seat belt use is not even admissible in court. The driver who caused the accident is also responsible for the resulting injuries.
Some states do allow compensation to be reduced for lack of seat belt use, and they handle it in different ways. Depending on state laws, it may be necessary for the plaintiff to prove that failure to wear a seat belt contributed to your injuries and to what extent. Some states have statutes which determine that exact percentage of blame that can be applied when a plaintiff did not wear a seat belt.
I was hit by a drunk driver who was also uninsured. The police report says he did not even attempt to stop, but his passenger claims otherwise. Do I have a case?
As dismal as that sounds on the surface, you may have a very good case.
The conflict between the police report and the witness statement may indicate that a defective vehicle was to blame for your accident. If so, your case will be a product liability claim against the auto or parts manufacturer or seller, rather than the uninsured driver.
If it turns out that the drunk driver was to blame, it may be appropriate to file a third-party lawsuit. This could be against the person or business that provided alcohol to the driver or someone who knowing allowed him to drive drunk, depending on the unique circumstances.