Being involved in a motor vehicle accident can be a frightening and overwhelming experience, and in the immediate aftermath, it’s hard to think about the steps that will have to come next, such as medical recovery, vehicle repairs and potentially being forced to take time off work to recuperate. Handling these matters correctly often comes with financial costs. Fortunately, you can be compensated through the government’s compulsory insurance scheme for drivers.
There are multiple types of compensation available to drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians who find themselves caught in motor vehicle collisions, each designed to take care of a different part of the recovery process. Some categories of damages are designed to assist with medical bills, others the pain and suffering of lingering injuries, and still others to offset lost earning potential.
Knowing what is possible to claim in the wake of a crash, as well as details such as time limits and necessary information to collect, can help you get your life back on track in the wake of an accident. The following introductions to the various types of damages offered by the NSW government’s State Insurance Regulatory Agency can help you get started. Each state manages car insurance independently, so if your accident occurred elsewhere the rules may vary.
Compensation for pain and suffering (non-economic loss)
Some kinds of compensation are relatively straightforward, as they are designed to help you with very specific costs such as ambulance fees and payments for ongoing medical care. Non-economic losses are a little different, however. This is the damage to your quality of life that has been incurred by a car accident.
These damages are part of a category known as common law claims, or lump-sum compensation. It is based on long-term harm, rather than recovery and recuperation in the immediate aftermath of a crash. To claim damages for pain and suffering loss of amenities, a reduced life expectancy or physical disfigurement, you have to have suffered a permanent whole-person impairment of more than 10% in the accident.
Since the insurer you file the claim with will have to verify that you have a WPI of greater than 10% to potentially pay these types of benefits, it’s essential that you have proof from a licenced doctor attesting to the harm you have suffered. You and your solicitor will go through a negotiation process with the insurer to determine what you should be awarded after the insurer admits liability for the accident in question.
To claim any kind of common law compensation, including pain and suffering, you can’t have been at fault for the collision. With that said, in some cases you can apply after a “no-fault” accident in which no one was fully responsible, even if you were partially at fault. These types of claims for damages can be made at any time for three years after a car accident has taken place. Accident compensation claims after that period have to come with an explanation for why it took so long to file and may be denied on those grounds.
Compensation for lost wages or reduced earning power (economic loss)
Compensation for pain and suffering is not the only type of lump-sum payment available following an accident. You can also apply for economic losses potentially stretching for years, or indefinitely. It’s possible to claim economic losses even if your WPI from the accident is assessed at 10% or less, but there are limits. For instance, between 20 months and three years after the accident, you can claim for superannuation value or past and future loss of earnings, and also potentially extend income support.
If you have suffered a serious injury and you cannot complete your current job or the role you were in training for, this type of payment will help you maintain your standard of living. There are also a few other types of monetary support that fall under the general umbrella of economic loss. This includes travel costs during your treatment and recovery, as well as financial management expenses when you are dealing with the damages you have been awarded.
Whether the injuries you have suffered total 10% WPI or more, they do have to be long-lasting and contribute to a loss in your ability to earn a living in the same way you did before the accident. Furthermore, if you were partially responsible for being injured, the awards may be reduced. For instance, SIRA highlights failure to wear a seat belt in an accident caused by another driver as “contributory negligence” that might result in a smaller payout.
Compensation for medical expenses (personal injury benefits)
While common law compensation is focused on giving you funds for the remainder of your life to compensate for the pain and reduced opportunities caused by your injuries, personal injury benefits are more immediate. These so-called statutory benefits include income support and medical expenses for the months immediately following an accident.
While lump-sum payments are highly dependent on who was at fault in the accident, the first six months of income support is available to everyone, regardless of responsibility for the collision. This type of salary-replacement benefit is offered to allow you to recover following an accident – if you cannot work, these payments can be a lifeline. The maximum you may qualify for is 95% of pre-accident expenses for the first 13 weeks, and up to 85% thereafter.
Income support payments last for up to six months if you suffered legally defined minor injuries, or were at fault in the accident. Thereafter, they can go for as long as two years if you are still unable to work, and can continue even longer if you file a common law benefits claim due to lasting harm from the collision. You should file your claim quickly – within 28 days of the accident. While you have three months to make a claim, you are only able to receive back pay compensation from the day after the accident if you heed the 28-day deadline.
Medical expenses are also covered by this category of compensation, sometimes even without a formal claim for compensation. If you notify the CTP insurer of your accident, that company may immediately approve you to receive a visit with a general practitioner and two sessions of physical therapy or other treatment. SIRA points out that since this is not a formal claim, you don’t have to produce extensive documentation to receive this level of medical compensation.
Of course, your injuries may be severe enough to call for extra treatment. You may need ongoing visits with a physician or dentist, as well as rehabilitation sessions or personal care around the house. There could also be expenses associated with traveling to and from medical appointments. All of these are potential items you can claim personal injury benefits for.
It should be noted that the injury you suffer could be psychological instead of physical: Claims can help you pay for either type of treatment. These damages are also available whether you are the driver of a car, a passenger, a cyclist, or a pedestrian. Anyone harmed by a motor vehicle accident is potentially eligible, provided they were harmed.
Compensation for the loss of a loved one (funeral expenses and financial support)
Losing a family member in a car accident is a devastating event, and there are specific types of benefits to allow those left behind to mourn their loss without worrying about financial matters. This compensation is split into two categories. First, you may apply for funeral expenses and related costs, which may mitigate numerous expenses regarding the service and burial. On an ongoing basis, there are also payments available to people who have lost someone who supported them financially or materially.
The expenses associated with a funeral are available to claim either before or after the ceremony, and they are relatively wide-ranging. For instance, the plot in the cemetery may be eligible for these payments, along with the car that transports the coffin as well as the coffin itself. Fees for the funeral director, cremation and burial fees, and notifications in the newspaper are also claimable funeral expenses. The death certificate processing fee is eligible too – and if the deceased person did not live in NSW, transportation home for the funeral could also be compensated, provided the methods used were not overly expensive. To apply for these funds, you should attach a copy of the death certificate, as well as the police event number or equivalent proof of the accident occurring, along with records of the expenses you are seeking coverage for.
The second type of compensation following the loss of a relative is ongoing in nature and applies to people who may be unable to support themselves without the help of the person who died in the accident. If you are a spouse, child or other “dependent” of a victim of a motor vehicle crash, you may be able to make a claim for necessary income or services. It is important to include a detailed definition of what you are claiming compensation for because the insurer will need a large amount of information to accurately determine what to pay.
Making your claim effectively
In the wake of an accident, it’s normal to be shaken, and not ready to immediately dive into the complex process of gathering data to make a claim. However, due to facts such as the 28-day deadline to apply for back pay, it is relatively important to get the process started quickly, and with comprehensive information on your side.
If you are hospitalised in the wake of an accident or otherwise unable to make the claim yourself, the members of your family can prepare the forms on your behalf. This could help you get the process started and ensure negotiations with the insurer of the responsible party do not take too long to begin.
While the exact type and amount of information you will require to make an effective claim differ based on the type of compensation you are applying for, there are a few key things to know. Fortunately, if you do not have a piece of information or evidence available immediately, you can still proceed with the claim – the insurer will get back to you for clarification on anything that’s missing.
Critical details to keep track of include:
- The police department’s event number for the accident. If there is not a police presence at the accident scene, this number will be created when you call the authorities to report the incident. Having this number is the best way to prove that a collision did occur, and will prevent you from having to convince insurers using other details such as scene photos or news reports.
- The registration number of the vehicle most at fault. This is the licence plate number of the car that caused the accident. SIRA indicates that you can learn the number from the police if you failed to collect it at the site. Even if your car was the one at fault, you need a number – in that case, you use your own.
- Medical records and details of the accident. While you won’t need detailed documentation to start the claims process, the information contained in these files is essential for insurers to assess how much you are eligible for. For instance, if you are seeking common law compensation, it’s important to show you are indeed suffering from over 10% WPI.
- Pay stubs or other economic information. Applying for income support means giving insurers an accurate picture of how much you earned each week before the accident. By the same token, when applying for one-time costs such as funeral or transportation expenses, you should be ready to prove what you paid.
Working with an expert solicitor
When claims become complicated – for instance, if you cannot agree with an insurer about what you are owed – you will be grateful to have a legal expert in your corner. The process of making more in-depth applications, such as seeking common law compensation for pain and suffering, may improve significantly with this level of help. If you’ve been hurt and feel you’re entitled to compensation, call Gerard Malouf & Partners on 1800 004 878 or send an email enquiry to learn how best to pursue your claim today.