Following a personal injury, people often know that they have a legal right to compensation, but it can be difficult to know how to proceed. If you have been injured in an accident, you should consult with an attorney to understand your legal rights and options. Filing a claim for compensation is one such option, and knowing when to file is important.
So when should a personal injury claim be filed? The short answer is that you should not file your personal injury claim right away. It takes time to figure out the true value of a case and to investigate who all of the possible responsible parties might be. And even if you have a good case, it is important to consider whether it is worth the time and expense to bring a claim given the defendant’s ability to pay.
If a lawsuit is viable, the most important thing to keep in mind is that statute of limitations for your claim. The statute of limitations establishes a set time period within which a claim must be made or else it will be barred. The statute of limitations for tort claims in Georgia is found in the Official Georgia Code Title 9 Chapter 3 Section 33, which states: “actions for injuries to the person shall be brought within two years after the right of action accrues.” An action “accrues” when a victim knows that they have been injured by the defendant’s conduct. Therefore, in most personal injury cases, the two-year limitations period begins as soon as the accident occurs.
In some cases, a personal injury victim can be fairly compensated by making a claim directly to the insurer of the responsible party. Often, insurance companies will attempt to offer as little as possible to claimants and will take advantage of claimants that do not fully understand the value of their case. It is a good idea to consult with a personal injury attorney before accepting any offer from an insurance company.
If an insurance company rejects a claim or refuses to pay an acceptable amount, or if a responsible party didn’t have insurance to begin with, a personal injury victim’s only option may be to file a lawsuit. It is often possible to negotiate a settlement before filing a lawsuit. A demand letter from an experienced personal injury attorney coupled with effective negotiation can sometimes result in a defendant offering a reasonable settlement before a lawsuit is filed to avoid the expense and risk of trial.
Never Forget About the Statute of Limitations for Georgia Injury Lawsuits
The most important thing for personal injury victims to remember is that they must file their claim before the statute of limitations period expires. Because it takes time to prepare a lawsuit to be filed, personal injury victims should hire an attorney to begin working on their case well in advance of this date. Once the statute of limitations period has expired, a claim is completely barred.
For More Information, Contact Joel Williams Law, LLC, Today
If you have been injured in an accident, Joel Williams Law, LLC, is here to help. Located in Kennesaw, Georgia, Joel Williams Law, LLC, represents personal injury claimants throughout the state of Georgia in all types of personal injury cases, including auto accidents, products liability, premises liability, medical malpractice, and wrongful death cases. To schedule a free consultation, contact Joel Williams Law, LLC, today by calling (404) 389-1035.
In recent years, auto insurance rates have been soaring in Georgia. One reason rates have been going up is that accidents are on the rise in Georgia. Another reason is that there is nothing to stop insurance companies from hiking up rates. Georgia used to regulate auto insurance rates so that insurers could only raise rates when given prior approval from the state to do so.
But in 2008, the Georgia legislature passed a bill deregulating the auto insurance industry. Today, insurance companies in Georgia can raise rates freely when they decide to.
Deregulation was supposed to increase competition and allow free market forces to drive prices down. But this didn’t happen. Instead, auto insurance rates have steadily risen in Georgia each year since. In 2016, Georgia saw the highest increase in personal auto insurance rates in the entire country. Overall, Georgia auto insurance premiums are the twelfth highest in the country.
Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgen has done little to address the rising rates. As a senator in 2008, Hudgen was the chairman of the Georgia Senate Insurance Committee and supported deregulation. His stance against regulating the insurance industry, coupled with the fact that he has accepted large campaign contributions from the insurance companies, has led many to wonder whether he is really looking out for Georgia consumers.
Insurance Companies Say Premiums Reflect Increase in Traffic and Accidents
Commissioner Hudgen and the insurance industry argue that rate hikes simply reflect the increasing risk of car accidents on Georgia roadways. There is pretty good evidence to back this claim up. According to the Georgia Office of Highway Safety, the number of auto crashes increased in Georgia for four consecutive years between 2011 and 2015. There were a record 385,221 accidents in 2015 (data for 2016 is not yet available.) Costs per claim are also on the rise.
Robert Hartwig, a risk management expert, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution “it is certainly not the case that the private passenger auto insurers are earning a rate of return that in some way could be considered excessive or unreasonable.” Whether or not this is the case, the increasing risk of car accidents on Georgia roadways is at least one big reason that rates have been increasing.
Despite Cost, Personal Auto Insurance is Essential for Drivers
Rising insurance rates reflect the growing danger of Georgia roadways. Higher insurance costs also encourage some drivers to go without auto insurance. Uninsured motorists present a big problem for Georgia accident victims.
If you are thinking about driving without insurance to save money, don’t do it. Despite the costs, it is critical to have insurance coverage. Auto insurance is legally required and you can lose your license for driving without insurance. Drivers should also make sure their plan includes uninsured motorist coverage. If you are driving without insurance, it puts you at great risk legally and financially.
For More Information, Contact the Kennesaw Personal Injury Attorneys at Joel Williams Law, LLC
The Kennesaw ,Ga personal injury attorneys at Joel Williams Law, LLC, are dedicated to helping auto accident victims get the compensation they deserve. If you would like more information about this issue, or if you have been in an accident and would like to discuss your case, contact Joel Williams Law, LLC, at (404) 389-1035 today.
It is never fun being in an accident caused by someone else’s negligent driving. Especially when that someone else doesn’t have insurance to cover the damages. Ideally, your car insurance policy includes an uninsured motorist clause providing you with UM coverage.
WHAT IS UM COVERAGE?
Uninsured motorist coverage protects you in the event that you are involved in an accident with a driver that doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay for your damages. The term uninsured motorist thus refers not only to drivers that don’t have any car insurance at all but also to those that are underinsured by their policy to pay for damages caused in the car wreck. Moreover, most policies will also include protection for incidents in which the at-fault motorist flees the scene and cannot be identified.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T HAVE UM COVERAGE AND I GET INTO A WRECK WITH AN UNINSURED MOTORIST?
If you get in an accident with an uninsured motorist and you don’t have UM coverage, you will most likely be stuck with the bill. You can sue the uninsured motorist for damages, but this is rarely worth the effort. The vast majority of uninsured motorists simply won’t have the money to pay you. That’s probably why they didn’t buy a good insurance policy in the first place.
Georgia UM Coverage Law
In years past, UM coverage was very weak in Georgia when it came to wrecks with underinsured motorists. Insurance companies only had to pay UM coverage if the amount of that coverage exceeded the at-fault motorist’s liability coverage. This often meant that people that were in accidents with an underinsured motorist were left with huge bills even though they had UM coverage.
For example, say a person had $50,000 of UM coverage, an accident cost $100,000, and the other motorist only had $50,000 of liability coverage. It would make sense for their UM coverage to kick in and pay the other $50,000. But under the old law, the insurance company wouldn’t pay a dime under the UM policy because the coverage didn’t exceed what the other motorist’s insurance paid.
In 2008, the Georgia legislature vastly improved the law by mandating that insurance companies offer policies that pay the full amount of UM coverage that a person deserves, regardless of the extent of the underinsured motorist’s liability coverage. Under this new type of policy, UM coverage “stacks” on top of any liability coverage paid by the at-fault motorist. Stacking policies are now the default UM coverage option, but people can opt-out in writing and take a traditional policy if they choose to.
If You Would Like More Information, Contact Joel Williams Law
Joel Williams Law highly recommends that drivers have UM coverage that “stacks” onto any liability coverage of an underinsured motorist. Having no UM coverage, or even having traditional UM coverage, leaves you vulnerable to huge costs if you get into a wreck with an uninsured motorist. Considering how affordable UM coverage is, it simply isn’t worth the risk. If you would like more information, or if you have been in an accident with an uninsured motorist and would like to better understand your options, call Joel Williams Law at (404) 389-1035.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Georgia
Every driver in the state of Georgia is required to carry minimal amounts of liability automobile insurance. This requirement ensures that coverage will apply if there is an accident that causes bodily injury or property damage. In Georgia, you look to the other driver’s insurance company to help you deal with your losses associated with the crash.
What happens if the at-fault driver does not have auto insurance or does not have enough coverage to address your injuries fully? Thankfully, there are coverage options in Georgia to help you deal with these situations. Underinsured motorist coverage addresses problems associated with having substantial losses, but there is typically not enough insurance coverage to completely compensate you.
Minimum Amounts of Insurance Coverage in Georgia
Drivers are required to carry certain types of insurance with a minimum dollar amount of coverage. The coverage includes:
- $25,000 per individual for injuries to the body
- $50,000 per accident for injuries to the body
- $25,000 per accident for property damage
In serious accidents, these coverage amounts may dissipate quickly. Medical bills can easily climb above these limits when victims must use ambulance services and emergency care. Individuals can elect to carry more coverage, but people often do not. In fact, approximately 10% of Georgia drivers do not have insurance at all.
Underinsured and Uninsured Coverage Options
Insurance companies that operate in Georgia are required to offer you uninsured and underinsured (UM/UIM) purchase options. In fact, it is often part of your overarching insurance policy. In many situations, you may have this type of coverage without realizing it. This is because you often must reject these coverage options in writing to remove them from your insurance policy. Check the declarations page of your insurance policy to determine whether you have this type of coverage.
If your policy includes underinsured or uninsured benefits, it will often apply to your spouse and children or stepchildren residing in your household. It will also usually cover anyone who is using your vehicle with your consent and passengers riding in your insured vehicle. However, these general rules may not apply to your specific situation, so it is important to review your policy language to determine the extent of your coverage after an automobile collision.
Add-on and Difference in Limits Underinsurance Coverage
There are two types of underinsured policies in Georgia. The first is called “difference in limits”. In this more traditional kind of policy, the amount of coverage available to you through your underinsurance coverage may not be as straightforward as you might think. Your underinsurance coverage will only apply to the extent of your policy, regardless of how much the at-fault driver has paid. For example, imagine you have an underinsurance policy of $100,000. The at-fault driver has $25,000 in bodily injury coverage. You would take your total amount of coverage and subtract the at-fault driver’s coverage, so you will only be able to receive $75,000 from your insurance company for underinsurance benefits. Under this type of coverage, you never receive more in total than your underinsurance coverage provides.
“Add-on” policies, on the other hand, disregard the other driver’s insurance coverage and add on any coverage for your policy to the other driver’s policy. In the above example, you would have a total of $125,000 in coverage–$25,000 from the other driver and $100,000 from your insurance policy.
Determining how to interpret your insurance policy or which coverage you should get can be tricky. If you have questions about your insurance or if you are having trouble dealing with an insurance company after an accident, call the car accident attorneys at Joel Williams Law, LLC for help at 404-389-1035.
Insurance in Medical Malpractice Cases
A patient goes to a doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells the patient that he or she needs a certain medical procedure. The doctor counsels the patient and provides various reading material about the procedure. The patient decides to undergo the procedure and signs numerous waivers stating that he or she understands the nature of the procedure and the risk involved.
Shortly after the completion of the procedure, the patient feels that something is wrong. The patient speaks to a medical malpractice lawyer who files a suit against the doctor and the doctor’s insurance company; claiming negligence. In addition, the patient obtains an affidavit from another medical professional who states that the procedure was performed incorrectly and is the cause of the patient’s current problems.
As the case moves into the discovery stage and eventually into trial, the doctor generally has little involvement in the case. Instead, the doctor’s insurance company becomes the primary entity calling the shots. The attorney hired by the doctor’s malpractice insurance company handles the case. This is due to the relationship between the doctor and the insurance company.
For medical malpractice suits that involve insurance companies, it is imperative to perform independent research. Often, insurance companies claim that there is no cause of action. It supports this claim by hiring other medical professionals to say that the doctor did nothing wrong. This is sometimes persuasive to a jury even though the hired doctor is being paid to give his or her testimony. Therefore, it is best to independently evaluate the merits of a case.
Under the Georgia rules of Professional Responsibility, the client makes the decision whether to settle or continue court action. While the lawyer can advise the client regarding what the lawyer believes is the best path for the client, it is ultimately a client decision. During a medical malpractice suit, the party making the decision to settle or continue court action is usually the insurance company. However, some malpractice policies allow the doctor discretion to reject a settlement even if his insurer and attorney recommend otherwise.
Note that the relationship between the doctor and insurance company has a significant impact as to how the parties handle settlements. Insurance contracts between doctors and insurance companies usually have a cap. That is, there is a dollar limit that an insurance company is obliged to pay. The insurance company has no more liability beyond that dollar amount unless it acts in bad faith by refusing to settle and protect the doctor (its insured) from an excess judgement.
For instance, the contract states that the insurance company is only liable up until $2 million per lawsuit. If the patient offers to settle the case for $2 million, the insurance company may reject that offer because it would not have the incentive to settle (i.e. that is the most it could lose in most scenarios). If the case goes to trial and the jury awards the patient more than $2 million, the insurance company would only be liable for $2 million. If the jury awards less, the insurance company would pay less to the patient. As such, when negotiating with an insurance company in a medical malpractice case, it is important to understand the contractual nuances governing the agreement between the doctor and the insurance company. The patient can determine this information by gaining access to the contract during the discovery phase of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Contact Attorney Joel Williams if you are a Victim of Medical Malpractice
If you are a victim of medical malpractice, contact the personal injury law firm of Joel Williams, a Kennesaw, Georgia lawyer who fights for injury victims. If you have questions or would like to discuss your case, please call our office today at 404-389-1035 for a free consultation.
An Insurance Company May Not Gamble With Its Insured’s Funds
“[W]here a person injured by the insured offers to settle for a sum within the policy limits, and the insurer refuses the offer of settlement, the insurer may be liable to the insured to pay the verdict rendered against the insured even though the verdict exceeds the policy limits. The reason for this rule is that the insurer may not gamble with the funds of its insured by refusing to settle within the policy limits.” McCall v. Allstate Ins. Co., 251 Ga. 869, 870 (1984) (internal citations omitted). Stated another way, “As the champion of the insured, [the insurer] must consider as paramount his interest, rather than its own, and may not gamble with his funds.” United States Fidelity & Guar. Co. v. Evans, 116 Ga. App. 93, 95 (1967), aff’d., 223 Ga. 789 (1967).
This is often referred to as the “equal consideration” rule. The Georgia Supreme Court described the “equal consideration rule” as follows: “In deciding whether to settle a claim within the policy limits, the insurance company must give equal consideration to the interests of the insured. The jury must decide whether the insurer, in view of the existing circumstances, has accorded the insured “the same faithful consideration it gives its own interest.” Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267, 268-69 (1992) (internal citations omitted).
Insurance Companies May Be Liable For An Excess Verdict
In the event of an excess verdict, an insured may recover for the insurer’s failure to settle within policy limits if the insurer (1) failed to give equal consideration to the interests of the insured; (2) failed to accord its insured the same faithful consideration it accords its own interest; (3) refused to settle because of an arbitrary or capricious belief that the insured was not liable; or (4) capriciously refused to entertain a settlement offer with no regard given to the position of the insured. See Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267 (1992); United States Fidelity & Guar. Co. v. Evans, 116 Ga. App. 93, 95 (1967); Cotton States Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fields, 106 Ga. App. 740, 741 (1962).
Georgia law has recognized several categories of available tort damages when an insurer refuses in bad faith to settle a claim for an amount within the available policy limits: (1) special damages; (2) general damages; (3) punitive damages; and (4) attorney fees. Smoot v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 381 F.2d 331, 341 (5th Cir. 1967) (“Smoot III”). Special damages involve the judgment against the insured when the insurer refused to settle within the policy limits. General damages are of the type typically found in tort cases and caused by the insurer’s negligence or bad faith. For example, in Smoot III, the excess judgment caused a foreclosure and ruined the insured’s credit. Other general damages may include exposure to post-judgment discovery and collection efforts, damage to reputation or business interests caused by a judgment of record, and mental and psychological injury. In certain cases, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees may be awarded against the insurer who refuses to settle within the available policy limits. O.C.G.A. §§ 51-12-5.1 and 13-6-11.
The most common failure to settle within policy limits involves the insurer’s rejection of a time-limited offer of settlement (commonly referred to as a Holt demand). In Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, the Georgia Supreme Court specifically mentioned three factors the insurer must consider in deciding whether to accept a settlement offer: (1) the strength of the liability case against the insured, (2) the risk to the insured of a judgment in excess of the policy limits, and (3) damages to which the claimant may be entitled under applicable tort law. Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267 (1992).
If your insurance company refused to settle a case against you when it had the chance to do so and an excess verdict was rendered against you, call Attorney Joel Williams for a free consultation. You may be able to successfully sue your insurance company and preserve your personal assets.
Top 10 Mistakes Attorneys Make in Car Wreck CasesMany attorneys handle car wreck cases but too many do it poorly. If you are an attorney, please don’t make these mistakes. If you are a car wreck victim, make sure your attorney is not making any of these mistakes. The most common mistakes I see are:
1. Failing to Notify All UM Carriers About the Wreck:In Georgia, car wreck victims must promptly notify their own insurance company about the wreck to preserve their right to bring an underinsured motorist claim. Many attorneys fail to do this which can lead to the denial of benefits to their clients.
2. Failing to Identify All Sources of Insurance:Many attorneys fail to identify all sources of insurance that may cover their client’s damages. For example, UM coverage may be available if the injured party lives with a “resident relative” who has UM coverage under a separate policy of insurance. Many attorneys do not know about this and fail to access this coverage. In cases where the at-fault party does not have enough insurance to cover the damages, this can be a catastrophic error. All “umbrella” or “excess” coverage must also be identified. In serious injury cases, it is vitally important to verify whether the at-fault party has “umbrella” or “excess” coverage over and beyond what may be available on the primary policy.
3. Failing to Settle a Case Pursuant to a Limited Liability Release:O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1 allows a claimant to release the at-fault party from personal liability in exchange for payment of his or her insurance limits, except to the extent there is other liability coverage or underinsured motorist coverage available. If the claimant signs a general release (as opposed to a limited liability release), the claim is finished and the claimant will not be able to recover from any other available liability coverage or from his or her own underinsured motorist carrier.
4. Failing to Visit the Scene of a Wreck:Many attorneys blindly rely on the diagram that is included with most police reports to visualize the scene of a wreck. This is usually due to the attorney either being too lazy to visit the scene or being overworked. Scene visits can often reveal information about a wreck that is not obtainable from a police report. For example, lighting conditions and other variables that could obstruct a driver’s vision may not be recorded by the investigating police officer. Roadway evidence such as skid marks or gouges in the pavement may be found which can become critical evidence in cases where liability is disputed.
5. Failing to Send Evidence Preservation Letters:In every case, the claimant’s attorney should send letters to any potentially liable party and their insurer demanding that all evidence be preserved for inspection. The attorney should then inspect and document all evidence that may otherwise be destroyed. For example, in car wreck cases, insurance companies routinely sell “totaled” cars for salvage after their adjusters have inspected and documented the vehicle damage. If the injured party, or their attorney, hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to inspect and document the vehicles, they will be forced to rely the insurance company’s inspection. Obviously, this is a bad idea and should be avoided at all cost.
6. Failing to Prepare the Case for Trial:After a car or tractor-trailer wreck, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will immediately begin its investigation with one goal in mind: to minimize any payout to you. Insurance companies know which attorneys will take a case to trial and which attorneys will simply settle cases for whatever they can get. Attorneys that prepare cases for trial consistently obtain larger settlements for their clients than those who simply accept the insurance company’s “take it or leave it” settlement offer.
7. Settling Cases without Knowing the Full Extent of Damages:Unfortunately, many attorneys settle cases before their clients are finished with their medical treatment. I have never understood this. Many times, car wreck victims must undergo several different kinds of conservative procedures like physical therapy or injections before they know whether they are a candidate for surgery. If the case is settled without accounting for the tremendous costs associated with a surgery, the injured client is left to pay the surgical bills on their own. Do not let your attorney settle your case until you have a firm grasp on your diagnosis, prognosis, and future treatment plan.
8. Failing to Gather All Data Available from Public Agencies:Many times there is much more information and documentation available from public agencies than the police report. For example, in wrecks resulting in death or serious injury the Georgia State Patrol will often dispatch its Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team “SCRT” to thoroughly investigate and reconstruct the wreck. Other items such as 911 calls, dash cam videos, body cam videos, and CAD reports are available. Attorneys should always obtain every piece of publicly available information related to every car wreck case.
9. Failing to Interview Every Witness:Some cases seem so clear cut that attorneys fail to interview all potential witnesses. Imagine a collision where the claimant is rear ended by another driver at a stop light. Seems pretty straight forward right? What if a witness spoke to the at-fault driver and smelled alcohol on his breath but the attorney never spoke to this witness? What if the at-fault driver got out of his car and told a witness that he was messing with his phone and didn’t see the car he hit? Make sure your attorney is contacting all witnesses! You can be sure the insurance companies will.
10. Failing to Identify any Defective Products:Automobile manufacturers are routinely issuing recalls for defects in their automobiles. These dangerous automobiles may have defective seat belts, airbags, brakes, seatbacks, roofs, gas tanks, sudden acceleration, steering mechanisms and many other dangerous components. If these defects are not investigated or recognized in catastrophic personal injury cases, the automaker will not be held accountable for putting lives at risk. Make sure your attorney has looked into whether any defective vehicle component contributed to or exacerbated the injuries you sustained in any catastrophic car wreck case.
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage? Uninsured motorist coverage is sometimes referred to as “insurance against lack of insurance.” For example, imagine you are injured in a wreck and your damages are $100,000. What if the at-fault driver only has $25,000 of liability coverage? What about the other $75,000? If you purchased enough uninsured motorist coverage from your automobile insurer, you can look to your own insurance company to make up the difference.
So how does this work in Georgia? For automobile insurance policies issued, delivered or renewed on or after January 1, 2009, the insurer must offer the insured “added on” or “reduced” underinsured motorist coverage. Georgia law does not require an owner of a vehicle to purchase uninsured motorist coverage but it does require the insurance company to offer the coverage. What is the difference in “added on” or “reduced” coverage?
“Added on” coverage provides coverage over and beyond the at-fault driver’s coverage. For example, suppose you are injured by a negligent driver who only has $25,000 of liability coverage. Further assume that you purchased “added on” uninsured motorist coverage with limits of $25,000 and your damages are $50,000? In this situation, there is enough available insurance to cover your damages! The at-fault driver’s insurance would pay the $25,000 of liability limits for the at-fault driver and your own insurance company would pay the remaining $25,000 for a total of $50,000.
What about “reduced” uninsured motorist coverage? Consider the same situation discussed in the preceding paragraph but assume you purchased “reduced” uninsured motorist coverage with limits of $25,000. Here, your UM coverage is worthless. Your insurance company, the uninsured motorist insurance company, would pay nothing because the amount of coverage available under your uninsured motorist policy would be reduced by the amount of coverage available from the at-fault driver’s liability policy. In other words, your $25,000 UM limits is reduced by the $25,000 available from the at-fault driver’s liability policy. Therefore, you would recover $25,000 from the at-fault party’s liability carrier and $0 from your insurance carrier.
The lesson here is simple: Always purchase “added on” uninsured motorist coverage.