The Moment It Happens
Do Not Leave the Scene
Though you should move your car out of traffic when possible, never leave the scene of the accident until it is appropriate to do so. If you do, and someone has been hurt or killed, you could face serious criminal penalties for being a “hit-and-run” driver.
(An exception might be if you are in a deserted area and feel unsafe getting out of your vehicle, drive to the nearest police station and report the accident immediately.)
Check On All Vehicle Occupants
Before assessing property damage, calmly check to make sure that everyone else involved in the accident is okay. Get medical attention for anyone who may need it. If a person is unconscious or complains of neck or back pain, it is often best not to move them until qualified medical personnel arrive.
Exchange your information (including information on the driver’s license, vehicle registration, license plate number and state, and insurance information) with the drivers of the other vehicles involved. However, do not admit fault and do not apologize for anything! This will back you into a corner in terms of liability. Therefore, even if everyone is shaken up, try to keep your conscience in check, at least until things get sorted out, so that you don’t admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.
Call the Police
Especially if the accident involves significant property damage, physical injury, or death, you will need to call the police. Ask that a police report be filed and obtain the name and badge numbers of any responding officers. You should also get the police report number and ask for a copy of the accident report. If you do not know certain facts about the incident, tell that to the officer. Do not guess or misstate. If you are asked if you are injured and you are not sure, say you are not sure, rather than no. Often, the pain and injuries from motor vehicle accidents become apparent hours after the actual collision. You should also make sure statements made by other persons involved in the accident are accurate. Having this information will be helpful if there are any questions about the incident and extent of damage; police can be called as witnesses when deciding the proper compensation amount. As such, remain calm and composed when speaking to law enforcement. Your likability makes a difference.
Document the Accident and Talk to Witnesses
Take photographs of the damage done to your vehicle and your self in order to help your insurance adjuster determine how much you should be compensated. Also, make sure to write down and photograph the conditions present at the time of the accident, including weather, traffic, time of day, how other drivers were driving, whether there was something in the road or perhaps if a traffic light was out. Write down whatever you can think of that could have contributed to the accident, as it might help you with your car accident case.
Also, ask all witness what they saw, write down the statements, and get their contact information so that your attorney and insurance company can interview them at a later date.
Inform Your Insurance Company and Get a Property Damage Evaluation
As soon you can, tell your insurance company that you have been in an accident. Tell them the truth about what happened, the vehicle’s damage, and your injuries. If the insurance company finds out that you’ve lied to them, you can get in serious trouble, not to mention they may deny you coverage for the accident.
Find out if you have medical benefits (for both the driver and the passengers) as part of your insurance coverage. You pay extra for that type of coverage – either “personal injury protection” (PIP) or “medical payments to other” (medpay) – so you should use it.
Obtain an evaluation for damages to your car from your insurance company. If you are not satisfied with the manner in which your insurance company has valued your vehicle, seek other sources. You can get other estimates for the repair or replacement of your car on your own, and then present it to your insurance company. If you and your insurance adjuster cannot agree on the value of your car consult an attorney.
Do not talk to a representative of another insurance company under any circumstances. If representatives from other insurance companies call you, be polite, but ask them to call your attorney to arrange for an interview. Also, get the representative’s name and number, and tell your attorney that someone seeking information about your accident contacted you.
Get Treatment Immediately
Seek medical treatment as soon as possible in order to get the best evaluation of your related injuries. Your insurance adjuster will offer a higher compensation amount if you can prove that your injuries are, without a doubt, related to the incident. If you wait to seek treatment, the insurance adjuster could question whether your reported injuries are, in fact, a result of the accident.
Often times, pain will surface a few days after the accident – don’t hesitate to go to your physician or local emergency room. Even if the accident was of minor impact, you could have sustained neck, back, and/or spine injury, which could have long-term effects on your health. If you were dazed even for a short period of time after the accident, you could have sustained a concussion or head injury.
Keep a detailed account of all the medical professionals from whom you receive treatment, the procedures, and the medications you receive. Be honest and thorough with your medical caregivers; don’t exaggerate, but don’t downplay your symptoms. You should also request copies of all medical reports and bills in order to prove medical expenses in the future. It is helpful to keep all of your accident-related files together. This should include your medical documents as well as your insurance adjuster’s name, you claim number, witness/police contact information, and any other expenses (like a rental car) incurred as a result of the accident.
Listen to the medical professionals – your job is to get better!
Now that you have an estimate of your car damage and medical expenses, check the Car Accident Claim Calculator to see how much your case is worth.
Hire an Attorney
As aforementioned, many insurance companies will want you to make a statement immediately after the accident, but do not do so until you have consulted with an attorney. The insurance company wants to pay you as little as possible, and will use your words against you. An attorney, on the other hand, will work on behalf of your best interest. Accordingly, you should always consult with an attorney, no matter how minor the accident. An accident or personal injury attorney can help you maximize your recovery if you were injured. Most accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that your lawyer only receives a fee if you are awarded damages or receive a settlement. Most lawyers typically charge a rate of about one-third of any settlement and 40% if the car accident case involves filing a lawsuit.
Though good communication is an important aspect of choosing the right lawyer, a lot of legal work is done behind the scenes. Since you may not be privy to everything that is going on at every moment, you should hire an attorney you trust. You must be comfortable knowing that your attorney is your greatest advocate. Knowing this will make it much easier to listen to her advice and remain anxiety free.
After you have discussed the facts of your case with your lawyer and the history of any prior negotiations with the insurance company, your attorney may give you a general opinion of how much your case is worth. You should discuss with your lawyer the different ways your case could be approached, and whether the lawyer would be willing to handle it in the way you prefer. You can always switch tactics down the road – discuss with your lawyer if you want to take steps to quickly settle the case or fight longer for more settlement money.
If your insurance company comes to you with a settlement, make sure to consult your attorney. You must be confidant that the settlement is fair and that you will be compensated for all of your injuries (even those that show up days or weeks after the accident).
Preparing For Deposition and Trial
Listen to Your Lawyer
Now that you have hired a lawyer you trust, it is in your best interest to listen to her legal advice. She is a trained professional of the law. She knows the court system and how to use the law in your favor. You’re paying for her service; let her do her job by listening to her counsel. Help her help you.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
You want to convince the opposing party to give you as much money as possible. To do this, you should prepare extensively for your deposition by practicing your rendition of the incident. Use all of your sensory details to describe the incident and elaborate on your injuries without sounding whiny or defensive. It is also important to dress appropriately and listen carefully.
Develop the Medicals
It helps to develop an ongoing summary of the health care given, with a separate ongoing summary for the billing expenses in order to clearly present your claim to the insurer, opposing party, and jury. If you have a case with catastrophic injuries, you often need to file suit in order to begin the process of discovering the extent of medical coverage and any additional parties.
Put Effort into Recovery
If you show your audience, whether it is your insurance adjuster, a mediator, or a jury, that you are genuinely trying to recover physically, you are more likely to receive a favorable compensation value. Do the recommended procedures and be diligent during the recovery phase.
Know Your Audience
When trying to reach a settlement, you want to show your insurance adjuster that you deserve the largest amount of money possible. Therefore, you and your attorney need to grab her attention and make her understand the risk of going to trial (after all, the court or jury could award you far more money if they rule in your favor). Give her some substantive reasons that the amount you are requesting is not out of line. It is also important for the mediator to understand the liability, the damages, and the risk involved if the case does not settle. The defense lawyer is less consequential because he or she often could care less and may actually want the billing opportunity of a trial. Let your experienced car accident lawyer handle this phase of litigation.
Create a Convincing Demand Letter and Settlement Brochure
It is important to make sure that your attorney is creating a substantive case, with clear and precise demands. Be sure that you clearly show who is liable for the accident and injuries using deposition excerpts, quotes from accident reports, and other compelling evidence. Your damages section should lay out the past and future damages using your experts’ reports, and the most important information in your presentation should be emphasized with visual aids and/or images. You and your lawyer must also come up with a reasonable demand and realistic time limit for the defense lawyer and insurance adjuster to assess the situation.
It is smart to go into the legal processes knowing how much money you deserve. So, use the Car Accident Calculator to see how much your case may be worth.