These five mistakes are most often made by auto accident victims during a lawsuit, playing a crucial role in hurting good people with legitimate cases. This article is intended to help honest people avoid making innocent mistakes that insurance companies and defense lawyers can exploit to avoid responsibility for damages they owe.
Mistake #1: Waiting too long after your auto accident to talk to a lawyer
There is a one-year time limit to apply for benefits in Michigan for a first-party no-fault case. Michigan no-fault law covers important auto insurance benefits such as wage loss, medical bills and mileage, replacement services (chores, help with children) and attendant care (nursing services), based upon the severity of your personal injuries. In Michigan, medical bills are generally paid by the car accident victim’s auto insurance carrier. If you do not apply in time, you will not be able to receive your benefits.
In addition, when auto accident cases are referred too late, critical and debilitating injuries are frequently missed, and documentation of injuries is disregarded. Sometimes car accident victims don’t understand how serious their injuries are, and therefore, do not seek appropriate treatment. Treatment for personal injuries from auto accidents is not only necessary for proper recovery, but creates a record of the injuries, which is necessary to meet Michigan’s injury law for recovering damages in an auto accident case. Additionally, all car accident injuries (even minor ones) must be documented on your Michigan no-fault application for benefits. A person who suffers injuries in an automobile accident but who fails to give specific notice of each of those injuries to his no-fault insurance company within one year can later be barred from having the insurer pay medical bills.
Regarding a truck accident case, critical documents to prove liability can be destroyed within months. For example, if a truck was involved in your accident, a trucking company is only required to keep the bulk of their records concerning a truck accident – no matter how serious the injuries or even if someone was killed – for a very short period of time. The destruction of these and other incredibly important pieces of evidence in serious truck accident cases is not only legal, but commonplace. If a lawsuit is not filed in a timely manner, these documents that are vital to proving negligence on a truck company’s behalf will be legally destroyed, and that can devastate a truck accident case.
Mistake #2: Not considering first impressions and Internet activity during pending lawsuits
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, but auto accident victims with pending personal injury lawsuits should also remember that some opinions, whether political, religious or social, can offend or turn off jurors who do not share the same views. If there’s one universal truth about winning trials, it is this: Juries tend to help people they like, and tend to punish people they do not like. Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits must keep this in mind.
Please consider the recording you leave on your cell phone or answering machine. An insurance adjuster will likely be calling you repeatedly, and if she finds something questionable or offensive, it can affect how that insurance adjuster handles your claim.
Of course, in the realm of innocent mistakes that car accident victims can make, your answering machine message is pretty minor in comparison to say, posting certain information on MySpace or Facebook. For example, a victim who was disabled with closed-head injuries from a truck accident posted pictures of themselves skiing or hiking on an online social networking site. These pictures are completely innocent, and were taken before the person was ever injured in the accident. But the accusation of fraud by defense lawyers can be enough for suspicious jurors who are ready to assume the worst about a person.
Here’s another example: A client neglected to change his message after his car accident, leaving his professional business voicemail greeting, even though he wasn’t working because he was disabled. The defense lawyer used the message against him in court, implying that he was still working and soliciting business. You never know who is listening.
Outside of phone messages, accident victims must always think about the overall impressions they’re leaving, because if a defendant insurance company decides to conduct video surveillance, a jury will see facets of a plaintiff’s life that might have the potential to offend people. Remember, complete strangers may one day be sitting in judgment on your jury. Why risk offending people who will be asked to return proper compensation for your accident?
Mistake #3: Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) without consulting an attorney
People injured in Michigan car accidents and collecting no-fault insurance benefits are frequently told by their insurance companies and claims adjusters that they must apply for Social Security Disability (SSD). But it’s a big mistake for an auto accident victim to consider a Social Security Disability application or SSD claim as separate from his or her automobile accident case. It’s imperative that you contact your Michigan auto accident attorney as soon as an insurance adjuster instructs you to apply, to discuss how applying could affect your case. For example, if you’re accepted for SSD too soon, it could literally wipe out the entire economic recovery from your third-party case.
In almost all cases, especially when a no-fault insurance company asks you to apply for Social Security Disability, you are required to do so. But what happens next, such as appeals and other actions that an auto accident victim needs to apply, is very case-specific. This must be discussed with your lawyer, so he or she can point you in the right direction to minimize the impact on your existing auto accident case, and to avoid costly mistakes.
The practice of insurance companies requiring the accident victim to apply for Social Security Disability has led to abuse, of which many Michigan auto accident attorneys have become all too familiar: Some insurance company adjusters threaten auto accident victims who want to return to work to apply for SSD as a requirement to keep receiving their no-fault insurance benefits. They urge these accident victims to then re-apply and keep appealing if they are not awarded disability benefits.
The reason Michigan insurance companies are requiring you to apply is simple – it saves them money. But there is no basis under Michigan law to have a person apply for Social Security Disability benefits and then be forced to appeal after a denial, just because a no-fault insurance company adjuster is trying to cut costs.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to take pictures and video of injuries and car damage
One of the biggest problems auto accident lawyers face is that accident victims do not take photos of their injuries. Taking photos is critical. Pictures are objective, credible evidence, and they help to correlate a car accident with the occupant’s trauma; especially when the defense later contests that the collision wasn’t severe enough to cause the claimed injuries. Additionally, taking photos of injuries is compelling. It makes the injuries real, believable and vivid.
Anytime an accident victim has a surgery or a visible injury, take pictures. Or contact your Michigan no-fault lawyer so he can send a professional photographer to document the injuries.
It’s also important to remember to take pictures of car damage. Crash repair estimates are often misleading and don’t reflect the full amount of vehicle damage.
Videos are also great tools to illustrate to a jury or an insurance company adjuster just how difficult normal tasks, hobbies and activities can be for someone in the days and weeks following major trauma or surgery. If you have problems carrying out everyday activities like bathing, laundry or chores, you may be entitled to make an attendant care claim. Michigan attendant care benefits are sometimes referred to as nursing services. Be sure to discuss this with your lawyer.
Why take pictures and video? According to Michigan law, victims of automobile accidents must show impairment – not pain – by proving “serious impairment of body function.” That means that a person can be in pain every day, but if she cannot show how life is different after the accident, it’s unlikely the case will be successful. Pictures help to document impairments.
Everyone knows the adage of a picture is worth a thousand words. And when it comes to getting a jury or an insurance adjuster to understand the hardship a person has been put through because of a car accident or other personal injury, this adage is vitally true. Take photos and videos of injuries and surgeries whenever possible.
Mistake #5: Failing to communicate with your lawyer during your pending lawsuit
The best way to avoid mistakes in a lawsuit is excellent communication with your personal injury attorney. There are so many confusing laws that can trap the unsuspecting and wreak havoc on a Michigan automobile accident case, even when people are trying to be truthful, honest and do the right thing. The best advice remains the simplest: Call your accident attorney if you have a question, and certainly before doing something that can have a major impact on your personal injury case, like filing an application for social security disability, not understanding why an injured person cannot file for unemployment or posting misleading photos of yourself on the Internet.
On another note, many clients hide information, such as a prior drunk driving arrest or poor school grades, because they are embarrassed. Understand in this world of computers and social security numbers, everything can be discovered.
Again, real support in auto accident cases boils down to a plaintiff being credible and likable. Because jurors want to do the right thing, they need to believe something is true in order to be motivated to help.
If there’s any basis of truth to a question being asked, admit it. There is no reason why a client cannot disclose something, and then explain the circumstances behind it. Remember, many things can be kept out of court as irrelevant and unduly prejudicial – as long as you admit to them and testify truthfully. And if you have questions, ask. It’s far better to discuss a concern with your lawyer before filing a law suit than to it is to be exposed in front of a jury.