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Auto Accidents

The following is a brief discussion of some of the issues we at ABQ Law Clinic/Morris Law Firm,P.A. have found important to our clients who were involved in automobile accidents. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of this writing and is not intended to provide specific legal advice or all of the information you may need to know in the event of an automobile accident. You should consult with an experienced lawyer for specific legal advice and more detailed information.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The following is a brief discussion of some of the issues we at ABQ Law Clinic/Morris Law Firm, P.A. have found important to our clients who were involved in automobile acci­dents. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of this writing and is not intended to provide specific legal advice or all of the information you may need to know in the event of an automobile accident. You should consult with an experienced lawyer for specific legal advice and more detailed information.

AUTO ACCIDENT ISSUES

LIABILITY - Who Is At Fault

If you've been in an accident, one of your first concerns is who was "at fault" for the accident. This is often difficult to determine, especially if there are no independent witnesses. The police officer may make a preliminary determination of fault at the scene and include this in the police report. If you are listed as being partially or solely responsible for the accident, do not accept this determination without consulting a lawyer. An experienced lawyer should review the facts of the accident with you and may recommend that some additional investigation be done to establish who was at fault.

Even if you were partially at fault, this does not prevent you from being compensated for your injuries. In New Mexico, the law provides that you may recov­er from the other party who caused the accident according to that party's percent of fault for the accident. For example, you were involved in an accident at an intersection and the court finds that you were 20% at fault. This would mean that you could recover 80% of your damages (medical expenses, lost wages. pain and suffering, etc.) from the other driver who was found to be 80% at fault. Also, you would be 20% responsible for the damages of the other driver.

INSURANCE - Who is Going to pay

As you probably are aware, many people in New Mexico do not carry insurance on their cars. If you are in an accident with an uninsured motorist, you still may be able to recover for your injuries from your own insurance company. Even if you do not have uninsured-motorist coverage on the car involved in the accident, you still may be able to recover if you or a relative with whom you reside has uninsured motorist coverage on any vehicle in the household. Also, the fact that you did not have insurance on the car you were driving does not prevent you from recovering for your injuries or damage to your car. We urge you to consult with an experienced lawyer immediately to determine what insurance coverage may be available to you from all sources.

INSURANCE COMPANIES & ADJUSTERS

Normally, shortly after the accident you will be contacted by adjusters for your own and the other parties' insurance companies. Their jobs are to establish who caused the accident and the amount of your damages. Most of the time the adjusters will request that you agree to a recorded statement and may ask you to fill out a detailed claim form. BEWARE; Any statement you give may be used against you in court. We recommend that you consult with an experi­enced lawyer before you give any statements, even to your own insurance company.

PROPERTY DAMAGE - How will you get your car fixed

Depending on your coverage and who is at fault, an insurance company, by contract, may be obligated to pay for the damage to your car. The insurance con­tract usually provides that the company is obligated to repair or replace your car. In the case of repairs, some companies do their own estimates while others may request that you have estimates made. You are generally free to choose which body shop you wish to use. However, some insurance companies have its list of preferred body shops. If you choose one of these "preferred" shops and have a problem with the repairs, the insurance company may be able to assist you in resolving the problem. You are also entitled to be paid for the loss of use of your car while it is being repaired. This payment may be used for a rented or borrowed vehicle. The amount to which you may be entitled varies under the circumstances of your case and with the insurance company. Generally, the most difficult problems our clients encounter occur when (their vehicle is "totaled.") Normally, a vehicle is totaled when the cost of repairs exceeds 80% or more of the value of the vehicle. The problems occur when it comes to determining the value of your car. Many companies use the NADA or KELLY BLUE BOOK as a basis for determining the value of a vehicle. However, some companies use their own valuation method or employ companies whose appraisals are more favorable to the insurance company in order to limit the amount they pay you for your car. If there is a substantial difference between the NADA or KELLY BLUE BOOK value and what the insurance company says your car is worth, you do not have to accept it. You should consult with an experienced lawyer before you decide.

If your car is totaled you may be entitled to some Loss of use compensation as well as tax, title, and license fees.

Often a problem occurs when our client's car is totaled and they owe more on their car than it is worth. This problem may be resolved in a number of ways. For example, we may be able to arrange for a "title swap" or "substitution of collateral," whereby the insurance company pays for a car of similar value to yours and exchanges titles with your finance company or bank. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you regarding this as well ax other possible solu­tions to this problem.

DAMAGES - What are you entitled to recover

In addition to compensation for damage to your car, you may be entitled to payment for one or more of the following;

Past and Future Medical Bills

Past and Future Pain and Suffering

Loss of Income

Cosmetic Surgery

Lost or Diminished Earning Capacity

Bodily Impairment or Other Disability

An experienced lawyer can advise you as to how much you may be entitled to receive for each of these injuries and about other possible damages to which you may be entitled.

MEDICAL ISSUES

Health - Your immediate and future medical condition should be your first priority after an accident. Early, effective medical care is necessary to aid in your recovery and to prevent injuries from becoming more serious.

Establishing a connection to the accident - Obtaining medical care as soon as possible is critical in an accident case. If you wait a long time before seeing a doctor, the insurance company may argue that the time gap between the accident and treatment suggests that your problems are not related to the acci­dent, but are the result of some event which occurred after this accident.

Connecting future problems to the accident - Some injuries are not apparent when you are first examined. For example, a head injury could result in brain damage which is not obvious until a few months after an accident. However, if you are examined by a doctor and state that you struck your head in the accident, the connection will be made more easily in the future.

Aiding your financial recovery - Insurance companies base their evaluations in part, on medical reports and bills. If you do not see a doctor, the insurance company is likely to argue that you were not injured and are not entitled to pain-and-suffering damages because you did not experience pain. The insurance company will argue that people who are experiencing pain generally see doctors.

Insurance companies sometimes use formulas for evaluating a claim; some of these formulas may include multiplying the medical bills by a certain number and adding in lost wages and future impairment. Most companies look at the nature of the injury, the standard length of treatment, and the reasonableness of the medical bills in placing a value on your claim.

We do not suggest that someone who is not injured see a doctor in order to develop an accident case; such an approach is dishonest. However, we do recom­mend that if you are injured, you seek immediate medical care and ensure that you are competently and adequately treated by the physician of your choice.

MEDICAL LIENS AND LETTERS OF PROTECTION

During the course of your medical treatment for accident-related injuries, one or more of your doctors or other medical providers may request that you and your lawyer sign a lien, or require that your lawyer guarantee payment of your medical bills through a letter of protection. Such an arrangement may be ben­eficial to you if you do not have health or other insurance to pay your accident-related medical bills while your case is pending. However, such guarantees may result in your receiving no money from your case. We recommend to our clients that they not agree to such a lien or guarantee on their cases unless the treatment is crucial to their recovery and there are no other doctors or medical providers who will provide the treatment without such a guarantee.

SETTLEMENT - When do you get paid

Your case usually should not be settled until you have completed your medical treatment and are released by your doctor. If your injuries are permanent, you should not settle your case until your doctor can state the nature and extent of your impairment (disability) and it is possible to estimate the cost of your future medical care.

An experienced lawyer will advise you when it is time to try to settle your case. He or she should be familiar with your medical problems and treatment. Do not settle your claim too early. Future medical treatment may reveal that your injuries are much more serious, or permanent, and that more medical treat­ment is necessary. Be patient: in most cases it is in your best interest to wait until your treatment is completed.

PROBATE & OTHER ESTATE MATTERS

If a family member was killed in an accident, there are several things you should know. In New Mexico, by law, only certain family members may recover for the loss of life of a loved one. For example, should a husband or wife be killed in an accident, the spouse must share any recovery equally with the sur­viving children, regardless of their ages. If there are two children, then the spouse and each child receives one-third (1/3) of the total recovery. Another exam­ple is a case where the deceased fathered a child but was never married. Often the parents of the deceased will want to pursue a claim. However, the surviv­ing illegitimate child is usually the only one entitled to a recovery, and to be appointed as personal representative or executor of the estate. Generally, before a claim can be filed, an estate must be set up through the courts. If a person died without a will, a major problem often occurs over who will be executor or personal representative of the estate. For example, a parent dies without a surviving spouse and leaves several adult children. All of the chil­dren have an equal right to be executor or personal representative of the estate. This may result in problems if family members are unable to agree among themselves as to who should serve as personal representative of the estate. If your family member was killed in an accident, we urge you to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer to protect your family's rights.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS - How much time do you have

Every state has a limitation upon the time in which you have to pursue a claim for personal injury. Often there are different limitations for different types of claims. You should contact an experienced lawyer to discuss which statutes of limitation may apply to your case.

In each case there are facts, witnesses, and other evidence which are unique and must he preserved immediately or as soon as possible after the accident, long before the running of a statute of limitations. We recommend that you contact an experienced lawyer early on to assist you with your case.

CLAIMS AGAINST THE STATE OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

If your claim involves the City, County, State, the Federal Government or any of their agencies, you need to take special care. Both the State of New Mexico and the U.S. Government have special "Tort Claims" statutes which must be followed exactly or your claim may be lost. We strongly recommend that you seek the advice of an experienced lawyer before you attempt to pursue a claim on your own.

LITIGATION - When to sue

If you or your attorney are unable to settle your case for a reasonable sum, it may be necessary to file suit against the party or parties who caused the accident in order to obtain a fair recovery. This can be a lengthy and costly process. Often it may take several years before your case is heard by the court. It is Very Important that you follow your attorney's advice and do what is required of you. Failure to do so may result in your case being lost or your not recovering all that you may be entitled to. Above all, BE PATIENT.

OUR FEES

Finally, if you have any questions regarding your accident, please feel free to call on us. There is no charge for your initial consultation. If you decide to hire us, we work on a contingent-fee basis. This means that if we do not recover money for you, you do not pay us a fee. You may be obligated to reimburse us for costs, other than legal fees, which we have advanced on your behalf. If we recover money for you, we charge a percentage of the total amount recovered, before deduction of the costs we have advanced and medical expenses.

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ABQ LAW CLINIC/MORRIS LAW FIRM, P.A.
901 Lomas Blvd N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
Phone: 1-800-992-5617
Fax: (505) 242-7040