Victims in drunken driving accidents should know if they are residing in a "no-fault" insurance state. Utah is a "no-fault" state.
When residing in a no-fault state, costs are covered by the policy of each individual involved in the crash. This holds true even if the driver was driving someone else's vehicle. Check your state insurance code or call your State Insurance Commission at the state Capitol for defined coverage, time and dollar limits.
Insurance costs and snags are part of this complex part of a drunken driving accident, according to the pamphlet, "Financial Recovery After a Drunk Driving Crash," published and distributed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Janice Harris Lord, the national director of MADD's Victim Services.
Frequently no-fault benefits are open-ended in injury cases, paying bills as they are submitted. Others offer lump sum payments that require detailed anticipated costs and losses. Unfortunately, some insurance companies choose not to pay the bills, requiring the filing of a civil suit. If the insured does not respond to the company's notification of termination of benefits letter, the company has successfully saved money.
Insurance laws of each state will define eligibility, according to Lord. Insurance adjusters may approach you soon after the crash. "Decisions you make at that time may have far-reaching financial ramifications," she writes.
She advises the following action:
If you choose to retain a civil attorney, refer all insurance agents, including your own, to your attorney.
Before speaking with any insurance agent, be sure you know whose company the adjuster represents. If an adjuster comes to your home, ask for a business card. If the adjuster's language is confusing, say so. Even though you may discuss the case, it is wise not to give signed or recorded statements.
Be fully competent and aware when discussing the case with an insurance adjuster. Grieving or painful injury can make you feel numb and confused. It can cause you to have poor memory.
If you are not able to discuss the case rationally with the adjuster, ask him or her to return at another time. It is a good idea to have a trusted person with you when you discuss insurance.
You may want to hire an attorney on an hourly basis to evaluate your case before signing an insurance release. These forms release a drunken-driving offender or his/her insurance company from future liability.
For example, soon after the crash the insurance company may say, "We'll leave you this check for $100,000 today if you'll sign the release." The offender may have $300,000 of insurance but your ability to sue both the offender and insurance company is negated once you sign the release.
Set up an organized file, including copies of crash reports, estimates on repairing or replacing the automobile, medical and funeral bills, and copies of letters having to do with the insurance settlement.
Get several estimates on damage to the vehicle before settling on property damage. These may be obtained from body shops or automobile dealers. You can negotiate the insurer's offer if you have several estimates.
Obtain copies of all medical bills before settling on the medical or bodily injury damages. It is very important to know the full extent of injury and prognosis for treatment before making a final settlement. This may take months. Keep a daily record of adverse effects of the crash, including psychological ones.
Be sure that when doctors write medical assessments, they understand the injured victim's job description, employment history and education in evaluating if, when or under what conditions the victim may return to work.
Request a copy of each settlement offer in writing to avoid confusion or in the event you receive conflicting information. This does not need to be a formal typewritten letter but may be handwritten, signed and dated by the person making the offer.
The adjuster may or may not be able to advise you of your claim rights based on statutory insurance law, since adjusters do not have legal degrees. It is the job of the insurance adjuster to negotiate the best deal possible for the insurance company. Ask for a written copy of claim rights in your state. Know the statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage actions in your state. You may want to consult an attorney on an hourly fee basis for this information.
If you feel you are being treated inappropriately by a claims adjuster, contact his or her supervisor. If that is not satisfactory, write a personal and confidential letter to the president of the insurance company explaining what has happened. Your state insurance commission or board may also be contacted.
All legitimate insurance companies are regulated by a state insurance commission. Contact the switchboard at your state capitol for the phone number. All phone or personal communication relative to a complaint should be followed up by a letter.
In many states, insurance companies are required to act in "good faith." In such states this means that if claims are unreasonably denied, if valid claims are not promptly paid or if victim families are coerced into settling for less than is due them, this behavior may give rise to a cause of action in tort against the insurance company. Punitive damages may also be recovered upon proof of actual malice, fraud or oppression, usually referred to as "outrageous conduct."