When someone hits your car while you are driving down the street, your first thought likely is “What just happened?” Your second thought then becomes “Am I okay?” Regardless of whether or not you are, your third thought undoubtedly will be “Who’s going to pay for this?”
Unfortunately, you can expect to sustain some sort of damages in virtually any car accident. At the very least, your car surely has been damaged. At worst, you may have received injuries that could result in any or all of the following:
- Ambulance bills
- Hospital bills
- Prescription drug bills
- Physical therapy bills
- Rehabilitation bills
- Nursing home or assisted living bills
- In-home care bills
All of these and more represent your damages arising out of your car crash. And if you’ve ever wondered how are car accident damages paid, the surprising answer is: It depends. While you may reasonably assume that the person who caused the accident pays, in reality, his or her insurance company will likely be the one signing the ultimate check.
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Insurance Company Tactics
It goes without saying that insurance companies like to collect premiums and don’t like to pay claims. Consequently, a representative from the other driver’s insurance company probably will contact you soon after the accident and offer you a “quick and easy” settlement. Your best interests dictate that you decline this settlement offer. In all likelihood, it represents the least amount of money the insurance company thinks it can pay you to get you to sign a release absolving it from further liability or the possibility of your bringing a lawsuit against its policyholder.
Your better course of action is to contact an experienced personal injury attorney instead. Remember, you always have the legal right to sue the driver whose carelessness or negligence caused the accident and therefore your damages. In addition, you never have any obligation, legal or otherwise, to accept an insurance company’s settlement offer. Your attorney undoubtedly will have considerably more experience than you do in negotiating with recalcitrant insurance companies. The attorney can probably get you a better settlement than you could get for yourself. In addition, the attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf against the other driver and then aggressively pursue your damage claims in court.
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Policy Limits and Personal Liability
Keep in mind that no insurance company will pay any amount above the limits of the policyholder’s policy. Should you win a court judgment in excess of this amount, the policyholder becomes personally liable for the balance. Collecting on that judgment, however, may well be considerably easier said than done.
Few people nowadays have the assets available to pay a large money judgment, especially all at once. Others choose to go the “deadbeat dad” route, thinking that if they ignore you long enough, you’ll simply go away. Depending on which state you live in, you may be able to incentivize the person to pay your judgment by notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles of it, thereby causing the person’s driver’s license to become suspended until he or she pays you in full.