It happens more often than you think; active duty service members can become seriously injured in accidents that have nothing to do with their military service. And one common cause is car crashes. If you’ve been involved in a car crash caused by someone else, you deserve compensation same as any other citizen. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Get to safety ­– If you can do so, pull your vehicle over to the side of the road so it’s not obstructing traffic. This also places you out of danger of being struck by another vehicle that may not see you. 
  2. Call 911 – This will bring police to the scene to create an accident report, as well as medical personnel to assess and treat any injuries. Establishing right away when and how you were injured is vital to any injury claim.
  3. Exchange information – Get the contact, license, and insurance information of the other driver, as well as contact information for any witnesses.
  4. Don’t apologize ­– It may seem like instinct, and the polite thing to do, even if you are obviously not at fault and know you aren’t. But apologizing can be used against you as an admission of fault, which will hurt your chances of getting compensation in a personal injury claim.
  5. Call a lawyer ­– Don’t consider yourself the kind of person who gets a lawyer involved? Most people don’t. But while you may hope to resolve the situation simply, when injuries are involved, things get complicated very quickly and the insurance company becomes more aggressive in trying to deny your claim. A lawyer often is necessary to protect your rights. 

Does TRICARE Cover Car Accidents?

Yes. If you were injured in a car accident, you can get TRICARE to cover your medical expenses from the accident. If the hospital tries to tell you that they won’t or can’t submit your medical bills to TRICARE because your injuries happened in a car accident, this is not true.

However, TRICARE is not considered first-party coverage for car accidents. This means that TRICARE will pay your medical bills, but if you file a personal injury claim and receive a settlement from the at-fault party’s insurance, TRICARE will ask to be reimbursed from the settlement for everything they paid.

This is known as a medical lien, and is very common. Lien laws were established to keep anyone from getting compensated twice for the same set of medical bills. However, you also do not have to worry about mailing a check to TRICARE. The lien amount will be automatically deducted from your settlement and sent to them by your personal injury lawyer.

There is no cap on how much TRICARE can ask for in reimbursement except for how much they paid. However, it helps to have a skilled lawyer on your side who is familiar with preparing claims for military members, as they may be able to negotiate with TRICARE to only take up to the at-fault driver’s insurance policy limits.

For example, if the at-fault driver’s insurance had a policy limit of $25,000 for medical expenses, and TRICARE paid for $30,000 of medical expenses for you, they might agree to only ask for the $25,000 the insurance company gave you for medical expenses and not the full $30,000 that TRICARE paid. This would allow you to keep the extra money paid to you to compensate you for your pain and suffering. However, this is not a guarantee, especially if you have a lawyer unfamiliar with negotiating with TRICARE.

Additionally, it’s important to note that personal injury lawyers cannot collect their fee from the portion of the settlement paid to TRICARE. It is against the law to do so. Because the lawyer fee is based on a percentage of the settlement, make sure the fee they charge you is based on your settlement amount after the TRICARE lien is paid, not before. If they do not mention that their fee is reduced for claims involving TRICARE, you may have the wrong lawyer for your needs.

Recommended video: How Do You Collect Reimbursement from TRICARE?

Does It Matter What Doctor I See If I’m Injured While Serving in the Military?

No, you are free to see whatever doctor you choose after an injury. If you would prefer to see a primary care physician off base, that is perfectly fine. It may even involve less hassle when filing a lawsuit, because you don’t have to worry about the doctor being transferred elsewhere while you are in the middle of your lawsuit or treatment.

However, if you have a primary care physician on post, or are required to see your army physician, seeing the doctor on base allows you to be assessed and treated faster, which makes it easier to establish a claim regarding when, how, and how severely you were injured.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

In most circumstances, you have a maximum of two years from the day you were injured to file a lawsuit for a personal injury. However, in Georgia, active duty military members may be granted an extension. This extension may also apply if a civilian is injured in an accident, such as a car crash, by someone who is active duty military. This is called “tolling.”

Essentially, the statute of limitations (the time period in which you have to file a lawsuit) won’t start ticking down until the period of active duty military service ends, giving you extra time. However, this extension does not apply to reserve members, retired military, or civilians who are injured on post but not by an active duty service member.

Extensions are not granted in every injury case involving active duty service members. It is always better to assume that the statute will not be tolled. Scheduling a consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer right away can help you determine if you’re eligible for an extension, without risking your ability to get compensation at all by delaying the filing of a lawsuit.

Read more: Our Legal Services for Military Families

Can I Get Military Disability Compensation If My Injury Didn’t Happen While Deployed?

Yes, usually. When you’re an active-duty service member, you are considered always on active duty from the moment you enlist until the moment you are discharged, even when you are off duty or off base. This also applies if you’re still in training. That means if, for example, you were home on leave and severely injured in a car accident while going to the grocery store, you are still covered and can apply for disability benefits. 

However, you may be denied benefits if you are ruled to have caused your own injury through “willful misconduct,” which can include reckless driving or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Furthermore, if you have already retired from the military when your accident occurs, you will not be eligible for military disability since the injury did not occur while you were active-duty.

If you become disabled later because an injury that you received while you were active-duty becomes worse, then you may be able to apply for military disability. However, this works best if your injury was documented and treated while you were still active-duty.

You might also enjoy: Considerations for Those Injured While on Active Duty (VIDEO)

We Support Service Members Injured Outside of Duty

Injury can strike at any time to anyone, even active-duty service members who just happened to have been on leave and out of uniform when the injury occurred. While the U.S. government supports its service members through TRICARE and other benefits, when your injury is caused by someone else, you deserve compensation for your pain and suffering.

At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, our Columbus personal injury lawyers are experienced with dealing with members of the military and their families, and we’ll help you receive every benefit to which you are entitled, especially if you’ve been placed on profile after a serious injury that wasn’t your fault. Call today for your free case evaluation.