You've Been in an Accident; Now What?


You Still Can't Believe What Happened

The accident just occurred. You still can't believe what happened. Your pulse rate is a zillion miles per hour and you're shaking from an adrenaline rush. Compose yourself.

Injuries

You first want to make sure that everyone in your vehicle is okay. After your vehicle is secure, then check on the occupants of the other vehicle(s). Make sure appropriate aid is called.

Exchange Information/Witnesses

You have a legal duty to exchange information with the other driver. However, if there is any possible questions about how the accident happened, you may want to get the name/address/telephone number of all witnesses before they leave the area. Not all witnesses wait around for the police to arrive.

When you exchange information with the other drive DO NOT DISCUSS FAULT. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

You will need from the other driver: Name/address/phone number/driver's license number (take it directly from their license)/insurance company/policy number (also directly from their card)/year, make and model of vehicle and license plate number (from the vehicle).

Police

Cooperate with the police investigation. However, if you're likely to be charged with a crime or DUI DEMAND YOUR ATTORNEY. Do not waive your rights. When the police officer asks you if you're injured; tell him/her to truth. Since adrenaline can mask symptoms for several hours, it's okay to say you're not sure or you don't know.

Medical Care

Depending on your condition and/or the condition of your passengers, you may want to go to the emergency room by ambulance, aid car or by your own vehicle.

The Next Day

Even if you didn't hurt the day of the accident, you will, for sure, the next day. "I feel like I've been run over by a Mack truck" is commonly heard.

If you haven't seen a healthcare provider yet, you definitely should go in now. Some people figure, "I'll tough it out, I'll be fine." Maybe so, maybe not. Most insurance adjusters will argue that if you don't see a healthcare provider soon after an accident, you're not injured. The "system" doesn't respect being "tough."

What Healthcare Provider?

I've been around too long to say one kind of treatment is better or worse than another. I can tell you that the healthcare provider you have the most confidence in will be the most beneficial for you.

I tell my clients to seek out the healthcare provider that is the most beneficial to them, and to follow their advice. Ten years from now they may or may not remember the result of their claim. They will definitely remember if they still hurt or not. The number one priority is to get better.

Should I Talk to the Insurance Adjuster or Not?

You should report to your insurance company as soon as possible. You should not deal with the other person's insurance company. They will contact you as soon as possible to obtain a statement. If you give a statement without consulting with an attorney you may waive certain rights or seriously impair your claim.

What are my Rights?

If the other driver is at fault; their insurance company will probably pay for your car repairs or total loss value as well as loss of use. They will probably then say "we won't pay anything else until the case is settled or we're told to do so by a jury."

You should have personal injury protection coverage on your policy. This coverage generally will pay $10,000. For necessary and reasonable medical expenses incurred within one year of the accident. You can obtain a longer time period or a higher dollar limit. Your company would then recover what they paid out at a later time from the at fault driver's company. In addition to property damages, loss of use, depreciation, and incurred medical expenses; you are also entitled to wage losses (which may also be payable on your coverage), future medical expenses and wage losses, pain and suffering, as well as loss of enjoyment of life to date as well as what can reasonably be anticipated in the future, as well as any other "damage" caused by the accident.

If the other driver doesn't have insurance, or doesn't have sufficient insurance coverage to take care of your damages then you may make a claim against your own underinsured motorist coverage. It is like your carrier steps in for the at fault driver. Since uninsured people cause a disproportionate number of accidents, I can't overstate the value of having higher policy limits to protect yourself.

If you are at fault; you should have collision coverage to repair you car or obtain the total loss value (subject to a deductible); the personal injury protection coverage still applies to pay your medical expenses and a portion of your wage losses; and your liability coverage should pay for damages to the other persons. (Hopefully you have sufficient coverage.)

Should I Hire an Attorney?

You would expect me to say "yes" since I'm an attorney. In 24 years of practice I have never seen a case where the net recovery was less than if my client didn't have an attorney. It is just too difficult to outsmart the insurance industry without an attorney.

What if There are not Injuries, Should I Still See an Attorney?

Yes. Most attorneys have a free initial consultation. Your attorney can give you advice regarding your property damage, particularly if there's any question about your vehicle being a total loss.

When Should I Hire an Attorney?

Right away. In most circumstances the fee will be a contingency of one third of the amount recovered, plus costs. This is the same whether you have your attorney early on or at the end of the case. Why do any of the work yourself? Besides, you'd rather have your attorney deal with the insurance company, than deal with the hassles yourself. You can be sure that you don't make any mistakes. I tell my clients to forget about their claim. I will do their worrying for them. Their job is to concentrate on getting better.

*article courtesy of C. Joseph Sinnitt.