New Mexico Personal Injury FAQ
Why do I need an attorney?
Everyone would benefit from talking with an attorney to help decide the right answer to this question. Matthew Vance and others offer free consultations for just this reason. However, the truth is that not everyone needs an attorney to help them. If you were involved in a relatively minor incident in which you suffered minor injuries or other minimal damages because of the negligence of someone else, you may not need an attorney, or it may not be economically reasonable for you to have one. However, if you or someone else has more than just minor injuries or damages, it may make a big difference to have the help of someone who knows the law and the claim process, and can watch out for your interests. That’s because it is also true that insurance companies are in business to make money and watch out for the interests of their shareholders. Unfortunately, that has increasingly grown to mean denying valid claims, pushing early and unjust settlements on people, and using lowball offers to drag out claims until people become demoralized and simply settle. When someone breaks the rules and causes you harm and losses, they should be responsible for those harms and losses. They should have to help what can be helped and make up for what can be made up for. Matthew Vance would be happy to discuss your situation with you to help you decide whether you need an attorney.
How does my attorney get paid?
Mr. Vance and other plaintiff attorneys work on a contingency fee basis on personal injury cases. A contingency fee means that our fee is contingent on whether we are able to make a recovery for you. Some people use the expressions, “there is no fee if there is no recovery,” or “we don’t get paid unless you get paid.” Thus, an attorney on a contingency fee does not get paid until the end of the case and is paid out of the settlement. You usually don’t pay anything upfront. This system of a contingency fee ensures that attorneys take cases they believe in because they don’t get paid unless there is a recovery. It also means that people who otherwise could not pay for any attorney have access to the court system to ensure that the harm and losses they have suffered because of the negligence of someone else are redressed.
How do I know which attorney to pick?
The attorney-client relationship is one built on trust and confidence. You will want to meet with an attorney in person. Take the time to ask any questions you may have about your legal situation or the prospective attorney. Just like anyone else you will meet, you will soon have an initial impression. If it feels right, this may be the attorney for you. If not, you may want to talk to some other folks first. Matt Vance is always happy to meet with people for an initial free consultation with no obligation. If you would like to sit down and discuss your case in frank and simple terms, please contact him.
After a car crash, should I call the police?
Yes. Local police departments routinely investigate the circumstances and causes of car crashes. It is what they do. They know what information is important, and they have crash report forms that capture some of the most critical information. Insurance adjusters, lawyers, judges and juries rely upon police reports to help determine what happened in a car crash. Also, although someone may seem polite and cooperative at the scene, even admitting fault for the crash, they may later change their story. If there is no police report or other recording of the crash and its causes, it may affect your ability to hold them responsible for their negligence and the harms it caused you.
If the police don’t come or take too long, what do I do?
If the police don’t come, take too long, or for some other reason a police report is not made by a police officer, you will want to make a report of your own. This is generally called a “station report.” Just like it sounds, someone goes to a local substation to fill out a report about an incident or car crash that occurred. Station reports can be important as a way to record an incident that occurred, but also because insurance adjusters and some jurors might think that if you did not report the incident or car crash, that is because it did not occur or you are hiding something.
Should I call my insurance company when the crash was someone else’s fault?
Yes. At the very least you will want to confirm the type of coverage you have with your insurance company for various things. Sometimes the other person’s insurance company is difficult to deal with or delays in paying for rental expenses, vehicle repairs, medical bills or other things. Working with your own insurance company can help you recover faster from a car crash. That is why you paid those thousands of dollars in premiums over the years. Although Mr. Vance doesn’t work for your insurance company, if the crash was not your fault, a claim with your own insurance company should not affect your rates. Also, you don’t need to worry about your insurance company spending money on you. If the other driver was at fault, they will get their money back through a subrogation action.
How do I get my car fixed?
You can present the claim for the repair of your vehicle to the insurance company for the at-fault driver, or you can present it to your own insurance company depending on the type of insurance coverage you have. The other person’s insurance company may or may not be prompt in taking care of your property damage claim. Often, your own insurance company is faster. Matthew Vance can help you figure out the answer to this question based on who is involved. Contact his firm.
I had a good older car. It’s totaled, and I can’t replace it for what they are offering. How can this be fair?
This is a common complaint, and the answer is not an easy one. A lot of people have an older model car with high miles, but they have taken care of it and it runs great. It may also have sentimental value. However, its fair market value may only be a couple of thousand dollars. It is extremely hard, if not impossible, to replace a good, solid, older model car that runs great with a couple of thousand dollars. Unfortunately, the law merely says that when someone totals your car, they only owe you for the fair market value. What was it worth just before the car crash? There are different sources to help answer that question, and the insurance companies have the ones that generally assess the value lowest. Watch out for that. You may also be able to get a better offer if you put together receipts for recent repairs or modifications that would increase the fair market value over what the books might show.
How do I get a rental car paid for after a car crash?
If someone else was negligent and caused you to be without the use of your vehicle, they or their insurance company owe you for that loss of use. The law says that they owe you for the fair rental value of the like or comparable property. Some insurance companies will simply pay you a dollar amount to reimburse you for loss of use. Others will arrange a rental car for you at their contract rate with a local car rental company. Depending on the type of claim or coverage you have, you may also be able to get a rental car through your own insurance company.
What do I do if they don’t have insurance?
It happens all too often that the other driver who caused the accident does not have insurance, and usually it’s because they can’t afford it. That could also mean that they cannot pay you directly for all the harm and losses they have caused. That is when it is critical to have uninsured motorist coverage. It is also called UM coverage. All too often people don’t get uninsured motorist coverage because they don’t know what it is, don’t think they need it or don’t want to pay for it. Simply put, it is insurance coverage you buy through your own insurance company that pays you for your harms and losses when the at-fault driver does not have insurance and/or cannot pay you for the harms and losses they have caused. It is also the type of insurance coverage that will pay for punitive damages when the at-fault person’s insurance company might not, including drunk driving cases. In New Mexico, it is important to have. It can make the difference between never physically or financially recovering from a car crash or being able to get reset in life. Presenting UM claims can be tricky because it involves a knowledge of not only personal injury law but also insurance law. If you have a UM claim, please contact the Law Office of Matthew Vance to discuss the nuances of your situation.
What do I do if the at-fault driver doesn’t have enough insurance coverage?
This is also the type of situation where you would look to your own automobile insurance for what is called UIM or underinsured motorist coverage. UM and UIM coverage are generally the same thing. Just as with uninsured motorist coverage, underinsurance motorist coverage is designed to help you when the other driver did not have enough insurance coverage. Just like it sounds, it protects you when the at-fault driver was underinsured. Presenting UIM claims can be tricky because involves a knowledge of not only personal injury law but also insurance law. If you have a UIM claim, please contact me to discuss the nuances of your situation.
The insurance companies are calling and want a recorded statement, should I give one?
This can be a difficult question, and it will depend a lot on the particulars of your situation. If it is your own insurance company and you are making a claim under the terms of your policy (first-party claim), you generally have an obligation to cooperate with them in their investigation of a claim. If it is the other person’s insurance company and you are making a claim (third party claim), then you are not contractually obligated to give a statement. Giving a statement may be an important part of advancing any claim. Adjusters are people too, and they need the information to do their job. However, recorded statements can be used against you. Using the wrong phrase or term because you are not familiar with legal jargon can hurt you. Also, adjusters spend a lot of time taking recorded statements and learning how to use them to box people in and phrase questions to elicit answers favorable to the insurance company and harmful to you. Thus, it really is important to speak with an attorney about the circumstances of your claim and whether a recorded statement would be a good idea.
Who is going to pay my medical bills?
There are three basic sources of insurance from which your bills can be paid. First, you may have health insurance coverage that may cover some or all of the bills. This may be the best and fastest way to get some of your bills paid so you don’t end up in collections. Keep in mind that, if your health insurance company pays a bill, they may acquire a subrogation right in your claim. However, some health insurance companies will stop paying your medical bills when they find out you were in a car crash or other incident involving the negligence of someone else. This is because your health insurance company will want someone else to pay the bill; like the other person who caused your injury or your own automobile insurance company, depending on the situation. Second, you may have “medical payments” coverage under your automobile insurance policy. Medical payment coverage is like health insurance under your automobile insurance. It pays your crash-related bills, and the bills of any passengers in your vehicle at the time of a crash. However, most folks don’t carry very high limits on their medical payments coverage and so it is unusual that this type of insurance will cover all of your medical bills. Third, there is of course the other person’s insurance company, assuming they have liability insurance coverage and that the other person was at least partially at fault for the car crash or incident. However, the problem here is that the other persons’ insurance company generally does not pay your medical bills until you are done treating and sometimes you have to fight with them to get bills paid. Also, if your injuries are serious, you may run into an underinsured motorist situation where the amount of money the other persons’ insurance company owes you is less than what your bills are.
If the above sources of insurance are not available to you in your situation or you are having trouble getting access to medical treatment, you will want to discuss that with an attorney. After suffering injuries because of someone else’s negligence, everyone deserves and should have reasonable and necessary medical treatment. An attorney, such as Matt Vance, can help you access medical treatment and make sure it is paid for.
My doctor found out I was in a car crash and is now refusing to see me, why?
Some doctors will not see a patient who has been in a car crash because they don’t want to deal with all the different insurance companies. Doctors know that some health plans will not pay a car crash-related bill or other bills where the injury was caused by the negligence of someone else. Doctors know that some automobile insurance companies will only pay the doctor a reduced amount for medical services because automobile insurance companies have decided for the doctor what the medical treatment is worth. Doctors don’t like that “take it or leave it” attitude. Doctors don’t want to get left holding the bag. You have to remember that, although they are medical providers, they are running a business too. Thus, some doctors will require a patient to pay cash for a visit after a car accident, or they may refuse to see the patient altogether because they don’t want to be involved with an insurance claim.
What is subrogation or a right of subrogation?
Any time your insurance company (health insurance or automobile insurance) has to pay out money because of someone else’s negligence, they get a right to get their money back from the negligent person. Under the law, they can directly sue the person for the money they paid out. If you, their insured, sue the person and recover money, they have a right to get the money back from you. You also have the duty not to interfere with your insurance companies’ subrogation rights. Thus, if you incorrectly release a responsible party from liability and accept a quick settlement, you could be at risk of being sued by your own insurance company because you did not protect their interests. If your insurance company has paid any of your bills resulting from a car crash or another personal injury, as a result of the negligence of someone else, you will want to discuss with an attorney exactly how that could affect your situation. If you have questions about subrogation claims or rights, please contact Matt Vance. Consultations are free.
What types of things (damages) can I recover for?
When someone else does not follow the rules, whether they are the traffic laws or simply the rules of good judgment, they should expect to be responsible for the harms and losses you have suffered. Those harms and losses are generally called compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are damages meant to compensate you for things like medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, loss of income earning capacity, loss of household services and others. The law also requires that a responsible person pay something to make up for what they have put you through, which includes things like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. In cases where the harms are long term, the responsible party may also owe for future expenses, future care and support, and for the things that you will not be able to do again to take care of yourself. It really is a matter of sitting down and looking at what the person did to you and adding up the harms and losses you have suffered as a result.
The other driver was drunk, does that matter?
Yes. When someone chooses to drive while impaired by the use of alcohol or drugs and they injure someone else, they should expect to be held responsible for the harms and losses they have caused and they should also expect to be punished for their reckless conduct. The civil justice system allows you to punish a drunk driver through punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish someone for their reckless, willful and wanton conduct. As a person pursuing the wrongdoer for their wrongful conduct, you are allowed to recover the punitive damages because you are the one who was directly harmed, because you undertook the burden to pursue the matter, and because who better in the situation to recover.
Why aren’t they being fair with me?
Unfortunately, although we expect others to be fair with us and the law says that insurance companies have to be fair, they have decided to put profits ahead of fairness. Within the last decade, there has been a major change in focus in the insurance industry. It used to be that the insurance companies made substantial profits by investing in the premiums paid by their insureds. However, a corporate greed mentality began to invade and soon those investment profits were not enough. Some companies began to seek profits in the claims handling process by using lowball offers and by dragging out claims handling and litigation to demoralize claimants into accepting reduced amounts for their claims. You may be asking for something reasonable for what you have been through and what you are out of. The insurance company will make a lowball offer and then drag things out. Just think, for every dollar they short you, there are a thousand or million more claimants in the same situation. The insurance company just made a pile more money when you accept $1 less than what your claim is worth. For every day that they delay in sending you that lowball offer, there are a thousand or million more claims delayed. The insurance company just had another day’s income on an investment. This is what some of the worst insurance companies have figured out and do every day. They short you on the amount owed to you and delay to demoralize you and keep their investment income up.