Getting into a car accident can be a traumatic and confusing experience. Follow these ten steps to help protect your legal rights.
Call the Police
Having an objective party, in this case the reporting officer, can be critical to a successful claim. The officer will prepare a report with contact and vehicle information of everyone involved in the accident. Most of the time, that is. On some occasions, if the injuries are not severe, the officer may elect not to prepare a report. Urge him to do so any way. If he still refuses, following the other steps listed below should still protect you.
Get the Other Driver's Information
Not just insurance information, but also his or her name, address, phone number, license plate number, driver's license number and any other identifying information you can obtain. If your insurance claim fails and you have to file a complaint in Court, this information could be critical in moving forward with the case or having an empty chair in the Court room.
Get Witness Information
Equally important. I don't know how many cases I've had where the claim went no where because it was one driver's word against the other. Look around for bystanders or other individuals that may have seen the accident. Get their phone number and address. Ask them if they are ok with being contacted to provide a brief statement about what they saw. They will appreciate this courtesy later when you don't have to compel their testimony in court with a subpoena.
Most people have a camara on their phone, but its a good idea to keep a cheap disposable one in your glove just in case. Pretend you are on CSI and take as many detailed photos as you can. This may be the only chance you have to obtain critical evidence.
Go to the Doctor as Soon as Possible
Many people elect to wait to see a doctor to give their injuries time to heal. Waiting too long, however, can open up arguments by the defense that there was an intervening event that caused your injury. Many of the physicians I have worked with have also told me that getting evaluation and treatment in the early stages of the injury can make a big difference in the patient's ability to recover completely.
Call Your Insurance Company
Report the accident immediately. Again, preservation of evidence may be an issue and you will want to get them involved.
But Don't Provide Recorded Statements
Not until after you have a chance to speak to an attorney. Everything you say is admissible in Court. Insurance companies can be expert in asking questions in a certain manner to elicit a response that can be misinterpreted to their advantage.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
Most people in my experience are underinsured for any kind of significant loss. Check to make sure you have medical payments coverage. Check your limits. Make sure you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage. This coverage should equal your Liability Coverage limits. Check the difference in the premium. The answer will surprise you. Most of the time you can obtain significantly higher coverage for an insignificantly higher premium every month.
Don't Fight or Argue with the Other Driver
This gets you nowhere. The individual with the cooler head is always the one that is believed over someone who is behaving childish and irrationally. You are not going to settle your claim at the scene of the accident and neither driver's conclusions about who is at fault is relevant. Just focus on staying calm and obtaining as much contact and identifying information as you can.
Consult an Attorney
Last but certainly not least. The earlier you contact an attorney the more ability he or she has to help you. Waiting too long can be devastating to our ability to recover anything for your injuries. Many potential clients come to me after they have tried to resolve the claim on their own and unfortunately there are instances where I can not help them. Its important to remember that the insurance company is unlikely to pay full value for claims when they know there is no credible threat of litigation. Without an attorney, you are unlikely to file a lawsuit to recover compensation and this is the only way to force the insurance company's hand to provide fair compensation. Insurance companies are businesses, not charity organizations. Their goal is to pay a little as possible on every claim. Obtaining an attorney is most frequently the only way to obtain fair value for your injuries.