If you’ve been in an accident that was not your fault, the actions you take right after the accident can determine how smoothly the process of dealing with police, insurance and the other driver(s) can go.
Following this list after a car accident will make sure you’re protected, safe and legally on the right track.
Gather evidence and information: You may be upset after an accident, and those in the other vehicle(s) may be cooperative or angry, present or trying to flee, injured or healthy. As soon as possible, take photos of the accident, the scene, and any marks on the road or broken glass. Write down the license plates of the involved cars. If possible, get the name and number of others involved, and always try to get the name and contact information for witnesses.
Call your insurance company. Tell them about the accident right after it happens; do not wait for paperwork to be sent in. Do not rely on other drivers, their insurance or even the police to file the report – it’s in your best interest to alert your insurance company. In fact, failure to do so can cause you legal or coverage problems.
Give a statement (with caution): Your insurance company will want to record your statement of what happened. You should give a statement but decline recording. This is particularly true if you’ve sustained an injury. In this case, tell them “I am injured and will provide more information once I speak with my lawyer.” If you have a serious injury, your insurance company may want to downplay it, or try to imply that you had preexisting conditions, so assume your insurance company is not going to help you with anything related to injuries at this point. Be honest in your statement about the accident, but do not offer details of your injuries.
Get medical care. If you are injured, you need to see a doctor. Waiting to get care can often jeopardize your case that the injury was caused by the car wreck. Unless you need hospital care, try to see your family doctor. Some doctors may refuse to see you if they know the injury is from a car accident. In this case, try to find another doctor, go to the hospital (which must see you, but can be very expensive), or go to an urgent care (which will see you, and usually costs much less than a hospital).
While chiropractic care from a properly trained and talented chiropractor can be beneficial, know that some jurors do not consider this true medical care and may be skeptical of it. (And if you’re not injured, don’t try to play up your injury to make money).
Ensure all bills are sent to your health insurance provider. Hospitals earn more money from personal injury settlements than from health insurance, so they often try to hold off on billing to see if a settlement comes in. This is not in your best interest. Take your health insurance card when you are treated, and follow up promptly (and often) to ensure that your services have been billed to your health insurer.
Call a lawyer if your injuries are serious. If you had to go to the emergency room, or if you’re not well a week after the accident, you may have a serious injury that will take time and money to heal. At this point, you should talk with a lawyer about your situation. Take advantage of lawyers’ “free consultation” offers and meet with a few. Be wary of lawyers who advertise heavily on TV but won't meet with you in person. Also, at any office make sure you talk to the LAWYER, not his or her assistant.
Contact the other driver(s)’ insurance. Call the other insurance companies and report the accident. You can tell them if you are injured, but do not give out details or allow them to make a recorded statement.
Get your personal items out of your car. If your car is sitting in a storage lot, it’s at risk of being robbed. Remove personal items, especially valuables.
Keep your paperwork and take good notes. Start a file. Keep every medical bill (hospital or doctor) related to the crash. Note every day you missed from work (even if you used sick days or vacation time). Record any other ways your life was altered due to the crash.
Hire anyone who contacts you immediately after a crash. Doctors, lawyers or chiropractors who comb through police reports to reach out to accident victims are not acting professionally (or legally). Avoid them.
Give a recorded statement to the insurance companies. You are not obliged to do this, and it can set you up for trouble.
Expect the other drivers’ insurance company to pay your bills. Your own insurance company should cover your bills, and you’re responsible for the rest. Do not hand over your bills to any other insurance companies.
For this same reason…Do not sign a release for them to access your medical records.
Accept money or sign statements unless you’re ready to settle. Accepting a payment can signal that you won’t ask for future payments, so hold off until the claim is completely settled.
Assume the insurance company wants to settle. Some people believe that the cost of litigation (going to court) is so high that companies won’t bother. This is not true. Insurance companies can and will try to dispute your claims. Expect a fight on any amounts over $1500.
Wait to see a doctor if you’re in pain. You need medical documentation that you are injured or in pain. While you may be the type of person who tries to “tough it out,” a jury may later interpret that this means you weren’t really hurt. If you’re experiencing pain or complications, see a doctor promptly.
Assume your bills will all be paid. Though you’re not at fault for this accident, it may take months for that to be proven (assuming you win). The at-fault person’s insurance company will not pay you as each bill comes in. So as you wait for a settlement (which can take months), you need to have a plan to pay your medical bills.
Expect to get rich from an insurance claim. Large settlements are only given out for serious injuries. Even if you do get a six-figure settlement, it would be at the loss of your health and well-being. This is a trade-off most people would never make.
This is a lot of information. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you sort through it all. Contact Hodge & Langley Law Firm today for a free consultation about your motor vehicle accident case.
Photo by Rian Castillo.