A motor vehicle accident raises a number of legal questions. This article provides answers to some of the more common questions. The following is intended only as a brief overview of your rights under Tennessee law. The exact nature and circumstances of your accident will determine the extent to which you will need legal counsel. In any case, consultation with an attorney concerning your rights is advisable.
Q. When I am involved in an accident, what is the first thing I should do to protect my interests?
A. Assuming that law enforcement officials have investigated the accident, the first action on your part should be to tend to your injuries and receive prompt medical attention. After that, you should contact your attorney.
Q. Do I need to contact my insurance company?
A. Yes, contact your insurance company and report the accident as soon as practical. Most insurance policies contain a clause, which provides that, unless the accident is reported within a specified time, the policy of insurance will not apply. You should not, however, contact the other party’s insurance company; your attorney will do that.
Q. Should I call my insurance company even if the accident was not my fault?
A. Yes. The other party may be uninsured or underinsured, and you may have to look to your own policy in order to be adequately compensated. Once again, the reporting provision of your policy will require reporting of the claim within a reasonable period of time (never more than thirty days) or the policy will not apply.
Q. Should I contact an attorney or attempt to negotiate with the insurance company?
A. In any case involving personal injury or property damage, you should contact your attorney as soon as possible after receiving medical attention. This will allow your attorney to promptly begin investigation of your claim (a) before evidence (such as skid marks or debris on the roadway) is lost or destroyed, (b) while witnesses still have a vivid recollection of events, and (c) while photographic evidence may still be obtained to preserve the facts. You can rest assured that the other party’s insurance company knows the value of an early investigation and will have begun investigating the claim immediately. It is common sense for you to have the same advantage.
Q. If the other party’s insurance company calls me, should I give them a statement?
A. Absolutely not! The other party’s insurance company may use what you say against you. The person taking the statement has been trained and paid to protect their insurance company’s interest, not yours. Even your own company may use a statement, given by you, against you at a later date, should the other party be uninsured or underinsured.
Q. What is uninsured or underinsured motorist’s insurance coverage?
A. It is the provision of your policy that will protect you in the event the other party to the accident has no insurance or does not have enough insurance to fully compensate you for your loss or injury. Your own insurance company will hire an attorney to represent the other person who does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance and will fight you on the claim. There is a specific law which prevents your insurance company from increasing your insurance rate if you make a claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist compensation. That is why you need an attorney from the beginning to protect your right to fair and adequate compensation.
Q. If my vehicle is damaged, do I need an attorney?
A. In most case, yes. If the other party is responsible, it is unlikely that the insurance company will advise you of all of the elements of damages to which you may be entitled. For example, in addition to the cost of repair and a rental car, you may be entitled to additional compensation for the decrease in your vehicle’s value due to the damage caused by the accident.
Q. If I do not have the money to pay an attorney, what should I do?
A. Most cases involving injury from an accident will be handled by your attorney on a “contingency fee” basis. This means that your attorney will accept the case for a percentage of the recovery and will only be paid if and when he or she obtains a settlement or judgment on your behalf.
Q. How long does it usually take to obtain a settlement or judgment?
A. In cases involving minor property damage, the settlement or judgment for property damage may be obtained within a few days or weeks after contacting your attorney. The claim for personal injuries will not be settled or tried until you have recovered from your injuries or have reached maximum medical improvement in the event your injury leaves you with a permanent impairment or disability.
Q. If I do not have insurance on my car, can I still be compensated for my injury?
A. Yes. If the other party was at fault in causing the accident, you can still bring a claim for compensation even if you do not have insurance. It may not affect your driving privileges or registration if the other party was at fault and your attorney handles your case properly.
Q. After an accident, how much time do I have to file a claim?
A. Generally, in Tennessee, you have one (1) year from the date of the accident to file a claim for personal injury and three (3) years to file a claim for property damage. This may vary, however, in the event of injury to a minor child (under age 18) or where the case may be against a governmental agency. You should never delay in contacting your attorney. Although you may have a long period of time in which to bring a claim, it is very difficult to obtain adequate compensation unless your attorney has been able to properly investigate your case from the beginning.
Q. Am I entitled to compensation even if I am partly at fault?
A. Yes. The law has changed in Tennessee to allow for compensation even if you are partly at fault in causing the accident. At one time in Tennessee, any fault on your part would have prevented compensation. Now, as long as you are less at fault than the other party or parties, you may be entitled to compensation.
Q. Are there other parties who may be responsible for my injuries besides the driver of the other car?
A. Yes. If there were some defective or unreasonably dangerous features of your auto or the other auto that caused the accident, then you may be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer of the vehicle. This is called a products liability claim.
Q. If I seek legal advice, what information should I bring with me?
A. You should bring a copy of the accident report prepared by the law enforcement officer, your insurance policy and the names, telephone numbers and addresses of any witnesses, if available. Ideally, fill out the information on the back page of this booklet.
Q. If my accident was work related, am I entitled to workers’ compensation as well?
A. Yes. You may be entitled to both workers’ compensation and to recover damages for you injuries from other parties other than your employer. Because workers’ compensation benefits are not fault based, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation even if you are at fault.
Q. How much insurance should I carry?
A. We recommend the following minimum automobile coverages:
- Liability coverage of $100,000.00 for injuries to one person and $300,000.00 for injuries in one accident.
- Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in the same amount as your liability coverage.
- Medical payments coverage for the maximum amount sold by your company.\
- Property damage coverage of at least $50,000.00.
If you are presently insured at limits less than these limits, we would strongly suggest that you obtain a price quote from your insurance agent and compare the difference in price for the minimum coverage we have suggested and your current coverage. In most cases, you will see that for a very small amount, more adequate coverage can be purchased to protect you and your family.
Q. Why should I call the Law Offices of Tony Farmer & John Dreiser if I am involved in an accident?
A. We have experienced trial attorneys who care about their clients and are skilled in handling personal injury cases. Our support staff provides both experience and dedication in helping our attorneys help you. There is no charge for an initial consultation with us about your motor vehicle accident. We will get paid only if you are able to recover for your losses. We will tell you if we believe you don’t need a lawyer.
Feel free to contact Tony Farmer or John Dreiser at the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser in Knoxville, Tennessee for more information. We can be reached at 865-584-1211 or 800-806-4611; by e-mail at Tony@farmerdreiser.com or John@farmerdreiser.com; or by visiting our website at www.farmerdreiser.com. We maintain an active practice in personal injury litigation, Social Security Disability, and workers compensation.