Here are some very frightening statistics for Georgia drivers;
The National Safety Council Report highlights Georgia as one of the 5 states with biggest rise in motor vehicle deaths, 2014-16 (link).
More than 1,500 people died in motor vehicle accidents in Georgia last year alone and across the United States, 40,200 people died in such accidents, making 2016 the deadliest year on the nation’s roads since 2007.
The top three killers are speed, alcohol and distraction-the same things that have killed people for decades. It’s unclear why the Peach State outpaced other states and the nation in rising fatalities. Pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle deaths all rose by double-digits last year in Georgia. So did fatalities involving vehicles that ran off the road – a sign that drivers may not be paying attention behind the wheel.
Many automobile accidents involves 3 or more cars, trucks or SUV's and an increase in serious injury and death. The multi car and multi truck accident means more defendants, more defenses and often less overall insurance coverage for the most seriously injured victim or his/her loved one. This typically involves large property and bodily injury losses that often exceed minimum auto liability insurance limits, which has been set by the Georgia legislature at $25,000 per injured person up to a limit of $50,000 per accident. With health costs and automobile repair costs skyrocketing, minimum limits means a large percentage of at fault drivers are underinsured. One thing you can do to protect yourself is to make sure you have adequate uninsured motorist insurance coverage. If you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver and you are not at fault, your own uninsured motorist coverage will provide coverage for your injuries and lost wages. Don't rely on an insurance agent telling you that you have "full coverage." Often, an agent's definition of "full coverage" covers only liability and collision coverage, but does not include uninsured motorist insurance. UM coverage is what covers YOU when you are injured by an uninsured driver.
R&K has recovered millions of dollars from insurance companies on behalf of our clients. Without the benefit of an experienced lawyer, it is likely that the offer you get will be low and undervalued. The best way to ensure fair treatment is to find an experienced lawyer before you give any statements or authorizations to the insurance company. And a word of warning about those volume practice lawyers whose ads you see on TV and whose face you see on the side of buses – the people you see are not the people who will be your lawyer. Too often, the person working on your case in those firms have goals to settle a certain number of cases, which may lead to an undervalued offer on your case.
Below are common mistakes people make both before and after an auto accident:Have enough UIM coverage
R&K is happy to provide a free attorney consultation for auto accident victims and their families.
#1 – NOT ENOUGH UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE (UIM):
A large percentage of at fault drivers are either uninsured or underinsured. Make sure you have adequate uninsured motorist insurance coverage. If you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver and you are not at fault, your own uninsured motorist coverage will provide coverage for your injuries and lost wages. Don't rely on an insurance agent telling you that you have "full coverage." Often, an agent's definition of "full coverage" covers only liability and collision coverage, but does not include uninsured motorist insurance. UIM coverage is what covers YOU when you are injured by an uninsured driver. Many people don’t understand that uninsured motorist coverage protects YOU when the at fault driver has minimal or no insurance. Your uninsured motorist policy becomes the amount of money available to protect you after the other driver's insurance money is used up.
For example, let's say Herbert has been badly hurt in an auto accident. The at fault driver, George, has the legal minimum policy which would pay $25,000 to Herbert. Herbert had surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, and missed months from work. He may never be able to work again. He cannot pay his bills or support his family. He may have to file bankruptcy.
Herbert comes to see me. When we see that George only has insurance limits of $25,000, I ask for the limits of Herbert’s uninsured motorist coverage. Herbert tells me he doesn’t know, but says that his agent told him he had “full coverage”. But “full coverage” may not cover Herbert’s medical bills, therapy, and other expenses. It does not cover his lost wages or pain and suffering. It does not cover any passenger in Herbert’s car. Herbert has several hundred thousand dollars in bills and expenses. The law says he should get that money back from George or George’s insurance. But the total amount he can get from George's insurance is $25,000. Once Herbert understands this, he asks about going after George himself – his house or car. I have to tell Herbert that realistically, anyone who can only afford minimal insurance will probably not have a whole lot to go after. And even if he owns a home, it may not have any equity. Finally, even if we sue Herbert, win big at trial and get a 7 figure jury award, Herbert will immediately seek bankruptcy protection and no money will be recovered.
12% of Georgia drivers are uninsured altogether. An even larger percentage of Georgia residents carry only the minimum insurance required by law. By getting a good uninsured motorist policy, YOU decide the amount of insurance available to you in an accident instead of leaving it in the hands of the other driver who may already have 3 DUI's and a revoked license. If you can afford it, get an auto policy with at least $500,000 in uninsured motorist coverage, or a policy that allows you to purchase an umbrella for your uninsured motorist coverage of $1 million or more. With today’s health care costs, $1million doesn't go as far as it once did -- that can be easily spent in hospital bills after a severe accident. And almost all health care policies now include subrogation clauses, which means that the health care company get paid back out of any auto insurance settlement or verdict before you get a penny.
Unfortunately, it is too late for Herbert. The only insurance money he is entitled to is the $25,000, and some or all of that will probably be paid back to the insurer who paid his hospital bills. He can’t believe it. It’s unfair. But it’s true! It doesn't have to happen to you: you can protect yourself. Do it before you ever need a lawyer.
#2 – SELECTING A LAWYER FROM A TV AD OR BILLBOARD:
Selecting a lawyer from a TV ad or billboard is a bad idea. If you hire a law office dependent on volume advertising, you don't know who will be working on your case. Even if you meet a lawyer at an initial meeting, that lawyer may not be personally involved in your case as it progresses. Pre-suit settlement negotiations with insurance companies are often handled by non-lawyers, and sometimes cases are settled for less than maximum value in order to meet quotas and deadlines. As a client, you may not be able to easily assess the competence of the lawyers working on your case. Unfortunately, there are incompetent lawyers who care more about their fee than their clients. If you need a lawyer, whether it is for an automobile accident, an estate, or any other matter requiring legal assistance, make sure you hire a lawyer who has both expertise in the area of law that you need help with, and high ethical standards, and make sure that lawyer is available for a personal discussion about YOUR case.
#3 – TRYING TO NEGOTIATE A SETTLEMENT ON YOUR OWN:
Do not try to negotiate your personal injury case or your claim for property damage directly with an insurance adjuster, believing that if you don't like the adjuster's "best offer", you can hire a lawyer later. The deck is stacked against you. An adjuster's job depends on saving the insurance company's money, and collecting information from you that might be detrimental to your claim. The adjuster who might act like your best friend does not have your best interests at heart -- his loyalty is to his employer -- the insurance company -- not to you. He/she has no interest in a "fair" settlement, only a settlement that will make his employer happy and may get him/her a promotion or a bonus.
Insurance companies set aside initial reserves on each case. That amount can be set too low based on initial conversations and almost impossible to change later. Believing you can bring in an attorney part way through your case rarely works. An experienced attorney knows how to get the reserves set at a fair value and how to move your case forward, avoid pitfalls, and maximize recovery.
#4 – WAITING TOO LONG TO PURSUE YOUR CLAIM:
If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, don’t wait until the last minute to contact a lawyer about your case. In Georgia, generally, you have two years from the date of the injury to file your lawsuit. In our practice, if a potential client is reaching the 2 year deadline, we often refuse to take the case, even if the case clearly has merit. There is just not enough time to appropriately and fully investigate the case.
#5 – NOT TAKING INTO ACCOUNT REIMBURSEMENT OR SUBROGATION TO YOUR HEALTH CARRIER:
Honestly, who reads the fine print when you sign up for health insurance? Laws regarding repayment of medical bills to insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid from a settlement or verdict are complicated. Even if your health insurance plan says that you must pay back any covered medical bills caused by your accident from your settlement or verdict, that amount can often be negotiated by your attorney. Don't expect the health insurers to just "go away" -- but your attorney should fully understand this emerging area of law and which plans have a right to be re-paid. There is more legal work involved if your health insurer demands reimbursement -- not only getting you the money you deserve from the accident, but the added responsibility of negotiating with your own health or disability insurance company so that you can keep a larger percentage of your personal injury recovery than you would otherwise. Make sure your attorney is up to date on this area of legal representation -- it could mean a large difference in the bottom line amount you receive from your personal injury recovery.
For more than 35 years, R&K lawyers have represented accident victims in Georgia and across the U.S.
Without the right legal counsel, many victims would not have been fairly compensated. R&K knows the fair value of an injury and fights for each client. Rowen & Klonoski provides representation to automobile, truck (big rig), motorcycle, recreational vehicles, bicycles and other types of collisions in Atlanta, Georgia, and throughout the U.S.