Although certainly no one ever gets into a serious car accident with the hope of a financial windfall, you do want to be sure that you recover sufficient funds to pay for all your special damages and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Here are some steps that can help you do so.
Stay At The Scene
Don’t leave the scene of the accident. Most states have some sort of requirement that you stay at the scene until law enforcement arrives, usually enforced when there are injuries, fatalities, or severe damage to your vehicle. Further, many states will consider you a felony hit-and-run driver if you’re at fault and don’t stay at the scene. By staying at the accident scene, you will have access to information, witnesses, and even a copy of the police report.
File A Police Report
Most states require that you make a DMV or police report for any accident if someone is injured or killed. Some states, however, don’t require a report if the damages total less than a certain sum of money. In addition, time limits for filing the report differ from state to state. If the police file a report, the DMV automatically receives it, and you don’t need to file separately. By remaining at the scene, you will know whether you have to file a DMV report or if the police filed a report.
Called an incident report in some states, the police report will include:
- Information about the ranking police officer at the scene at the time of the accident
- The location where the accident occurred
- Names and contact details for all the drivers involved in the accident
- Registration numbers of the cars or motor vehicles
- A narrative summary of the accident
You can request a copy of this report, although you probably won’t get it at the scene.
Take The Right Steps At The Scene
One of the best things you can do at the scene to ensure your best recovery is to document and record everything at the scene. Take photos of the vehicles, the damage to any property at the scene, any skid marks on the road, and of the weather conditions at the scene. Make sure that you have taken photos of everything at the scene that might be relevant to your claim.
If you have a dashcam in your car, keep any recordings made of the accident. Download your photos and your dashcam recordings to a hard drive so that you can be sure you will preserve them. They will prove to be invaluable for settlement negotiations or litigation down the road.
Get Witness And Party Contact And Insurance Information
Try to get contact information from anyone at the scene who witnessed the accident. It will be much harder to track these witnesses down later if you don’t get that information now. The law enforcement personnel at the scene may be able to help with this or may have recorded it in the police report. Speak to every driver at the scene to get their contact and insurance information as well. This data may be in the police incident report, but it is safer and surer to get it yourself now if you can.
Seek Medical Treatment As Soon As You Can
The injuries you may have suffered in a car accident do not always appear immediately. If severe injuries result from your accident, a bystander will probably summon emergency medical personnel to the scene.
If you are fortunate and no one appears to be that seriously injured, you should still seek medical attention as soon as possible. You will want a doctor to be aware of and treat any later developing symptoms arising from the accident. This action will not only get you the best treatment as soon as possible but will establish for the record that your injuries and symptoms did result from the car accident.
Many injuries received in a car accident can worsen without prompt attention. Seek prompt medical attention, establishing that you were endeavoring to suffer the least damages possible and not trying to inflate your claim.
Report The Accident To Your Insurance Carrier
When and how you report your accident to your insurance company depends in part upon whether you live in a fault state or a no-fault state.
If you believe one or more of the other drivers in your car accident was at fault for your damages, you may be able to claim your losses against that person’s insurance.
To support your claim, you should provide:
- Any notes you made about the accident
- Any contact information you have from witnesses
- Any photos you took at the scene
- Repair quotes
- Witness statements
- Invoices, receipts, and bills
- Proof of lost wages or income
These documents will assist the insurance company in processing your claim and are good to have on hand if litigation becomes necessary.
In a no-fault state, your own insurance company pays for your losses, no matter who was at fault in the accident. Your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance will pay for your medical expenses, your lost wages, any services or care you have to obtain to replace your previous services, and the damages you may have done to the property of others. It will not pay for repairs to your car unless you have separately included such coverage in your policy. You remain free to seek compensation for such damages through a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company or litigation.
Many states allow for a liability claim or litigation against the other at-fault driver or drivers if your medical bills exceed a certain amount or if you have a sufficiently severe injury. Examples would include medical bills above $5,000 or broken bones resulting from the accident.
Factors that can result in permission to sue in various no-fault states include:
- Permanent limitations on the use of a limb or organ
- A significant limitation of use of body function or system
- Full disability for 90 days or more
If you qualify for filing a suit under these provisions, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault drivers. This suit can demand compensation for all of your losses, including pain and suffering, which is not usually available under PIP coverage.
Remember, in a no-fault claim; you must cooperate with your insurance company. You may be required to give a recorded statement to the company. In addition, they may require you to submit to a medical exam performed by the insurance company’s designated physician. If you don’t cooperate, your insurance company may have reason to deny your claim.
If the other vehicle was a commercial vehicle such as a semi-truck or delivery truck, you might have additional options. The owner of the commercial vehicle that struck you may bear liability for your damages. Federal law requires most trucking companies, for example, to carry a minimum of at least $750,000 in coverage for auto accidents. It is possible, even in a no-fault state, to pursue certain claims against the third-party owner.
Other Accident Causes
When your accident seems to have been caused by something other than another driver, you may be able to seek damages against those parties. For example, poorly maintained roads or debris left in the road by a construction company may have caused your accident. The companies or entities responsible for those conditions may be liable for your damages.
Keep Copies Of All Bills And Receipts
As you recover from your injuries and any property damage, you will be experiencing a lot of out-of-pocket expenses and some losses. You will want to be sure that you get and retain receipts and evidence of losses on all of these money damages.
Some of the items you will want are:
- Medical and hospital bills
- Drug and assistive equipment expenditures
- Evidence of lost wages or income—pay statements as well as W-2s and 1099s from the past
- Repair costs for your vehicle
- Rehab or therapy expenses
- Service expenses covering things you can no longer do
This documentation will support your claim for economic or special damages since you have to prove the actual amounts of those damages. Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, may be available depending on the facts of your case but require different kinds of proof than these.
Keep Track Of Lost Work Time And Wages
As mentioned above, you may be able to recover for lost work time and income but need to be able to prove these losses. Since you don’t get a pay stub for the time you don’t work, the best way to prove lost wages is to show prior pay statements.
For example, if your payroll records show that you worked an average of 40 hours per week, with an additional 5 hours overtime most weeks, you should be able to claim for any weeks where you were able to work less than that. If you are salaried, the same records should demonstrate those figures. For the self-employed, Forms 1099 showing ongoing income will help demonstrate the work you are no longer able to do and the compensation lost as a result.
Keep Records Of Your Injuries And Your Recovery Process
In the same way, you will want to keep detailed records of all the injuries you received in the accident, the treatments you have undergone, and your recovery process. Your treating physicians and your hospital will provide much of this, but you may also need to obtain records from rehabilitation or therapy providers as well. You may have already gathered much of this documentation to support your special damages claim, but they can also support your ongoing injuries claims.
Keep Seeing Your Doctor As Long As They Tell You To
Since you are claiming that your injuries are the other driver’s fault (or some other party), never contribute to a worsening condition. In other words, do what your physicians tell you to do. Keep going to the doctor, the hospital, rehab, or therapy until formally released. The insurance company’s attorneys could argue that any failure to participate aggravates your injuries and reduces your potential recovery.
Don’t Talk About Your Accident & Avoid Social Media
In today’s world, where no one ever has an unshared thought, it is crucial to avoid talking about your accident with others or posting about it on social media. The old lawyer drama cliché, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,“ also applies differently in civil litigation.
Your insurance company, the other drivers’ insurance companies, and most particularly their lawyers will be looking for you on the internet. Opposing counsel will hold you to any comments you make there. If such comments differ from what you’ve said in court or your insurance claims, you could suffer disaster. The internet is not your friend in this matter.
Don’t Accept the First Settlement Offer
Insurance companies, your own and the other sides’, know that as you miss more work and pay more bills, you will become eager, if not desperate, for the settlement of your claim. However, because they know this, insurance companies and their lawyers will begin settlement negotiations with the lowest amount they think you might accept. It is virtually never wise to accept the first settlement offer. Indeed, your reluctance to do so is likely to increase the offer with no other input.
Contact An Attorney Before Accepting Any Settlement
Because auto accident claims can be so complex and can often lead to litigation, perhaps the best step you can take to get the most money from your car accident is to retain counsel. Most lawyers in personal injury cases will give you an initial consultation and case evaluation at no cost to you before representing your case.
This consultation will give you some feel for the experienced professional’s view of the dollar value of your case. It also gives the attorney, who will bear the financial risk of losing your case, to decide whether to take the case.
In the end, the best possible step you can take is to consult a lawyer who focuses on the type of accident you had and can help you resolve it. An experienced car accident attorney will know the parties in opposition to you. The attorney has probably worked with those insurance companies and their lawyers previously and will bring familiarity with their settlement and trial tactics to your case.