Car accidents are terrifying. And sometimes they're even scarier if you're worried about discrimination or even fear being deported. We understand.
Don't let that fear cause you to make bad choices. If someone is negligent and injures you, you're supposed to be given the same care and respect as any U.S. citizen.
"Supposed to" is key. As a non-U.S. citizen, you may have to take extra steps to try to make sure you're treated fairly.
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Why You Have to Be Careful After an Accident If You're Not a U.S. Citizen
I and many of my James Scott Farrin colleagues do a lot of community work - particularly in the Spanish-speaking community. One question I hear a lot from our Latino neighbors is: "What should I do if I'm injured in a car accident but don't have papers or a driver's license?" They're understandably afraid.
North Carolina accident laws are designed to try to help protect anyone who is injured in the state - documented, undocumented, U.S. citizens, and citizens of other countries.
Yet sadly, oftentimes we see adversarial behavior toward our non-citizen clients, especially Latinos, by some insurance companies and others. We have seen some of them try to intimidate these clients just because they don't speak English, don't have a driver's license or proper documentation, or they're not a U.S. citizen.
The Insurance Company Believes You Won't Go to Court - Blatant Discrimination?
In our booklet Insurance Companies Behaving Badly, one employee recounted a story about an insurance adjuster who said they had a video contradicting what our client said about how she got her injuries. In mediation, we proved it wasn't our client on the video, but the defense continued to deny the claim.
In response, we launched discovery into the insurance company's treatment of Hispanic clients. They ended up settling the case for six figures*.
When you mess with our clients, you mess with us. We'll play hardball. We do not appreciate bad behavior.
My Best Advice: Get Free Advice from an Attorney
A large portion of the cases I resolve in any given year are for non-U.S. and undocumented residents. Every time I think I've seen it all, an insurance company will come along and surprise me again.
My advice when you're injured in an accident is to call an attorney right away. There are just too many ways insurance companies can affect your claim. Most attorneys will do an initial consultation for free, and if you ultimately choose to hire them you could potentially end up getting more for your claim.
Studies have shown that, on average, car accident victims who hired a personal injury lawyer to represent them received 3.5x times more compensation for their loss than they would have on their own **.
And if you think you cannot afford an attorney, think again. At our firm, you pay nothing upfront. We work on a contingency basis, which means if we don't get you compensation, you don't pay any attorney's fees!
What to Do After an Accident If You Are Undocumented
When undocumented people call me after an accident and ask what to do, I tell them their initial steps are the same things anyone should do after an accident.
If you or someone else is injured, call 9-1-1. If your injury is serious, you may not have time to collect all the facts, and that's OK. Your health comes first.
Don't be Afraid to Report the Accident to the Police
In order to make a claim for your damages and your injuries, you must be able to prove the accident happened. You should call the police. Don't be afraid. The purpose of calling is so the responding police officer will conduct an investigation and make an official report of the accident.
Never trust the at fault driver to report it on his own. He may later deny the accident ever occurred. By then it will be too late to contact the police, and you could be stuck paying for the crash yourself.
Suppose I got a ticket for no U.S. driver's license? Will this affect my claim?
No. You should not ignore your ticket, as it may have other legal ramifications, but you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and any damages to your vehicle, whether you have a license or not.
Will I be in danger of being deported if I have no drivers' license and make a claim?
Generally, you will not likely be deported simply because you make an insurance claim after an accident where you received a ticket for driving without a license.
Get as much information as you can while you are still at the scene, or immediately thereafter. Write down:
- Date and time of the accident
- Location of the accident
- Other driver's name and license plate number
- Police report number
- Investigating officer's name
- Witnesses names and their contact information, including phone number
With your cell phone, someone else's cell phone, or a camera, take pictures of:
- All vehicles involved
- Any property damaged by the wreck
- Any visible injuries
- Tire marks and debris in the roadway
Seek Medical Attention
Even if you feel fine, you should probably see a doctor. It's not uncommon for people feel fine in the minutes and hours immediately after a crash, when adrenaline is high. Many people don't start to feel the effects of a wreck until hours or even a few days later.
But if you don't see a doctor and something starts to feel worse, you won't have any documentation that your injuries are related to your accident and an insurance company may deny your claim.
10 Things Most Non-U.S. Citizens Want to Know After a Car Wreck
As I mentioned previously, a large number of my cases are non-citizens. Here are the top things most want to know.
1. I don't have health insurance, can I go to the doctor?
If you are injured, you should seek immediate medical attention. There are options for those without health insurance.
2. Will the adjuster send me to a doctor?
No, it is your responsibility to obtain medical treatment. The adjuster does not direct treatment, or work directly with any specific doctors.
3. My injuries seem minor; can I just wait and see if they go away?
While your injuries may seem minor, only a medical doctor can confirm this. Sometimes injuries left untreated become worse or even permanent. If you do not seek medical attention in a timely manner, the insurance company may try to deny compensation for your injuries and related medical bills.
4. My car is not drivable, how can I go to the doctor?
It is your responsibility to obtain medical treatment, with or without transportation. Ask a friend or family member to give you a ride or take the bus. If you don't get yourself to the doctor, you could prolong your pain. Without medical treatment, the insurance company will conclude you were not injured in the wreck, no matter how much pain you are feeling.
5. Should I call my insurance company?
Even if the accident is not your fault, you should contact your own insurance company to let them know you have been in a car wreck. You may have coverage available on your own policy that you can use without affecting your rates. If you are the owner of the vehicle involved in the crash, you should open a claim with the at-fault insurance company for your property damage. Do not go into detail about your injuries or treatment. It is enough to tell them you are injured and under a doctor's care.
It is not wise to sign anything without first speaking to an experienced attorney; you may be signing away your entire case!
6. The adjuster said he needs my Social Security number, but I don't have one. Can I still make a claim?
Yes, if you are injured in a car accident, you may have a right to compensation, regardless of your citizenship status.
7. The adjuster wants a recorded statement, should I give one?
Probably not. The insurance company knows how to protect their own interests. You may think there is no harm in telling your story, but liability laws are complicated and you could do irreparable damage to your case.
8. I am not fluent in English, how can I communicate with the adjuster?
Most insurance companies have Spanish-speaking staff, and if not, have translators available. Request to be contacted by a Spanish-speaking adjuster, or a translator.
9. The adjuster said the other driver has no insurance, what can I do?
There may be other types of coverage available to you to cover your losses. Inform your own insurance company the at-fault driver was uninsured.
10. The adjuster says he will pay for everything, so I don't need an attorney, right?
No! You have no guarantee the adjuster will pay even a portion of your bills. Often at the end of the case the adjuster will offer to pay only a few of your expenses. You should decide for yourself if you need an attorney in your case. Don't let the adjuster make this decision for you.
The insurance company has adjusters and attorneys working for them to make sure they come out on top. Sometimes an adjuster will give you misleading information, or try to scare you out of pursuing your rights. Each case is unique, and while you may not hire an attorney, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced attorney to discuss the nuances and issues or your particular case, and find out what your options are.
Get a FREE Case Evaluation by Experienced NC Car Crash Attorneys
We're always here for you to try to help you protect your rights - documented or undocumented. Contact us anytime for a FREE case evaluation or call at 1-866-900-7078.
We have both Spanish-speaking staff and attorneys available to help you.
*Cases or matters referenced do not represent the law firm's entire record. Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The outcome of a particular case cannon be predicated upon a lawyer's or law firms past results. These are specific examples of experiences we have had with some insurance companies, adjusters, or others. These stories do not necessarily represent any industry as a whole. These descriptions of events are based upon the recollections of individual staff members. Client identities have been removed or changed to protect their privacy.
**Insurance Research Council, 1999