Carla is driving down a country road in rural Ohio when she comes around a bend and gets hit head on by a driver trying to pass on the left. Luckily, she is wearing a seat belt, but the force of the collision causes her to break her left collarbone. Both cars come to a stop, and the police are called.
The police call an ambulance for Carla. At the hospital, the ER doctor diagnoses a broken left collarbone and whiplash. (Learn more about common car accident injuries.) He puts her arm in a sling, and refers her to an orthopedist for both the shoulder injury and her whiplash. She sees the orthopedist periodically for the next two months. Ultimately, her broken collarbone heals, and the orthopedist refers her to physical therapy. She does physical therapy for another six weeks. During this time, her whiplash slowly improves. By six months post-accident, she is feeling 95% better. The orthopedist says that she should be as good as new in another three months.
Carla works in information technology. She did not come into work for a week, and worked part-time for another two weeks, but she did some work from home, and her company paid her as usual.
Carla needs to be aware of Ohio’s statute of limitations as it applies to car accident cases, which gives an injured person two years to get any lawsuit filed over the accident.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact a Ohio car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.)
Even in Carla’s case, where liability for the car accident seems pretty straightforward, the defendant’s adjuster and lawyer may still argue that Carla was driving too fast or that she didn’t react quickly enough when she saw the defendant. Accordingly, Carla needs to be aware of the rules of comparative negligence because the person that hit her could claim that Carla was herself negligent.
Ohio has what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule. Under this rule, your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. This means that, if you are found to be in part negligent with respect to your injury, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault, up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $400,000 in damages, but were found 30% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $280,000. However, if you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever from other people who may have played a part in causing the accident.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Ohio’s car insurance laws (that means bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $25,000 per accident.)
If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Carla’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $29,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Carla and her attorney decide that another $75,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Carla’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $125,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, they find that the other driver only had the minimum coverage of $25,000 per person. Carla thus accepts a settlement of $25,000 from that driver, and then makes a claim against her own insurance carrier against her underinsured driver coverage. After further negotiations, Carla accepts an additional $45,000 from her own carrier, for a total settlement of $70,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Carla’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.