No matter how serious, a vehicle accident can not only be startling and disorienting. Familiarize yourself with the answers below before getting into an accident.
What are the first steps I should take if I am in a car accident?
The steps you take immediately after a car accident can have a great impact on your recovery from injuries as well as on your potential recovery of compensation for your losses.
If you have been in an automobile accident, you should first call 911 to seek emergency medical attention for yourself and anyone else who has been injured. If you are not immediately transported by EMS, you should take the following steps if possible:
- Get the other driver’s information including driver’s name, address, phone number, license number and insurance information.
- Get the names and contact information of witnesses. Often, other motorists or pedestrians will stay at the accident scene and leave once police or emergency responders arrive. Get their information quickly, if possible.
- Take photos. Use your phone or camera to photograph the damage to your car and the other driver’s car, debris, skid marks, your injuries, etc. Get a wider shot that shows where the accident happened (for example, an intersection, showing the stop sign or stop lights), and photograph any environmental factors that may have contributed to the accident, such as an obstructed view, road construction or standing water.
- Get the police report. Cooperate with the responding officer, but don’t admit any fault for the accident. Get the officer’s name and the police report number. You should be able to get a copy of this report within one or two days after the accident, and it may serve as primary evidence for your claim.
- See a doctor. Even if you do not need emergency care, see a doctor soon after a car accident. Some injuries do not cause symptoms until 24 hours or more after the initial trauma. In addition, undergoing a medical exam begins to document any injury you do have, in case you have a legal claim.
- Be wary of insurers. Insurance companies may contact car accident victims shortly after an accident occurs. They may offer a fast settlement, but it will invariably be less than you deserve. You should avoid speaking to any insurance representative until you have consulted an experienced Texas car accident attorney.
Can I sue the driver who hit my car if I think he was talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident?
Talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel of a car is a common form of distracted driving. It is a type of negligent – even reckless – driving that may be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
A driver who has caused a car accident by engaging in distracted behavior may be held accountable for the harm he or she has done. A distracted driving personal injury lawsuit may seek compensation for an injured party’s medical expenses, property damage, lost income, pain and suffering, and more. This applies to any form of distracted driving that leads to an accident, not just using a cell phone.
Personal injury lawsuits may seek compensation for those who have been injured in accidents caused by other forms of negligent driving, including but not limited to:
- Aggressive driving: Speeding, making dangerous passes or turns, and flying through red lights, stop signs or yield signs.
- Drunk driving: If a driver causes an accident while having a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, it is legally considered negligence per se (in or of itself). Liability may also be established if the driver is impaired by drugs, including controlled substances or prescription medication.
- Drowsy driving: Driving while fatigued or sleepy causes poor concentration and slowed reaction times, which may lead to following too closely, weaving between lanes and failing to brake when necessary. Drowsy driving causes thousands of car accidents in Texas every year.
Personal injury lawsuits over car accidents must prove the driver’s negligence and that his or her negligence led to the plaintiff’s injuries. This requires the work of experienced investigators to gather evidence and develop a strong and persuasive case.
Can I recover compensation from a driver who hit me while he was working and driving a company car?
Yes, you may be able to obtain compensation through auto insurance that covers the at-fault driver. This may be a policy the driver holds and/or one that their employer holds.
The doctrine that would apply to this situation is known as “vicarious liability.” This means that the negligent driver who hit you may be held liable, and his employer also may be liable if the accident occurred during the course and scope of his employment. Additionally, if the driver’s employer either failed to investigate the driver’s record or knew that he had a history of accidents when it hired him, the employer may be held directly liable for its negligence.
Third-party cases like one based on vicarious liability can be complex, and a negligent driver’s employer may be a company with deep resources that will hotly contest your personal injury or wrongful death claim. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced Texas car accident attorney who knows how to develop these cases and seek all potential sources of compensation.
What should I do if the negligent driver who struck my car doesn’t have enough insurance to pay for my damages?
Usually, if you are in a car accident that is the other driver’s fault, you rely on the at-fault driver’s liability insurance for compensation to assist you with injuries and damage to your vehicle. Unfortunately, many Texas drivers either don’t have liability insurance coverage or have just the minimum required to register their car. You may have insurance of your own to fill the gap or there may be other means
The current minimum auto liability limits in Texas are $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. This basic coverage is called 30/60/25 coverage.
Because even a minor car accident can result in expensive medical treatment and costly car repairs, it is likely that a car accident will end up exceeding those minimum limits.
You may have uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM / UIM) coverage. It is intended to pay your expenses from an accident caused by an uninsured motorist, a motorist who did not have enough insurance, or a hit-and-run driver who is not caught. It also pays for personal property that was damaged in your car.
You might also have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage or medical payments coverage, which each pay medical expenses, but are both optional.
Insurance companies must offer UM/UIM and PIP coverage in Texas, and if they are rejected the car owner must decline the coverage in writing.
In some cases, an investigation will show that a third party may be held liable in a car accident, such as a local government or contractor responsible for poor road conditions, or a manufacturer responsible for an automotive defect.
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. The more claims they pay out, the more it hurts their bottom line. So, even if you have been paying UM / UIM or PIP premiums for years, your insurance company may try to deny your claim or pay only a partial amount.
As car accident attorneys, we pursue auto insurance claims in Texas on behalf of our clients. In most cases, by thoroughly documenting our client’s losses, we can obtain a settlement through negotiations, but we are always ready to go to court if necessary.
What if I am partially to blame for causing a car crash?
If your negligence contributed to a car accident, Texas law says the amount of blame you bear can be counted against the compensation you are awarded for your losses. Having a car accident attorney at your side during a claim keeps attorneys for the at-fault driver from exaggerating your role in the accident.
Several years ago, Texas adopted a comparative responsibility rule for personal injury claims. The concept is also known as “proportionate responsibility” and “comparative negligence.” Under this rule, the actions of both drivers in a collision are weighed to decide how much negligence on the part of either driver contributed to the accident.
For instance, if you were in an accident caused by a driver who pulled out in front of you, but you were speeding, you may both be seen as negligent. A jury would consider how much blame for the accident each of you deserved.
If you had $100,000 in damages from your accident but were found to be 30 percent at fault, your recovery would be limited to $70,000. But if you were found to have contributed 51 percent or more of the negligence in an accident, you would be barred from recovering anything.
In Texas car accident cases, it’s common for the at-fault driver’s insurance company to try to shift blame to the victim. We believe the only way to determine the true cause and percentage of fault in an automobile crash is to engage in a thorough investigation that involves the use of technology and highly qualified experts. Once we have analyzed your accident, we can protect your rights to the compensation you deserve.
How much can I expect to recover if I have been in a car accident?
Every automobile accident case involves different parties, facts and circumstances. No two cases are the same, and that means no two recoveries will be the same. Our objective as your attorney is to ensure the compensation you recover meets the costs of your losses since the accident occurred and into the future.
Only after extensive investigation and consultation with experts will we be able to arrive at the final amount to be sought in a claim arising from your car crash.
In most personal injury cases, we would expect to seek compensation (“damages”) for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
In a wrongful death claim, a car accident victim’s family may seek slightly different damages, such as funeral and burial expenses, loss of the care and companionship of a loved one and compensation for their own unique pain and suffering.
To recover, you must have suffered demonstrable losses and be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused your losses. In some cases, punitive damages may be available. These damages are aimed at punishing egregious wrongdoing and deterring future similar misconduct.
It is important that a lawsuit is preceded by a thorough investigation that documents not only the defendant’s liability, but also the full extent of the plaintiff’s losses. For instance, this includes projecting an injury victim’s likely medical recovery and calculating expenses for medical care that will be required down the road. A disabled client’s injuries may require us to work with consultants to develop a full life-care plan.
Similarly, income loss must be projected for an injured client who must take a lesser-paying job or whose career will not progress as it should have because of his or her injury.
What should I do if I don’t think I can afford an attorney?
At Cotton, Castano & Richardson, our goal is to make sure injured and disabled Texans receive the compensation they deserve if they have been in a car accident. Just because you lack money at this point in time shouldn’t mean that you and your family should be denied justice.
We pursue most car accident cases on a contingency-fee basis. This means our fee is contingent on what we recover for you. If we cannot recover money through a claim, you won’t have to pay for our legal services.
This protects you in three ways. First, there is no upfront cost to you for our investigative work, negotiations with insurers and other legal work. Your financial situation will not keep you from pursuing a claim.
Second, our final legal fee will be an agreed-upon percentage of the settlement or court award we obtain for you, plus certain expenses required to process your claim. Because our fee is determined by how much money we recover for you, it gives us an incentive to fully identify all compensation available to you and work as hard as possible to obtain it.
Third, because we are only paid if we recover compensation for you, it assures you that if we have accepted your case we expect to recover money for you. If we don’t believe we can win your case, we will decline to take it and explain why. We won’t fill you with false hopes.
PERSONAL INJURY FAQ’S
Personal injuries can be confusing, but with the right information, you don’t have to feel lost.
What is the difference between a Personal Injury claim and a wrongful death claim?
A Personal Injury claim is a claim that is brought by a victim who has suffered a severe or catastrophic injury, such as paralysis, a neck or back injury or a burn injury, as the result of the negligent or reckless conduct of another person. A Personal Injury claim may arise in a variety of situations, including car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, drunk driving accidents, construction accident or workplace accidents. Compensation may include damages for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
A wrongful death claim may result from the careless conduct of another person in circumstances similar to those described above. However, in contrast to a Personal Injury claim, the right to bring the action lies with the accident victim’s family, such as the victim’s spouse, children or parents. The available damages differ from a Personal Injury claim and may include compensation for funeral expenses, loss of a family member’s care and companionship and emotional suffering.
How will I know if I need an attorney to handle my Personal Injury case?
If you are involved in a vehicle or workplace accident, or if you are harmed by a defective consumer product, you are bound to be confronted with serious and potentially life-changing legal issues. Even when it seems at first you have suffered only minor injuries, those injuries could worsen over time and lead to serious consequences for you. If the accident was caused by the negligence or recklessness of another person or company, then you may be entitled to compensation for the medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering you have incurred. That’s why it’s always important to seek medical treatment first after an accident and then seek the assistance of a qualified Texas Personal Injury attorney who will protect your rights and interests.
Should I talk to the insurance company after my accident?
We know all too well how Texas insurance companies operate. They are a for-profit business, and when they pay claims, it damages their bottom line. That means insurers will often contact accident and injury victims soon after a traumatic event and try to extract a statement or quick, low-value settlement. And even though they have an army of attorneys at their disposal, they will try to convince victims that they don’t need legal representation.
Don’t listen to them or talk to them. Instead, talk to one of the highly qualified Texas Personal Injury attorneys of Cotton, Castano & Richardson.
Can I only recover workers’ compensation if I’ve been in a workplace accident?
Many Texans wrongly believe that they are limited to recovering medical expenses and lost wages through the state’s workers’ compensation system when they are injured in a construction accident or a workplace accident. That’s not always the case.
If you were injured on the job and your employer carries workers’ compensation insurance, then chances are that your exclusive remedy will be a workers’ compensation claim. The advantage of workers’ compensation benefits is that they may be available to you regardless of who caused your accident.
However, under certain circumstances, you may need to file a Personal Injury lawsuit and wrongful death claim to obtain the full amount of compensation that you and your family deserve. This arises where:
- The employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance.
- The accident and injury was caused by an employer’s gross negligence or an intentional act.
- The accident and injury resulted from the negligent or reckless conduct of a third party, such as a work accident that is caused by a defective piece of equipment or machinery.
Also, in some cases, you may be eligible to seek Social Security disability benefits.
For more than 30 years, the attorneys of Cotton, Castano & Richardson have protected the rights and interests of injured and ill Texas workers. If you suffer an injury or become ill because of a workplace accident or condition, we believe it’s important to contact an attorney right away to learn more about your legal options.
How long will I have to file my Personal Injury claim?
Whether you have suffered your injury in a workplace accident, vehicle accident or as the result of a dangerous and defective consumer product, you will have only a limited time in which to take legal action. This is known as the statute of limitations.
Under Texas law, the general rule is that you have two years from the date you were injured or discovered your injury in which to either settle your claim or file a Personal Injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. But there are exceptions:
- If the State is the potential defendant, a Notice of Claim must be given within six months of the injury.
- If a local government entity, such as a city or county, is the potential defendant, then a Notice of Claim must be filed in some cases no later than 30 days after the injury.
For product liability cases, a special rule applies that is called the statute of repose. Under this rule, you must take legal action within 10 years after the product was manufactured and released into the marketplace.
Because of these time limits, it’s important to contact a qualified Personal Injury attorney right away in order to protect your rights and interests. At Cotton, Castano & Richardson, we will make sure your claim is investigated and dealt with in a timely manner. We won’t let a missed deadline cost you and your family the right to recover the compensation you need and deserve.
How much will my claim be worth?
Every case involves different parties, facts and circumstances. No two cases are alike, meaning no two recoveries will be the same. Only after extensive investigation, consultation with experts, negotiation and litigation will we be able to arrive at the final amount of any Personal Injury or wrongful death claim.
However, you should be aware that in most Personal Injury cases, you could be entitled to receive compensation for medical expenses, impairment, disfigurement, lost past and future income and pain and suffering. To recover, you must have suffered those damages and be able to prove them.
In some cases, punitive damages may be available. These damages are aimed at punishing wrongdoers and deterring future similar misconduct by that party and others.
In a wrongful death claim, an accident victim’s family will be entitled to slightly different damages, such as funeral expenses, loss of the care and companionship of a loved one and compensation for their own unique pain and suffering.
A product liability lawsuit also carries with it a different category of damages. In some cases, a party may be eligible to recover attorney fees and treble damages, which are three times the amount of actual damages suffered as the result of a party’s especially egregious misconduct.
What should I do if I don’t think I can afford an attorney?
If you have been injured in a car, truck or motorcycle accident, or if you have suffered an injury at work, you may be frightened and confused about what to do next. Even though you know that you have been harmed by another person’s careless conduct, you may be concerned that you won’t be able to afford an attorney.
At Cotton, Castano & Richardson our primary goal is to make sure injured and disabled Texans receive the benefits and other compensation they rightfully deserve. Just because you lack available funds shouldn’t mean that you and your family are denied justice. That’s why we handle most of our cases on a contingency fee basis. You won’t have to pay for our legal services unless we recover for you.
SSD & SSI FAQ’s
We have prepared a list of answers to questions we often hear from clients about Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income or SSI.
What criteria does Social Security use to determine disability benefits?
Social Security Disability claims evaluators use a step-by-step process to reach a decision about disability claims. They consider the following five factors:
- Are you working? If you are working in 2011 and your earnings average more than $1,000 a month, you generally are not eligible for Disability Social Security.
- Is your disability severe? Your disability must interfere with your basic work-related activities.
- Do you have a recognized medical disability? Some conditions are severe enough that they automatically qualify an applicant for Social Security disability benefits. People with certain conditions, such as pancreatic cancer, acute leukemia and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), may be granted Social Security Disability as soon as the condition is confirmed. If your condition is not on the list of severe medical conditions, Social Security Disability specialists will decide if the condition is of equal severity as a medical condition that is on the list.
- Can you perform the work you did previously? If your disability is severe, but not a listed medical condition, does it prevent you from doing the work you did previously? If your disability does not interfere with your former work, your claim will be denied.
- Can you do other work? Social Security Disability specialists review your medical condition and age and determine if you can adjust to other work. If they determine you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will most likely be approved.
At what point should you apply for Social Security Disability?
You should apply for Social Security Disability benefits as soon as your disability is diagnosed if you expect to be out of work a year or longer. If your SSDI benefits are approved, you will start receiving payments in the sixth month after the disability began. The amount of your benefit is based on your lifetime average earnings.
You will receive Social Security Disability payments as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Specialists in Social Security disability will review your situation periodically to determine whether you still are disabled or if your medical condition has improved.
Can I receive both Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits?
Yes. Supplemental Security Income, sometimes called Social Security Income or SSI, is an additional monthly federal payment that you may receive if you are disabled or blind and have a low income or are aged 65 or older and have a low income and limited resources. Unlike Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income is not based on your work history and past earnings. The benefit is based on financial need. In some cases, your spouse and dependent children will receive benefits in addition to your own.
Can I have a lawyer represent me in applying for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income?
Yes, Social Security Disability claimants with legal representation win their cases more often than those who try to represent themselves. An experienced SSI lawyer may help you present a strong application for Social Security Income payments by gathering medical records and other documents to support your claim. Your lawyer can request reconsideration of an SSI decision if you disagree with it and represent you in a hearing or Appeals Council review. An experienced Austin SSI lawyer can prepare you and your witnesses for the hearing. The Social Security Disability process is complex, so it’s important to select an experienced lawyer who has handled many SSI and SSDI claims.
Your lawyer’s fee is set by the Social Security Administration and is a percentage of the benefits. At Cotton, Castano & Richardson our SSD benefits lawyers work on a contingent fee basis and collect fees only if you obtain benefits.
My doctor says I am disabled, but the Social Security Administration is denying my Social Security Disability benefits. Why?
If your doctor says that you are disabled but you’ve been denied Social Security Disability benefits, it’s important to speak to a knowledgeable Disability Social Security benefits attorney about appealing the decision. A skilled attorney can request a reconsideration of the decision, gather medical evaluations that support your claim and stand up for you at a hearing. If your doctor says you are disabled, don’t take an initial denial of disability benefits by a government bureaucrat as the last word. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer at Cotton, Castano & Richardson can review your case and protect your rights.
How Do I Obtain Social Security Disability?
Workers who have become disabled and are unable to work are entitled to receive Social Security Disability benefits. To collect Social Security Disability benefits or SSDI, you must have paid Social Security taxes and worked for long enough to qualify. And you must prove that you are disabled under the federal definition of the Social Security Disability law with a physical or mental disability that limits your ability to work. Social Security Disability specialists will review your medical records and may ask for an additional medical evaluation. Once approved, disability Social Security payments start six months after the date of your disability.
The process of applying for Social Security Disability is confusing and going it alone can cause delays in receiving disability from Social Security beyond the normal processing time. The Social Security Administration received a record number of 3.1 million initial Social Security Disability applications in 2010 and took an average of 111 days to process a request.
Today, there is a backlog of Social Security Disability applications, and that may increase as applications surge. As experienced SSDI lawyers, we are able to get some Social Security Disability applications fast-tracked or obtain compassionate allowances for applicants with medical conditions such as certain cancers, end -stage kidney failure, pancreatic cancer, and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Waiting six months for a disability decision is not always a realistic option.
It’s normal to have questions about Social Security and Disability. We have prepared a list of frequently asked questions to provide you with general information to get started. It’s also important to talk to a knowledgeable Social Security Disability lawyer about your particular situation. We’re glad to answer your Social Security & Disability questions about the initial application process as well as reconsideration requests and requests for hearings.
The amount of Social Security Disability benefits you receive will depend on your average lifetime earnings, your age and other factors. It is difficult to predict the amount that you will receive in advance without knowing the specifics of your situation.
VETERANS DISABILITY FAQ’s
We have a list of questions and answers to help you navigate through your veterans disability claim.
Who is eligible for Veterans Administration Disability Benefits?
Veterans of the military, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, are entitled to disability compensation for service-connected injuries or illnesses acquired while on active duty or for pre-existing injuries or diseases aggravated by military service.
Certain veterans are eligible for disability compensation based on the presumption that their disability is related to their military service. For example, all veterans who develop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after leaving the military may be eligible for VA disability compensation. Gulf War veterans may receive disability compensation for chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses or chronic multi-symptom illness.
After determining that a veteran’s disability is service-connected, the VA assigns a disabled vet a disability rating based on the level of the disability. Veterans with multiple disabilities receive a composite rating. The amount of benefits depends on the severity of the disability. The monthly disability compensation for veterans ranges from $123 for veterans with a 10 percent disability rating to $2,673 for veterans with a 100 percent disability rating.
Should I get a veteran’s disability lawyer to help me with my initial veterans disability benefits application?
In the initial application process, disabled vets and their families typically are represented by veterans’ service organizations or VSOs. These service organizations have trained personnel who will help with your claim free of charge. Some VSOs are recognized by the VA Secretary for purposes of preparation and presentation of claims. Non-recognized organizations can give you information, but cannot represent you before the VA. Generally speaking, veteran’s disability attorneys do not represent clients in the initial application stage because by law no attorney fees may be charged for the initial application. You can find a directory of veterans service organizations here: http://www1.va.gov/vso/
How long does it take for Veterans Administration Disability Benefits claims to be decided?
The complexity of the individual VA disability claim affects the length of the review. But as a general rule, it takes about six months or longer for a disabled veteran to receive a decision on his or her veteran’s disability claim. The number of applications for VA benefits has increased significantly in recent years with thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the complexity of the injuries and disabilities suffered by veterans in those theaters has increased.
Appeals take longer. In 2008, the VA took on average 776 days to process appeals of disability benefits for veterans.
I receive veterans benefits, but would like to appeal my veteran’s disability rating because I feel it doesn’t recognize the severity of my disability. How long will it take to appeal?
According to the Veterans Administration, appeals take about 25 months to complete. The time it takes to conclude appeals and decide benefits for veterans is getting longer because of the complexity of the injuries that many returning veterans have and the increasing number of veterans.
Veterans with disability ratings of 30 percent or greater are eligible for additional VA disability allowances for dependents, including spouses, minor children, children up to age 23 who are attending school and dependent parents.
What is the Individual Unemployability benefit for veterans?
Disabled vets who are unable to maintain gainful employment as a result of service-connected physical or mental disabilities may receive 100 percent disability compensation as a veteran’s benefit. Individual Unemployability is a way for disabled veterans to increase their VA disability compensation. To qualify, disabled veterans must have one service-connected disability with a 60 percent disability rating or two or more disabilities that total 70 percent. The VA defines gainful employment as work at which non-disabled individuals earn their livelihood with earnings comparable to the particular occupation.