Frequently Asked Questions
The most important thing to remember is that your safety at the scene comes first. As soon as you determine that it is safe to do so, you should call the local police authority or 911 if you are uncertain. It is critical that you report any injuries that occurred in the accident, the location of the accident, the time of the accident and your name and telephone number. These factors go on to the police report and need to be communicated clearly to the investigating officer. Do not discuss the facts of the accident with anyone except the investigating officer at the scene of the accident. Many times an investigator or supervisor for the insurance company or opposing driver will come to the scene and attempt to communicate with you. Do not give any statement concerning the accident unless you are asked by the police officer to do so. If you are aware of any witness who you believe actually saw the accident occur, you should attempt to get their name, telephone number and address (this can be extremely important in the event of a dispute later). Again, do not discuss the facts of the accident or your injuries with anyone other than the police officer and, if called, the ambulance attendants if so requested.
It is a simple process to obtain the police accident report from the investigating agency by providing your name and the time, date and location of the accident. If the investigating officer gave you a file number, you should be able to obtain the information from the investigating agency simply with reference to that file number. There may be a small charge for the report. Be sure to request that all written statements gathered by the investigating officer at the time of the investigation be included with the report.
A consultation with an attorney from our office is free of charge. Thus, you should never feel guilty or be afraid to contact an attorney to find out what your rights include. If your injuries are substantial, it is extremely unlikely that the insurance adjuster will be authorized to make a settlement offer to you that approach the reasonable value of your losses.
Most importantly, you may need a medical evaluation to understand the injuries you suffered. Initial claims adjusters simply do not have the authorization to assess or compensate you for significant injuries. If you believe that the insurance company is not going to adequately compensate your losses, you should contact an attorney. Insurance adjusters are not your friend. First and foremost, insurance company adjusters are very well trained at representing the interests of their insurance company so as to minimize the payment that you receive for your losses.
Do not be misled into believing that the insurance adjuster's aim is to be fair in handling your claim. On the contrary, everything in the training of the adjuster is designed to minimize the payment that he makes to you for your losses. Many insurance companies have attorneys who are consulted on your claim. You should take advantage of that same opportunity to understand your rights.
The laws concerning the rights of a maritime victim to recover medical expenses can vary dramatically depending on whether you are a Jones Act Seaman or a Longshoreman. If the accident victim is a Jones Act Seaman or a member of the crew of a vessel, the vessel operator or Jones Act employer may be responsible for medical benefits under its obligation to provide "cure".
The "cure" obligation requires the responsible party to pay all medicals for injuries caused by or related to the accident. If not, the employer of a Longshoreman victim may owe medical benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act. The answer to this question is complex and you should consult an experienced maritime attorney concerning such issues.
Louisiana law allows you to recover damages for your past lost wages and the loss of your future ability to earn wages. Your past lost wages are determined by considering the money you have lost from the time of the accident until the time you return to work. Your lost earning capacity or ability to earn is determined by your doctors and experts trained to help you understand your limitation following an injury. These elements of damages are usually recovered at the end of your case or claim. In fact, most liability insurance companies will not pay for lost wages until a final settlement is made on a claim. However, in some cases, there may be other resources to help you get through the period during which you are unable to work. Some of these resources include:
- Worker's compensation benefits, if you were working at the time of the accident.
- Private or group disability benefits (short term and long term).
- Social Security Disability Benefits if you are totally disabled and that disability is expected to last for at least one year.
It is important that you notify your own insurance company and give them the basic information concerning the accident. In some instances, your own insurer may be placed in a position of defending the actions of the other motorist, so even your own insurance company's interest may be in conflict with yours. This is especially true if you have had the foresight to purchase Uninsured Motorist benefits.
Nevertheless, you should give them all information that they feel is necessary to investigate the claim. However, you should not give a recorded statement without first contacting an attorney to find out your rights. If your insurer states that they must take a recorded statement to investigate the claim, ask them to show you the portion of your insurance policy that requires that you give a recorded or written statement; there probably is none.
With respect to the other insurance company, you should make them aware of your losses and give them an opportunity to appraise the damage to your vehicle. Do not give them a recorded or written statement.
The rights of a victim injured on a fixed platform are normally determined by the law of the state adjacent to the location of the fixed offshore platform. If you are injured off of the coast of Louisiana or in Louisiana inland waters, then Louisiana law would apply. Under most circumstances, you will be entitled to worker's compensation benefits.
Depending on who owns the platform, how the accident occurred and whose negligence caused you injury, you may also be entitled to bring a claim or suit for damages outside of worker's compensation. For this reason, it is important that you contact an experienced maritime attorney to help you hold the responsible parties liable for fair compensation.
- What are my rights if I am injured while in an automobile accident during the course of my employment?
If you are injured while you are on the job, Louisiana law requires that your employer's workers' compensation insurance company pay two-thirds of your average weekly wage during the time of your disability from work (subject to a maximum limit) and all of your reasonable medical expenses.
These benefits are extremely important when you are providing for a family and cannot return to work. For this reason, is important that you seek the advice of an attorney to determine whether you are being properly compensated should this occur. In some cases, these benefits or a portion of them will have to be repaid to the worker's compensation insurance company when you resolve your case against the at fault driver.
Advice from a qualified attorney is important to make sure that this amount is accurately determined and does not adversely affect your future medical rights.
- What is evidence and how should I make sure that I obtain it at the time of or shortly following my accident?
Evidence is physical, testimonial or photographic elements needed to prove your case. These elements include, statements from witnesses, photographs of the damage, photographs of the accident scene, and the information from all persons involved in or witnessing the accident.
In the confusion that often follows an accident, especially one causing personal injury, much important evidence can be lost. Be certain to gather and record the name, address and telephone number of any witness who you believe actually saw the accident occur. Take photographs of the scene of the accident if the condition of the roadway was, in your opinion, a factor in causing the accident. Take photographs of the damage to your vehicle preferably from various directions.
If you suffered any visible injuries, you should have good photographs taken of bruising, cuts, swelling, etc., because these conditions may be important in diagnosing more substantial injuries and they may no longer be visible in a few days. Keep all medical bills, doctor's instructions, emergency room materials, medicine receipts, etc., as these will be very important to you later. The investigating police officer should give you the name of the agency to which he will report the accident and the accident report or file number. Be sure to keep that information for later use.
The Jones Act is a body of federal law which allows a worker to sue his employer for negligence. Normally, an employee cannot sue his employer even if the employer or a co-employees was at fault in causing your injury. The Jones Act is different.
If you qualify as a Jones Act seaman, you can file suit against your employer for its or a co-employees negligence. For instance, under the Jones Act, an employer has a duty to provide its employees with a safe place to work. So, if a worker is injured, because his employer failed to furnish a safe work place, the worker may be able to recover such damages as described below. Another example is when one of your co-employees commits a negligent or intentional act that causes you harm. Your employer will most likely be responsible for the actions of the negligent co-employee.
In many cases, the injured oilfield worker has at least two other claims which he can make with his Jones Act claim; namely, that his injury was caused by the unseaworthiness of the drilling rig, ship or other vessel on which he was working at the time of his injury, and, further, that he is entitled to maintenance and cure.
- What are my rights when I'm injured on a vessel such as a jack-up, semi-submersible drilling rig, drilling ship, etc.?
Because the rights of a victim of a maritime accident depend dramatically on the classification of the vessel involved and the status of the victim as a seaman or passenger, the rights of a victim must be analyzed carefully by an experienced maritime attorney.
Rights of maritime victims can vary dramatically depending upon whether the victim is an employee of the operator of the vessel, a passenger or a member of the crew of the vessel and can even depend upon which federal jurisdiction (court) governs the area in which the accident occurred. Most importantly, the body of law may be different depending on if you are a Jones Act seaman or a Longshoreman.
If you are injured as a result of the actions or condition of a vessel, you should contact a highly experienced maritime attorney to determine what body of laws protects or creates your rights.
- What damages am I entitled to if I or my family is injured as a result of the other driver's negligence?
Although each case is different, the Louisiana law requires that the "at fault" party be responsible for the injuries and damages caused by their negligent actions. These damages can be comprised of many elements including:
- The cost of your past and future medical expenses incurred for injuries suffered in the accident.
- Amounts for your lost wages while you are out work.
- If you cannot return to the same type of work you are performing at the time of the accident, your loss of earning capacity into the future.
- Where your injuries prevent you from enjoying activities you enjoyed prior to your injuries, a loss of enjoyment of life.
- Physical and mental pain and suffering for the amount of time you experience pain or mental anguish following an accident.
- Other damages may be available depending on the particular facts of your case.
You have three years to file suit or settle your claim under the Jones Act, or the General Maritime Law of the United States. However, it is never a good idea to wait to consult an experience maritime attorney to discuss your rights. Remember the consultation is fee. Early investigation into the facts of your case may make the difference between winning and losing. It is extremely important that all physical evidence be collected and saved, all witnesses are identified and photographs of the scene taken at or near the time of the accident/injury. In the confusion that often follows an accident, the help and advice of an experience maritime attorney can be critical to ensuring you are treated fairly and receive just compensation.
In the first half of the last century, maritime claims for personal injury usually involved workers employed in the shipping industry-longshoremen, harbor workers and crew members aboard the large sailing ships sometimes referred to as "blue water" seaman.
However, shortly after the oil industry went off shore, several important court decisions extended the protection available under maritime law to offshore oilfield workers assigned to "floaters;" that is, special purpose structures capable of being floated from one location to another, like semi-submersible drilling rigs, jack-up drilling rigs, and inland barges.
In fact, since 1959, many oilfield workers hurt on the job have been able to find protection under the general maritime law as well as, under the same federal legislation—the Jones Act—passed by Congress in 1920 for the benefit of traditional seamen employed shipboard.
The terms "admiralty law" and "maritime law" are often used interchangeably. Black's Law Dictionary defines maritime law as: "[t]hat system of law which particularly relates ... to seaman, to the transportation of persons ...by sea, and to marine affairs generally. [It is] [t]he law relating to harbors, ships and seaman, ... and rights of masters and seaman, etc."
As discussed above, you and your family's rights can vary greatly depending on your position or status aboard a vessel at the time of the accident. You should always consult an experienced maritime attorney to help you determine your status at the time of your accident. Generally, a Jones Act seaman is the captain or member of the crew of a vessel, who contributes to the work of that vessel. Due to the unique nature of the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, other types of workers may also be Jones Act seaman under certain circumstances.
Typically the decision to bring a claim or less important in answering than the quality of the employer of such a victim. In many cases, the employer of a victim of an offshore accident might stand beside their employee where the employee's injury was caused by negligent third parties. These situations may allow an employer to recover expenses it incurred through its responsibility to pay Workers' Compensation benefits or its responsibility to provide maintenance and cure benefits to its seaman employees. An experienced maritime attorney can help you understand these issues if you are faced with the decision of whether or not to bring such a claim.
- Will the insurance company for the other driver pay for me to go to the doctor in advance? If not, how do I pay for my medical treatment?
Following an auto accident, you may need immediate medical treatment and follow up care. In the vast majority of circumstances, the insurance company for the other driver will refuse to pay for medical treatment until the entire matter can be settled. Be very careful to avoid signing any agreement with the insurance company to pay for medical bills. It could be a release of certain rights that are very important to your future.
When the other insurance company refuses to pay for you to go to the doctor you must consider other means through which you can fund your medical treatment. If you are part of a group health program or otherwise have health insurance, which is your first resource. If the automobile in which you were riding at the time of the accident or the one that you were driving includes "medical expense benefits" as part of the coverage, which is also available as a resource to you. That coverage generally can best be used to pay your "deductible" that is not funded by your health carrier if you are so insured. If you were working at the time of the accident, your employer's workers' compensation carrier should pay for your medical expenses.
Ultimately, if the negligence of the other driver caused your injuries, you will be able to recover your losses including your medical expenses from that driver's insurer. However, this generally only takes effect at the end of the case.