Get Answers To Common Auto Accident Questions In South Carolina
We know how many questions you must have right now about your South Carolina auto accidnet, so we compiled this list of the questions we hear the most. If you have a question that is not answered here, please call our Columbia law office to speak with Kenneth Berger.
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How do Drunk Driving Accidents Differ from Other Accidents?
While you’re always entitled to seek compensation when you’ve been hurt in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, being hit by a drunk driver is a special circumstance that warrants some extra explanations for victims. Drug or alcohol-related crashes tend to be a little legally different due to the extra complicating factors involved. Here’s what you should be aware of if you’ve been injured by a drunk driver.
Criminal Law Versus Civil Law
One of the biggest sources of confusion after a driving under the influence (DUI) accident involves the difference between civil and criminal cases. It’s true that driving under the influence is a crime, and civil authorities will pursue drunk drivers in order to carry out the law. However, the criminal case does not address financial compensation for victims. For that, you need to file a personal injury lawsuit, which is a matter for the civil courts.
It’s a common misperception that you can’t sue someone who is facing criminal charges. Nothing could be further from the truth. The civil and criminal justice systems function independently of one another, and you absolutely can press a civil lawsuit against someone who is being prosecuted criminally. Being convicted and in jail affords no protection from a civil suit, either, and may actually help your attorney prove your civil case. However, a conviction isn’t necessary to begin your civil case, as the standards of evidence in civil court are different than criminal court, too.
Punitive Damages in DUI Cases
After an auto accident, you may seek compensation for expenses such as hospital bills, physical therapy and rehabilitation, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, repair or replacement of your property, pain and suffering, and more. However, after a severe DUI accident, you may also seek punitive damages against the drunk driver. Punitive damages are designed to punish particularly bad behavior, as well as provide a warning to anyone in the future who may commit similar acts. Punitive damages may be awarded to victims when the accident was caused by gross negligence or recklessness, though they must be proven to a higher standard of evidence than other damage awards.
Help for DUI Accident Victims
If you’ve been injured in an accident that was caused by a drunk driver here in South Carolina, the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger is here for you. We represent those who have been hurt, not drunk drivers, and we can help you navigate the complex world of insurance companies, personal injury lawsuits, damage awards, and more. To schedule a free initial consultation with us, please call our office, use the contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page. Our office is conveniently located in Columbia, and we serve a wide area across the entire state, including the Lexington, Sumter, Florence, and Myrtle Beach areas.
For answers to questions you have about car accidents and DUI issues right now, please download our book, “Safety First, Justice Always: Your Guide to South Carolina Auto Accident Law.” It’s completely free and can help you understand your rights as a victim after a crash.
What Should I Do If I am in a Crash Caused by a Drunk Driver?
Every serious car accident is a tragedy, but an accident caused by a driver that is driving under the influence (DUI) can be devastating. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that across the nation, 29 people were killed every single day in 2016 due to crashes involving alcohol, and DUI accidents injure many South Carolina residents every year, as well.
Here’s what you should do if you are involved in a car accident and you suspect that the other driver was under the influence.
DUI Signs to Look for After a Crash
If you suspect drunk driving caused the crash, your first step should be to call 911. A police response means that a trained investigator will be able to examine the other driver. If he or she tests positive with law enforcement, not only does it help your legal case later, but you are helping to take a dangerous driver off the roads.
While you wait for the authorities to arrive, keep your eyes open. You can even use your smartphone to take pictures or video of the scene, but only if it is safe for you to do so—and never approach an obviously intoxicated driver. If you see any open alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia, report it to the police. Report the use of mouthwash, breath spray, or eye drops immediately after the accident, as well, as the driver could be attempting to conceal intoxication. Another common tactic is for a drunk driver to switch seats with someone else in the car. If you notice a seat swap, tell the police what you saw, as it could lead to serious charges.
After the crash, you should also contact a personal injury attorney who handles DUI cases right away. Your attorney will know how to effectively investigate a DUI crash, press a claim against the insurance company, and will be able to take your case to court if a fair settlement cannot be reached.
Learn More and Get Legal Help After an Accident
For more information about car accidents and DUI crashes in South Carolina, please download our e-book, “Safety First, Justice Always: Your Guide to South Carolina Auto Accident Law.” This short, informative book is an invaluable resource for those who have more questions about car accidents here in our state, and is completely free.
If you have been hurt in an accident caused by a drunk driver, we at the Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger extend our heartfelt sympathies to you. Drunk driving is a serious problem in South Carolina, and we would like to do our part to help victims recover from their injuries. We proudly serve clients from Columbia, Lexington, Sumter, Florence, Myrtle Beach, and other nearby areas, and we are here to help you get the justice that you deserve. Call us by phone, use our contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page now to arrange a free consultation with us today.
How Can I Prove the Other Driver Was Texting at the Time of the Wreck?
There are 1000s of rear-end collisions on South Carolina's roadways each year. Often times, the person who has been injured knows intuitively that the at-fault driver was distracted - most likely by a cell phone. But how can you prove this fact when the other person will almost certainly deny it? In my experience, there are 3 very important steps that can be taken:
1. A preservation of evidence letter (also known as a "spoliation" letter) should be sent to the distracted driver and his/her insurance company as soon after the wreck as possible. The letter my office uses demands that the cell phone, along with text, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Internet usage, and all other data history be preserved exactly as it existed at the time of the accident. If we learn that the phone was tampered with, or any potential evidence was deleted after receipt of our "spoliation" letter, we can seek to have the judge inform our jury of this fact in the event the case goes to trial. That looks very bad for the defendant. On the other hand, if evidence is not destroyed, we may very well have our "smoking gun" in the form of text messages that were sent and received in the moments leading up to the collision. Either way, a preservation of evidence goes a long way towards proving distracted driving.
2. In the event a lawsuit becomes necessary, South Carolina law allows subpoenas to be sent to any person or entity in possession of potential evidence. To this end, a subpoena should be sent to the negligent driver's cell phone provider. While the subpoena response may only provide a call history or monthly data usage, it can provide evidence of how much time a person spent glued to their cell phone.
3. If depositions are required to further prove the case and hold the driver responsible for his/her actions, the attorney should dig in on the distracted driving issue. This is especially true for rear-end collision and blown stop sign cases. Simply put, a driver does not run into the back of someone else unless he is going far too fast for conditions, following too closely, or driving while distracted. Many times it is some combination of these dangerous variables. Though the defendant may not fully admit to using his cell phone at the time of the wreck, he will be forced to admit at least one major safety law violation (speeding, tailgating, taking his eyes off the road for a dangerous length of time) or look very foolish denying it. No matter his answer, you win.
I have handled distracted driving cases across South Carolina for a number of years now, and would be glad to assist you as well. If you believe the person who crashed into you was on a cell phone, but need help proving it legally, we are here to serve. You can contact us 24/7 via our live chat, or call us at one of our convenient office numbers listed on the website. We look forward to hearing from you, and to holding the dangerous driver accountable.
How Can I Get Fairly Compensated for My Permanent Physical Impairment After a Car Accident?
In South Carolina, compensation in a civil case is based on "damages." This may include past medical expenses, lost earnings, physical pain, and mental anguish. Lesser known damages are those related to permanent injuries. However, the law is clear on this point. If another driver's negligence causes you harm, you should be compensated for past, present, and future losses. Often times, the insurance carrier will try to settle the case only weeks or months after the wreck. The settlement offer will be based on what you have experienced to date, but not what you face in the future.
So what can be done to ensure that all damages - including any long-term impairments - are properly valued? First, there must be medical documentation. That does not mean you should go out and lie to a doctor about your condition. Rather, it means to be forthright with medical professionals about any and all ways the accident still affects you. For instance, if you are having neck or lower back pain 9 months after the wreck, your doctor needs to know that. It will help your case, but more importantly, it will help ensure you get the medical care you need.
At some point, the doctor will likely conclude that you have reached a plateau. This is known in South Carolina as "maximum medical improvement." It does not mean you are 100% better, only that you have made as full a recovery as you are going to make. This is the appropriate point in time for a doctor to issue an impairment rating. For example, let's say you had to undergo back surgery after your car accident. Your treating orthopedist may give you a 15% impairment rating to the spine once you complete physical therapy. The impairment rating will be based on medical guidelines.
In presenting your case to the insurance carrier, we would note the impairment rating. However, the emphasis would be on how the injury will permanently affect your daily life. Whether the greatest impact is on your work, family, or recreational pursuits, insurers must properly compensate you for all the ways your life has been altered.
Along with physical restrictions, your long-term injuries may remain painful and require future medical care. South Carolina law allows you to recover for those ongoing and future damages, but you only have one bite at the apple. In other words, your one-time settlement must account for every damage you ever have or ever will incur. That is why it is so critical to properly identify any permanent injuries and the consequences arising from them, before settling.
I have given presentations on this topic for other lawyers, and would be glad to speak with you about compensation for future damages, or any other aspect of your auto accident case. To speak with me, call my Columbia, SC office today at 803-790-2800.
Should I Sign the Health Authorization Forms The Insurance Company Sent Me After My Car Accident?
Keeping up with all the insurance company and claim information following a wreck can be challenging. So can deciding which forms you must sign, which forms you should sign, and which documents you should just throw in the trash. The at-fault party's insurance carrier is going to want all your healthcare information - not just the bills and records related to your accident. Therefore, the HIPAA forms they send you are usually very broad. You do not have to sign their health authorizations, however.
3 Options to Consider
In fact, I recommend one of three options to my fellow South Carolinians:
- Contact the adjuster and tell him/her that you will sign a HIPAA form that applies only to medical records since the date of the accident;
- Toss the health authorization form in the trash, and obtain the medical bills and records yourself;
- Consult with an attorney on the best course of action.
I offer free consultations, but even without having to meet in person, I can tell you that my general rule of thumb is this: in small cases (i.e. one hospital visit to get checked out and maybe a couple follow ups to your family doctor) signing a healthcare release probably isn't a big deal. The reason is that even if you had a number of preexisting conditions, the value of your case should not change based on past medical history.
Conversely, if you have a case that has significantly impacted or altered your life, please don't sign any type of insurance or healthcare forms without at least speaking to a lawyer. Insurance companies will dig through your entire medical history to use anything and everything they can against you. Rather than allowing an insurance adjuster to use that information against you, consult with a lawyer who can show you how your preexisting conditions actually help your case.
Contact an Expert If You're Unsure
Health authorizations - just like recorded statements and early settlement offers - are simply a ploy to pay you less than fair compensation. I help injured people throughout South Carolina, and would like to help you as well. Whether it be with free copies of my books or a free consultation, there is absolutely no harm in allowing me to answer questions about HIPAA forms or any other aspect of your accident case.
Can Unpaid Medical Bills From a Car Accident Affect My Credit?
The short answer is "yes." There are lots of misconceptions about how medical bills get paid following a car wreck. Some people think the at-fault driver's insurance company will pay the bills directly. Other people have been told that health insurance does not apply in accident cases.
In South Carolina, it works like this:
1. You receive all reasonable and necessary medical care;
2. The hospital and other medical providers bill your health insurance company;
3. You are responsible for any co-pays or deductibles, just as you would be with an ordinary visit;
4. The at-fault driver's insurer pays you a settlement or you obtain a jury verdict;
As you can see, you may not recover money from your auto accident prior to your outstanding bills being sent to collections. The way to avoid this - and in turn, keep your credit from being affected - is to make payments, however small, on your bills throughout the case. Your settlement should account for all medical expenses (in other words, you will get paid back), but a settlement may not be reached until many months after the initial injury.
Unpaid bills arising from car crashes are treated just like any other bill by hospitals, doctors' offices, and collections agencies. That is why it is so important to reach out to those providers early on, explain to them your financial situation, and agree to a payment plan that you can afford. This will keep your credit score from declining, and prevent any further financial harm.
Dealing with insurance carriers and billing departments can be daunting, especially as you try to recover from your injuries. I help people in these situations across South Carolina, and will gladly provide you with a free consultation. For guidance, request free copies of my books and call 803-790-2800.
Does the Insurance Company Pay the Hospital After a Car Accident?
Unfortunately, insurance companies often provide injured people with lots of "misinformation" following a wreck. One of the most common and most egregious examples is when they tell you that they are obligated to pay the hospital directly, rather than sending you the money. In South Carolina, auto insurers are required to provide you - not your medical providers - with the settlement funds. You have an obligation to pay back the hospital and any other providers who treated you, but that obligation has nothing to do with the auto insurance companies.
There are two situations in which an insurer might attempt to mislead you into believing the money skips over your head and straight to the hospital:
1. Personal Injury Protection/Medical Payment Coverage
Personal Injury protection, also known as "medpay," is designed to cover a portion of your medical bills. Most South Carolina drivers have $1000-$5000 dollars in medpay coverage. These funds come from your own insurance company. You receive this benefit because you pay for it as part of your premium. Thus, if you are in an accident, the medical payment funds should be mailed directly to you. It is entirely up to you whether to apply that money to your bills.
2. Liability Insurance Coverage
The at-fault driver's insurer is required to compensate you. The money you receive is for your injuries, lost earnings, and other harms. Once again, these funds must be sent directly to you because you - not the hospital - are the one that got hurt. Do not let the insurance adjuster convince you that money from your settlement should be sent to anyone else.
Contact a Lawyer Today
The issues you face after an auto accident are not as simple as some people would have you believe. From how medical bills get paid to how much you should be compensated, it is always better to receive a free consultation from an attorney than to rely on an insurance company that increases its profits by paying you less. I help people with questions like yours across South Carolina, and would be glad to speak with you. Call my office today at 803-790-2800.
Not ready to speak to a lawyer yet? Visit our auto accident overview page for more information.
Can a Hospital in South Carolina Refuse to Submit My Bill to Tricare After an Accident?
The short answer is "No," but that does not mean the hospital's billing department - or the collection agency - will not attempt to deceive you. I represent a number of military families in South Carolina. Many of them come to me after accidents with questions about how medical bills will get paid. Often times, a "billing bully" has tried to convince them that Tricare does not apply, or that the hospital is under no obligation to file a claim with Tricare. If anyone tells you such a thing, they are likely breaking the law.
Why would they engage in such deceptive practices? Easy answer: Money. The hospitals want to get paid back 100% of their bill rather than the much lower percentage Tricare is required to pay back. Thus, if any medical provider or billing company in South Carolina tries to convince you that your military benefits do not extend to accident cases, know they are trying to deny you your rights, take money out of your pocket, and add insult to injury.
If I sound passionate about this issue it is because I am tired of seeing soldiers and their families be lied to and stolen from by supposed medical providers. My firm protects injured people's rights, and is here to serve those who have served our country. If anyone has claimed that your Tricare benefits fail to cover accident-related claims, don't tolerate their lie. For more information on how to ensure all bills are properly filed, and that you are treated fairly, call me for a free consultation at 803-790-2800.
Should I Sign a Letter of Protection to Get Medical Treatment After an Auto Accident?
Car crashes often result in injuries, which in turn require medical treatment. But what happens if you cannot afford necessary medical care? One option may be a "letter of protection." Many doctors and physical therapists across South Carolina will treat you at no cost on the front end in return for a letter of protection from an attorney that states your balance will be paid out of the settlement proceeds when the legal case concludes.
For example, you may need 6 weeks of physical therapy at a cost of $1,800.00. If the wreck knocked you out of work or you are without health insurance, you may be unable to afford the out-of-pocket costs physical therapy poses. However, the therapist may treat you so long as you sign a letter (i.e contract) agreeing to pay him out of your settlement funds.
Letters of protection - also known as "lien letters" - are an important tool for uninsured accident victims in South Carolina. Nonetheless, I encourage you to approach these agreements with caution, as you do not want an unethical chiropractor, therapist, or medical doctor running up a huge bill simply because they see dollar signs.
If you have any questions related to medical treatment after an auto accident, or if you would like me to review a letter of protection for you at no charge, call my Columbia, SC today at 803-790-2800. My job is to protect your legal and financial interests so that you can focus on getting well.
Who Pays for the Rental Car after a Crash in South Carolina?
After an auto accident, one of your first concerns will be getting a rental car so you can get back and forth from work or take care of other responsibilities. In most instances, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay for your rental car. The problem in South Carolina is that they often provide a rental for only 5 to 10 days. As you probably know by now, it may take more time than that to fix the property damage or to purchase a new vehicle.
When delays occur you have a couple of options. First, you can ask the Defendant's insurance company to extend your rental. Second, you may contact your own insurance carrier and ask if your rental coverage applies in this situation. Either way, there may be a small rental fee for items such as insurance on the rental car, but the amount you pay is greatly offset by the money you save from going to work or taking car of other duties.
South Carolina auto accident law is designed to protect you. Ensuring you have a rental vehicle is just one of those protections. If you have questions about any aspect of your case, call me today at (803) 790-2800.