PART I: What Is a Personal Injury Claim?
After a car accident, things can feel like total chaos. So many things are happening at once – getting your car fixed, figuring out where and how you are hurting, finding the right care providers, making and going to appointments. It can feel like a full-time job.
If you have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) through your own car insurance, your medical bills are paid without copays or out of pocket costs for you.
But often times, getting medical treatment isn’t the end of the story. When you have been injured in an accident, you have an injury claim against the at-fault driver. This is also called a “liability claim,” or “bodily injury claim” or “third party claim“, and it all means the same thing: that because of the careless driving of someone else, you were injured and have a legal right to recoup the cost of it all—your medical care, economic losses, out of pocket expenses, and your pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering, also called “general damages,” means (generally speaking) the stress and inconvenience caused to you because of the whole ordeal. This concept is more nebulous than bills or other concrete costs, and the appropriate sum depends on the many different factors of your case.
Your liability claim with the at-fault insurance company is settled at once, in one lump sum payment to you at the end of your case. The at-fault insurer will not, and is not required to, pay your bills along the way as you get treatment. It may feel unfair to have your providers bill your own insurance company for an accident that was not your fault, but this really is how it is. Rest easy knowing that by using your PIP coverage, there is no penalty to you. Under Washington law, your insurance company cannot raise your premiums because you have used your PIP. So if you need it, use it. That’s what it is there for. And if you don’t have it on your policy, add it! Ideally you never need it, but if you do, it is tremendously helpful to have your medical bills paid seamlessly and in full, quite different from most health insurance plans that have copays and deductibles.
Because the at-fault insurer only pays once, one time, it is wise to wait before accepting any payment for your injury claim. It can be tempting to want to settle right away to get the whole thing done and over with, but this can be a big mistake. Injuries can last much longer than you anticipate, and they can also develop and change with time. It can take time to understand exactly how and where you are hurt. The good news is that in Washington state, the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim (ie, the legal timeline within which you must settle with the at-fault insurance company or file a lawsuit) is 3 years from the date of the injury. So, there is no need to rush to a settlement if your accident has just happened within the last few months. Take the time to get the care you need first.
When you are ready to settle your case, having a lawyer can be helpful (and in some cases very necessary) to help you compile the evidence and documentation and present it to the insurer in a productive way. And yet, not everyone needs a lawyer.
Read on to know whether you need an attorney for your claim.
Check out Part II: How To Know If You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer.
Lauren Adler is lead personal injury attorney at Dayani Law Firm. She offers free consultations and speaks clearly and honestly about your options after a car accident. Send her a message below or call directly for a consult at (206) 777-5627
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