America has a love affair with the automobile. We drive everywhere: to work, to play, to eat, to church, and to school. Driving is a rite of passage; every year, teenagers mark their passage into adulthood with their learner’s permit or their first driver’s license.
The down side of driving is the accident. If you’re reading this, you’ve either been in a wreck or you know someone who’s been in a wreck. If you were fortunate, it was just a fender bender and no one was hurt. However, car accidents aren’t always just fender benders. Sometimes people get hurt, and when you’re hurt in a car accident, you need to know what to do in order to maximize your compensation for any injuries or damages.
A car accident can result in major injuries, hospital bills, and even lost wages. What will your family do if you can’t work? Utah law provides the means for victims of an accident to recover money for the damages they suffer, but being hurt in an accident is so much more than a lawsuit.
If you have any passengers, make sure everyone is okay. Even if they appear to be okay, call 911 to report the accident. Internal injuries may not present symptoms initially, and erring on the side of caution can be the difference between a treatable and untreatable injury. If it’s safe to move, everyone should move to the curb or shoulder of the road. Turn on your hazard lights, and if you have any cones or triangles, put them out to increase visibility and prevent another accident.
Keep calm. Don’t escalate the situation. It’s normal to feel angry and upset after an accident, but it’s not going to help you come out ahead.
That 911 call is going to come to into play when the police arrive. You’ll need to show the police your driver’s license, registration, and insurance. Fill out the accident report, and request a copy from the officer. Make sure you get the officer’s name, badge number, phone number, and the report number. The accident report will be critical to recovering any damages from an insurance company. It’s the product of an unbiased third party, which makes it harder for the insurer to challenge.
Don’t skip calling the police, because as we mentioned, injuries aren’t always obvious at first. The police report can strengthen your credibility, but the most important thing for you to do is to get checked out by a physician within 72 hours. Insurance adjusters rely on data to determine the amount of any potential settlement, and when an injured party sees a physician within 72 hours of an accident, their actions create what is known as a “value driver” that can increase the amount of any settlement offer by an insurance company.
By not going to the doctor, you’re only reducing the amount of money you can collect. You’re making it harder for your attorney to get a fair settlement with the insurance company.
Finally, make sure you collect as much information as possible. Use your smartphone to take pictures of the accident scene, any other parties involved, the vehicles, and get the names of any other drivers and their passengers. Collect their insurance information. If at all possible, get an email address. This is information that can be used later to prove you weren’t at fault.
The steps above all presume that you’re in good enough condition to function. If you’re severely injured, you may not be able to do any of this. If that’s the case, you’ll need to rely on passengers and witnesses. Understand that your well-being comes first, and don’t worry if you can follow the steps above.
Whatever you do, don’t sign anything from an insurance company. An insurer has one sole purpose: limiting their loss, regardless of whether or not their offer is sufficient to compensate you for your medical bills, lost wages, and suffering. Make sure your family understands this, and if you’re related to someone who’s been injured in a car accident, don’t hesitate to speak up. The insurance company’s interests are not aligned with your interests: you need to make sure you have enough money to pay your medical bills, make up for lost wages, and keep your family afloat financially. That’s why you need to use an attorney to defend your bottom line and make sure you receive adequate compensation for your injuries.
We’ve covered what you need to do, but what is the law in Utah when it comes to car accidents? Utah has a no-fault system, which means that your own insurance company will cover medical expenses and lost income regardless of whether or not you were at fault. This is why you pay for Personal Injury Protection or PIP on your insurance policy. PIP coverage is usually $3,000 in Utah.
Only after you exhaust your PIP coverage for any injuries under Utah law can you pursue a claim against the other driver for lost wages, pain and suffering, and all other damages. That’s why we stressed seeing a doctor within 72 hours after an accident: you want to get any and all injuries diagnosed and treated, and you want to keep your options open by exhausting your PIP coverage.
However, if your injuries are serious, there may be an exception to the no-fault requirement that you first exhaust your own insurance coverage through PIP, and having an attorney to guide you will enable you to potentially pursue a claim against the other driver sooner. Some examples of serious injuries include dismemberment, permanent disfigurement, and permanent disability.
The other factor to consider in Utah accident law is comparative fault. If you’re found partially at fault in an accident, this reduces the amount you can recover from other parties. If you’re more than 50% at fault for your injuries, you’ll recover nothing. The percentage of your fault is subtracted from the total damages you’re awarded by a jury. Again, this is why we stressed collecting as much information as possible earlier: the police report, photographs, and documentation can be used to reduce the level of fault attributed to you, thereby increasing the amount of your recovery.
You’ve got four years to file from the date of the accident under Utah law, and there are no economic caps on the damages you can recover for medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering, permanent disability, and vehicle repairs. If the court finds that the defendant’s actions merit punitive damages, the court will order the first $50,000 to be paid to you, and any punitive damages above $50,000 will be split between you and the state.
We here at the Personal Injury Education Center of Utah hope that you and your loved ones have a safe driving experience, and many happy adventures on the roads. Have fun, but always be safe when you’re on the road.