Car Accident While on Active Duty? Here's What You Need to Know
A car accident can happen to anyone. Even if you’re the safest driver on the road, you can’t always account for the actions of others. And if you’ve been injured after a car crash, you deserve fair compensation for your medical expenses and other damages—no matter who you are or what you do.
However, if you happen to be active duty service member, you may have to deal with some additional challenges to obtaining fair compensation for your personal injury claim that civilians generally don’t have to consider.
Service members who are injured in car accidents should make sure they hire a personal injury attorney with extensive experience serving active duty military personnel. This can help your case go more smoothly and maximize the chance of a fair recovery.
The team at Crosley Law frequently represents active duty military members, as well as veterans, and may be able to help you with your injury case. In this blog, we’ll cover the basic things you need to know if you’re injured in a car accident while on active service.
What Kind of Compensation Can I Pursue?
Just like civilians, injured service members are entitled to seek the following damages:
- Economic damages, including the cost of current and future medical bills, lost wages, reduced future earning capacity, and other expenses.
- Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages to your quality of life which do not have calculable monetary costs.
In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if the at-fault driver behaved especially recklessly or maliciously—for example, if they were intoxicated or speeding excessively. Punitive damages are meant to punish (and make an example of) egregious offenders, rather than compensate an injured person for specific losses.
Calculating Lost Wages and Future Earning Capacity
Lost future wages or earning capacity can be an especially important (and complicated) part of a damage claim for those in military service.
If your injuries leave you medically unfit to serve and result in a discharge, you can claim the future service pay you were likely to earn (including likely promotions), projected retirement pay, and the cost to replace your military health insurance. That then needs to be measured against your severance pay, actual retirement pay, and a reasonable estimate of your wage earning potential in the civilian workforce.
Even if you stay in the military after the accident, it’s important to consider how your injury is likely to alter the trajectory of your career. For example, you might claim that your injury will likely prevent you from earning certain promotions that you otherwise would have achieved.
As you can imagine, these calculations can be incredibly complex and difficult to prove, and will require not only strong medical evidence, but the testimony of peers and superior officers. That’s another reason why hiring a personal injury attorney with experience serving members of the military is so crucial. A great lawyer can help you get an accurate accounting of your lost wages and put together a strong case.
Does TRICARE Apply to Injuries Sustained in a Car Crash?
Yes, but there’s a bit of a catch.
If you need medical treatment after an auto accident, TRICARE will likely pay for your care, just as it does for any other type of health care expense. However, TRICARE is not considered first-party coverage for auto accidents.
What this means is that, if you file a claim against the at-fault driver and win a settlement or jury verdict, you will have to reimburse TRICARE for the care you received out of your compensation. This is called a TRICARE lien, and unlike other types of liens, the government does not have to give any notice to you for the lien to be valid.
If you win a settlement or jury verdict, your TRICARE lien gets deducted immediately from your compensation, before any other fees (including attorney fees) are paid out. There’s also no upper limit on a TRICARE lien, so if your medical expenses are greater than the amount of your recovery, you could potentially walk away with little or nothing for yourself.
Can a TRICARE Lien Be Reduced?
In some cases, yes. TRICARE liens can be adjusted, and in certain circumstances you may be able to negotiate a reduced amount or a waiver. In general, you will need to show that you would face undue financial hardship if TRICARE took the full amount it could claim for reimbursement.
For example, if you believe that your injuries will require ongoing treatment in the future, prevent you from being able to earn a wage for a long period of time, you may be able to reduce or eliminate the lien.
You should also make sure you get an itemized list of medical expenses that TRICARE is claiming, as it is only entitled to reimbursement for expenses related to the auto accident.
Hiring a car accident attorney with experience working with service members and TRICARE can significantly strengthen your negotiating position and help you keep as much of your compensation as possible.
Do I Have to Use a Military Doctor?
No, you do not. You may choose to see a physician off base if you’d prefer. There are pros and cons to each approach.
If you already have a primary care physician on base, going to the on-base clinic will typically be less hassle and allow you to receive treatment faster, since you may need a referral or approval to see a civilian doctor (or you may end up paying out of pocket).
Seeing a doctor as soon as possible after an accident not only helps with long-term health outcomes, but also can help you prove a clear link between the accident and your injuries. (The longer you wait to get treated, the more room you give the insurance company to dispute this link.)
On the other hand, a military doctor could be transferred to another base while you’re still receiving care or pursuing a lawsuit, which could make your case more complicated.
What If I’m Deployed While My Case Is Ongoing?
Those who are on active duty may be deployed at any time, regardless of what might be going on in their personal lives. Fortunately, this does not have to mean the end of your personal injury case. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, first passed in 2003, allows you to effectively put your case on hold while you are deployed.
Crosley Law: You Fight for Us, We Fight for You
The San Antonio area has one of the largest concentrations of military bases anywhere in the country, and the Crosley Law team has proudly represented active duty, reserve, veterans, and their families in their fight for fair compensation after a car accident or other personal injury.
If you’ve been injured, you need an attorney who knows how to navigate the difficult legal issues and procedural hurdles for members of the military in these types of cases. You also need an attorney who is a great communicator and will keep you in the loop and work around your schedule—even if you go through a permanent change of station or other transfer while your case is ongoing.
If you’ve been in a car accident while on active duty, give us a call to schedule your free consultation. Our law firm has extensive experience working with military families after motor vehicle accidents, negotiating medical bills and TRICARE liens, and getting them the compensation they deserve. To set up an appointment with one of our attorneys, call Crosley Law today at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or fill out our brief contact form.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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