MOST of us own or at least drive a car, and therefore we must know basic information about automobile insurance. Unfortunately, statistics show that a majority of us will be involved in at least one automobile accident during our lifetime, either as a passenger or driver. While most accident victims know they have legal rights, they usually don=t know what those rights are. This article briefly highlights issues concerning automobile insurance, as well as basic rights available to injury victims in automobile accidents.

What is automobile liability insurance and why do I need it?

Generally, the purpose of insurance is to ensure that monetary compensation is available to injured persons, and to protect you, the insured, against the claims of injured persons. In Georgia, as in most states, owners of automobiles are required by law to buy and maintain liability insurance, which protects other persons from injuries and property damage caused by your automobile. Those protected or covered under such insurance include passengers in your car, and drivers and passengers in other cars.

In Georgia, you must carry liability insurance minimum limits of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident, and $25,000 property damage. This means that a covered person injured in an accident involving your automobile may collect a maximum of $25,000 for his injuries, while $50,000 is the maximum amount available to all persons covered in the same accident. Under the minimum limits, recovery for property damage to another person’s automobile or other property is covered up to $10,000 per accident. Of course, higher amounts of liability insurance may, and most often should be purchased to adequately protect both the insured car owner and the public.

Does insurance also cover my injuries and automobile damage?

Liability coverage, discussed above, does not cover your injuries or damage to your car. However, you can purchase additional medical payments insurance, which covers your medical bills and your passengers’ medical bills in the event of an accident. This typically comes in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 per person. Generally, you should get the highest amount of coverage you can afford.

Also, two types of coverage are available for your own automobile: collision and comprehensive insurance. Collision insurance pays for damage to your car in the event of an accident, while comprehensive coverage pays for most damages to your car not caused by accident. Some examples of comprehensive claims are damages caused by theft or vandalism, fire, hail or mechanical failure. Generally, you should buy enough of both these types of property insurance to cover the full value of your automobile.

Finally, you can and should purchase uninsured motorist or UM insurance. UM insurance generally covers you and your relatives while driving or riding in an automobile, as well as passengers in cars driven by you or your relatives in the event of an accident caused by a driver without insurance. UM coverage may also apply where the other driver is underinsured (generally, where the other party’s insurance is less than the amount of UM coverage). Without UM insurance, you and your passengers could be left with no insurance for injuries caused by the negligence of others. A 2011 study by the Insurance Research Council showed that some 16% of drivers in Georgia are uninsured. Therefore, it is extremely important that you buy as much UM insurance coverage offered by your insurer that you can afford.

There are two different types of UM insurance available to purchase in Georgia: traditional or “reducing-limits” coverage, and “add-on” coverage. Under the first type, your UM insurance limit is reduced by the amount of available liability coverage. For example, if the at-fault driver in a wreck has $25,000 of available liability insurance to cover your damages and you purchased $50,000 of UM coverage, your total coverage would be $50,000 ($25,000 in liability insurance and $25,000 paid by your UM carrier). If, on the other hand, you purchased $50,000 of add-on UM insurance, then your total insurance coverage for the same wreck would be $75,000 ($25,000 of liability coverage plus $50,000 of additional UM coverage).

You should ask your insurance agent which of these additional coverages and what limits of coverage best fit your needs. Also, be sure to question your agent carefully about exclusions (things that are not covered) for each of the types of coverage that you purchase.

What can I do after an automobile wreck to protect my legal rights?

Here are some basic dos and don’ts to follow:


  1. If injured, seek all necessary treatment


  2. Write down all facts about the accident, and, if possible, photograph the accident site, the automobiles, and your injuries.
  3. Consult directly with an attorney as soon as possible.

Do not:

Talk or give a written or recorded statement to


about the injury other than: (i) someone giving you medical treatment; (ii) a police officer reporting the accident; or (iii) your attorney.

Should I see a lawyer regarding my injury?

You always have the right to see a lawyer to assist you with your legal rights regarding an accident or injury. Only a qualified and licensed attorney can provide you legal advice, negotiate a settlement or actually file and represent you in an insurance claim or lawsuit. Before signing any agreement or check presented to you by an insurance company representative, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.

In Georgia and many other states, it is illegal for paralegal or other non-lawyers to practice law or accept fees from clients for taking a case. If you discover that a paralegal, officer manager or legal assistant did not hire an attorney for you, or does not let you talk to the attorney handling your case, you should seek out a new attorney. Similarly, make sure the attorney you hired is licensed to practice law and a member of the state bar. If you have any doubts, ask for the person’s license and bar number and check with the bar in your state to verify membership and standing (in good standing, inactive, etc.) You can obtain information online about licensed attorneys in Georgia at the State Bar of Georgia’s website

Do I have a case, and can I recover money for my injury?

“Do I have a case?” and “How much can I recover” are the most frequently asked question by injury victims. Numerous factors determine whether you have a legal cause of action and, if so, whether you can recover, and they vary greatly with the facts of each particular accident or injury. Generally, some of the keys in analyzing the legal merits of any automobile or other injury case are: (i) whether you can prove that another person was at fault for your injury; (ii) whether the other person’s actions were the legal, or proximate, cause of your injury; (iii) whether you had been injured before the accident; (iv) the severity of your injury; and (v) whether the person responsible for your injury has insurance to pay for your damages. You should contact an attorney as soon as possible after your injury for an evaluation of your case.

What should it cost to hire an attorney?

Personal injury attorneys handle automobile accident cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you do not pay any fees for the attorney’s services unless you receive a settlement or award in your case. A typical contingency fee in automobile accident cases (which should always be agreed to in writing) will be between one-third (33-1/3%) and forty percent (40%) of the total amount you recover, depending upon the attorney you hire and the individual circumstances of each case.

Regardless of the contingency fee agreement, you are generally responsible for the costs of your case, if any. These can include court costs, filing fees, deposition and discovery expenses and medical report fees. In most cases, a settlement can be reached with the insurance company at minimal, if any, cost to the client. In no event should you pay money, regardless of whether called a fee, cost advance or something else, to any person other than a licensed attorney to represent you in your case.

Additionally, you will be directly responsible for all healthcare treatment you receive for your injuries. However, treatment providers will frequently agree to wait until after the conclusion of your case to be paid for their services. Also, private or government health insurance (Medicare of or Medicaid) may pay a part of your medical expenses, in which case you may be required to reimburse them at the conclusion of your case.*

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*Brownstein & Nguyen represents clients in many types of personal injury cases, including catastrophic injury, wrongful death, automobile accidents, premises liability and medical malpractice. This article contains general advice that may or may not apply to your particular situation. For specific legal advice concerning your case, consult a qualified personal injury attorney.