I have people call me all the time who just want some free advice.  I give it to them freely and most personal injury attorneys will do the same.  When an accident victim calls me for a free consultation, here are the questions I go through with them.

Who was at fault in the accident

First, I need to know about who was at fault in the accident.  The insurance company involved is going to do a liability investigation before they do anything else.

If the other driver calls their own insurance company and accepts fault his insurance company adjusters will generally go ahead and accept liability quickly.  The insurance company will generally not deny liability when their own insured will admit that he or she caused the accident.

If the other driver does not admit fault to his or her insurance company, the insurance company will usually want to wait to see the traffic collision report. This can sometimes be a problem as sometimes it can take days or weeks before the report is completed.

Once the insurance company for the at fault driver accepts liability, it will  start to resolve what is called the property damage portion of your claim.  We call the vehicle damage repair portion of the claim the property damage portion because your vehicle is an item of your personal property.

The Vehicle Damage Portion of Your Claim

What I need next is a copy of a repair estimate on your vehicle.  The reason this is important is because insurance companies have taken the position that, if there is not much visible damage to your vehicle, there cannot have been much damage to your body.  If their insured was at fault the insurance company will pay for the damage to your car, even though the cost may be low.  The insurance company will not, however, pay you any money for your physical injuries if the damage to your vehicle, called your property damage, is below a certain amount, usually around $2,000.00 or so.

Cases with low repair costs are generally referred to as Minor Impact Soft Tissue (MIST) cases.   Once your case is labeled as a MIST case it becomes very difficult to ever receive compensation for your personal injuries.  For this reason, it is important to know what facts can take your case out of the MIST classification by the at fault driver’s insurance company.

One of the things you might want to consider first is to get a different estimate. Sometimes a body shop will write a “lowball’ estimate to impress the insurance company and get the repair job.  You don’t want any part of that. You want to get your vehicle repaired correctly.

I suggest you take the vehicle to the manufacturers shop or to some other high end shop.  After all, you didn’t cause the accident and are entitled to have your vehicle repaired to its pre-accident condition.  If you get a higher estimate that may take care of the whole problem.

You want a very thorough repair estimate, now just a “walk around”.  Ask the repair shop to put the vehicle up on the lift to look for damage underneath the vehicle.  If they have to remove a few access panels to look for damage have them do so

Below are instances in which the repair estimate on your vehicle is under approximately $2,0000.0.  If one of these applies your case should be taken out of the MIST classification and is then handled just like a case where the property damage repair estimate was for over $2,000.00.

Trucks- Most trucks ride on what is called a “ladder frame”. If you were driving a truck and had frame damage needing at least 2 house work to pull and straighten the frame, you will not be classified as a MIST case, even if the repair estimate is low.

Tow Hitch- If your car had a tow hitch and you were rear ended, you will not be in MIST.  The reason is that the tow hitch is attached to solid areas under the vehicle and the force of the impact is transmitted directly to the occupants of your vehicle and not absorbed by the rear bumper system.

Your vehicle was “submarined” – Sometimes when a car is rear ended, the impacting vehicle goes under the rear bumper of the car being hit.  The only visible damage on the rear bumper of the struck vehicle is often just a small dimple on the rear bumper cover.  When the car is put up on a  lift, however, there is extensive damage to the underside of the struck vehicle. A tip off  to this condition is that usually the front end of the vehicle that went under the back  of the struck vehicle has a lot of visible damage on it.  The damage underneath the rear of the struck vehicle will often lift the repair estimate high enough to be taken out of the MIST classification.  You should take a digital photo of the underside of the rear of your car in the event this happens.

Rear Bumper Absorbers Moved More than One Inch – Some cars have rear bumper shock absorbers attached to the rear bumper under the back of the car. They consist of a cylinder with a piston coming out of the cylinder which attaches to the underside of the rear bumper.  The cylinder and piston are normally all covered with road dirt and grease,  If, in a rear end impact, the piston is depressed such that more than one inch of shiny piston can now be seen, that means that the vehicle sustained an impact of over 4.5 G’s, which makes it a non MIST case.

Damage extends beyond the rear wheel well-Damage of this amount means that the vehicle experienced an impact speed of more than 2.5 G’.  Even if the repair estimate is low this will take the case out of the MIST program.

Multiple Vehicles or Multiple Impacts – Since this makes the whole case more complicated for the insurance company, it will usually not classify a case with these characteristics as a MIST case.

Were you injured?

I next need to discuss your injuries.  The first thing you need to know about the personal injury portion of your case is that the insurance company of the at fault driver is not going to pay your medical bills as you go.   Many adjusters tell injured persons that they will pay their medical bills.  What they don’t say is that they are not going to pay the bills until the injured person signs a release agreeing to not submit any more medical bills or bills of any type.   Why would you sign a release before you are finished treatment and you know you will not need more medical care and treatment?

In order to evaluate the personal injury portion of your claim, I need to know certain things.  They are as follows:

What Kind of Injuries Did You Receive? Did you go through a whiplash injury? Did any part of your body strike any part of the interior of your vehicle.  Were you taken by ambulance to a hospital? If so, what did they do for you at the hospital?

How soon after the collision did you first see a doctor? – If you were not taken to the hospital, this is important so that we don’t have a problem with an unreasonable delay in treatment.  If you did have a delay in treatment, I need to know if you self treated with over the counter Ibuprofen, bed rest or exercise.  If you did, you can tell that to the physician when you see him or her and that may resolve the delay in treatment problem with the claims evaluation software of the at fault driver’s insurance company.

What did the doctor tell you about your injuries?-I need to know if the doctor is recording all of the complaints and symptoms you are having and telling the doctor about.  If the doctor is not recording them you need to find a doctor who will so that your personal injury claim is not harmed.

Do you need help in having a doctor see you on a lien basis because you don’t have health insurance?  Many physicians will treat patients in personal injury cases on a lien basis.  That means that the doctor will wait until the end of the case to be paid.  It is a great help to people injured in motor vehicle accidents who don’t have the funds or insurance to pay for medical or chiropractic care.

The above are some of the things that you need to discuss with a personal injury attorney after a car, motorcycle or truck accident.  Most personal injury attorneys, like me, will discuss your case at no cost to  you.  By calling and speaking  with them you can a lot about what is going to happen to your case and your receiving all of the financial compensation you are entitled to under  the laws of the State of California.

Wishing you health and safety, John P. Burns, San Juan Capistrano, CA 2010.

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