What happens to the person or company who caused my injury?
After the bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle or car accident which caused your serious injuries, the person or company that is responsible for your injury (often referred to as the “third party”) hopefully contacts their insurance company to open a claim. Once the claim is opened, this is the start of the claims process through which the insurance company evaluates your case and later compensates you for your injuries and damages. If the person or company who caused your injury has not already opened a claim with their insurance company, you (or your personal injury attorney) should contact the insurance company to open the claim.
You can find the third party’s insurance information on the police report (or get it directly from the third party – either at the scene of the accident or by requesting it after the accident). If the third party has already contacted their insurance company, they likely gave their statement (their version of the facts, which may be the same or very different from the true facts or even what they already told the police officers at the scene of the accident) to the appropriate insurance claims adjuster.
After a traffic accident, there will likely be little or no contact between you and the person or company who caused your injury. Typically, the third party’s insurance carrier handles all communications with you (or your personal injury lawyer) about the accident and the claim. This helps keep things from getting too emotional, personal or unfair.
As for the third party, his or her insurance company usually does not keep him or her advised about day to day progress in the case. Therefore, the person or company who caused your injury is probably going on with their daily lives, hoping the case will be easily settled by the insurance company with little or no involvement on their part.
The third party usually doesn’t get “dragged into” the case unless and until their insurance company is unreasonable and fails to make a reasonable settlement offer to resolve your injury claim. In that instance, you and your injury attorney will have to file a lawsuit naming the third party.(See here for more information about how even when you file a lawsuit, you aren’t actually going after the third party personally for money. Their insurance company almost always covers any settlement or judgment you receive as compensation in your case.)
What happens to the person who caused my injury if the case does not settle?
If the case does not settle (your personal injury attorney cannot negotiate a payment amount that is acceptable for you to walk away from the case), your case will proceed to litigation (you have to file a lawsuit). The insurance carrier will contact the third party to let him or her know a settlement didn’t happen and the case is proceeding to litigation. The third party will have to be personally served (handed in-person) with the lawsuit filed by your personal injury attorney.
However, the third party can simply notify his or her insurance carrier that he or she received the lawsuit and then the insurance company will assign an attorney (paid for by the insurance company) to defend and represent the third party in the lawsuit. The third party will be required to participate in the litigation process and will be required to cooperate with the insurance company’s attorney. However, you can still expect that the involvement of the third party will be much less than your own involvement in your case.
You and your accident attorney are required to prove your case. The third party (called the “defendant” once the lawsuit is filed) only has to essentially “poke holes” in your case in an effort to pay you less than the case is worth.
Remember, the insurance company’s job is to pay as little as possible to save the company money. One way they do this is to make low offers to people injured in bicycle, motorcycle, pedestrian and auto accident cases. Another way they do this is by “penalizing” their insureds (by raising their insurance premiums) for causing accidents. Because nobody wants their insurance premiums to increase, there is a very big incentive for people to lie or “bend” the truth about how the accident occurred. If they can convince their insurance carrier (and the injured party’s attorney) that they didn’t cause the accident, they might not get hit with a “bump” in their insurance costs. It is really sad, but sometimes the third party will apologize to you at the scene of the accident and admit to causing the accident to the reporting officer at the scene. However, once they speak to their insurance carrier after the accident and find out that their insurance costs are going to go up as a result of them causing an accident, they change their story and deny liability for the accident. I see this all too often. It is certainly a flaw in the insurance system, but I suppose it also makes sense that people who cause accidents should have to pay more for insurance.
Can I contact the person or persons who are responsible for my injuries?
You should not contact the third party! Such contact could jeopardize settlement of your case. Any statement you make, even an innocent comment or questions, could be used against you, misinterpreted or twisted and manipulated. It is not appropriate for you to contact the third party, even if they have not told the truth about accident and you want to reason with them to get the truth. You need to leave such communications to your personal injury lawyer and the third party’s insurance company and their attorney.
So, the bottom line is that even though the third party may have caused your very serious, painful and debilitating injuries, they have very little involvement in the insurance claim, and only minimally participate in the litigation process. Filing a claim and or lawsuit is NOT a good vehicle by which to “punish” the third party, but it is the mechanism designed for you to obtain reasonable compensation for the injuries and suffering you have been through as a result of your personal injury accident.
If you have any questions about a particular personal injury case, please submit your case for review by the experienced personal injury lawyers at Sally Morin Law in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland, California.