Many of us don’t expect car accidents. But, according to insurance company data, one person ends up in a car accident every eighteen years, on average. When a car accident does occur, you may have little idea what comes next. What do you have to do to report your accident or pursue compensation for any damages to your vehicle or injuries you may have sustained in the accident?
Speak with an attorney for guidance about how to handle your specific case. However, most car accident victims should generally follow a standard procedure to protect their health and legal rights.
1. Always report the car accident to the police.
You might consider driving away from the scene of the accident after exchanging insurance information or contact details. You might have been on your way to an important meeting or family matter, and feel that you need to get going. In many car accident cases, though, you should not leave the scene until police have arrived.
If you or anyone else suffered bodily injury, or if anyone suffered serious property damage in the accident, you should always report the accident and wait for the police to arrive. If you leave the scene of any car accident, even a minor accident, you could face hit and run or other civil or criminal charges.
When the police arrive at the scene, they will ask for a statement from the drivers of all drivers and passengers involved in the accident, as well as any available third-party witnesses. Do not accept liability for the accident or brush off the other driver’s actions, even in an attempt to seem “polite” or “kind” to the liable driver. Do not offer conjecture about how the accident occurred, but do accurately report the plain factual course of events you remember.
The police report may help you establish a defendant’s fault for your injuries, and/or to provide a place for your attorney to start to investigate the accident more thoroughly.
2. Seek medical attention, even if you do not believe you sustained a serious injury in the accident.
All too often, people leave the scene of serious accidents without realizing they have sustained serious injuries. Adrenaline kicks in, shutting down pain receptors that would otherwise put them on notice of their injuries. Victims may expect minor aches and pains, and nothing serious, so they will ignore such symptoms and fail to seek treatment for their injuries. Many will later find that they should have paid more heed to those symptoms, which were signs of more severe injuries that require medical attention. In the meantime, their actions may have substantially increased the severity of those injuries.
After any car accident, it is a good idea to visit a medical care professional as soon as possible, at either a hospital or urgent care center, to allow the care providers there to evaluate you for more severe injuries. Sometimes, medical care providers will identify serious injuries, such as broken bones, traumatic brain injury, chest contusions, or even spinal cord injuries, that will require substantial medical treatment.
Visiting a medical care provider immediately after your accident also serves another purpose: it establishes a direct connection between the accident and your injuries. Once you bring a personal injury claim, you must establish that the accident caused the injuries for which you demand compensation. If you fail to seek medical attention promptly, the at-fault party’s insurance company may claim that your injuries occurred in some event after the accident, or that you caused your injuries.
Make sure to keep track of your medical records and any medical bills you receive for care. You will likely need them later to help establish the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Keep in mind that you may receive more than one medical bill from the same service: for example, if you have surgery, you may receive separate bills from the facility, the anesthesiologist, and the doctor that provides your care. Keep everything.
3. Get in touch with a lawyer.
Immediately after the accident, your first steps should include reporting the accident to the authorities and focusing on your medical care. However, as soon as you can, get in touch with an experienced car accident attorney.
Ideally, particularly if you experienced severe property damage or substantial injuries, you should get in touch with a lawyer before you talk to the insurance company. An experienced car accident lawyer can provide you with essential advice regarding how to initiate your claim, what you will need to build your case, and how much you could recover in compensation. There’s no obligation to take the attorney on as your representative. But, if you decide to, they can start working on your case and get you on your way to recovering the compensation you need and deserve.
4. Let your lawyer deal with both insurance companies.
After an accident involving substantial property damage or severe injury, hire a lawyer and let them deal with the insurance companies. The insurance company that covers the liable driver may attempt to contact you soon after the accident with a quick settlement offer. While the offer may seem tempting, and the insurance company will suggest it is the best you can get, it often actually does not reflect the compensation you really deserve.
When an insurance company reaches out soon after your accident, it might also ask you for an official statement about the accident. Talk to your attorney before making any statement on record, as your attorney can advise you about how to avoid saying anything that could concede liability for the accident or that could hurt the potential value of your claim in any other way.
5. Your lawyer and the insurance company will investigate the accident.
To determine liability for the accident, your lawyer and the insurance company will both investigate the accident. The insurance company will look for any evidence that could prove that someone other than their insured, including you, might bear liability for the accident. Your attorney, on the other hand, will work to identify all parties that may have caused the accident.
The responsible parties often go beyond other drivers involved in the accident. Suppose, for example, that you had an accident with a delivery driver who was on the job at the time of the accident. Upon investigation, your attorney may uncover that the driver’s employer has a delivery policy that creates unreasonable deadlines that require the driver to speed or otherwise ignore the rules of the road to get deliveries to customers on time. The driver was speeding in a rush to make a delivery at the time of the accident. The company is partly responsible for the accident by pushing its driver to meet unreasonable deadlines, leading their driver to speed, and the company could share liability for the accident.
Or your attorney may discover that a mechanical failure in the other vehicle led to the accident. If mechanical failure occurred because of the driver’s negligence in taking care of necessary maintenance or mistreatment of the vehicle, the driver may bear liability for those damages. On the other hand, if the mechanical error resulted from the negligent work of a manufacturer or auto shop, the respective party that caused the mechanical failure may bear liability for the accident.
6. You may need to have an evaluation from an independent medical examiner.
In addition to investigating the accident itself, the insurance company may also want to investigate the extent of your injuries and the limitations they pose in your life, to determine how much compensation you can reasonably claim for the injuries. The insurance company may request that an independent medical examiner that it selects evaluate your injuries, your healing progression, your prognosis, and other things relevant to how much compensation you should recover. The insurance company might also request you furnish it with your medical records, such as evaluations of your accident injuries by your doctor.
7. Your attorney will submit a demand letter to the insurance company.
At some point, your attorney will send a demand letter to the insurance company. This might happen simultaneously with filing your claim with the insurance company, or once each side has conducted a complete investigation. The demand package will contain a list of the damages you sustained, explain the evidence that the other driver caused the accident, and state the compensation you demand from the insurance company.
The demand package is not a final settlement offer. Rather, it often sets a starting point for negotiations by laying out the identifiable expenses and losses you suffered in the accident.
Car accident victims often demand compensation for:
- Medical expenses for injuries sustained in the accident. Medical expenses may include all costs associated with your medical care and your injuries, including the cost of emergency care, hospitalization, ongoing treatment and visits with specialists, and physical and/or occupational therapy to help you regain strength, mobility, and independence.
- Wages lost due to accident injuries. You may need to miss substantial work as you deal with the aftermath of your accident, especially if your injuries keep you hospitalized or your employer cannot accommodate you to get you back on the job before you make a full recovery.
- Your pain and suffering. The injuries in car accidents can cause psychologically scarring pain and suffering. While harder to quantify, pain and suffering damages can form a substantial portion of the compensation a car accident victim claims, especially in more catastrophic accidents.
The insurance company will have the chance to review your demand package, including the compensation you and your attorney feel you deserve for your injuries, leading up to settlement negotiations.
8. Your attorney and the liable party’s insurance company will try to negotiate a settlement agreement.
Once the insurance company has considered the demand package sent by your attorney, it will likely issue a response. In rare cases, the attorney’s efforts on your behalf will establish the compensation you deserve, and the insurance company may accept the demand package at face value. Much more often, however, the insurance company will come back with a counter-offer, which will be lower than the compensation you asked for.
Your attorney will proceed to negotiate with the insurance company to maximize the compensation you can recover as much as possible. Your attorney will ask for your input throughout the process to determine the minimum compensation you are willing to accept. Your lawyer and the insurance company may go through multiple rounds of negotiation as they attempt to arrive at an agreement that works for both parties.
Most often, the car accident claim process resolves by settlement negotiations, ending in a settlement agreement. The claimant and the insurance company arrive at an agreement that the claimant feels is fair and that falls within the insurance policy’s limits and willingness to pay.
9. You may need to go through mediation.
While most car accident claims resolve through negotiation between the parties, sometimes, negotiations hit a wall. Disputed liability or cases where the victim has suffered severe injuries and must ask for high compensation to treat their injuries may hold up an agreement. If the parties cannot arrive at a settlement agreement through negotiation between themselves, they may move forward to solve the dispute through mediation before the claimant files a lawsuit in court.
A mediator, often a former judge or someone else with expertise in these cases, presides over the discussions. The mediator acts as a neutral third party to facilitate negotiation between the parties. During mediation, both parties have a chance to present their positions and the evidence they have in their support, after which the mediator may offer a solution. The parties are not bound by the mediator’s opinion on how to resolve the case.
In many cases, mediation can help resolve underlying issues holding up settlement and allow the parties to agree and avoid litigation.
10. You may have to take your claim to court.
Most car accident claims settle out of court, particularly because the insurance company knows that going to court substantially increases its costs in legal fees and may result in a more unfavorable outcome than it can achieve through settlement.
But, in some cases, car accident victims can’t get the insurance company to agree to a reasonable settlement and have to take their cases to court. If you do have to go to court, your attorney will present your case and argue for the maximum compensation possible. If the case goes through to trial, a judge or jury will rule in favor of one of the parties and, if ruling in favor of the plaintiff, will award a certain amount of compensation.
11. You receive compensation from the insurance company.
Once you have reached a settlement agreement or won a court award of damages, you will receive compensation. The insurance company must act quickly to provide you with the compensation laid out in the agreement, but it may take a few weeks to see it in your bank account.
Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident alone is complicated and stressful. An attorney, however, can walk you through each step of that procedure. Contact a car accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about your rights and for help recovering the compensation you deserve.