It is a sad fact of life that people are injured in car accidents every day on Delaware roads. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced that the number of fatalities on U.S. roads increased at a record pace in 2021. Estimates project that 31,720 people died in accidents on U.S. roadways in the first 9 months of 2021 alone.
What types of injuries could I suffer in a car accident?
Injuries in a car accident can vary from minor scratching and bruising to broken bones, internal injuries, brain damage, and loss of life. Even injuries that at first seem minor can lead to scarring, risk of infection, and long-term physical and mental harm. Even small accidents can result in significant injuries that may require extensive medical treatment and cost thousands of dollars in medical bills. In addition to causing physical pain and discomfort, car accidents can leave victims with emotional trauma.
The most common types of car accident injuries are:
Back pain can be excruciatingly painful, even debilitating for some people. While there are many different causes of back pain, one major cause is spinal compression fractures. Spinal compression fractures happen when the spine experiences a sudden or violent force that compresses the vertebrae in the spine so much so that they break. This injury often requires long periods of bed rest and sometimes surgery to repair.
Whiplash is an injury caused by being forcefully thrown forward and then backward or vice versa. It is a common injury after car accidents because the neck of a driver or passenger in a car accident is jerked violently back and forth during impact. Whiplash can cause chronic pain, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
Dental trauma. In any type of accident where you are thrown against something with force, you risk losing teeth or chipping them. In some cases, there may be nerve damage or teeth may need to be removed.
Brain injury is any damage or trauma to the central nervous system or the brain itself. The most common types of brain injuries associated with car accidents include concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Common symptoms of concussions include headaches, memory problems, irritability, nausea/vomiting, vision problems, and slurred speech. Traumatic brain injury is more complicated because it causes actual physical damage to the organ. Even if you do not suffer from obvious physical symptoms like paralysis, loss of vision, or loss of hearing, a traumatic brain injury can cause long-term brain damage, and affect your cognitive abilities.
Lacerations: Car accidents can also lead to more minor injuries like cuts and lacerations to the face, head, and body. These sorts of injuries require stitches and possibly surgery or plastic surgery to repair.
Lung injuries: When you are thrown from a car during an accident, your lungs might be punctured or partially collapsed. In other cases, you could suffer from cracked ribs, bruising on the chest, and/or broken cartilage around the lungs.
Bone fractures: Car accidents often result in breaks in bones that can cause significant pain and discomfort throughout the healing process. While minor fractures may only require rest and splinting until they heal on their own, major fractures may need surgery.
Psychological harm. Car accidents do not just cause visible injuries. Some victims suffer emotional trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, which requires ongoing counseling and psychological treatment.
Who is going to pay my bills and expenses after a car accident?
The reality of life after a car accident is pain from healing wounds, missed work for medical appointments, mounting medical bills, unexpected home-help, and childcare costs, and trips to the auto repair shop. Victims may lose wages because they have to take time off work but also have massive, and unexpected, bills to pay as a result of the accident.
Insurance is intended to cover some of the expenses of a victim in a car accident. Some of the costs that victims face after a car accident, and are entitled to recover, are:
- Medical expenses, including physical therapy, counseling, pharmacy bills, and surgeries
- Lost wages
- Future medical costs
- Future lost earnings
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Compensation for loss of enjoyment of life
- Property damage
Typically, the insurance companies of the drivers in an accident will be liable for the costs of victims but it will depend on the insurance policies, the type of harm, and the circumstances of the accident. Also, in any insurance claim, a victim will have to provide proof of their expenses and lost income, and negotiate with the insurance company to reach a settlement, or file a legal claim. Many victims are not fully compensated because they do not know their rights, how to prove all of their costs, or how to negotiate with a large insurer. It is advisable to speak to an experienced car accident lawyer early in the process to help with this and to ensure that your compensation is sufficient to cover all of your current and future expenses.
Drivers are required by law to have car insurance in the U.S. though unfortunately, some drivers do not. In Delaware, drivers must carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage on their auto insurance policy of at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 for an accident. PIP covers injury-related expenses up to the policy limits but will not cover pain and suffering, or damage to your vehicle. Drivers should also have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, which is not mandatory in Delaware but is recommended at a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. UM coverage provides insurance coverage if you are involved in an accident and the other driver is uninsured.
If you are in an accident, you should contact your own insurance company first though you may ultimately be eligible for compensation from an at-fault driver’s insurer. You will claim under the PIP coverage on your own insurance policy for injury-related expenses up to the policy limits, but PIP will not cover pain and suffering, or damage to your vehicle. If you are injured in a car accident with someone who does not have auto insurance, you may be covered by uninsured motorist (UM) coverage on your own auto policy.
If you are injured in an automobile accident as a passenger, you will usually first claim on the PIP insurance coverage of the driver of the car you were in. If your losses are more than that PIP coverage, or if you have losses that are not covered by PIP, such as bodily injury, emotional harm, or property damage, you will file a claim against the insurance of the at-fault driver. In some cases, you may be able to claim on your own auto insurance policy if your expenses are not covered by the policies of the drivers in the accident.
So, what should I do if I have been in a car accident?
No one plans to be in a car accident but if you are, there are a number of important things to remember to protect yourself and your legal rights:
- Call 911 and report the accident to the police.
If you have been in a car accident, the first thing you should do is take care of yourself and the other people in your vehicle. Seek medical attention for any injuries, and do not hesitate to call 911 for an ambulance. Also, try not to move your vehicle unless it becomes unsafe or the authorities tell you to do so.
By calling 911, you will also notify the police about the car accident. They will issue a police report which will include statements from all parties involved and witnesses. This document can help prove who was at fault and will be important when negotiating a settlement with the other driver's insurance company, or filing a lawsuit against them.
- Get insurance information from all parties involved.
Make sure all parties involved give you their insurance company information including name, policy number, and a phone number to reach the insurance company.
- Gather evidence at the scene of the accident.
You should collect the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all people involved in the accident as well as witnesses at the scene. If you are able to take photos or videos of your injuries, damage to any vehicles, and the conditions at the time of the accident, do so promptly at the scene of the accident.
- Call your insurance company.
Call your insurance company to report the incident and inform them of any injuries or damage sustained in the accident. They may also ask questions about what happened so be prepared with an accurate description of what happened.
- Do not admit fault or liability.
It deserves to be said again and again and again - do not admit any fault or liability in the accident without first getting legal advice. Any statements you make including at the scene of the accident to other drivers, police, or witnesses; in written police statements; or in conversations or correspondence with your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company could be used in settlement negotiations or litigation. If you have admitted any liability for the accident, it could significantly reduce or eliminate your compensation
- Talk with an experienced car accident lawyer.
Talk with a lawyer before discussing anything further with the insurance company or any of the other parties involved in the accident. An attorney can advise you on the best way to move forward and what types of costs you can recover. A lawyer can also speak to the insurance companies on your behalf and deal with the phone calls and paperwork so that you can focus on healing.
When it comes time for a settlement, this is not something you should do alone. Insurance companies are for-profit businesses with experienced lawyers and huge resources that they will use to minimize the amount of money that is paid out to you. Victims often do not know the types of compensation that they are entitled to after a car accident or the future expenses that they might have when they are recovering and rehabilitating. An experienced lawyer has walked this road before and can advise you about your entitlements, and protect you from accepting an inadequate settlement offer.
Most reputable lawyers, including the Delaware car accident lawyers at Morris James, will offer you a free, no-obligation consultation about your car accident so that you can decide what you want to do next. If either you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, contact your local Morris James office or fill out our online contact form today to find out how we can help.