Six Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Car Accident Case

car accidentSometimes, it is better to know what NOT to do before you find out what to do! This post will explain 6 things you can do that will ruin your Maryland Car Accident case. (For more on what you SHOULD do after an accident case, click here.)

Now is the time you could make some easy to avoid mistakes with your car accident case. These mistakes are very common and very easy to make. We see them all the time from clients who come to us after trying to do things themselves. Just avoiding these six mistakes will increase your chances of successfully getting through your Maryland accident case.

Mistake Number 1 – Giving a Recorded Statement to the Adverse Driver’s Insurance Company

Would you go to a deposition without an attorney? Of course not! Going to a deposition without an attorney would be crazy. A recorded statement is essentially the same thing. It can and will be used against you later in your case. In fact, that is the whole point of it – no matter what the insurance adjuster tells you.

Giving a recorded statement is rarely a good idea at all, and should never be done unless an attorney is present. The same thing applies to a written statement.

You have probably never given a recorded statement before. The insurance adjuster on the other end of the line has probably taken hundreds of them. They have been trained to take them. And we can promise you one thing – that insurance adjuster is watching out for their company’s best interests – not yours.

Many insurance company representatives seem very nice and helpful on the phone. Some are genuinely nice. But some are only acting that way to get as much information out of you as they can. If the adjuster finds a reason to deny your claim, they will do it in a heartbeat. Even the nice ones are looking for a reason to deny your claim. That is just their job.

You have no way of knowing who is really trying to be helpful and who is trying to pump you for information to deny your claim. That is why you should approach every conversation with an insurance company representative carefully – just like we do every time we talk to one on behalf of my client.

Ask the insurance representative if you can do a recorded interview of the person who hit you? What do you think they will say? You will find that the ability to request information is a one way street. Their insured – the adverse driver – will likely be instructed not to talk to anyone other than the police. Perhaps you should take that as good advice applying to you too.

What we have said so far applies to recorded statements in any state. Under Maryland law, there is an extra special reason not to give a recorded statement. Maryland is one of the few states that follow a legal doctrine called “contributory negligence.” This means that if you are at fault in any way for the accident, you get nothing. So if you did something very minor that makes you 1% a fault, and the other guy is 99% at fault – you lose.

Any small action you took before the accident could be seen by the insurance adjuster as that 1% fault on your part, which will cause them to deny your claim under the doctrine of contributory negligence. If that happens, you have made settlement a lot more difficult. Unless you have read all the legal cases, you won’t know what they are. An attorney experienced in car accident cases will.

Even if you are dead set on handling your accident claim yourself, you should still consult an attorney before giving a recorded statement. All attorneys offer free consultations for accident cases (we do too!). They should give you that consultation even if you do not want to hire them.

Our best advice is to never give a statement of any kind to the insurance company unless you have consulted a lawyer. But if you do not follow our best advice, at least make sure the statement is not recorded. It is perfectly fair for you to demand that. In fact, in Maryland it is illegal to record any conversation unless both parties consent. So do not consent.

The only possible exception to this general rule is when you are suing your own insurance company for uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (see more about that below). The insurer may claim you have a contractual duty to give a statement then. If you have a UM/UIM case, you really should not handle that on your own. The laws covering those cases are way too complicated and full of traps for the unwary.

The best advice we can give you is not to give a recorded statement, and to get some good advice first if you are thinking about ignoring that advice. Get a free consultation before you do something that ruins your case.

Mistake Number 2 – Take the Quick Settlement Check

If you are not represented by an attorney, some insurance adjusters will try to get you to take a quick settlement check soon after the accident. They may send you a check within days of your accident along with some document full of what looks like legal mumbo jumbo and instructions to just sign and return it.

Do not fall for this trick! If you accept a check early, you lose the right to make any claim later. That legal mumbo jumbo is a “release.” By signing it, you “release” the other driver from liability in exchange for the money. That creates a binding contract and you cannot back out of it later without a legally sufficient reason (and “I didn’t know what I was doing” is not a legally sufficient reason).

This is such a common and serious mistake that the Maryland legislature passed a law to cut down on the practice. It doesn’t outlaw the practice, but builds in a period of time for you to change your mind after you accept the check.

Basically, the law allows you to void any release signed within 30 days after an accident, but you have to do it within 60 days of signing the release, and you have to jump through certain other hoops – like sending the money back. If you think this may apply to you, you should pick up the phone right now and call a lawyer to so you can do this right. Don’t ever flirt with short deadlines like 60 days (which is really, really short in the legal world).

Even if they do not send you a check and release, they may send your some innocent looking forms to sign and return to them. Do not do sign any forms unless you consult with an attorney.

If they are forms to apply for PIP, they are fine. (PIP is Personal Injury Protection benefits your own insurance company pays – see this link for more on PIP and how to handle it.) But if they are forms that allow the insurer to get your entire past medical history, you may want to limit those to what is relevant, or refuse to sign them at all. An attorney can help explain to you what those forms are, and help you make that decision.

You should never take a quick settlement after a car accident because you do not yet know the extent of your damages. You should always wait to be absolutely sure you are not injured, or until you know the full extent of your condition after the accident.

Sometimes your pain won’t show up until days or even weeks after the accident. Or, something you consider a minor pain may flare up into a major problem. Only a doctor can accurately assess your medical condition. Do not try to do that on your own, and do not be too quick to pronounce yourself fully recovered.

Even if you consider yourself well and think you do not need a lawyer, how do you know if the payment from the insurance company is fair? Is it what they would give anyone else? Or just the lowest amount they could talk you into? Is it what you could get in Court?

Only an attorney can answer these questions for you. Again, you should take advantage of the free consultation. An honest attorney will honestly tell you if your settlement is fair even if they don’t get a fee for doing it. Free consultation should really mean “free” and “you get to actually talk to an attorney and get some answers” without being forced to hire them.

Mistake Number 3 – Failing to Get Proper Medical Care

Your legal problems after a car accident should be the second thing you think about – and we mean a distant second. Your first priority should be getting proper medical care to get well. Your medical care is far more important than your legal case.

The first and most important reason we tell you this is because we want you to get well. Getting injured in a car accident is serious. If you sit at home and fail to seek medical care, you are endangering your personal health and safety.

Some people do it because they are afraid of doctors. You should be more afraid of what can happen if you fail to get proper care.

Some people do it because they cannot afford it. That should not be your top concern either, because of something called PIP (the Personal Injury Protection benefits mentioned above, and linked to here).

First, keep in mind it is illegal to be refused care at a hospital based on inability to pay. They have to help you even if you have no money and no insurance. But if you are injured in a car accident in Maryland, you will have up to $2,500 of health coverage through your own car insurance that applies regardless of whose fault it is. This is called PIP, and stands for Personal Injury Protection. (Technically, you can waive this coverage, but almost nobody does – and nobody should! It’s cheap.) Learn more about PIP by reading our post here.

So if your injuries are due to a car accident, you almost certainly have some health care coverage you may not even know about. So go get the medical care you need!

But the second reason we tell you this is for the health of your legal case too. The insurance company will not believe you are injured unless you seek medical care. They will assume that if you really are in pain, you would go to a doctor. They will want your pain and your medical condition documented before they will consider it as damages in your case. They will not take your word for it if you fail to seek care.

This is another reason to go and at least get checked out. You should do it first for your health. But if you are the type who needs an extra push to go anywhere near a doctor, let this reason be that push. Go get the medical care you need.

One last thing, when you are there, be honest about your pain. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t hold back either.

Every once in a while, we get a call from someone who wants to check in with us before they see the doctor. They are worried about the legal side of their car accident case. That is not a good idea. We tell them to simply be honest about their pain and problems. Anyone who tells you otherwise is endangering your health. You should never lie to your doctor – and that includes failing to tell your doctor about pain you have.

Do not exaggerate your pain, but do not minimize it either. Be honest. Your physical well being is at stake here. That is always most important.

Mistake Number 4 – Getting Too Much Medical Care

The flip side to Mistake Number 3 is getting too much medical care. The insurance company will punish you if you do not see the doctor, or do not see the doctor as much as you should. But the insurance company will also punish you if you see the doctor too much!

I know it sounds unfair, and sometimes it is, but it is a fact. Going to the doctor too much can hurt your case. The details are where this gets sticky.

It is always wise to get a second opinion, and it is perfectly legitimate to change doctors if you need to. But if you are seen as “doctor shopping”, it will hurt your accident case. This is particularly true if it looks like you are “shopping” for the doctor that will give you more treatment that other doctors have rejected. We cannot give you hard and fast guidelines on how many doctors are too many. Just be sure you have a good reason for any new doctor you see.

In the Washington and Baltimore region, we have the luxury of having some of the absolute best doctors and health care facilities in the entire world. You can always get a world class second opinion. If you have a medical problem (whether caused by an accident or not) you can get in to see a really top of the line doctor. We strongly encourage people to take advantage of that.

If you do not think your doctor is doing all the right things to fix you, you can find one for a second opinion that is tops in their field. We encourage you to do just that if you need to. This is the best thing for your health. It will also prevent some insurance company attorney from ever claiming you were doctor shopping or over-treating for your injury.

The best thing to do is pick a reputable doctor and follow their orders. That will always be easy to defend. An attorney experienced in personal injury cases can give you an idea of when your medical treatment may raise issues for your case, but a good attorney will make sure you get ALL the care you need to feel better, and will defend it later if the insurance company tries to make it a problem for you.

Mistake Number 5 – Seeing a Doctor who has a Side Deal with the Lawyer

Have you ever heard of an attorney sending you to “their” doctor? It used to happen a lot more than it does now, but you still see it. It is a bad idea.

Some personal injury attorneys used to make deals with certain doctors. The general idea was to have a doctor friend who would run up a bill just high enough to make the accident case seem more valuable than it was, so both the doctor and the attorney made more money off the deal. Then they would go play golf together!

If this sounds unethical to you, you are absolutely right. An attorney is supposed to be a professional free of outside influence. They should only have your best interests at heart. If they are partially looking out for their doctor friend, how are they going to look out for your best interests?

Not only is it unethical, but this mistake hurts your accident case. Do you think a relationship like that between an attorney and a doctor is a secret? No way. The insurance companies long ago got smart and started keeping records on attorneys. They look for problems like doctor-attorney relationships that are not ethical. They will know if your case is one of those, and they will treat you accordingly. You can expect an unfairly low settlement offer, and probably a fight in Court over whether or not the doctor “over-treated” you.

It may be perfectly legitimate for an attorney to refer you to a particular doctor, as long as there is no special relationship between them. At our firm, we prepared a list of local Orthopedic doctors because we found so many clients didn’t know one.

But we will always give you a list of several doctors, and we will encourage you to first ask your family doctor for a referral. That is the best way to get one.

If you ask us directly, we will tell you who we use for medical care, and who we send our family to. We can also give you the names of some excellent doctors in the DC or Baltimore area who are world class and renowned for their skills. We know the skills and styles of most of the local doctors because we have represented so many injured people.

But we do not have any unethical personal or professional relationships with any doctors in our area.

Mistake Number 6 – Failing to Get a Free Consultation

I have already mentioned this several times in this article, and I repeat it for a reason. All attorneys who handle Maryland accident cases offer a free consultation. That means you can at least talk to them on the phone. More likely, it means you can sit down with them in their office face to face, if you want to. It costs you nothing but your own time. There is no reason why you should fail to take advantage of free time with an attorney who knows that area of law.

We suspect people worry the free consultation is just a ploy to get you into the attorney’s office where they can pressure you into retaining them. The attorney is experienced at this sort of thing and you have probably never been in that position before. It can be frightening if you feel like you are the sheep going into the lion’s den.

That should not be the case if you deal with an honest attorney. The vast majority of attorneys are honest and ethical. The few bad apples out there give the rest of us a bad reputation.

If a Maryland car accident attorney is honest and ethical, he or she should agree to give you that consultation even if you do not hire us to handle your case. They should at least answer your questions, and give you a good overview of your injury case and what you can expect. They should do this in a way that is free of sales pressure. You should always feel like you are talking to an attorney – not a salesman. If you feel sales pressure while meeting with an attorney, you may want to find a different attorney.

Do not get me wrong. Any good attorney is going to warn you of the dangers of handling your case on your own. That is not just sales pressure. There is a reason we have jobs, after all.

The legal system is complicated and full of traps if you do not know what you are doing. If you come to us with a big case that should be handled by an attorney – we will tell you so. I will give you plenty of warnings, and may even do so in writing just to be sure you got the message and we can prove it later. But an honest attorney will also answer your questions and tell you what to expect, given the information they have in front of them.

If you would like a free consultation with our personal injury attorneys, please contact us.

About Southern Maryland Law

Andrews, Bongar, Gormley & Clagett is one of the oldest and largest law firms in Southern Maryland. We have been serving clients here for over 50 years. With more attorneys and a larger staff than most other local law firms, we can handle a wider variety of legal matters. Each attorney concentrates his or her practice in a few key areas, so you can be assured of the expertise you need. But we are not so big that we forget about personal service. Your legal matter is unique, and requires a personalized approach. We will always remember that. If you have a legal issue, call us today to schedule your consultation.