Austin Car Accident Lawyer
For most people, driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day. Many drivers are distracted, exhausted, impatient, or just reckless. While the statistics are staggering, it’s no wonder there were over 550,000 reported car crashes in Texas in 2016. Many people who are injured in car crashes have never been involved in crash before. However, even car crash injury victims who have been involved in prior crashes often emerge confused and unaware of their basic rights.
In Texas, a car crash victim who is injured by the carelessness of another driver has the right to seek compensation for the losses they sustain. However, the law is full of complexities and ambiguities. Car crash injury victims often believe it is easy to handle their case on their own. They believe the insurance companies will treat them fairly, and adequately compensate them for their losses. However, especially for car crash injury victims who have sustained a permanent injury (whether they know it or not), obtaining full compensation can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It is not enough for a car crash injury victim to simply get some basic medical care the submit their bills for reimbursement. Nor is it a good idea to let an insurance company convince the car crash injury victim to settle the case early, before the victim has had the chance to fully understand the extent of the injury and the future implications thereof. The purpose of this page is to provide a car crash injury victim some basic guidance in order to help determine whether they should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss their options.
Starting immediately after the crash, the car crash injury victim is faced with many decisions they are often not in the right state of mind to make alone. Should the victim call the police? Which insurance company or companies should the car crash injury victim contact? Should the victim go to the hospital? Should the injury victim seek medical care? Should the injury victim use their health insurance? How should the injury victim get medical care if the victim does not have health insurance? Which insurance company should the car crash file a claim with? Truth is, there are not simple answers to all these questions, since every single case is different. However, how the car crash injury victim chooses to answer these questions can make a substantial difference in how fairly the victim is compensated for their injuries.
In Texas, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is saddled with rights and responsibilities when their insured has injured somebody in a car crash. There are typically two main types of insurance coverage that the car crash injury victim should be made aware of: Property Damage Liability and Bodily Injury Liability.
When a driver carelessly crashes into someone, their insurance coverage will pay for any damage done to the car crash injury victim’s personal property in the car crash. In Texas, drivers are required to carry at least $25,000 in coverage to pay for property they destroy. Usually, a car crash injury victim can recover money for up to four types of property damage compensation: 1) repair or replacement of the damaged vehicle; 2) repair or replacement of any other property that was damaged in the car crash; 3) loss of use of the vehicle; and 4) diminished value of the vehicle.
Whether the careless driver’s insurance will pay to repair or replace a car crash injury victim’s vehicle depends on whether the vehicle is a total loss. Under Texas Law, a vehicle is required to be deemed a total loss when the cost of repairing the damage exceeds the value of the vehicle immediately before the damage. However, some insurance companies will deem a vehicle to be “totaled,” even when the repairs would cost less than the value of the vehicle, under other circumstances, such as if the vehicle could not be repaired safely.
If the car crash injury victim’s vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company is required to pay the car crash injury victim the actual cash value of the vehicle as it existed immediately prior to the damage. The actual cash value will be based, in part, on factors such as the vehicle’s age, condition, mileage, and upgrades. In addition, the careless driver’s insurance company will pay for additional tax, title and registration costs that the car crash injury victim will incur when they purchase a new vehicle.
If the car crash injury victim’s vehicle is not a total loss, the insurance company is required to pay for repairs to the vehicle. Under the Texas Department of Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights, the car crash injury victim has, with some limitation, the right to choose the repair shop and replacement parts for their vehicle.
In the event damage was caused to the car crash injury victim’s personal property other than the vehicle itself, the careless driver’s insurance company is also obligated to repair or replace that property. Common examples of damaged property include child seats (which must be replaced in the event of a car crash), eyeglasses, cell phones, and computers. To get reimbursed for damage to the car crash injury victim’s personal property, the victim must present evidence of the cost of repair or replacement of the property. This is typically done by taking the personal property to a retailer or repair shop and obtaining a repair or replacement estimate.
Whether the car crash injury victim’s motor vehicle was a total loss or can be repaired, the careless driver’s insurance company is required to pay the victim for the value of the victim’s inability to use their motor vehicle. The law in Texas is murky on what exactly this means for the car crash injury victim, but this typically requires the careless driver’s insurance company to pay for the victim’s rental car.
In the event the car crash injury victim’s vehicle is repaired, the vehicle is often worth less money on the fair market after a car crash than it was prior to the car crash. This is because of reporting services such as CarFax, where prospective buyers of the vehicle and auto dealers are able to learn about past damage to the vehicle, and because of the stigma attached to vehicles that have been crashed and repaired. Diminished value means the difference in the fair market value of the vehicle as it was immediately prior to the crash and the fair market value of the vehicle after it has been repaired. Proving diminished value can be difficult, and often requires the car crash victim to employ a third-party adjuster to provide an opinion on the change in the vehicle’s value.
A careless driver’s insurance company is also responsible for paying for any bodily injury caused to a car crash injury victim because of the crash. Texas drivers are required to carry a minimum of $30,000 worth of insurance to pay for injuries caused to any one car crash injury victim, and $60,000 worth of insurance to pay for all the injuries caused to all victims of the crash. In other words, if there are two or more victims in one car crash (not counting the careless driver), each car crash injury victim has at least a $30,000 pool of money to seek compensation from. However, there might only be $60,000 available to pay for all the bodily injury done to all the car crash injury victims. Of course, it is common for a careless driver to maintain bodily injury liability coverage that exceeds Texas’ $30k/$60k minimum coverage requirements. The categories of damages a careless driver’s insurance company might be required to pay to compensate a car crash injury victim for their bodily injuries include: 1) compensatory damages; and 2) punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are typically composed of two sub-categories: 1) economic damages; and 2) non-economic damages. Compensatory damages include compensation for losses the car crash injury victim has sustained up to the point of settlement or trial, as well as any losses the victim will likely sustain in the future. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are a monetary civil penalty designed to punish a reckless driver for their egregious conduct. While compensatory damages are generally not capped in Texas, punitive damages are. For a very thorough discussion on the types of damages available in most personal injury cases, and methods of proving those damages, please see our page on Personal Injury Damages.
Even if the car crash is caused by the carelessness of another, a car crash injury victim’s own auto insurance might play a very important role in the victim’s case. When a car crash injury victim files a claim on their own insurance following a crash, this is called a “first-party” claim. There are four common types of first-party insurance coverages a car crash injury victim might utilize through their own auto insurance: 1) Collision coverage; 2) Un-insured or Under-insured Motorist coverage; 3) Personal Injury Protection coverage; and 4) Medical Payments Coverage.
When a car crash injury victim’s vehicle is damaged by a careless driver, the victim can also seek to have their vehicle repaired or replaced by their own auto insurance carrier. Collision coverage functions very similarly to the careless driver’s Property Damage Liability coverage, since the car crash injury victim’s own auto insurance company is required to pay to either repair or replace the vehicle depending on whether the vehicle is a total loss. Similarly, if the car crash injury victim maintains additional Rental Car Reimbursement coverage, their own auto insurance company will be required to place the victim in a rental car for some period of time that is defined by the insurance policy. The car crash injury victim can also seek payment of the diminished value of their vehicle from their own auto insurance carrier.
Whether a car crash injury victim should use their own auto insurance policy or rely on the careless driver’s auto insurance policy really depends on the circumstances of each case, as there are pros and cons with each. For example, the careless driver’s insurance company will not automatically accept responsibility for their insured’s conduct, and will often investigate the facts of the case before offering to pay any damages to the car crash injury victim. This can cause significant delays in getting the vehicle repaired or replaced, as well as delays in placing the car crash injury victim into a rental car. Additionally, the careless driver’s insurance company will often request the car crash injury victim provide a recorded statement of how the crash happened. This is generally a bad idea, as this statement can later be used by the insurance company against the car crash injury victim.
On the other hand, some car crash injury victims do not carry collision coverage or rental reimbursement coverage. In these circumstances, the injury victim has no choice but to rely on the careless driver’s insurance company to handle the property damage claim.
Additionally, even if the car crash injury victim has collision coverage, the victim will often have to pay a deductible to get the claim processed (though this is often reimbursed later), and can, in some cases, see an increase in their premiums after filing a claim.
Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist Coverage, generally called UIM, is a first-party coverage designed to protect a car crash injury victim in the event they are injured by a careless driver who does not have enough liability insurance coverage to pay for all the damage caused. Essentially, if a car crash injury victim has purchased UIM coverage, they have purchased some amount of coverage that stacks on top of whatever liability coverage the careless driver has purchased. Since Texas only requires drivers to maintain $25,000 in property damage liability coverage and $30,000/$60,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, buying UIM coverage (as much as one can afford) is a very good idea.
Like the carless driver’s bodily injury liability coverage, the car crash injury victim’s UIM coverage will pay for the victim’s compensatory damages that exceed the careless driver’s liability coverage. In other words, if a car crash injury victims sustains $50,000 worth of compensatory damages in a car crash, and the careless driver only maintained a $30,000 bodily injury liability policy, the victim’s UIM insurance should pay the $20,000 difference. Similarly, if the car crash victim sustains $50,000 worth of property damage, and the careless driver only maintained a $25,000 property damage liability policy, the victim’s UIM insurance should pay the $25,000 difference.
UIM insurance is most often used in cases where the car crash injury victim has sustained a severe or permanent injury, and the careless driver does not have sufficient insurance coverage to pay for the damage. Additionally, UIM insurance can be important in car crashes involving multiple victims, where the careless driver does not have enough insurance to go around. Finally, UIM insurance can be very important when the car crash injury victim is hurt by a careless driver who does not have insurance, or flees the scene and cannot be identified.
Personal Injury Protection Coverage, referred to as PIP, and Medical Payments Coverage, referred to as MedPay, are types of “no-fault” insurance. This means the car crash injury victim’s auto insurance is required to pay PIP or MedPay benefits even if the victim caused the crash. It is best to think of PIP and MedPay insurance as a trust fund the car crash injury victim can utilize to pay their medical bills and offset their lost earnings after a car crash, though a car crash injury victim who has MedPay, rather than PIP, can only seek payment of their medical bills. Access to PIP and MedPay funds is supposed to be quick and stress-free, though this is often not the case. PIP and MedPay insurance are generally sold as $2,500, $5,000, or $10,000 policies, though sometimes even higher. A car crash injury victim who has PIP or MedPay insurance can file a claim for payment of funds even when they are a passenger in another vehicle. Also, all passengers in a car crash injury victim’s car can seek payment under the victim’s PIP or MedPay policy.
The main differences between PIP and MedPay are important to understand. First, as previously noted, MedPay will not help a car crash injury victim with lost earnings after a crash, while PIP will. Second, the car crash injury victim’s insurance has “subrogation rights,” or the right to be paid back, with MedPay coverage, but not with PIP. This is important when the car crash injury victim was injured by the careless of another, and the victim is able to obtain compensation from the careless driver’s insurance. In that case, if the car crash injury victim has received MedPay payments for medical bills, the victim might have to reimburse their auto insurance carrier for those payments that have been received.
As discussed previously, the law in Texas relating to car crash injury victims is complex and confusion. While not every case requires an attorney, it makes sense for a car crash injury victim to consider calling a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a car crash in order to discuss the particular facts of their case and become educated on various strategies that might be employed in the car crash injury victim’s particular circumstances. A good personal injury lawyer will take the time to consult with you with no pressure to make an immediate decision, and without charging you any money for the consultation. While many car crash injury victims might be skeptical of contacting a lawyer after a crash, if the victim chooses to consult with a good, reputable car crash injury lawyer, the victim stands to lose nothing and gain a bunch. While this is true in any case, this is particularly true when the car crash injury victim has any concerns that the injury they have sustained might be permanent or long-term in nature.