Numerous auto accidents occur every day in North Carolina. For those persons involved, this can raise numerous confusing issues.
Property Damage: The owners of the vehicles involved in the accident will have to deal with the damage to their vehicles. If an owner has “collision” coverage, then his own insurance will pay to repair his own vehicle. The owner often has to pay a “deductible.” If one driver is at fault in causing the accident, then his “liability” coverage insurance will pay for the damage to the other vehicle; the minimum liability coverage for property damage in North Carolina is $25,000. If the at-fault driver does not have liability insurance, then “uninsured” motorist coverage might afford coverage for the other vehicles damaged in the accident. (This coverage is also usually $25,000 or more.) Where the owner of a vehicle is able to pursue insurance for the damage, then he will normally receive the cost of repairing the vehicle, unless it is deemed a “total” loss, which under North Carolina law generally means that the cost of repair is more than 75% of the value of the vehicle. The owner might also be entitled to a rental vehicle for a reasonable period of time. As this shows, handling the property damage following an accident can become quite difficult.
Medical Treatment and Payment for Treatment: Persons sustaining a bodily injury in the accident will also have to deal with a host of issues. First and foremost will be receiving appropriate treatment for any injuries received. This often begins with EMS treatment at the scene, followed by treatment at the Emergency Room. It can also involve follow-up care with the primary care physician, orthopedists, neurologists, therapists, chiropractors, etc. Persons with health insurance (“first party insurance”) can usually receive adequate treatment, as can persons on Medicaid or Medicare (or, in North Carolina, the Division of Medical Assistance). Persons without insurance, however, are often left with few resources for treatment. (Some insurance policies provide “medical payments” or “med-pay” coverage, which will pay for the medical treatment up to the limits.) Insurance companies that pay for medical treatment are prohibited in North Carolina from exercising a right of “subrogation” to the injured person’s claim against the person causing the accident, subject to limited exceptions.
Damages Recoverable: A person injured by the negligence of a motorist in North Carolina is legally entitled to recover several elements of damage from the at-fault driver. These include: medical bills, lost earnings, and pain-and-suffering. These are typically paid by the liability insurance carrier. Unfortunately, the insurer usually does not make payment until the claim is totally resolved. I.e., the insurance company will not pay the injured person for his medical bills and lost earnings on a piecemeal fashion; instead, the injured person must wait until he is ready to completely settle the claim before the liability insurer will pay for these losses. A driver in North Carolina is required to have liability coverage of at least $30,000 per person injured in an accident. A person injured in a car crash might also have available uninsured or uninsured motorist coverage. Pursuant to a statute enacted in North Carolina in 2011, the liability carrier is obligated only to pay for the actual medical bills paid or payable, and not the original full bill from the provider. (Thus, if the doctor reduces her bill based on an agreement with the health insurer or pursuant to a program such as Medicare, the at-fault driver is liable only for this lesser amount.)
When the injured person is ready to settle his claim, he usually negotiates with the insurance company. Upon reaching a settlement, under North Carolina law the injured person may have to pay medical bills or “liens,” and the insurance company or the injured person’s lawyer might also have a duty to pay these claims (in addition to liens by Medicaid or others).
Other issues: Several other issues can arise when handling these claims, including the need for medical experts or accident-reconstruction experts, properly computing damages, determining the cost of any future medical treatment, and dealing with health care providers and other persons with bills or liens. Due to the complexity of all of these issues, those persons injured in an automobile accident are often well-served to hire a lawyer to assist them with their claims. Many lawyers will take such a case on a “contingent” basis.