Q: Who pays my medical bills if I've been injured in a motor vehicle collision?

A: If you or any family members in your household have an auto insurance policy, you will probably be covered under Personal Injury Protection (PIP for short) benefits. These benefits are required in automobile policies issued for delivery in Oregon; they are optional in Washington. Your health insurance may also provide coverage.

Q: Can I recover if the liable party has no insurance?

A: Yes, you can recover if you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage, and most insurance policies provide UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to your liability coverage. It's good to have at least $100,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Contact your agent if you are not sure what your policy covers.

Q: How long does it take to resolve an auto collision case?

A: The time varies, mostly depending on how long it takes for the injured person to become medically stationary. In Oregon, there is a two year statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, so if the case is not resolved within two years, a lawsuit must be filed. If the liable party is a governmental entity, then the injured party must also file a tort claims notice within 180 days of the date of the collision. Resolving a case properly depends upon the injuries suffered and the treatment course required. Once a case gets filed, it can take over a year for a trial date. That means it could take three years, or even longer, before a case is resolved. However, most cases resolve within 18 months, depending on the injuries. Smaller claims can be resolved within a few weeks of acquiring all of the medical records. Remember, it is in the client's best interest to wait until he or she is medically stationary before resolving a claim.

Q: Can I recover lost income if I'm unable to work due to my injuries?

A: Your claim against the other driver includes any documentable lost. Under your own PIP, and if your injury is due to an automobile collision, your auto insurance company will reimburse you for a portion of your lost wages if a doctor takes you off work for at least 14 consecutive days. If you do not have auto insurance, but a relative in your household does, then their auto insurance policy may be responsible for the PIP portion of your lost wages. If you are a pedestrian or bicyclist and have no PIP available to you, the car driver's insurance is responsible for paying the same PIP lost income.

Q: Should I take photographs?

A: Yes. It is always good to have your own photographs. An insurance company might send over an adjuster to take pictures that might not necessarily show the full extent of the damage to a vehicle or injuries to your body.

Q: How soon after I have been injured should I contact an attorney?

A: You should hire an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help with any investigation.

Q: I've just been in an accident, what should I do?

A: There are several things a person should do when they are in an accident.

1. When exchanging information with the driver of the other vehicle always make sure you get their full name, address, home and work phone number, drivers license number, date of birth, insurance company, policy number, year/make/model of the vehicle they are driving, license plate number and the name of the registered owner.

2. If you are seriously injured you should call an ambulance and go to the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital or follow-up with your primary doctor as soon as possible.

3. Call your insurance agent as soon as possible and report the accident. If your agent gives you a claim number make sure that you write this number down and keep it for your records.

4. If you are in a company vehicle, or are working for your employer at the time of the accident, you must report the accident in the manner required by your place of employment.

5. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you complete a DMV Report within 72 hours after the accident. This form can be picked up at your local DMV office. If this accident form is not complete you may receive a letter from the DMV stating that your license will be suspended if you do not send in the completed form.

Q: I was just in a motor vehicle collision, what am I required to do legally?

A: In Oregon you must stay at the scene of the collision and exchange names, addresses and insurance information with the other party. If there is a severe injury, then you must provide reasonable aid to the injured persons until police and or emergency services arrive. You are required to file an accident report within 72 hours with the Department of Motor Vehicles even if the police made a report. If you are the victim of a hit-and-run or a party involved is uninsured, then you must file a police report within 72 hours; but calling the police immediately is better than waiting.

Whiplash Injury

Q: I was in a car accident last week, and am having pain in my neck and back. I saw a chiropractor, who told me that my injury may take a long time to heal. The other insurance company wants to settle, and said that I only have a whiplash which is not worth much. Should I settle?

A: Whiplash injuries range in severity from minor sprains and strains to ruptured disks which require surgery. A whiplash has the potential to be a very serious injury which can cause problems for a long time. It is never a good idea to settle your claim until you know how much medical treatment you need, the total cost of the treatment, your total wage loss and the full extent of your injuries. Most of the time, this means waiting until you are “medically stationary” (which means that no further medical treatment will help you to improve). You may end up with long-term or permanent problems due to your injury, and these should be known before you agree to settle your case.

Injury Election Form (Workers' Compensation)

Q: I was driving my employer's van making a delivery when another driver ran a red light and hit me. I have a broken leg and am missing work. Workers' Compensation is paying my medical bills and lost wages, and they sent me an election form asking whether I would pursue a claim against the other driver or allow them to pursue the claim. What should I do?

A: The Worker's Compensation carrier wants to be reimbursed for the medical bills and wages it is paying you. Under the law, the carrier can assert a lien against any settlement or judgment you receive from the other driver or his/her insurance. If you hire your own attorney, your attorney should try to recover your medical expenses and lost wages AND money for your pain and suffering. If you allow the Worker's Compensation carrier to go after the other driver for you, it will attempt to recover its own losses but will not attempt to collect for your pain and suffering. It is your choice.

Wrongful Death Claim

Q: My father was seriously injured when another driver ran a stop sign. After a week in the hospital, my father died due to complications from the injury. The Personal Injury Protection (PIP) provision of my father's auto insurance covered only part of the medical expenses and none of his wage loss. After his death, the insurance adjuster told us the claim “died with him”. Is that right?

A: No, the advice given to you by the adjuster is not correct. Your father's estate can pursue a wrongful death claim against the driver who ran the stop sign. If that driver had no insurance, the estate can pursue an Uninsured Motorist (UM) claim through your father's automobile insurance policy. If the injury and death occurred in Oregon, Oregon law usually allows the estate to pursue a claim up to three years from the date of death. If no estate has been opened, your attorney will need to open an estate to pursue the wrongful death claim.

Auto Accident Scenarios

Hit & Run Accident

Q: I was driving through an unmarked intersection. A car came from my left at a high rate of speed and hit my car. The other driver took off, and I was unable to get the license number. I have missed work and the bills are piling up. What can I do?

A: First, you should report the collision to the police and to your insurance company. At an uncontrolled intersection in Oregon, a driver must yield to the vehicle on the right; so the accident was the other driver's fault. However, since you do not know who that driver is, you cannot pursue a claim against him/her directly. But you do have a way to recover. Your insurance should pay your medical expenses (up to at least $15,000 and at least 1 year after the accident); plus 70% of your lost wages (up to $3,000 per month) if you are disabled for 14 days or longer, under your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. In addition, you have an Uninsured Motorist claim with your insurance company for any medical expenses or lost wages not paid by PIP, plus a factor for pain and suffering and for any long-term problems due to this injury.

Hit By A Drunk Driver

Q: I was on my way home when a drunk driver ran a red light and hit my car. I was wearing my seatbelt, but hit my head on the side of the car and had a concussion and some large gashes on my head, plus neck and back pain. My insurance company paid my medical bills, but I lost a week of work. What am I entitled to?

A: You have a claim against the drunk driver for all of your damages, including your medical bills and lost income; and including a factor for your pain and suffering and any long-term problems you may have due to your injuries. If the other driver was insured, you have a claim against his insurance company. If the other driver was not insured, you have an Uninsured Motorist claim under your own policy. In addition, since the other driver was intoxicated when he hit you, Oregon law allows you to ask for punitive damages; these are damages intended to punish the driver for acting in a socially irresponsible manner. The amount of damages you actually recover will depend on the type and permanence of the injuries, plus the amounts of your bills and lost income.

Injured Motorcyclist

Q: I was driving my motorcycle when a van pulled out in front of me. I tried to swerve, but hit the van. I broke my leg and have a lot of cuts and abrasions. I had insurance on my bike, but my insurance won't pay my medical bills. The other insurance company paid for my bike but won't pay my medical bills until I sign a release. Is that right?

A: Every automobile insurance policy issued in Oregon is required to provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) to pay medical bills and a portion of your lost income. However, motorcycle insurance policies are not required to provide PIP, and many policies do not include it. You should check your policy to see if it is included. You have a claim against the driver of the van for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering and any long-term problems due to your injuries. The other insurance company typically will not pay interim medical bills, and will only want to pay once for your whole claim. But you should not settle your claim until you know the full extent of your expenses and your injuries; once you settle, you are finished, and cannot go back for more money later. If you have medical insurance, your medical insurance should pay your bills; however, they will want to be repaid out of any settlement or judgment.

Injured Passenger

Q: I was a passenger in a friend's car. My friend was speeding when another car pulled out from a stop sign. We hit the other car, and I had to go to the hospital with a broken arm and leg. The other driver's insurance company said the accident was my friend's fault, since he was speeding. Is that right?

A: If your friend was going faster than the speed limit, and his speed contributed to causing the accident, then your friend is partially liable for causing the accident. However, the other driver also had a duty to yield the right of way to your friend's car. Since both drivers contributed to causing the accident, you have a claim against both drivers for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and any long-term problems you have as a result of your injuries. You need to pursue claims with the other driver's insurance company and your friend's insurance company. In the meantime, your friend's insurance should be paying for your medical expenses (up to a year after the accident and up to at least $15,000) and part of your lost wages if you were disabled for 14 days or more.

Injured By Girlfriend

Q: I was riding with my girlfriend when she ran a red light and caused an accident. Her insurance has been paying my medical bills and part of my lost income. I don't want to sue her, but am I entitled to anything more?

A: Yes. In addition to having your medical expenses (up to at least $15,000 or 1 year after the accident, whichever comes first) and 70% of your lost income (up to $3,000 per month) paid under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) part of your girlfriend's insurance, you have a claim for your injuries. Your claim includes any medical expenses and lost income not paid under the PIP, and money for your pain and suffering and any long-term problems due to the accident. Your girlfriend's insurance should pay these amounts, up to her policy limits. You may not need to actually sue your girlfriend if you and your attorney can reach agreement with her insurance company on the fair value of your claim. However, if you cannot reach a fair settlement, you may need to file a lawsuit to determine fair compensation for your injuries. If you do need to file a lawsuit, your girlfriend's insurance company would pay for a lawyer for her and would pay any judgment you got, up to her policy limits.

Child Hurt in Accident

Q: I was driving my 9-year old son home after a rainfall, went a little too fast and spun out, hitting a tree. My son broke his arm and has neck pain. My insurance has been paying the medical bills, but my wife said my son has a claim against me for his injuries. Is this true?

A: Yes. Even though he is a member of your family, your son has a claim against you for going too fast and causing the accident and his injuries. You son's injury claim includes his medical bills plus a factor for his pain and suffering and for any long-term problems he may have due to the accident. However, your automobile insurance is responsible to defend you and to pay for your son's claim (up to the policy limits). As a practical matter, many injury claims are settled prior to actually going to trial. However, it is not a good idea to try to settle your son's claim with the insurance company until you know the full extent of his injuries, the total medical expenses and the prognosis for the future.

Single Car Accident

Q: I was injured when a friend hit some ice, lost control and smashed into a tree. I have hospital bills and lost income. My friend's insurance has been paying part of my income and has paid my medical bills so far. Am I entitled to more?

A: Yes. Your friend's auto insurance should pay your medical expenses (up to at least $15,000 and 1 year after the accident) and 70% of you lost income (up to $3,000/month) under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) provision of your friend's policy. In addition, you have a claim against your friend for causing the accident and your injuries. Your claim includes any medical expenses and lost income not paid under the PIP and money for your pain and suffering and any long-term problems due to the accident. Your friend's insurance is liable to pay these amounts, up to the policy limits.

Injured Pedestrian

Q: I am 19 and live with my parents. Three weeks ago, I was crossing the street at an intersection with the “walk” signal when a driver ran into me. I went to the hospital and have a huge medical bill, but the other driver had no insurance. What can I do?

A: First, if you have automobile insurance, your own auto insurance is primary to pay your medical expenses. If you do not have insurance yourself, you are eligible for coverage under any automobile policy that your parents have, since you live with them. Every Oregon automobile insurance policy is required to provide medical expenses up to at least $15,000 or 1 year after the accident (whichever comes first), plus 70% of your lost income (up to $3,000 per month) if you are taken off work for 14 days or longer. In addition, you have a claim for Uninsured Motorist (UM) benefits. The UM claim includes all your medical expenses, all your lost income, a factor for pain and suffering, and a factor for any long-term problems due to your injuries. If no insurance is available, you may have to file a lawsuit against the driver.

Q: I drove downtown to shop and parked my car. As I was crossing the street, in a marked crosswalk with the “walk” light showing, a car hit me and broke my leg. The driver had no insurance. How do I get my medical bills paid, and do I have a claim for anything else?

A: This may sound funny, but your own automobile insurance is liable to pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses (up to a year after the accident and up to at least $15,000), plus 70% of your lost wages if you were disabled and not able to work for 14 days of more (up to a maximum of $3,000 per month) under your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. You also have an Uninsured Motorist claim with your own insurance company for any medical expenses and lost income not paid under the PIP, for your pain and suffering and for any permanent or long-term problems you may have due to your injuries.

Pedestrian Hit on the Job

Q: I was running an errand for my boss and started across an intersection when the “walk” light came on. About halfway across, a car turned into me. I was thrown to the ground and ended up with a broken leg, bruises, and my back hurts. I reported the claim to my boss and am receiving Workers' Compensation, but am I entitled to anything more?

A: You have a Workers' Compensation claim and a third-party claim against the driver who hit you. Workers' Compensation is the primary insurance for payment for your lost wages and medical expenses for now. However, you also have a claim against the driver for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and any long-term problems due to the injury. The Workers' Compensation carrier will send you a Notice of Election form which requires that either you obtain an attorney yourself to protect the carrier's lien for repayment of the benefits it paid for you; or that you allow the carrier to pursue the claim against the driver. If you allow the carrier to pursue the third-party claim, the carrier usually will not pursue a claim for your pain and suffering and will only try to obtain reimbursement for its costs.

Phantom Vehicle

Q: I hit a tree when a driver suddenly cut in front of me and forced me off the road. The other driver didn't stop, and I was not able to get the license number. A witness stopped and helped me. My insurance has paid my medical bills and part of my lost wages. Am I entitled to anything more?

A: Under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) portion of your policy, your insurance should pay for reasonable and necessary medical expenses up to at least $15,000 or a year after the accident, plus 70% of your lost income (up to $3,000 per month) if you were disabled for 14 days or more. Under Oregon law, you also have an Uninsured Motorist claim for your injuries. Since there was a witness who can verify that the accident was caused by a “phantom vehicle”, you may pursue a claim with your insurance company for any unpaid medical expenses, the remainder of your lost income (not just the portion paid pursuant to the PIP), plus a factor for pain and suffering and any long-term problem you may have due to your injuries.

Bicycle Accidents

Q: Should I take photographs?

A: Yes. It is always good to have your own documentation for any accident. An insurance company might send over an adjuster to take pictures that might not necessarily show the full extent of the damage to a vehicle or the injuries to a person.

Q: How soon after I have been injured should I contact an attorney?

A: You should hire an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help with any investigation.

Q: I was riding my bicycle on the right side of the street past some parked cars. Suddenly, a driver opened his door into me, causing me to fly off the bike and land on my head and chest. I broke some ribs and have a serious concussion. Who pays my bills?

A: If you have automobile insurance, your own auto insurance company should pay your medical expenses (up to at least 1 year after the accident and at least $15,000) plus 70% of your lost wages (up to a maximum of $3,000/month) if you are disabled for 14 days or more. If you have no automobile insurance, your medical insurance should pay your medical bills. If you have no medical insurance, the car driver's insurance should pay your medical bills. If you have no auto insurance, the other driver's auto insurance should pay 70% of your lost wages up to $3,000/month. You also have a claim against the person who caused the injury for all your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and any long-term problems you may have.

Process of Filing a Lawsuit

Q: How much does it cost to retain your services?

A: We handle all our personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. You don't owe us anything unless we recover money for you. If we do recover money for you, we charge a percentage of the fee recovery amount.

Q: What if I don't want to go to trial?

A: We will discuss with you the possibility of filing a lawsuit. We won't file without your consent. Your leverage against an insurance company is your right to take your case to a jury. Sometimes it is necessary to exercise that leverage in order to get the insurance companies to take your claim seriously.

Q: Why do I need an attorney who is just going to take a percentage of my case?

A: When you deal directly with an insurance company or any defendant, you are dealing with an adversary. They will do what they can to settle your case as quickly and cheaply as possible. (Insurance adjusters get more bonuses and raises by settling their cases quickly and cheaply, not by paying fair value for the cases.) By representing yourself, you are giving up your only leverage: your right to take the case to court. Why would an insurance company fear being sued if you do not even have an attorney? They will not take your claim as seriously unless you are represented.

Do I Need An Attorney?

Q: I was rear-ended at a stoplight and have seen my doctor for back injuries. My doctor told me that I do not need an attorney, since the other driver's insurance company seems to be acting reasonably. Do I really need an attorney?

A: Insurance companies often try to appear to be reasonable with unrepresented parties, when their goal is to lull the person into taking an offer which is less than the full value of the claim. Because an adjuster appears to be reasonable does not mean that the adjuster is being reasonable, or fair. The insurance adjuster's job is to save his company money by resolving the claim for as little as possible. As an injured person, you want to receive fair value for your claim, not the minimum that the insurance company wants to pay. it is the attorney's job to try to get you full and fair compensation for your injuries. In my experience, people usually do better with an attorney than by themselves, even after attorney fees and costs are paid.

Should I Settle?

Q: I was riding as a passenger in a friends' car. A truck coming the other way crossed into our lane and forced us off the road, into a tree. the truck driver didn't stop, but there were witnesses, and we found out who he was. I was seriously hurt. The truck driver's insurance wants to settle now, but I am not sure I should since I am still seeing my doctor. Should I settle?

A: It is never a good idea to settle your claim until you know how much medical treatment you will need, the total cost of the medical treatment, your total wage loss and the full extent of your injuries. Most of the time, this means waiting until you are “medically stationary” (which means that no further medical treatment will help you improve). You may end up with long-term or permanent problems due to the injury, and these should be known before you agree to settle your case. Once you settle and sign a release, you cannot go back to the insurance company and ask for more even if you later discover that your injuries are more serious than you first thought.

What Is My Claim Worth?

Q: I was rear-ended at a stoplight and had treatment for neck and back pain. The other driver's insurance company said my case isn't worth much. What is my claim worth and how can an attorney help?

A: First, you should not settle your claim until you are finished treating, are medically stationary and know the full extent to your injuries. The value of your claim depends on the total amount of your medical bills and lost wages, the amount of time it takes to become medically stationary and the extent of any long-term problems due to the accident. Your claim also includes a factor for your pain and suffering. But there are no magic formulas to put a monetary value on your claim. An experienced attorney can help by putting your case together and negotiating with the insurance company to get fair value for your claim (not just the minimum that the insurance company wants to pay). If the insurance company will not pay fair value, the attorney can file a lawsuit and try your case. In my experience, people usually do better with an attorney than by themselves.

Dissatisfaction with Verdict

Q: I badly injured my back in a car accident and went to a jury trial. The fact that the other driver had insurance was not mentioned in the trial, and the jury didn't award me as much as the insurance company had offered me. The award won't cover my future medical bills. How can this happen?

A: Court rules do not allow even the mention of “insurance” during trial; the theory being that if the jury knows a party has insurance, the jury will make a larger award because many people do not like insurance companies. The jury makes a decision about whether the defendant caused the injury and the value of the claim; the jury never hears about any prior negotiations. Juries do what they feel is right. A number of news stories about large verdicts (e.g.. the spilled coffee verdict) have given the impression that juries are running amok. Unfortunately, the media tends to sensationalize large verdicts and usually does not reveal all of the facts which the jury heard. Also, the media does not usually report with the same gusto the $0 or low (and there are many) or reasonable verdicts. You may have experiences some “backlash” as a result of the impression that juries are awarding too much.

Uninsured Motorists

Wrongful Death – Underinsured Motorist

Q: My mother was killed in an automobile accident a year ago. Witnesses say she was crossing an intersection with a green light when another driver ran a red light and hit her car. Mother's insurance paid a small death benefit and the other insurance company paid for the car. If there anything else we can do?

A: Yes. The personal representative of your mother's estate can pursue a claim against the driver who caused the accident, and that driver's insurance company, for the wrongful death of your mother. If there is not enough insurance, there may be more available through any underinsured motorist coverage on your mother's policy. If you have not yet had a personal representative of her estate appointed, you should do so soon. The personal representative, with aid of an attorney, can then either file a lawsuit or try to negotiate with the appropriate insurance company or companies to settle the claim. Oregon law allows up to 3 years to file a wrongful death claim with the court.

Injured Uninsured Driver

Q: I was partly through an intersection when another driver ran a red light and hit me. The other driver had insurance, but my insurance had expired. Luckily, I have medical insurance to pay my hospital bills. Am I out of luck because I did not have car insurance?

A: As far as your damages are concerned, you are not totally “out of luck” because you did not have car insurance. The law allows you to pursue the other driver because the other driver was at fault in the accident. You have a claim for your property damage, and for your medical expenses and lost wages. Whether you will be entitled to damages for pain and suffering and any long-term problems due to your injuries will depend on when your insurance expired and some other factors. Since your medical insurance is paying your bills, they will probably want to be paid back at the time of settlement or judgment.

Hurt By Uninsured Driver

Q: I was seriously injured in an automobile accident which was caused by an uninsured motorist. My insurance company has paid $15,000 of my $38,000 in medical bills, but the rest are unpaid. What can I do?

A: Every auto insurance policy issued for delivery in Oregon is required to provide Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage in addition to Personal Injury Protection (PIP). PIP should pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred within 1 year after the accident (up to at least $15,000), and 70% of your lost wages, up to $3,000 per month, if you are disabled for 14 days or more. In addition to PIP, you have a claim under the UM provision of your policy for any additional medical bills and remaining lost income; plus a factor for pain and suffering and for any long-term problems you may have due to your injuries. However, you should not settle your UM claim until you know the full extent of your injuries and your economic damages; once you settle, you cannot go back for more money later, even if your injuries are worse than you first though.

Uninsured Friend

Q: I was a passenger in a friend's car, when he ran a stop sign and hit another driver. I found out after the accident that my friend had no insurance. I am unable to drive, or work, and have thousands of dollars in medical bills. What can I do?

A: If you have automobile insurance, your own auto insurance should pay your reasonable and necessary medical expenses (up to at least $15,000 or 1 year after the accident) and a portion of your lost wages under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) provision on your policy. In addition, you have a claim under the Uninsured Motorist (UM) provision of your policy for any additional medical bills and remaining lost income; plus a factor for pain and suffering and for any long-term problems due to your injuries. You should report the accident immediately to your insurance company, if you have not yet done so. However, do not settle your claim until you know the full extent of your injuries; once you settle, you cannot go back for more money later, even if your injuries are worse than you first thought.

Uninsured Motorist

Q: I was sitting at a stoplight when I was rear-ended by a driver who had no insurance. the damage to my car, less my deductible, and my medical bills have been paid by my insurance company. Am I entitled to anything else?

A: Yes. Every insurance policy issued for delivery in Oregon is required to provide Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage. You can make a UM claim under your own insurance policy to compensate you for damages the uninsured driver is legally liable to pay. This claim includes your medical expenses; lost wages; and monetary damages for pain and suffering, including any long-term problems you have due to your injuries. The value of your claim depends on the total amount of your actual losses (like medical bills, etc.), the amount of time it takes for you to become medically stationary, and your prognosis once you are finished treating. [Note: Most of the time, once your insurance company pays your claim, it will file lawsuit against the uninsured motorist to recover the damages paid on your claim.]

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