The idea of the automobile holds a special place in the collective American consciousness. Few things in this world can compare to the feeling of earning your driver’s license. It’s a combination of freedom, possibility, and wonder that stretches out magnificently beyond the horizon. On the flip side, the twin inevitabilities of car trouble and traffic jams mean that even the best and most reliable vehicles are sure to cause their owners some amount of frustration and discomfort. The automobile collision is the point at which the promise of the open road is violently transformed into a parade of obligations.
The truth is, most people who are involved in car accidents don’t need an attorney’s help to navigate these commitments. Vehicles in the United States are relatively safe. I just bought a new car a little over a month ago, and it’s amazing. My car will actually correct my steering if I’m drifting into another lane, and if it senses an impending emergency, it can intervene and apply the brakes for me—and these are just the obvious bells and whistles. I’m not even taking into account all of the subtle features that’ll save my life if I’m in a nasty collision. As Arthur C. Clarke famously observed, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I can confirm that magic cars already exist, and according to CNN, there’s no question that machines are better drivers than people.
Many auto accidents only result in property damage, and this is obviously a good thing. No matter how safe we make our vehicles, though, there’s no way to completely eliminate the possibility of danger. Even where we can create buffers against the intrusions of chaos, people are too physically different for us to come up with a one-model-protects-all style of automobile. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, and we have wildly divergent shelf lives. A 20-something student in a low-speed collision is not going to suffer the same injuries as a 60-something retiree with chronic back issues who was rear-ended on the highway. Everyone’s bodies are different, and those differences mean that some folks will walk away from the scene, while other folks will go for a ride in an ambulance.
As we’ve already established, you probably don’t need a lawyer simply because you were involved in a motor vehicle collision. So when should you consider retaining an attorney?
- If your combined medical bills are greater than $3,000. We live in an age where an ambulance ride costs about $1,500, and emergency room visits aren’t known for being cheap. Three grand seems to be the magic number in a personal injury case where things start to get complicated. You might be under the impression that hospitals exist solely to repair broken bodies, but here’s a secret for you: They’re trying to get paid. Traditionally, if you have medical bills, the hospital tries to recover from your health insurance provider. The insurance company then points out that the hospital has a contractual obligation to accept a predetermined fraction of the total cost of services. This is the type of arrangement that leads some hospitals to play games when there is an automobile crash. Some hospitals will try to collect the bill from the automobile insurance provider because this doesn’t involve a contractual reduction. And while it might benefit the hospital to bill your auto insurance directly, it’s actually bad for you. If you obtain a settlement, you’ll have to reimburse your insurance company for whatever money they pay on your behalf. It will be better for you in the long term if the hospital collects from your health insurance rather than your auto insurance (and yes, the idea of your insurance provider trying to come after your personal injury payout is just as perverse as it sounds). Attorneys can oftentimes negotiate these paybacks down. In fact, there are laws on the books in Indiana stating that if an attorney is involved, certain insurance companies must take a reduction.
- If your accident occurred while you were driving within the scope of your employment. Some of the most complicated vehicle cases you can imagine involve someone who was involved in an accident while driving for work. This scenario actually produces two legal actions: A workers compensation case and an automobile collision case. For better or for worse, Indiana has precise rules that govern how these actions can proceed and who will be liable to whom. For some reason, insurance companies almost always take the position that someone owes them money.
- If the at-fault driver was employed by the government (or a governmental-type agency) and driving within the scope of their employment. This is more common than you might think. I’ve represented folks who were injured by police when officers were engaged in a high-speed pursuit. I’ve also had clients who were hurt when they were hit by an Animal Control truck. If you’ve been injured by an on-duty government employee, get an attorney involved as soon as possible. There are statutory timelines that apply when a State actor causes a collision, and failure to comply will get your case thrown out.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, we’re here to help. Not every fender-bender needs an attorney attached, but why not take advantage of a free consultation? Give us a call at 317-632-3642.