The period immediately following the serious injury to a child is probably the most
difficult time faced by a parent. If your child was the victim of a serious motor vehicle
accident the following tips can assist you in assuring that in these emotionally
tumultuous you do everything necessary to protect your and your child’s legal rights:
1. If you were also injured in the accident, don’t ignore your own recovery. Understandably, parents of seriously injured children tend to focus their energies and attention on the well-being and recovery of their children. Consequently, it is not uncommon for parents to disregard their own recovery to the detriment of their own health. Do not allow yourself to fall victim to this tendency; if you were also injured in the accident, obtain the medical treatment you need to recover as soon as possible. You will be of no help to your child if you do not have your own health.
2. Closely monitor your treatment and the treatment of your child. Although most facilities are staffed by well trained, dedicated healthcare professionals, the incidence of mistakes and improper treatment will be lessened by your insistence on obtaining constant, regular updates and information on the status of your child.
3. Do not speak to any insurance adjusters. No matter how helpful, friendly, or compassionate a liability insurance adjusters may seem, you must always keep in mind that it is the job of that adjuster to limit the amount of money the insurance company will have to pay on your and your child’s claim to the greatest extent possible. Remember they are not there to help you; their mission is to attempt to find facts and circumstances which would allow them to either avoid paying your and your child’s claim altogether, or to pay an amount far less than the actual damages you and your child have suffered. Therefore, do not speak to any insurance company representatives nor sign any documents before you consult with an attorney!
Beware; these days insurance companies will go to almost any length in order to limit or avoid a claim. For example, we recently represented a four year old girl in a serious accident which took place when the mother’s car was rear-ended at high speed. Although, all passengers in the car remembered that the child was wearing her seatbelt, although the police report stated the child was properly restrained, and although the emergency personnel notes reflected the same, the insurance company nonetheless took the position at trial that she was not wearing a seatbelt and that the mother was therefore responsible for her injuries. They even managed to hire an “expert” witness who testified at trial that the child did not have her seatbelt on. Although we eventually prevailed, we later found that some of the jurors actually believed the “expert’s” testimony!!
Once again, the lesson is: Do not sign any papers or engage in any conversation with any insurance representative before speaking with an attorney.
4. Be consistent and timely both in seeking medical care for you and your child and in following the advice of your and your child’s instructions. In addition to being the best way to assure the quickest possible recovery for you and your child, immediate resort to medical care and strict adherence to your doctor’s instructions are also important in preserving you legal claim and that of your child. In seeking to limit or deny your and your child’s claim, the insurance company will look for either delays in the onset of treatment or “gaps” in the course of treatment. They will point to theses as evidence that you and your child were not really injured. In addition, if the medical records show that the doctors treatment advice was not followed, the insurance company will claim that the injuries did not resolve, or did not resolve more quickly because of the failure to follow the doctor’s advice, and that they are therefore not responsible for the full extent of the injuries. Therefore, after an accident, seek immediate medical attention for all of your and your child’s injuries. An injury that at first feels minor (such as minor back pain) can in fact be a symptom of a serious injury. Likewise, carefully follow your doctor’s and your child’s doctor’s treatment advice.
4. Watch out for the infamous “IME”. Although this stands for “Independent Medical Examination” you should never allow such an examination to take place by insurance companies without first consulting with your attorney. This medical exam is anything but “independent”; it is simply a method by which the defense can begin to obtain evidence that could potentially hurt or defeat your child’s case. The doctor that conducts the IME is hired by the insurance company. Frequently, these doctors begin the examination by asking questions about the facts of the accident, and sometimes inaccurately record these facts. The “inconsistencies” thereby created are frequently thereafter the focus of the insurance company’s defense to the claim. Therefore, do not agree to submit yourself or your child to an IME before consulting with an attorney.
5. Do not attempt to settle your child’s claim yourself; consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Attempting to settle your or your child’s personal injury claim on your own makes as much sense as performing surgery on yourself. The cost of a mistake may be irreparable, and devastating.
Frequently, insurance adjusters are trained to be extra “friendly” and “helpful” at the beginning stages of your claim, shortly following the accident. They may even try to convince you not to hire an attorney. This is strictly to their advantage; their attorneys begin working on the case immediately if the accident is serious, and they want to insure that you remain at a disadvantage as long as possible during this process. Usually, they will continue to be “friendly” until they believe they have gathered enough evidence and no longer need your cooperation. Typically, after that stage they will either offer to settle your and your child’s claim for a small fraction of the claims’ value, or they will begin ignoring your calls. At that point you would probably resort to retaining an attorney, but by that time, you may have already seriously compromised not only your own claim, but also that of your child.
It is important to understand that your child’s legal claim arising from this accident will be the only opportunity he or she has in his or her lifetime to receive compensation for his or her injuries no matter how serious those injuries are; once the claim is settled, it is settled for all time!
Do not risk denying your child full compensation for his or her injuries; consult with an attorney before compromising your child’s claim.