In the next two columns, we will identify common mistakes that people with legitimate injuries from motor-vehicle wrecks make in settling their claims. We’ll also provide some practical solutions.

1. Have you documented clearly that the injuries you relate to the wreck were caused by the wreck and not by a past injury or unrelated physical condition? Many wrecks involve injuries to one’s spinal column. And there is a good chance that the injured party had a long-forgotten previous injury for which they got medical treatment. They got hurt playing a sport, had a fall, or had some other occurrence, including possible active arthritic changes, that may have some impact on the problem they are having now.

It makes sense, therefore, for insurance companies to want to know if the injured person had any previous problems that contributed, to whatever degree, to the injured person’s present condition. The insurance adjuster is just doing his job to inquire.

Solution: An old injury, resolved long ago, should have little or nothing to do with your legitimate wreck injuries. But you are going to have to show that clearly—and forthrightly, by documenting it.

Get medical treatment following the wreck very soon to avoid any significant gap between the wreck and your treatment, because a long gap of time between the wreck and medical treatment may suggest to the adjuster that a totally unrelated event or condition caused or contributed significantly to your injury.

2. You decide that calling the authorities to investigate the wreck will take too much time, so you exchange insurance information and move on.

If there is even minor property damage (and not much more than a ding on a bumper will cost $1,000 or more to fix), you are required by law to call the authorities.

It is independently a good choice if the wreck is investigated, however, as the investigating officer can sort out the facts.

If you are allegedly even 1% at fault, the N.C. contributory negligence law, which few citizens know about, bars your claim totally. Without an officer there to sort out the facts, very honest at-fault parties may “recall” supposed facts that maybe you were not paying attention, or driving a little too fast, or other actions, and that your actions possibly could have contributed even just a little bit to the wreck. When the insurance adjuster views the fault-contested wreck as a “he said/he said” event, without that objective officer’s recitation of the statements of the parties at the scene, the adjuster is likely going to deny the claim. Which means you are probably going to have to hire a lawyer to represent you on a claim which you may have been able to handle fairly without that expense.

Solution: Call the authorities to investigate and corroborate key facts when the wreck occurs, even though it may seem like a hassle to do so. If the wreck is not investigated by the authorities, you or your representatives should follow up with any witnesses, take pictures of the scene and the vehicles, and write down your physical complaints. Any settlement you receive is going to be driven totally by the facts of the wreck. Be sure key facts are clearly established and not subject to faulty recollections.

3. What are your damages? You are generally entitled to be reimbursed for your medical bills, related time out of work, pain and suffering, and permanent injuries. But you fail to submit satisfactory independent verification of your damages.

Solution: You will need to submit verifying official records from your employer about wreck-related time out of work, copies of medical bills, and medical records and opinions which show you could not do your job for a period of time because of your wreck-related injuries, and that you likely will have a permanent injury caused by the wreck.

How you go about getting these necessary independent verifications and opinions, and how you decide whether you should hire a lawyer, will be discussed in the next column.

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Mike Wells is a partner with Wells Law, PLLC in Winston-Salem. His email address is mike@wellslaw.us and his telephone number is 336-283-8700.

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