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Auto Accident FAQs

Auto Accident Frequent Questions from a Portland, Oregon Attorney licensed to practice in Washington State


Here is a list of some of the most frequently asked questions about automobile accidents :

Who pays my medical bills if I have an Oregon vehicle insurance policy?
All Oregon motor vehicle insurance policies commencing after January 1, 2016 require $15,000.00 worth of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) to pay for your auto accident-related bills for up to two years after the accident. See ORS 742.524 (1)(a). You can also pay for more than $15,000.00 of PIP insurance coverage. Your PIP expires one year after the accident or after you use the $15,000.00, whichever is first. After your PIP is exhausted, you will need to use your own health insurance to pay your medical bills. Note: PIP coverage expires after one year for vehicle insurance policies commencing before January 1, 2016.

Who pays my bills if I have a Washington State vehicle insurance policy?  Washington State vehicle insurance companies are required to offer PIP benefits. If you don’t want PIP benefits, you must reject them in writing. See Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner

Does the insurance company of the at-fault party reimburse my insurance company for the medical bills paid?  Many clients seem dismayed that their own auto insurance company initially pays for their accident-related medical bills. It is a good public policy that your own insurance initially pays for your medical bills, as liability is often disputed and this prevents medical bills from going to collections while liability disputes are resolved. In the end, your insurance company will seek reimbursement of the medical bills paid through inter-company arbitration or will seek reimbursement out of your settlement. If your Oregon insurance company seeks reimbursement out of your settlement, then they must pay their proportionate share of attorney’s fees and costs under ORS 742.536. Similarly, Washington state courts have held that Washington insurance companies must pay their proportionate share of attorney’s fees and costs when they seek reimbursement out of your settlement. See: Mahler v. Szucs, 135 Wash.2d 398,957 P.2d 632(1998), Winters v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 144 Wash.2d 869 (2001), Hamm v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 151 Wash.2d 303 (2004)and Matsyuk v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company Case No. 84686-3 (WA S.Ct., Feb. 9, 2012)

What if my PIP runs out and I don’t have medical insurance? Some medical providers will accept a lien on a settlement provided that their patient has an attorney and the client/patient is willing to accept a lien on settlement.

Who will pay my medical bills if I was hit by a vehicle when I was a pedestrian and I have no auto insurance or medical insurance?  In Oregon, the driver’s no-fault PIP will pay your medical bills up to $15,000.00 within the first year if you can document that you have no insurance of any kind.

When should I contact an attorney / lawyer? Immediately. Do not talk with or give a statement to any insurance adjuster until after you consult an experienced personal injury attorney. Waiting to contact a lawyer can seriously compromise your case. What you say in a brief conversation to a trained insurance adjuster can easily be distorted, misquoted or taken out of context and used against you. If you are hospitalized and unable to call an attorney, a family member or friend should do so. Call 1-503-238-1010 for a free initial phone consultation for your motor vehicle accident. We can quickly determine if you have a case and help protect your rights. We can meet with you or family members at the hospital or at your home if you are unable to travel.

Why should I obtain an attorney sooner, rather than later, after an automobile accident that wasn’t my fault? Sometimes clients word things in a way that can be misconstrued to the insurance adjuster when an auto accident involves a complicated situation. Sometimes, insurance adjusters even take recorded statements while an injured person is in the hospital and on heavy pain medications that they later try to use against the person. This is why it is best to have retain counsel prior to making any statements to the insurance company. While our office generally doesn’t send out a demand package until after our client’s have finished treatment or are medically stationary, we help our clients preserve evidence and advise our clients on how to maximize the value of their claim during their recovery. While some evidence can be gathered before a client is finished treatment, gathering the final medical records and bills for a demand package can take months due to unresponsive medical providers and employers. Naturally, if you wait until shortly before the statute of limitations to try to resolve your claim, many attorney’s will not accept your case for filing on a last minute basis due to the liability involved when evidence has not been carefully preserved.

What should I do if the other insurance company contacts me? Respectfully decline discussing anything with them until you have consulted your personal injury attorney. The insurance adjuster is contacting you to obtain any incriminating information against you to weaken or completely deny your claim. They will most likely be seeking a recorded statement from you about the accident, which they will then use against you as you seek recovery for your damages. You may let the insurance adjuster know that you will have Clark Law and Associates, LLC contact them regarding your accident, rather than dealing with them directly. At Clark Law and Associates, LLC, we will help you in appropriately handling the insurance companies so you can stay focused on what really matters – recovering fully from your Oregon or Washington State Vehicle Accident.

Should I sign a release with the insurance company?
Consult with Clark Law & Associates, LLC, prior to signing any release. The release may prevent you from recovering the full damages to which you may be entitled.

What if I don’t experience symptoms immediately after the accident? Symptoms of an injury often appear hours or days after the accident. Seek prompt medical treatment if you experience any symptoms. Do not ignore pain or discomfort, hoping it will go away. Your injuries can fester if you do not nip them in the bud with prompt medical treatment. You will have difficulty proving that your injuries are accident-related if you delay treatment.

What if the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance? If the at-fault driver has no liability insurance, your own automobile insurance policy usually provides coverage. If you have collision coverage, it will pay to repair or replace your own vehicle. If you have uninsured (UM) or Oregon underinsured (UIM) / Washington underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage, your own insurance is contractually required to pay you what the at-fault driver would have owed you.

What is a HIPAA Authorization Form and Should I Sign One?
HIPAA is an acronym for The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It is a privacy rule made by the federal government to set national standards for protecting personally identifiable healthcare information. This rule applies to covered entities such as health plans, health care providers, and any services that process nonstandard health information. The main purpose of this rule is to ensure that your individual health information is private and protected, while providing for the ability to access that information when necessary. If you sign a HIPAA Authorization Form, you are granting the insurance company access to, and permission to review, your medical history. In Oregon, every insurance company is required to have personal injury protection coverage up to $15,000.00. You will need to fill out forms with your own insurance company in order to get your medical bills paid. However, we generally do not recommend that you give a medical release to the at-fault insurance company, especially if you are still in treatment. Sometimes insurance adjusters of the at-fault party have been known call an injured person’s medical providers with the intent of intimidating them for providing medical treatment. To be safe, sign no documents or provide any authorization to the insurance company of the other driver without consulting Clark Law & Associates, LLC.

When is the best time to settle my case?
Many insurance companies will try to contact you shortly after your auto accident and offer you a minimal settlement before you realize the nature and extent of your injuries. The best time to settle your case is after you have finished your treatment and all documents supporting your damages have been gathered. Depending on the severity of your injuries, your recovery time will vary. Medical records can be gathered as you finish treatment with each medical provider. Documents supporting wage loss, property damage and any out-of-pocket expenses should be gathered as soon as possible. Once all supporting documentation is gathered, our office creates a “Demand Package.” This package of information is then sent to the insurance companies for negotiating a settlement on your claim. The insurance company of the at-fault driver will give an initial settlement offer or deny your claim. Once we receive an initial offer, we do our best to negotiate a reasonable offer. If we do not receive an acceptable offer or a response within a reasonable time period we recommend filing a lawsuit. Like any small business, we are always focused on efficiency, so we do our best to move your case forward in a timely manner. However, we are fighting an insurance industry that uses the strategy of delay, deny and defend. Once a lawsuit is filed we usually continue negotiating a settlement even after the lawsuit is filed. After a lawsuit is commenced, negotiations usually take place with an opposing counsel as opposed to an insurance adjuster. Sometimes cases are settled after discovery is exchanged and after depositions, which are sworn statements recorded by a court reporter. Some cases cannot settle and continue on to arbitration or a jury trial. The ramifications of proceeding to arbitration or trial are increased costs, time and risk. Thus, it is important to have a conversation with an attorney to help you make an educated evaluation of your options.

If I sustain permanent injuries from a vehicle accident, can I make a higher claim?
Yes. If you have a doctor that states that you sustained a permanent injury due to a vehicle accident, you may claim additional pain and suffering, lost wages and/or earning capacity and any future medical treatment expenses. Determining exactly how much in damages your permanent injury is worth can be complex and will require documentation from a qualified medical expert.

Will the Insurance Company Represent Me?
Unless you were at-fault for an accident, the insurance company will not be representing you. Instead of representing you, they will attempt to make a quick and low settlement offer by leading you to hastily release claims and information to them without legal counsel. Only your own personal injury attorney will represent you to seek fair compensation for your injuries.

What if my case is not worth a whole lot; is it worth it for me to hire an attorney or should I go to small claims court?
There are attorney fee provisions under some statutes such as ORS 20.080. These attorney fee provisions help maximize value for cases worth $10,000.00 or less. If the case is filed after a 30-day demand letter and arbitrated and the arbitration award is higher than what the insurance company offered, then attorney fees and costs are awarded.

What are your rates to handle an auto accident case? For most plaintiffs cases we charge on a contingency fee basis. See Personal Injury Rates

What are the chances of my case going to jury trial?
Approximately half of our cases settle without the need for a lawsuit. Many cases settle after a lawsuit is filed. About 10 – 20% of cases go to arbitration or jury trial.. All cases in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington county filed for under $50,000.00 must go to mandatory arbitration. If either side appeals the arbitration award, they must better their position at trial or risk paying the other party’s attorney fees and expenses. See: ORS 36.425(4)(b). Thus, most cases that are filed for under $50,000.00 are resolved at the arbitration level. Neither party wants to risk incurring the other side’s attorney fees if a better result is not obtained by a jury. All cases in most counties filed for over $50,000.00 go to jury trial, unless the case is successfully mediated.

What is the statute of limitations if the auto accident occurred in Oregon? Unfortunately, we sometimes turn down cases due to statute of limitations issues. For most Oregon injury claims, the statute of limitations is 2 years from the date of the injury. See ORS 12.110 for limited exceptions. If your claim involves a governmental agency, you must have tort claim notice filed within 180 days under ORS 30.275. This includes, but is not limited to, claims against Tri-met.

What is the statute of limitations if the auto accident occurred in Washington State? Generally three years after the date of the auto accident. See: RCW 4.16.080

If I don’t like my arbitration or trial award, how long do I have to appeal in Oregon? See Oregon Appeals

A quick list of what to do after an auto accident.