If you have been in an automobile accident, you may have several claims to consider. First, you may have a bodily injury claim to consider if you were injured and the other party was equally or more responsible than you. If that party does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance, you may have what is called an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim under your own automobile insurance. Finally, if you lose a loved one to a motor vehicle accident, you may have a wrongful death claim against the negligent party.
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may have several categories of damages. These include medical expenses, lost wages for time you may have been off of work, and future lost wages if you will not be able to return to your current job. In addition, you may be entitled to pain and suffering. If your damages total $100,000 but the other driver who is responsible only has a $25,000 liability policy, where will you recover the other $75,000 from? If you have underinsured motorist coverage under your own automobile policy, you should begin by looking at your limits. If you have $100,000 of underinsured motorist coverage, under most policies the $25,000 you recover from the negligent driver’s insurer will come off of your limits, leaving you with $75,000 of underinsured motorist coverage. If the other driver had no insurance, you would look to your uninsured motorist coverage. In this case, if you have $100,000 of uninsured motorist coverage, you will be looking entirely to your own automobile insurer for recovery.
In the above scenarios, you have three years from the date of the accident to sue the other driver and his or her insurer. Of course, you should always put your own automobile insurer on notice immediately after the motor vehicle accident, especially in light of the fact that you may not learn of the other driver’s liability limits until much later. The lower the other driver’s limits and the higher your damages, the more likely an underinsured motorist claim becomes. For automobile accidents occurring on or after February 6, 2016, you have three years from the date you resolve your bodily injury claim with the other negligent driver to bring a contractual claim (by lawsuit or, if required by your policy, by arbitration) against your own automobile insurer for underinsured motorist coverage if your insurer refuses to pay the full underinsured amount that the policy requires. The same is true if you learn that the other driver is uninsured. For automobile accidents occurring on or after February 6, 2016, you have three years from the date that you resolve matters with the uninsured driver to sue your own auto insurer if you feel the insurer has not paid the full amount of the uninsured claim that the policy requires.
Finally, in the unthinkable event that you lose a loved one to an automobile accident, depending on who else has survived the decedent, you may have a wrongful death claim. Unlike bodily injury claims, the time limit within which to bring suit for a wrongful death claim has recently been reduced to two years for auto accidents occurring on or after February 6, 2016.
Contacting a lawyer after being injured in a motor vehicle accident is always a good idea. Representatives for the other driver’s insurer will usually be looking to settle your claims quickly. Having a competent lawyer on your side will protect you against settling for an amount that does not fully compensate you for your injuries.
Understanding Different Mechanisms Involving Your Dispute
Arbitration and litigation – you may have heard both of these words before and wondered what they mean. On the other hand, you may have given little or no thought to it at all. In either case, a basic understanding of these two very different but related concepts is important because many of us have agreed or likely will agree to one of these two dispute resolution mechanisms at least once in our lives. In addition, as the cost of traditional legal battles has increased over time, parties to a dispute are turning to a third dispute resolution mechanism – mediation.
Litigation is a traditional means of resolving disputes that we are all probably most familiar with. It entails the filing of a lawsuit with what is known as a complaint, followed by a period of investigation known as discovery and often settlement or, in increasingly rare cases, a trial before a judge or jury. Litigation, like the other two dispute resolution mechanisms, has its positives as well as its negatives.
Litigation is supervised by a judge who is paid for by tax dollars. Litigation also provides parties with a right of appeal to an appellate court, should they disagree with a decision at the trial court level. Litigation also allows the parties to engage in far more investigation than they would in mediation or arbitration.
Litigation, however, is often a long, drawn-out process. Depending on the court’s docket and the length of time required to try the case, it is not uncommon for a trial to be at least one year from the filing of the complaint. Litigation can also be costly, not in terms of court fees, but in terms of discovery costs. Discovery costs have only increased over the years, particularly as our lives have become more and more documented with things like computers, email, and social media.
During the litigation process, parties will often get to a point where they attempt the dispute resolution mechanism at the other end of the spectrum – mediation. Mediation is an informal means of resolving a dispute whereby each side submits its case to a third-party neutral person, often called a mediator. Mediators are often experienced lawyers or retired judges. The mediator will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case and attempt to reach a middle ground that is satisfactory to both sides. Mediators, of course, cost money, but that amount will often pale in comparison to the amount required to proceed through trial.
Arbitration is a means of dispute resolution that is probably appropriately situated between mediation and litigation. Parties often find themselves in arbitration because they previously entered into an agreement whereby they agreed to submit any disputes arising from the agreement to an arbitrator. Often, agreed-to arbitration is binding, in which case the parties have agreed to waive any right to take their dispute to a court if they are unhappy with the arbitrator’s decision.
Although arbitration is usually a quicker means of resolving disputes, it is also more costly in terms of filing and arbitrator fees. Discovery is also often limited and at the discretion of the arbitrator, a fact that can severely hamper a party’s ability to investigate its case through document requests and depositions.
While a basic understanding of these dispute resolution mechanisms is important, you should always consult a licensed attorney who can appropriately advise you on which one is most efficient and effective for your particular dispute. If you are entering into a contract, pay particular attention to clauses referencing dispute resolution, like binding arbitration clauses, and discuss this with an attorney prior to signing the contract to get advice on how these and other clauses could affect you in the event that a dispute arises.