San Francisco Accident Injury Lawyer: Police report and liability in the accident

You have just been involved in a car accident. You might be hesitating who you should call for help, and whether it’s a good idea to call anyone at all. It is very important to contact the police immediately after the accident, especially if any of the parties suffered serious injuries. The arriving police officer will gather all the available information and evidence from the scene of the collision – the statements of parties, parts of the vehicle, if any, will make the measurements of any skidmarks on the road, and will take down all the personal and insurance information of the drivers involved in the accident.

It is not uncommon, however, for a police report to contain incorrect information or even find the wrong party at fault, as the officer who prepares the report bases his conclusions on the statements received from other people, which are often incorrect or even biased. It is important to remember, however, that although the findings in the police reports are evidence of liability, they are no conclusive and are definitely subject to dispute. First, you can contact the police officer who prepared the collision report, discuss the accident and request that he/she amend the report in light of overlooked facts. The police officer may or may not supplement the original report, as the office has the ultimate discretion on preparing the document.

It is just as effective or even more effective to conduct your own investigation and submit your findings to the insurance company in order to dispute liability prove that the other party was liable. You may want to go back to the scene of the incident, take pictures or even a short movie of the intersection if you need to prove that the other drivers should have seen you and had enough time to stop. The insurance company will gladly consider any new evidence, especially in a serious accident, as they are very interested in avoiding significant liability and would rather settle a serious injury case early than argue over liability, litigate the claim and possible incur a much more significant liability and attorney’s fees.

If you have been recently involved in an injury accident in the San Francisco area or anywhere in Northern California, and would like to discuss your claims, contact Arkady Itkin – San Francisco injury lawyer for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the injury incident you have been involved in.

Why Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance Coverage is so important

The direct benefits of having uninsured motorist (UM) coverage on their car insurance are obvious to most drivers. Such a coverage provides compensation for the insured’s bodily injuries and property damage in the event of collision with another driver, who does not have a valid liability insurance. In some cases, the uninsured motorist coverage also operates as underinsured (UIM) coverage, under which the injured party might obtain additional recovery from its own policy if the recovery from the liable party was not sufficient to compensate for all the injuries and damages, because that other party’s policy was insufficient, and he was “underinsured.”

However, every drivers should consider the other profound but not so obvious advantage of having uninsured motorist coverage. Generally, the more responsible people are also act more responsible on the road and are generally considered to be safer drivers. A person who is not responsible enough to comply with the law and have a liability insurance is more likely to drive irresponsibly and create dangerous situations on the road by speeding or otherwise acting “cool” on the road. Thus, the likelihood of getting into a serious accident with an uninsured motorist is higher than with a driver who is properly insured.

Further, people who cause serious accidents tend to flee from the scene of the incident more often to escape significant liability. An uninsured driver has even more reasons to try and run from the scene of the accident in order to not be cited for not having valid insurance. For a relatively small cost, your uninsured motorist coverage will cover your expenses for damages and injuries in a hit-and-run situation as well.

So, make sure you have an uninsured/underinsured coverage on your car insurance policy, as it provides significant and important protection for the most serious accidents.

Effective injury settlement negotiation with insurance adjuster

Although it might appear to many consumers that insurance companies are nothing but greedy money making machines that are only concerned with the bottom line and whose job is to shortchange or “low ball” their customers who suffer injuries in car accident and other injury incidents, it is important to remember that insurance company, like all other companies, are run by people. The claim adjusters who handle your injury claim are also humans and they respond to the different settlement negotiation strategies respectfully. Certain things make them happy and unhappy, satisfied and annoyed. Because insurance adjusters often handle a huge load of claims (up to 200), they are actually interesting in settling an injury claim and they will if you play your cards right.

While there are many aspects to a successful injury settlement negotiations, like any other “sales” the settlement is also in many ways a “sale” – you sell your claim to the insurance company and you want to convince them that the price you are asking is fair and reasonable and that they are not being ripped off. Thus, like in any other sales, your attitude toward the other party – the adjuster, is just as important as the substance of your communications.

After speaking with dozens of adjusters informally and becoming friends with some of them, it became abundantly clear to me that the injured person or his representative’s attitude makes a big difference. An adjuster has a certain authority within the range of the settlement that he is allowed to pay, and he will exercise that authority with the people who he likes and enjoys working with, and he might just take it personally and try to make life harder for those claimants who make his life hard as well.

So, you should avoid treating adjusters as your servants or making authoritative demands to them as if you were their boss and they were owing something to you. Acting like you are entitled to a certain recovery will only hurt your bottom line or will significantly delay your receipt of settlement funds. On the other hand, being firm but courteous and treating insurance adjusters with respect will likely make the insurance representative more willing to help you and be more flexible in settling a claim, potentially paying out more than he would have otherwise.

So, the bottom line is this: it pays being nice when you are negotiating a settlement with an insurance company.

Should you buy a cheaper car insurance?

We are all looking to have the best deal on the products and services we purchase for obvious reasons. The insurance companies are aware of this. They know that what catches the typical consumer’s attention is such terms as “sale” and “discount.” All you have to do is look at their advertisements and the insurance agents’ attempts to beat any other quote that you have received. But wait!

Before you run out to find the cheapest insurance policy that will get you out on the road, think about why you should spend a little more money on a better policy. Here are 4 key reasons.

1. You Get What You Pay For. Welcome to the oldest truth there is. Like most things, cheap insurance is cheap because you’re not buying much coverage and protection. In fact, in many cases, you’re buying just enough insurance to get you out on the road without violating the mandatory liability insurance law but not enough to truly protect you.

In all states, insurance is required to drive a car on the road and those policies must meet minimum standards, called minimum policy limits. These limits vary from state to state, but in California, those limits are $15,000/$30,000/$5,000.

What do those limits mean? The amounts–in sequence–reference the maximum coverage for bodily injury damage per person, bodily injury damage per accident, and property damage coverage per accident. These amounts only pertain to your liability to another person for damages caused when you are at fault.

While $15,000 may have been adequate 10 or even 20 years ago to pay for the bodily injury in many cases, it is increasingly becoming an inadequate amount with rising health care costs and inflation. Also, many car accidents exceed $5,000 in property damage. Remember that if your liability insurance is not enough to pay for the injuries covered by your negligence, the injury victim will start looking toward your house, your paycheck, and your assets to pay for their injuries. So do not rely on minimum policy limits to protect you and your assets, especially if you have significant assets, such as multiple vehicles, real property, etc.

2. Cheap Insurance Policies Often Do Not Provide Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage. The absolutemost insurance coverage, other than liability coverage, is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). UM/UIM provides you with protection when you are hit by one of the drivers who are not insured and in many hit-and-run accidents, where you simply are unable to obtain the other party’s insurance information as they flee from the scene.
But cheap policies do not include UM/UIM coverage. It is not required by law. But it should be, and it is certainly in your best interest to have this kind of coverage.

It is not uncommon for uninsured motorists or “hit and run” drivers to inflict a serious property and bodily damage to the other driver. And as you may expect, people who don’t have the respect and responsibility to have liability insurance and/or to stop at the scene of the incident instead of running away, also tend to be the most reckless drivers who put themselves and others in dangerous situations on the road.

So, be sure to add UM/UIM coverage to your car insurance policy.

3. Cheap Insurance Policies Do Not Provide for Med-Pay. Another useful additional coverage not included in cheap insurance policies is med-pay benefits. These benefits are paid to anyone injured in an accident, regardless of fault. With many people living without health insurance, this benefit is extremely valuable. But it is not included in the cheap insurance policies. The best part about this coverage, that it provides important coverage for minimum extra-cost.

4. Cheap Insurance Policies Do Not Provide Rental Reimbursement. Rental reimbursement coverages covers your expenses associated with renting a vehicle when your care is being repaired after an accident. Usually, this kind of coverage is limited to 30 days, but this is usually long enough to repair the damage to a car. This coverage is especially important if you live in a suburban area and no convenient access to public transportation. In this case, you will often be forced to rent a car, and paying a daily rental fee without the expectation of being reimbursed can amount to a significant expense, which can be easily avoiding by including this coverage in your insurance policy for a small fee.

How to negotiate and settle your injury claim effectively

1. Preliminary considerations in settling an injury claim

Most accident injury and other bodily injury claims are settled before a lawsuit is filed, and thus before the insurance carrier of a liable party is required to retain an attorney to defend the party at fault. In all likelihood, therefore, initial settlement discussions will be with an insurance claims representative, also known as the claims adjuster. The adjuster is charged on behalf of the insurance carrier with investigating the facts and formulating a fair settlement value.

To evaluate the claimant’s first demand and make a settlement offer on the carrier’s behalf, the adjuster will need to review whatever reports and records are available regarding claimant’s injuries and damages. Indeed, copies of medical reports and bills, employer’s verification of lost earnings, benefits and other losses suffered as a result of being absent from workplace, property damage bills, photographs and estimates, and documentation of other, out-of-pocket losses, will be essential to support the adjusters request to his principals to extend a settlement offer. Thus, cooperating with the insurance company’s requests for the above records is generally a good practice that will likely expedite the settlement process. However, it is generally unwise to volunteer information about your earlier injuries or pre-existing medical condition, since the defense will use this as a basis to deny that the injury resulted from the present incident. However, there are a few instances in which the earlier medical history should be volunteered as where it will enhance the value of the claim – e.g., where the injury in question was a minor one, but aggravated a pre-existing condition, causing severe disability, as the party at fault cannot escape liability by arguing that the damages would not have been incurred but for the preexisting condition.

And, of course, if the adjuster has already found out about the prior medical history, it may be necessary to furnish the pertinent records and reports to show the prior condition was not the cause of claimant’s present disability.

2. Making an Initial Settlement Demand

Claims adjusters rarely make the first settlement offer. Instead, they expect the claimant’s attorney to make an initial settlement demand. It is important to have the “bottom line” figure in mind. Before making an initial demand, determine an absolutely minimum amount you believe the case should settle for. Once a bottom line figure is determined, it should be changed only if new information bearing on the claim’s value surfaces during the negotiation process.

3. Settlement Negotiations

The adjuster will assume that the first figure demanded is negotiable. Therefore, the initial demand should not be the “bottom line” but rather should start higher, leaving room for negotiation. It is important, however, to make sure that the initially offered settlement figure is reasonable to avoid turning off all negotiations.

A good approach for ascertaining a realistic high-low range is to relate the settlement value to recent jury verdicts returned in similar cases.

Three Mistakes You Should Avoid in Your Injury Case

Here are three of the most common mistakes that can significantly reduce the value of your personal injury case:

1. Waiting for too long to treat after your injury incident.

Few things cast more doubt on the severity of your injuries in the eyes of the insurance companies / opposing counsel than large gaps in treatment. This makes sense. After all, the other side (the insurance company for the driver at fault, etc.) is only entitled to doubt how much pain you are suffering from if you were not eager to get help soon after sustaining the injury or if you didn’t treat consistently. Thus, it’s probably not a good idea to be “tough” after serious accident and decline ambulance services and emergency room treatment if you experience pain. If you don’t have health coverage, don’t let it stop you from getting the treatment you need. Many doctors and chiropractors work on a lien, where you won’t have to pay for your medical treatment upfront, and you will only have to pay when your injury case settled. You should discuss this type of common medical lien arrangement with your attorney.

2. Telling the insurance company adjuster that you weren’t seriously injured early on. 

It is almost always the case that the person who is injured in an accident does not experience pain immediately after the impact due to adrenaline rush and other factors. Much of the pain and discomfort in neck, back and other parts of the body appears 24 hour after the accident or even later. Some of the serious symptoms are not noticed until several days after the incident or even longer. Thus, you should not rush to inform your insurance company about what your exact injuries were shortly after the accident because you might just not know it. You are much better of generally describing the pain that you are experiencing and reminding the adjuster that you are not sure what your injuries are as you didn’t undergo a full medical evaluation yet.

3. Lying or not telling the whole story to your attorney about your prior injuries or accidents or any other facts that might make proving your injury case more difficult.

I met clients who would hide the fact that they had prior injuries and accidents until the other side found out about their medical past. I have been sent video tapes that captured my client working at a physically demanding job while claiming that he was severally injured, unable to perform any work and was unemployed. To say the least, it is an uncomfortable situation for a lawyer to find out a certain fact about his client from the opposing counsel. At a minimum, an inconsistent verbal or written statement can be clarified as a misunderstanding or some kind of inadvertent omission. In many cases, however, an untruthful material statement by a client will cast serious doubt on that client’s credibility and can seriously hurt his / her chances to recover the settlement or the judgment that he / she deserves because it can be used to impeach the client at subsequent trial proceedings. Thus, lying on a deposition under oath can be fatal to your case.

The bottom line is this – be as truthful with your lawyer as you can. And if you don’t remember something, just say so. There is no harm in saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know” or “I am not sure”, especially if that’s truly the case.