Types of Damages Available to Recover
The types of damages available to accident victims in Louisiana fall into two broad categories known as general damages and special damages. Special damages include things like medical bills, lost wages, the cost to fix your car, and other amounts that can be fixed to a definite number. General damages include things like physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life. You cannot put a fixed number on general damages, but over time the legal system has developed ranges in which certain types of general damages would likely fall.
Know How Much Insurance is Available
In a car accident, there can be several sources of insurance available to pay for your injuries. The most common source is the insurance of the at-fault driver. Depending on how much insurance the at-fault driver has, your own uninsured or underinsured motorist policy may provide coverage – if you have UM coverage. We recommend that everyone purchase UM coverage. Many policies carry a small amount of insurance that will pay medical bills regardless of who was at fault in the accident. If you were in the course and scope of your employment at the time of the accident, workers’ compensation benefits may be available to pay for your medical bills and a portion of your lost wages. If the at-fault driver was in the course and scope of his or her employment the time of the accident, the employer may have an excess insurance or umbrella policy that provides additional coverage.
Insurance Coverage for the At-fault Driver
Louisiana has state minimum insurance policies of $15,000 per person per accident, with a $30,000 maximum. That means if one person was injured in an accident, and the at-fault driver has a state minimum policy, the most the injured person can recover from the at-fault driver’s insurance is $15,000. Two people injured in the accident would be able to recover $15,000 each. But three people injured in the accident would have to divide the $30,000 policy between them. It is possible to get a judgment for more than the amount of the policy against the at-fault driver personally, but it can be very difficult to actually get any money out of the at-fault driver above the amount of insurance he or she carries.
While $15,000/$30,000 is the state minimum for bodily injury insurance policies, not everyone has state minimum coverage. Lots of people carry more coverage than the state minimum. If the at-fault driver has a $25,000/$50,000 policy, then one injured person would be able to recover up to $25,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Three people injured in the accident would be dividing up policy limits of $50,000.
If the at-fault driver was a commercial vehicle, like an 18-wheeler or a company work truck, the vehicle is likely covered by at least $1,000,000 in coverage. An injured person would be able to recover up to $1,000,000 against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This may be true also if the person was driving a company car or even a personal car while in the course and scope of employment with the company.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured motorist coverage provides insurance coverage to you if you are in an accident that is caused by someone without insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage provides insurance coverage to you if you are in an accident that is caused by someone who has insurance, but whose insurance is not sufficient to cover the costs of your injuries or property damage. Both are often referred to as UM coverage. I advise everyone to get UM coverage. It usually only costs a few dollars a month and it is a huge help if you find yourself in a position to need it. When you purchase car insurance in Louisiana, it actually automatically comes with UM coverage unless you affirmatively select that you do not want the coverage.
UM coverage can be for just property damage and economic losses, or it can also provide compensation for injuries. One example of an economic damages UM claim would be if the person that hit you does not have enough insurance to pay for the damage to your vehicle. A Louisiana state minimum policy covers up to $25,000 in property damage. If you are driving a $40,000 vehicle that is totaled in an accident, the at fault driver will not have enough insurance available to pay for your property damage. If you have economic damages UM coverage, it would kick in to cover the rest of your property damage. Another example of economic damages would be medical bills. A Louisiana state minimum policy only provides $15,000 for both bodily injury claims and medical bills. If you were in an accident that required a trip to the emergency room followed by several months of therapy and a consultation with an Orthopedic physician, your medical bills alone could easily exceed $15,000. In that situation, your UM coverage would kick in to cover additional medical bills up to the limits of your UM policy.
You can also purchase UM insurance to provide additional coverage for bodily injuries. If you are in an accident caused by someone with state minimum limits of $15,000, and your medical bills total $10,000, there would only be $5,000 left in the at-fault driver’s policy to pay for your pain and suffering. A UM policy that provides for bodily injury coverage would kick in to help ensure that you are adequately compensated for your physical, mental, and emotional injuries caused by the accident.
Medical Payment Insurance
Medical payment insurance, commonly referred to as MedPay, pays medical expenses for you and for passengers in your vehicle who are injured during an accident or auto-related injury. MedPay pays regardless of who was at fault for the accident. For example, imagine you are sitting in your car and a tree branch falls on your car causing you injury. You go to the ER and get x-rays and pain medication. You can’t sue the tree and no one was really at fault for the accident. If you have MedPay insurance, your insurance company will pay for your medical expenses. If your MedPay pays your medical bills and someone else turns out to be at fault for causing the accident, your insurance company will usually seek to subrogate against the other person’s insurance to recover any amounts it has paid.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If you were at work at the time of the accident, your company’s workers’ compensation insurance should provide benefits to you. All employers in Louisiana are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If you are injured while in the course and scope of your employment, you are entitled to have your medical bills paid and to receive a percentage of your income for any time that you are unable to work. Workers’ compensation does not pay for pain and suffering, emotional distress, or other bodily injury claims. It does pay out regardless of fault so if you were injured while at work in an accident that was your fault, you might still be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. If your company’s workers’ compensation insurance pays for your medical bills or lost wages, the insurance company will likely subrogate against any funds you receive from an at-fault party to recover the money it has paid out.
The At-Fault Driver’s Employer
If the at-fault driver that caused your accident was in the course and scope of his or her employment, you will likely be able to bring a claim against the employer. That is clear when the at-fault driver is driving a company delivery truck. But the situation can also arise in other circumstances. If the person that caused your accident was driving his or her own car but on company business – say going to the bank to make a deposit – then you would likely have claims against that driver’s insurance and the company that he or she worked for. This can be significant because companies usually have much higher insurance coverage than individuals.
Uber, Lyft, or Other Ride Share Companies
If the person that caused your accident was driving for a ride share company at the time of the accident, you will have a claim against the ride share company’s insurance. Because Louisiana has the nation’s second lowest state minimum policy limits, the insurance afforded by the ride share company is often higher than what would be available against the at-fault driver’s personal insurance policy. For example, Uber provides a $50,000 policy limit for personal injury claims when the driver is logged into the app but not transporting a passenger, and a $1,000,000 policy limit when the driver is actually transporting a passenger. Lyft provides similar coverage. The key to ride share claims is that the at-fault driver must be logged in to the app at the time of the accident. Just because the person has the stickers on his or her car does not mean you have a claim against a ride share company, but it needs to be checked whether the person was logged in to the app at the time of the accident.
Rental Car Insurance
In Louisiana, rental car companies are required to verify that the person renting a vehicle has insurance available that would provide coverage in the event of an accident. Often times, the person renting the car purchases additional insurance from the rental car company. This is usually a policy equal to the state minimum coverage limits, or $15,000 in Louisiana. However, there may also be excess coverage available of up to $1,000,000.
If the at-fault drive was driving a rental car and did not purchase insurance, his or her insurance would provide primary coverage. The rental car company is required to verify insurance coverage at the time the vehicle is rented. If the at-fault driver did not have insurance, and the rental car company rented the car to him or her anyway, then the rental car’s insurance will provide coverage up to the state minimum policy limits of $15,000.
What You Can do to Maximize Recovery
Up to this point, we’ve discussed how to recover from various insurance companies or other parties that may be liable to pay for your damages. The amount that you can recover is not limited to the amount of insurance available, but it can be much more difficult to recover from an individual than from an insurance company. However, the funds available are only one factor in determining how much money you will recover. The at-fault driver can have plenty of coverage but if your only injuries are a scratch on your finger, you should not expect to receive a large settlement.
Get Treatment for Your Injuries
One of the most important things you can do to increase the amount of your financial recovery is to make sure you get all of the treatment you need. There are some accidents that result in an immediate ambulance trip to the ER, but there also times when the injuries are not so apparent. It is not uncommon for someone who was injured in an accident to not feel his or her injuries until the next morning, and then to wait several days to see if the injuries are going to go away. You should go to the doctor as soon as possible to get checked out after your accident. Immediately following the accident adrenaline may be high and an injured person may not even know he or she suffered an injury. You should see a doctor and make sure to report any symptom that you were not experiencing before the accident, and also make sure that your doctor is aware that the symptom did not exist prior to your accident.
If your doctor recommends therapy or other treatment, make sure to follow your doctor’s orders. Insurance companies pay attention to how long a person treated for his or her injuries, and the type of treatment received, when evaluating claims. It is also very difficult to convince a jury you were seriously injured and are still in pain when you did not comply with your doctor’s orders to treat your pain.
Keep a Record of How the Injuries Affect Your Life
Keep a journal of your injuries and how they are affecting your life. You are not only entitled to recover for your pain and suffering, but also for the loss of enjoyment of life caused by your injuries. If your injuries cause you to miss a family trip or avoid doing some hobby you enjoy, you should write that down. Two years after the accident, when you are testifying at trial, it can be difficult to recall the day-to-day impact your injuries had on your life. You should make a record of how your injuries impact your life as it happens so you do not forget important details later.
Speak to an Injury Attorney
If you have been injured in an accident, you should speak with an injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced injury attorney will not only be able to collect evidence that may be important later in your case, but can also help you manage your treatment and recovery. The deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit in Louisiana is one year from the date of the accident. But if you wait until 364 days after the accident to speak with an attorney, you are hurting your own case. There may be witnesses who are immediately available after the accident who can’t be found nine months later. It may be important to have photos of the accident scene close to the time of the accident. Delaying speaking with your attorney only makes his or her job harder and decreases the chances of getting the most money for your case.
Your attorney may also be able to help increase the value of your case by making sure you get the proper treatment. Experienced injury attorneys know which local health care providers make good witnesses at trial and which health care providers have relationships with the insurance companies and are likely to give opinions unfavorable to your case. While your injury attorney is likely not a medical doctor, he or she has likely handled other cases involving similar injuries to yours and is in a position to know the true value of your injuries, whether at settlement, mediation, or trial. In our firm, we routinely help people by paying for medical treatment they are unable to afford.
If you’re dealing with a serious injury that resulted from an auto accident, call our office to discuss how to get the most money for your case. We offer free consultations on all injury cases and we have recovered millions of dollars for our clients. You can reach our office in Baton Rouge at (225) 963-9638. Call today and let us put together a plan to maximize the award for your injury claims.