Dealing with a property damage claim is frustrating and time consuming. Sometimes insurance companies take too long to inspect your vehicle and provide you with an estimate. Ultimately, the at-fault person’s insurance should pay for your vehicle. However, there are times when you may want to use your own insurance, if you have coverage. For example, if the at-fault party doesn’t have insurance, you may need to use your insurance. Other times, the at-fault insurance may refuse to pay while they are investigating the crash and determining who is at fault (even if law enforcement has already cited the other driver). If you need a vehicle to get to work, you may not have time to wait for the investigation, so you may use your own insurance. In these cases, you may have a deductible, so your insurance will pay you the amount of the damage less the deductible amount. If the other insurance company eventually agrees its driver was at fault, then it will repay your insurance company and you will get a check for your deductible amount.
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This is one of the most frequently asked questions. It can be answered, but the answer depends on the specific facts of your case. In meeting with many people over many years, we’ve often heard people say that they’ve read that their case is worth some multiple of the amount of their medical bills. They ask things like, “Should pain and suffering be three times (3x) the total medical bills?” or “What is the non-economic to economic damages ratio?”
But determining the amount you are owed actually has nothing to do with any kind of multiplier or factor. The amount of your pain and suffering and changed quality of life are completely independent from the amount of your medical bills. Consider these two cases as examples.
In Case 1, a person is in a high-speed crash. The car rolls several times and looks like a crushed tin can. The driver is immediately taken to the hospital by ambulance. The driver is shaken up, has some sore spots and is understandably in shock. Because of the powerful forces in such a crash, the emergency room doctor orders a full set of CT scans or MRIs to make sure there are no serious internal injuries. Fortunately, the driver has escaped any serious or lasting injury. She feels better and doesn’t seek any follow-up care. She takes it easy for a few days and continues to feel better. Within a week, she’s pain free and back to normal. We’ve seen folks in this scenario many times. Her medical bills are relatively high because expensive scans and emergency room care were provided. She also has a non-economic damages claim for pain and suffering, but how great is that compared to her relatively expensive medical bills? Her pain and suffering damages may be less than her total medical bills.
In Case 2, a person suffers a severe, permanent injury that cannot be repaired, such as paralysis or traumatic amputation of a limb. He receives initial medical treatment, but the treatment is mainly to stabilize the condition. There are no long-term medical expenses because the injury cannot be healed. He must live with the permanent impairment for the rest of his life. He struggles to care for himself day-to-day. He cannot do the hobbies and other activities he enjoyed for recreation. His medical bills are relatively low compared to the severity of the injury. But his damages for permanent impairment, disfigurement, permanently changed quality of life and pain and suffering are immense. They will be many, many times greater than his total medical bills.
An accurate determination of what your case is worth requires knowing the details of how your life was affected, the severity and duration of your pain, your long-term prognosis and medical needs, and whether you have any permanent impairment. The truth is, no one knows exactly what your case is worth unless you go through a trial and a jury decides it for you. But by applying our experience to the specific facts of your case, we can provide you with the likely range of outcomes.
The amounts you can recover depend on many things, including the severity of your injuries, the amount of your lost income, the value of your lost or damaged property, the degree to which your life has been impacted, the amount of your medical bills, and the amount of your future medical expenses.
The amount of money you recover is called “damages.” Our legal system has different categories of damages that you can claim depending on the specific circumstances in your case. In personal injury claims, there are four (4) primary categories of damages. They are economic damages, non-economic damages, and permanent
1. Economic Damages are repayment for financial losses or expenses you have because of the incident. These include things like medical bills, lost pay, and damaged property.
2. Non-Economic Damages are compensation for things like living with pain, enduring emotional distress, and being unable to enjoy your life and do the things you did before you were injured.
3. Physical Impairment Damages compensate you if you are permanently impaired as a result of your injuries.
4. Disfigurement Damages are compensation for scarring, amputation, or other permanent disfigurement to any part of your body.
There non-economic damage caps in Colorado. Damage caps are limits on the amount you can recover. Current non-economic damages caps are $468,010. With a recent change in the law, beginning on January 1, 2020, the damage limitation will increase at regular intervals to offset inflation. The Colorado Secretary of State publishes a Certificate with all of the current damage caps. The Certificate can be found here.
There are no damage caps on economic, physical impairment or disfigurement damages.
In Wrongful Death cases, the damages are for the harms suffered by surviving family members and dependents. They include:
1. Economic Damages include funeral expenses and lost income or financial support provided to family members.
2. Non-Economic Damages recognize your grief, loss of companionship, emotional stress and pain suffering.
3. A “Survival Act” claim can also be made for the victim’s medical bills caused by the accident.
There are non-economic damage wrongful death damage caps in Colorado. Wrongful death damage caps are limits on the amount you can recover. Current wrongful death non-economic damages caps are $430,070. With a recent change in the law, beginning in January 1, 2020, the damage limitation will increase at regular intervals to offset inflation. The Colorado Secretary of State publishes a Certificate with all of the current damage caps. The Certificate can be found here.
All of the above categories of damages are based on the harms you suffered. But there also may be times where the defendant must pay additional damages because their conduct was so bad. “Punitive” or “Exemplary Damages” apply if a defendant was more than negligent. Negligent basically means careless. But if a defendant was more than careless, if he was reckless, then he might have to pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for acting in a way that likely to seriously hurt someone. Punitive damages do not come into play in most cases.
“Statutory Damages” can be awarded in circumstances where a defendant violates a specific statute that provides certain damages. One such statute is the unfair denial or delay of a payment that your own insurance company owes you. C.R.S. section 10-3-1115 and 10-3-1116. These damages apply when you make an uninsured or underinsured claim with your own insurance company and they deny payment even after they have received enough information to prove you should be paid. If this happens, the insurance company may have to pay treble damages (three times (3x) the amount of your claim) plus your attorneys’ fees and costs.
If you are partially at fault for causing the incident, your damages can be reduced by the percentage that you are at fault, which is called comparative negligence.
There are also other types of damages not covered by this post. The amounts you can recovery depend on the specific circumstances of your case. It’s important to know which categories apply in your case and how to prove damages to an insurance company. Feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss the specific types and amounts of damages that apply in your case.
Trials are sometimes necessary to get a fair recovery, but they are rare. You always have the choice of whether or not to go to trial. We see our role as providing you with the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.
We prepare every case for the possibility that it could end in a trial. Most of the time, we prove our clients’ claims to the insurance companies or at-fault parties with the evidence gathered during our investigation. We then negotiate to determine if a fair settlement can be reached. We’ll advise you whether, based on our extensive experience, a settlement offer is fair or not. We’ll explain the pros and cons of pushing forward with filing a lawsuit. We’ll answer your questions and recommend a course of action.
It’s important to note the difference between litigation and trial. Litigation is a word we use to mean anything after the filing of a lawsuit. We usually try to settle your case without even filing a lawsuit. Most cases are settled without filing a lawsuit. But sometimes it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. The defendant might be denying fault. The insurance company might not believe that you are hurt as badly as you are. Filing a lawsuit provides the opportunity to make witnesses answer questions under oath and provide documents and other evidence. We may need to get a court to order someone to provide information they are refusing to provide. All of these steps and much more are considered litigation, but they are not a trial. After these information gathering steps, we will again try to negotiate a settlement in your case, often in a mediation. Even most lawsuits are settled without a trial.
Attorney fees are fees paid for the work we do on your behalf. Our fee is what is contingent on making a recovery on your behalf. Costs are hard costs which we advance on your behalf for the investigation of your claim, or the pursuit of your claim in court. These costs include costs to obtain medical records, costs paid to speak with your doctors, costs paid to the court to file a lawsuit, expert costs, etc. These costs are advanced by us to be paid back by you when your claim is resolved.
Payment for your medical treatment remains your responsibility. If you have MedPay coverage under your own auto insurance policy, you may be able to bill some of your treatment through that insurance coverage. Aside from MedPay coverage, your health insurance carrier is required to cover your medical treatment related to your injury. Once your claim is resolved, your health insurance carrier will be reimbursed for what it paid for your treatment.
Colorado law requires drivers to purchase car insurance, which is a form of liability insurance. Car insurance varies in price according to how much coverage it provides, but all drivers must have at least $25,000.00 in liability insurance. If a driver causes an accident that injures you, the most you can recover from the driver’s insurance is the policy limits. This could be as low as $25,000, or as high as $1,000,000. Each insurance policy has different coverage amounts, or different policy limits. A Policy Limits Settlement is one where the insurance company is required to pay every penny in insurance coverage to the injured person.
Clients sometimes do not want to submit a claim on their Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage because their think it will result in an increase in their own insurance costs. This should not be a concern. The Colorado Division of Insurance forbids insurance companies from penalizing injured people who collect money under an UM / UIM policy. If you have been injured and the at-fault party has no insurance, or very little insurance, then you should submit a claim under your UM / UIM policy. Your insurance company cannot raise your rates or refuse to renew your insurance policy because of that claim.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage, also called UM/UIM Coverage, is insurance coverage that you purchase to protect yourself from being in an accident with someone who has no insurance, or only very little insurance. UM / UIM Coverage is especially important in Colorado, where some liability policies only total $25,000 and there are many uninsured motorists. UM / UIM coverage must be offered to purchasers of liability insurance. The amount of UM / UIM coverage can range from $25,000 to over $300,000.
UM / UIM typically works as follows. If a motorist with only $25,000 in insurance coverage causes you $50,000 in medical expenses, then you would first collect the $25,000 from the at-fault motorist. Once those funds were collected, you would then submit a claim under your UM / UIM coverage for the rest of your damages.
Clients are often hesitant to submit medical expenses under their Med-Pay policy. Some fear that if they submit the medical bills then the insurance company will increase their rates or decline to renew their insurance policy. Thankfully, the Colorado Division of Insurance forbids insurance companies from penalizing injured people who use Med-Pay. This includes raising their insurance rates or refusing to renew a policy because an injured person submitted medical bills to Med-Pay.
Medical Payments Coverage, also called Med-Pay, is typically insurance that you purchase along with your car’s liability insurance. Med-Pay will cover medical bills caused by an accident. These medical bills are submitted to your insurance company and it usually pays the medical providers directly. Insurance companies are required by Colorado law to offer at least $5,000 in Med-Pay when liability insurance is purchased. Most Med-Pay policies that we see are in the amount of $5,000, but they range from $1,000 to $100,000 depending on the policy.
Because Med-Pay policies are only $5,000—and hospital bills can be huge—you should consult with your attorney regarding which bills to submit to Med-Pay.
Injured clients often wonder how they will pay lawyers to recover funds they owed after an accident. Injury cases are costly and time-consuming. Almost no one can afford to pay lawyers while they are struggling to pay medical bills and missing work because of an injury. Cases often take months, or sometimes years, to resolve. Because of this, we offer contingent fee agreements for personal injury cases.
A contingent fee agreement means the lawyers are not paid until they recover funds for the client. If the lawyers fail to recover funds, the client does not owe them any legal fees. Contingent fee agreements state that the client will receive a specific portion of the recovery and the lawyer’s fees will be paid by a portion of the recovery. For example, two-thirds (2/3) to the client and one-third (1/3) to the attorney. However, the exact split varies from attorney to attorney, so it is important to read your fee agreement closely and discuss it with the attorney.
A contingent fee agreement is very different from a “Time Based” fee agreement, which requires that the lawyers be paid for each minute they work, whether they win or lose. At HSD Law we offer contingent fee agreements for personal injury cases, and an attorney can discuss the details with you during your free consultation.
If you do not hire an attorney after an accident, then you will likely be contacted by the insurance company for the at-fault party. Most of the time the insurance adjusters are friendly. They will ask you to tell them about the accident and ask you to sign a release so that they can access your medical records to evaluate the claim. Although the insurance adjuster will encourage you to sign a medical records release, you should not sign one. If you signed a medical records release before speaking to an attorney, be sure to inform them so they can promptly revoke the release.
There are many reasons that we do not have clients sign medical releases for the at-fault insurance company. Signing a release potentially reveals your entire medical history to the insurance company and violates your privacy. It also allows the insurance company to use unrelated medical conditions as an excuse to undervalue your claim. It may also give them access to your health insurance information, which is irrelevant to your claim and will only result in a lower settlement amount.
If an insurance company is asking you to sign a release, you should talk to an HSD attorney immediately. Once you hire HSD Law the insurance company will stop calling you, and it is required to talk to your attorney instead. An attorney at HSD Law will determine which medical records the insurance company receives. This preserves your privacy and avoids giving the insurance company information to use against you.
Some people try to settle their personal injury case without a lawyer. They think that lawyers are too expensive, or that they can do it on and get the same result. This approach rarely works. The insurance companies’ lawyers and adjusters are skilled at lowballing people who do not have a lawyer. Injured people are not aware of what damages they can recover and fail to ask to be compensated appropriately.
We frequently see insurance companies offer injured people a small amount of money to settle their claim, even though their damages are ten times that amount. Some clients come to us after they have battled the insurance company for years and gotten nowhere.
Hiring a personal injury attorney will result in a better recovery for you. At HSD Law, we pride ourselves on making sure we add value to every clients’ case. Hiring an attorney provides numerous benefits:
- Insurance companies more fairly evaluate claims once an injured person is represented by a lawyer. If an insurance company lowballs our client, then it faces litigation.
- We read the fine print in all available insurance policies—this includes both the at-fault party’s insurance policy and our clients. We check to see if the at-fault party has an umbrella policy, or if there is additional coverage under an employer. We review our client’s policies for Med-Pay Coverage and Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage to ensure that no money is left on the table. We also help negotiate any subrogation claims that are asserted by a client’s health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.
- We maximize clients’ financial recovery because we know which categories of damages an injured person can recover. We work with our clients to articulate their economic and non-economic damages and gather the evidence to support the claim. When a client’s injuries result in permanent impairment, we are experienced at attributing a monetary value to the claim.
- We make the insurance company pay the full amount billed for your medical services—not the amount actually paid for the services by your health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.
- We are skilled at valuing a client’s non-economic damages—this includes pain and suffering, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment. The more severe the injuries, the greater the non-economic damages. Knowing how to evaluate, articulate, and demand payment of non-economic damages can only be gained through years of experience handling these types of claims.
- We pay close attention to how the injuries will affect our clients in the future. We speak with doctors regarding future medical treatment our client needs and then calculate the client’s future medical expenses. When appropriate, we also consult with economists regarding what income a client will lose in the future and to calculate a client’s diminished earning capacity.
Don’t go it alone. Together we can achieve excellent results.
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Need a helping hand? If you’re looking for personal injury assistance or want to learn more, please get in touch through the form below or give us a call!