When you’re in an automobile accident it sucks. When you’re in an accident and your whole family is with you, it sucks even more. What’s worse, is it can get really complicated when there are lots of victims. What this post deals with is the situation where there’s a lot of victims and a little money.
In North Carolina drivers are required to carry liability insurance with minimum limits of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. That’s the least amount of insurance you can carry legally in NC. So as you can guess, that’s what most people are likely to have. You can see the problem…what happens when someone with a 30/60 policy causes an accident with 5 other people, each of whom has a $20,000 claim? Trouble, that’s what.
Of course the first layer of recovery is going to be from the at-fault policy. So the negligent driver in our example above has $60,000 to give and 5 people to give it to, and everyone agrees that that should get more, there’s only not enough money to go around (we’re also assuming for purposes of this illustration that there’s no umbrella policy for the at-fault driver, and the assumption is reasonable, because it would be a truly weird bird who carried minimum limits AND an umbrella policy… I don’t even think a carrier would write that). What will generally happen is the insurance company will try to get each of the victims to take a pro rata share of the limits, meaning a percentage portion relative to their damages. If everyone’s claims are deemed equal, then they all get equal shares. Another way to look at it is to do it pro rata based on each party’s medical expenses, though sometimes that’s not necessarily fair. For instance, if you have broken ribs, your medical expenses might be limited to a $2000 ED visit, but your pain and suffering might actually have been way worse than the person who had a $10,000 ED visit with lots of diagnostics but nothing broken and no other treatment.
The good news is that there might be more coverage with your insurance policy, in the way of what’s called Underinsured Motorist coverage. That’s for another post, though.
As you might deduce from the scenario illustrated above, this can get really messy, especially if each of the parties isn’t on great terms. There is a school of thought that each party should have their own attorney. This would alleviate any concerns of a conflict of interests, because each attorney would only be looking to maximize their own client’s recovery. There is another school of thought that, if everyone is amenable to it, the parties might want to waive any potential conflict because each party having their own attorney can lead to a nightmare in getting everyone’s claims resolved. Much like in school, you can only go as fast as your dumbest classmate. So in these situations, if you have a really slow or slack attorney for one party, you might get stuck waiting to try to resolve your claim until they get their act together. Also, you might run into 1 plaintiff feeling like THEIR claim is the WORST and THEY should get more than anyone else, so in that instance, having one attorney who can objectively arbitrate between parties to help everyone see eye to eye and expedite the process for everyone might be a good thing.
The practice of law is rarely one size fits all; there is rarely an “always do this this way” sort of path. It’s always good to get advice from a seasoned personal injury attorney, so if you find yourself with a wacky injury claim, call me at 919-929-2992.