January 5, 2017
We all know that auto accidents happen. It comes with the territory when you're driving down the road at anywhere from 25-65 miles per hour (or more), along with everybody else. Even if you're a cautious and responsible driver, there's no accounting for every other car on the road. Plenty of drivers succumb to distraction, drive under the influence, or simply screw up. It happens.
When you're heading to work, running errands, or going to visit a friend, you may suddenly find yourself at the mercy of someone who's texting and driving. Perhaps it’s someone who didn't get enough sleep last night, or who decided to run that red light or roll through the stop sign. Whether you're doing everything right or you hold equal blame for causing an accident, you could find yourself dealing with an injury and mounting medical bills.
In Minnesota, like most states, the process of making claims begins with insurance coverage. However, if insurance won't cover the losses caused by an accident, you may elect to pursue legal action. There are three possible claims you can make in wake of a car accident: property damage, no-fault benefits, and personal or bodily injury claims.
Property damage claims are usually paid by the insurance company covering the at-fault driver. If you have comprehensive or collision coverage, and the accident is either your own fault or no one’s fault (such as hitting a deer), your own insurance company will pay for the damage, less your deductible.
If you've been injured in an automobile accident, there are several different claims that you may have.
Minnesota is a “No-Fault” state. We have a system in place that guarantees that everyone who is injured in a motor vehicle accident is provided with a package of benefits that are intended to take the financial hardship out of being injured in a car crash. They include:
$20,000 of medical treatment, including reimbursement for transportation;
$20,000 of wage loss benefits with a cap at $500 per week;
Replacement of Essential Services up to $200 per week;
Up to $10,000 in retraining.
There is a system set up that determines which insurance company is responsible for paying the benefits. The general rule is your own insurance company pays your benefits.
Types of Injuries
The severity of your injuries following a car accident could have some bearing on whether you're entitled to additional compensation through legal claims. For example, you may only have cuts, scrapes, or sprains. Maybe you have other minor injuries that require relatively little medical care, resulting in a small amount of medical expense. In such cases, it is likely that no-fault insurance will cover the associated costs, and no other claim will be available.
However, you might also suffer from common issues like whiplash, back pain, or neck pain in the wake of a collision. These injuries can require ongoing care such as physical therapy and chiropractic care to correct. Additionally, you might have more serious problems like broken bones, herniated or ruptured discs, or other spinal injuries. It’s also possible to sustain brain injuries or internal organ damage.
In such cases, serious, immediate, and ongoing medical care may be required. Those bills could rack up quickly. You may end up exceeding the limits of no-fault insurance. If so, seeking legal recourse to recoup remaining costs is the next step.
Statute of Limitations
When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, Minnesota has several different statutes of limitations for filing different legal claims. A statute of limitations is a legal deadline for a lawsuit to be commenced. If you fail to start a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period, your claim will be lost forever. Some of them are quite short, so it is essential that you speak with an attorney as quickly as possible to learn which statute applies to your case. The statutes of limitation start on the date of the accident. People who have missed the deadline commonly do not initially want to bother with a claim and then, after the physical problems have not healed completely, decide to act, only to find out it is too late.
Therefore, you need know what statute applies to your case and to remain aware of the deadline for filing a civil suit so that you don't miss your window. The statute of limitations for negligence in Minnesota is generally 6 years, but there are exceptions: Claims arising from civil rights violations are as short as 1 year; claim for assault and battery (2 years); injuries that are caused by a permanent improvement to real property (2 years); medical negligence (4 years) property damage is six years. There are others as well. That is why it is vitally important to consult with an attorney whenever you are injured, even if you do not plan to bring a claim.
If you choose to bring a claim for personal injury arising out of a motor vehicle accidents, beyond receiving no-fault benefits, Minnesota has some placed some barriers that must first be met. We call these barriers “thresholds”. They are the trade off for no-fault benefits. The thresholds are as follows:
$4000 in non-diagnostic medical expenses related to the accident;
A disfigurement, such as a scar or amputation;
60 days of disability; or
A permanent injury.
You must meet at least one of these in order to bring your claim. The rationale for establishing these barriers is to ensure that only severe injuries are brought. Our legislature believes that more minor accidents will be taken care of by no-fault alone.
Minnesota law requires drivers carry personal liability insurance at a minimum of $30,000 per person, or $60,000 minimum for total injuries per accident. If costs exceed this amount, injured parties may seek compensation from other drivers involved in the accident. In that case, comparative fault rules would apply.
If the other motorist involved in the accident is uninsured, you will look to your own insurance company to step into the shoes of the uninsured driver. This is called uninsured coverage, or “UM”. If your injuries exceed the amount of coverage limits of the at-fault party, you can also look to your own insurance policy for additional compensation. This is called underinsured coverage, or “UIM”. You may want to talk to your insurance agent to make sure you purchase enough coverage to protect yourself in the event of a significant accident. The minimum coverage in Minnesota is $30,000. That is not very much if you have major injuries. I recommend at least $100,000 in coverage.
Minnesota is a comparative fault state where car accidents are concerned. In other words, in determining how someone is compensated for their injuries stemming from an accident, the actions of all parties involved are compared. If you are more at fault that the other driver, you cannot receive compensation for your injuries. If the other party’s fault is greater than yours, you can recover, but your damages are reduced by your percentage of fault. For instance, if it is determined that the fault for an accident is allocated 70% other driver/30% you, and it is determined that the value of your damages is $10,000, than you would collect $7,000.
There is a myth that a driver is 10% at fault, just because they are on the road. This is not true. If an insurance adjuster is assiging some fault to you, make sure the explain the facts that the insurance adjuster that are the basis of their allocation. If it is simply because you were on the road, make sure you seek help from an attorney, because that is not a valid reason.
Pedestrians and Cyclists
Perhaps, not everyone involved in an automobile accident is driving at the time. What can you do if you're injured in a collision with a motor vehicle accident when at the time you were either walking or riding a bike at the time?
The same laws apply. You must first seek no-fault compensation for injuries from your own auto insurance. If you don't have a vehicle or car insurance, you may seek compensation from the motorist involved in the accident. If necessary, you can even file a civil claim.
There are a lot of issues that can arise from a motor vehicle accident. If you have questions about your rights it is important to get answers from someone you trust. Heller & Thyen, P.A. only represent injured people. We do not work for or represent insurance companies. Call us whenever you or a loved one have been injured in an accident.