What to know if you're in a motorcycle accident

In 2009, while riding my Harley-Davidson Road King, a distracted driver turned left into my path. My life changed forever that night.

I naively assumed the "at fault" insurance company would begin paying my medical bills, replace my totaled Harley and cover lost wages. Wrong!

Being a longtime advocate of Hupy and Abraham's Watch for Motorcycles campaign, I signed with the personal injury law firm so I could focus on medical treatment.

I learned there are two parts to an accident settlement. The property damage portion includes your vehicle and any damaged personal items. The second part includes medical bills, lost wages, prescriptions and pain and suffering. This part is settled after you complete treatment. Until then, you are responsible for your medical bills.

My legal assistant guided me to the best options for handling my medical bills. Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations to file or settle a motor vehicle accident, although some exceptions may shorten that legal deadline.

The insurance adjuster's job is to save their company money and pay the lowest possible settlement. It's not to offer a top-dollar settlement.

A few years after my accident, I became an accident investigator for Hupy and Abraham S.C., a personal injury law firm. I've learned a lot since then.

Want to hear something frightening? A conservative estimate of 25 percent of drivers do not have any auto insurance or have minimal coverage. If you're hit by an uninsured or an underinsured driver, a claim could revert to your policy. If your policy has the minimum amounts for uninsured and underinsured coverage, or none at all, it can be financially and emotionally devastating.

It's in your best interest to find out the cost to increase or add this coverage to your policy.

Some people decline medical treatment at the scene. You may not feel hurt, but after the adrenaline and shock wear off, if you feel pain, seek medical treatment ASAP. Some put off treatment because of busy schedules or a fear of bills. Depending on how long after an accident a person gets treatment, insurance companies may use this to argue for a lesser settlement.

Always call the police. Sometimes police cannot come to the scene unless there are injuries. If police are not at the scene, ask to see the other party's driver's license and insurance card, and share yours with them. Take a "clear" photo of their card and ID and take photos of the vehicles at the scene. Then, based on the accident location, file a traffic accident report at the appropriate police department. Give the accident report number to your attorney and insurance company.

Ask witnesses for their names and phone numbers. Keep this information, but also share it with the police, your lawyer and your insurance company.

If your vehicle is safe to drive, go to a dealership or body shop and get a written estimate. The "at fault" insurance company might send you to a body shop of their choice and that's OK. It does not hurt to get more than one estimate. Estimates should be free.

If your cellphone or other personal items were damaged in the crash, they become part of the property damage settlement. Do not toss these items and, if applicable, get a written repair or replacement estimate.

Do not sign anything from an insurance company without checking with your attorney first! One young client had settled on her car, but was still going to physical therapy, which the "at fault" insurance company knew. The check they sent for her car included a letter that stated this was the end of their financial responsibility for her property damage and medical treatment. She didn't read the small print, and now she's responsible for all of her medical bills and will not get anything for pain and suffering.

The sooner you sign with a law firm, for any type of motor-vehicle accident, the better for the outcome of your case.

• Jo Giovannoni is an accident investigator for Hupy and Abraham S.C., personal injury lawyers, (800) 800-5678.

Do you know what to do if you're in a motorcycle accident? Know there are two parts to an accident settlement: the property damage portion and medical bills. Photos Courtesy of Jo Giovannoni

About the author

• Jo Giovannoni was inducted into the National Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 1996 for her work with Harley Women magazine and as co-founder of the second Women In The Wind chapter of riders.

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