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Understanding Minnesota Personal Injury Automobile Cases
How Minnesota Personal Injury Automobile Accident Cases in are Handled
When a person is injured in an automobile accident in Minnesota, the injured person has two potential claims for compensation. The first is a no-fault claim. The second is a liability claim. To help you better understand the processes associated with no-fault and liability claims, both processes are discussed below.
Minnesota law provides that whenever you have been injured as a result of an automobile accident, you have a right to make a no-fault claim against the insurance company responsible for providing no-fault insurance coverage in connection with the accident. That will usually be your own insurance company. For example, assume that "John" runs a stop sign and collides into a car driven by "Mary" and Mary is injured. Despite the fact that John is at fault for causing the accident, Mary would make a no-fault claim against her own insurance policy, not against John's. Likewise, if John were also hurt in the crash, he would have a right to make a claim for no-fault benefits against his own insurance policy even though he was a fault in causing the accident.
The identity of the insurance company responsible for paying the no-fault benefits may differ depending on the circumstances. Assume that Mary was a passenger in John's car and John fell asleep at the wheel and then ran off the road injuring Mary. Also assume that Mary did not have insurance of her own. In that case, since Mary does not have her own insurance she would be entitled to make a claim for no-fault benefits against John's insurance company.
The first step in the no-fault process involves tendering an application for no-fault benefits. Simply stated - that means notifying the proper insurance company that you have been involved in an automobile accident and that you would like to apply for no-fault benefits. If you have not already applied for such benefits, we will assist you with completing the application and getting it filed with the proper insurance company. Once the application is filed, we will contact the insurance company and obtain the name of the claims adjuster assigned to your file. You have an absolute right to make the following claims for no-fault benefits:
1) Medical Expenses. You should give your medical providers the name of your no-fault insurance company, along with the name and address of the adjuster and the claim number. If you do not already have this information, we will provide it to you once we receive it from the no-fault provider. Once the medical providers receive this information, they will send their bills directly to the no-fault insurance company.
2) Mileage. You have a right to submit a claim for mileage back and forth to your medical providers. You should keep track of mileage on the Mileage Log we provided you. When you
complete a page of the Mileage Log, send it to us and we will forward it to the no-fault provider. In the event that it appears that you may need more Mileage Log pages than we initially provided you, please notify us so that we can send you more pages before you run completely out. You should keep a copy of your log pages for your records.
3) Prescription Drugs. In order to obtain reimbursement for the cost of prescription drugs, you must submit a copy of the prescription from the doctor along with a copy of the receipt showing that you purchased the medication. You may send that information to us and we will forward it to the no-fault provider. Again, keep a copy of these documents for your records. 4) Wages Loss. Your no-fault insurance company is obligated to pay 85% of your wage loss up to a maximum of $250.00 per week. Most no-fault insurance companies will require your employer to furnish a written verification that you were off work (wage verification form), as well as a statement from your doctor indicating that you should not go to work (disability statement). The procedures for obtaining wage loss benefits differ somewhat among the insurance companies.
5) Replacement Services. If your doctor tells you that you should not do certain things at home, (such as housework or lawn care), and it becomes necessary for someone else to do that work for you, you have a right to submit a claim for replacement services to the no-fault provider. Most of the time, you will need a written statement from your doctor that says you should not do that work at home. If you are in need of such services, let us know and request a statement from your doctor. We have provided you with a Replacement Services Log that you can use to record expenses you incur for such services. Once you get the statement from your doctor, send it to us along with the completed Replacement Services Log pages and we will forward the statement and the necessary forms to the no-fault provider.
You may also be eligible for certain other no-fault insurance benefits depending upon your particular case.
You should also keep in mind that once we submit a claim to the no-fault provider, it has thirty (30) days to pay the claim. You should be prepared for such delays.
There are some other things you should know about your no-fault claim. At some point, the no-fault provider will probably request that you see a doctor of its choice in order to have an independent medical examination ("IME"). That doctor will examine you and then prepare a report for the insurance company. If the IME doctor is of the opinion that you are no longer in need of medical care (and/or no longer have to miss work), the no-fault provider may refuse to pay any additional no-fault benefits. If that occurs, you would then have a right to petition the American Arbitration Association and request a hearing to determine whether or not the no-fault provider had a right to discontinue payments.
You should also be aware that most no-fault insurance policies provide $20,000 worth of medical expense coverage (which includes mileage and prescription drugs) and an additional $20,000 worth of wage loss coverage (which includes replacement services).
The information provided to you herein regarding your no-fault claim is general in scope. Please feel free to call an attorney if you have questions or need additional information.
In addition to your no-fault claim, you may also have a claim against the person responsible for your injuries. That is usually the driver of the other car or the driver of the car in which you were a passenger.
Unlike the no-fault claim, the liability claim is not automatic. In other words, to make a no-fault claim the only thing you must prove is that you were injured as a result of an automobile accident. To make a liability claim for personal injuries, however, you must be able to prove the following:
1. The other person was at more fault than you for causing the car crash. This means that you must prove that the other person was negligent. If you were also negligent, you must be able to prove that the other person was more negligent (or more at fault) than you were.
2. The other person's negligence was a cause of your injuries. This usually becomes an issue if you have a history of prior medical problems and there is a question as to whether or not your current problems/symptoms are related to the accident or exist because of your prior medical history. In virtually all cases, it is necessary to have a doctor express his/her opinion about causation.
3. You must also establish that you have reached at least one of the following four thresholds:
a. The existence of a permanent scare or disfigurement; b. Sixty (60) days or more of disability; c. $4,000 or more in medical expenses; or d. The existence of a permanent injury.
4. Damages. This includes pain and suffering, emotional distress and disability.
One of the most common issues that arise in Minnesota personal injury car crash cases is whether the injured person is able to establish the existence of one of the four thresholds mentioned above. To establish the threshold, it is necessary to obtain a written report from the primary treating physician. In most cases, it is necessary to wait for a period of one year after the date of the accident to obtain such an opinion. Once that opinion is received, the case is usually submitted to the liability adjuster that has been assigned to the claim. Negotiations are then conducted in an attempt to settle the claim. If the case does not settle, it is then usually necessary to start a lawsuit against the party responsible for causing your injuries. If a lawsuit is commenced and the case still does not settle, your case will most likely be tried to a panel of six jurors who will decide whether or not you are able to prove the elements discussed above.
During the time period between the date of the accident and the date a final report is received from the primary treating physician (usually about one year), it is important that you obtain good
medical care. That means that if you continue to have symptoms, it is important that you follow-up with your medical providers as needed. You should also do your best to follow whatever recommendations your doctors and other medical providers make to you. Thus, if your doctor tells you to do exercises at home, you should do them. Any failure on your part to follow your doctor's orders will be used against you later by the other side's insurance company, and perhaps by a jury should your case proceed to trial. In addition, if you are having symptoms and fail to follow-up with your doctors, the other party's insurance company will take the position that you cannot be hurt because you did not seek medical care. That often makes it difficult to settle your case. Likewise, failure to follow-up with your medical providers often makes it difficult for the primary treating physician to render a final report.
In closing, the most important thing for you to do at this time is to do your best to get well. No one can criticize you for that! If an insurance company or anyone else (including other lawyers) contacts you regarding your claims, tell them to contact your lawyer or healthcare provider. You should not discuss your case with an insurance company or its attorneys. If you have questions about your case, we are here to answer those questions for you.