Questions and Answers About Car Crashes

Q: I was injured in a crash. Who is supposed to pay my medical bills?

A: Usually, you will need to rely on your own car insurance or health insurance or on workers' compensation, if you were hurt while you were working. The other driver's insurance company will often not pay unless the other driver was totally at fault. Sometimes, the other driver's insurance company won't pay unless you sign a release of all your claims.

Q: Shall I sign what the insurance company representative gives me to sign so I can get my car fixed and my medical bills paid?

A: Sign nothing without reading it carefully. What the adjuster says doesn't count. Only what's on the paper counts. If the adjuster tells you that you can still make a claim for lost wages, even though the paper says you release all claims, the paper rules. You can't collect for lost wages. Often, the property damage can be separately paid for. Just be sure the check isn't a release.

Q: The other driver's insurance company told me I didn't need to get a lawyer and they would treat me fairly. Is that true?

A: What do you think?? The other driver's insurance company wants to pay you as little as possible, and preferably nothing at all. For crashes where you had only slight injuries and lost just a little in pay and had some small medical bills, there is probably no need for a lawyer, though we think you should wait six months or so to be sure that your injuries are actually slight and nothing shows up later.

Q: I was in a crash and got some x-rays, and they said nothing was broken. Now, it's four months later and I'm still having headaches and backaches. I got some money from the insurance company for my bills and lost wages. Can I sue the other driver now that I know I am hurt more than I first thought?

A: No, probably not. When the other driver's insurance company paid you the money, you were probably given a paper to sign called a release. In it, it usually says you release all your claims, even if you didn't know about them at the time. That's why we recommend you read every word before you sign a document and that you wait at least six months before you settle any part of your claims.

Q: My husband was badly hurt in a car crash in the middle of the night. No one saw what happened. The police report says my husband was going too fast, but he never drove too fast. He was always very careful. Can anyone help to show what really happened?

A: Yes. There are specialists who can recreate the forces and speeds and conditions of vehicles at the time of a crash from photographs and physical evidence. However, it is very important that this be done as soon after the crash as is possible. Even though skid marks may last for months, sooner is much better than later. Some of the evidence is bound to disappear in time. These experts are very expensive, but generally they can, in fact, figure out what happened and who was in the wrong.

Q: What am I entitled to in money for my injuries?

A: No one can tell you with any certainty what a jury may award to you. The categories of damages available in any tort action are as follows:

  • Medical expenses, past and future. The expenses must be shown to relate to the injuries received in the car crash. Usually an expert is necessary to testify as to what medical expenses will continue into the future.
  • Lost wages, past and future. Again, it must be shown that these are related to the crash. Usually an economist is called to testify about losses in the future, because such losses must be reduced to present value. This means that each year's lost wages are reduced by a factor of between one and two percent to account for the fact that the damages are being awarded in the present.
  • Lost physical and/or mental capacity. This is an element of damage designed to compensate for loss of function of the mind and/or the body in the past and the future. It is not subject to any kind of mathematical calculation. Among the things a jury may consider is how great the loss is and how long you are expected to live, based on standardized mortality tables. For example, a man who is 50 has a life expectancy according to a standard mortality table of 75 years.
  • Past and future pain and suffering. This element of damage is to compensate for the pain that relates to the injury. Again, it is not subject to mathematical calculations and is based on things such as frequency of the pain, severity of the pain and the life expectancy.
  • Other compensatory damages. This is a miscellaneous damage category for things like moving expenses, if you were forced to move because of the car crash, transportation costs, if you were forced to travel for medical treatment or for other reasons related to the car crash, and other things of that sort.