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Making a claim for chronic neck pain

Antitort proponents often trot out stories of fraudulent whiplash claimants in their defense of the insurance industry. A recent study overturns this stereotype and reveals a serious gap in how compensation is being awarded in certain personal injury cases.

Researchers from the North Carolina School of Medicine followed nearly 1,000 people who were treated in an emergency room after an auto accident. Six weeks after their release, participants reported the following:

  • 70 percent experienced some kind of chronic pain
  • 28 percent experienced chronic moderate to severe neck pain
  • 13 percent experienced chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain
  • 4 percent experienced fibromyalgia syndrome (chronic musculoskeletal pain, tenderness and fatigue)

Even though the majority of these auto accident victims had some kind of chronic, persistent pain, only 17 percent had contacted a personal injury lawyer. It was not clear from the study how many of the accidents resulted from the negligent actions of the at-fault driver.

Accident victims with chronic neck pain may be reluctant to proceed with a legitimate personal injury suit because no one takes their claims seriously. Soft-tissue injuries are more difficult to see compared to bruises or a broken bone and pain reports are subjective. Many people think that their only option is to swallow a pain reliever, grit their teeth and wait it out. However, if untreated, a neck injury can lead to depression, sleep problems, memory loss and fatigue — in addition to the disruption caused by living with persistent pain. For some people, the symptoms are long-term or permanent.

Insurance companies often attempt to deny neck injury claims or to minimize the seriousness of the injury. Knowledgeable car accident lawyers understand how devastating chronic neck pain can be and they know how to present the facts of your case so you get fair compensation for your medical expenses and other losses.

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Personal injury claims and pre-existing conditions

Insurance companies have the right to examine the validity of a claim before they pay any compensation to an injured person, but they are not allowed to deny legitimate claims. This does not stop aggressive insurance agents from attempting to minimize the liability of their at-fault client by arguing that your injury existed before the accident.

However, under California law, you have a legal right to ask for damages if you had a preexisting “physical or emotional condition that was made worse by… the wrongful conduct” of the defendant. In addition, California courts instruct juries to follow the “eggshell” rule, which recognizes that a preexisting condition can make someone more susceptible to injury. For example, if you end up with a herniated disk that requires surgery after being rear-ended, the defendant cannot use the information that you were previously diagnosed with disk degeneration against you — as long as you can show that the collision caused the compromised disk to rupture.

Making a successful auto accident claim that involves a preexisting condition has its own set of challenges, so keep these tips in mind:

  • Never give the insurance company access to your medical records
  • Make an appointment with your regular physician as soon as possible
  • Schedule an MRI if you experience any back or neck pain
  • Keep a written record of your symptoms
  • Speak with a qualified personal injury attorney

People with preexisting conditions sometimes feel they are partially to blame for their injury — especially if the insurance company accuses them of overreacting or making false statements.  A San Luis Obispo personal injury attorneywith experience handling auto accident compensation can explain your legal rights and, if necessary, help you get the right medical care.

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Three Common Obstacles to Getting the Compensation You Deserve

We’ve all heard stories about insurance companies going to great lengths to avoid paying the full amount they should on insurance claims. Often, this occurs when an insurance company refuses to honor a claim or fails to offer adequate coverage for extensive damage. While you might think this happens only in extraordinary cases, the unfortunate truth is that it is simply how many insurance companies operate.

If you have been involved in a collision in Santa Barbara County, there are three common ways insurance companies may try to shortchange you:

1) Underestimating the value of a totaled car. If an insurer declares that your car has been totaled as the result of an accident, it is important to second-guess the initial valuation of your vehicle. Often, insurers do not get their information about how much a car is worth from the same sources as the rest of us. Instead, they usually use claims servicing companies, which often undervalue vehicles to the insurance company’s benefit. To get a more accurate estimation of what your car is worth, look it up on a site like Edmunds.com or AutoTrader.com.

2) Totaling a car is an easy way out of paying for repairs. If your car has sustained relatively minor damage from an accident, you may be surprised when a claims adjuster declares the vehicle completely totaled. This is typically a cost-saving measure. Often, a minor collision will result in damage to just a few parts, but they can be very expensive parts that the insurer won’t want to replace. If you want to make sure your car has been totaled for the right reasons, consult with your own appraiser to determine if repairs can and should be made.

3) Auto shops frequently work for insurance companies. Because most insurers insist that their preferred auto shops handle repairs, it’s very important to speak with an impartial inspector to ensure that all repairs were done correctly. You can use this inspection to hold the insurance company accountable for any work that isn’t up to reasonable standards.

If you’d like to learn more about what you should do after an auto accident in California, speak with Steven P. Roberts, Personal Injury Attorney.

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Combating insurance company bad faith

In 2013, a California court ruled that insurers could be found to be acting in bad faith against their clients, even after they provided counsel for them and paid settlement funds to them. In California, insurance companies are subject to heavy state regulation designed to prevent insurer bad faith. Despite this, insurance company bad faith is prevalent.

Your insurer acts in bad faith when it:

  • Does not pay, communicate or process your claim in a timely manner
  • Does not provide you with a lawyer
  • Refuses to pay you a fair amount

Your insurer is obligated to provide you pay your claimed damages when you are entitled to it under your policy ― not look for ways to deny your claim in an adversarial manner. You may miss court-filing deadlines due to insurer foot-dragging during the claims process, which may unfairly enable the insurer to further resist paying your claim.

Below are some tips on how to fight an insurance company that acts in bad faith:

  • Claim but do not necessarily settle now. You have a limited time to settle your claim or file suit. However, be suspicious of hasty settlement offers. The insurer may be settling for cheap, especially if you do not yet know the full extent of your injuries.
  • Hire a lawyer who knows their game. Claims adjusters are trained negotiators who use many ploys. For example, they may call you at 7:00 am when you are still groggy, or, before Christmas time when you need extra money for gifts. Lawyers understand the insurer tactics and will be less likely to be taken advantage of.
  • Do not let your guard down. Adjusters sometimes record your conversations, and these can be used to fight your damage claim, especially when you concede your faults. Note that your insurer may have opposing interests from you. Do not provide an authorization to your medical records, they may use them to assign responsibility of your injury to non-accident factors, to reduce their payout. Do not believe everything they tell you.
  • In general, review your policy carefully. Sit down with your lawyer to verify their statements and see what you are entitled to receive.
  • Be prepared to fight. You may have to appeal several denials before you get the result you deserve.

Increase your chance of receiving fair and timely compensation for your injuries in an accident by hiring a firm that knows how to talk to California insurance companies that act in bad faith. Contact Steven P. Roberts, Personal Injury Attorney to learn more.