What to Do After a Car Accident That’s Not Your FaultBy Gabriel Levin on September 4th, 2019
As drivers, we do our best to stay safe on the road. We fasten our seat belts, follow the traffic laws, and stay alert for possible dangers. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, hundreds of auto accidents occur in Pennsylvania every day. Thankfully, the majority of these accidents do not result in significant injuries.
An auto accident can be an emotional experience. It’s natural to feel anger, confusion, pain, and an array of other emotions. It’s easy to become overwhelmed after an accident. But it’s important to understand the steps that you need to take after an accident that’s not your fault. Failing to act appropriately after an accident can significantly affect an experienced auto accident attorney‘s ability to seek fair compensation.
Why You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you have been in an accident, it can be easy to choose to file a claim and move on from the accident as quickly as possible. However, this is usually not the best choice. Even minor accidents can have long-lasting effects. What you thought was just a sore neck may actually be a herniated disc that can cause you lifelong pain. And while you think that the settlement that you received from the insurance company seems fair, it typically won’t account for your pain or any future medical treatments.
While most drivers can handle the repair of their vehicle without an attorney, they often underestimate the time and knowledge it takes to get fair compensation for their injuries. A personal injury attorney who has experience with auto accidents can help you determine whether you are undervaluing the extent of your injuries. In Pennsylvania, drivers only have a limited time to file a personal injury claim, meaning that if you realize that ongoing pain you have is from an accident you had a few years ago, you won’t be able to recover any damages. Your injuries matter and should not be taken lightly. An experienced personal injury lawyer can take care of the insurance companies while you focus on your recovery.
Never Leave the Scene of an Accident Without Stopping
It goes without saying that if you are involved in an auto accident, regardless of the level of damage, you should never leave without talking to the other driver. Failure to stay at the scene of an accident is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail. Regardless of who is at fault, both drivers have a duty to ensure that all parties are okay and that neither party wishes to exchange insurance information. Depending on how bad the accident was, you may need to call the police and/or file a police report.
Gather Necessary Information
If you were in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, and if your injuries permit, try to collect information that will support your claim. In many cases, the other party may try to deny blame for the collision and in almost all cases, their insurance company will try to assign some of the blame to you and muddle the facts. The more information you have to support your side of the story, the better. Information that you should get before you leave the scene includes:
- Insurance information: The other party’s insurance information is arguably the most important information you should get after an accident. Without this information, you will be solely reliant on your insurance. If possible, take a picture of the other party’s insurance information. Be sure to get both the front and back of their card. If you are unable to take a picture, be sure to write down the driver’s name, the name of the insurance company, the policy number, and a contact number.
- The driver’s contact information: Your insurance company will want to talk to the other driver. You can help facilitate the process by exchanging contact information with the other driver. A name and phone number are usually sufficient.
- Pictures: Pictures can be vital to proving your case when it comes to making a claim. Be sure to take pictures of all vehicles involved in the accident, paying particular attention to areas of damage. It is also helpful to take a picture of the license plate in case the other party later tries to claim that their car was not involved in the accident. Be sure to get a picture of the whole car as well. If there is property damage or skid marks, take pictures of these if you can safely do so. Essentially, anything you believe can help prove your case, take a picture of it.
- Witnesses: If there were witnesses to the crash and they stopped at the scene, be sure to get their contact information. Your insurance company will want to talk to them.
Seek Medical Treatment if Needed
Injuries are not always obvious after an auto accident. If you feel abnormal pain, have a headache, or have any other symptoms of an injury, you need to seek immediate medical attention. If you or the other party has sustained serious injuries, call 911. If you have non-emergent injuries, an urgent care facility is often best for treatment. You will be able to get prompt attention without immediately exhausting your PIP insurance. If your injuries require further treatment, the urgent care facility will refer you to the hospital or another care provider.
When you arrive at the medical facility, the representative at the admission desk may ask for both your auto insurance and your private medical insurance. The office will try to bill your auto insurance first. If the facility bills your private insurance, a personal injury attorney can help you get this amount reimbursed by the other party’s insurance.
Tell the truth about your injuries and your accident when you talk to the medical staff. Everything that you say could end up in your medical report, which will become part of your personal injury claim if you decide to pursue a claim against the other party. Do not exaggerate or try to tough it out and understate your injuries. Your statements immediately following the accident will form some of the most important information regarding your injury claim.
Understanding Your Own Car Insurance
Far too often, people put off medical treatment or car repairs because they don’t understand what their insurance covers. Even if an accident is not your fault, your own insurance can jump in and help you get back on your feet. Different types of coverage may be available to you, depending on what you signed up for when your policy was written. If you have been in an accident, your policy may include:
- First-party medical benefits: In Pennsylvania, all drivers must carry at least $5,000 medical benefits coverage. Many times, drivers choose to increase this coverage to a higher amount. This means, if you are in an accident, you can go directly to the doctor and seek treatment under your own PIP policy.
- Rental car: If your car has been seriously damaged, you will likely need to send it to an auto repair shop. Most repair shops do not give you a free rental car when your car is in the shop. If you have elected to add rental coverage to your policy, you can get reimbursed for the cost of your rental, up to your policy limits.
- Uninsured/Underinsured (UM/UIM) Coverage: Although the law requires all drivers to carry liability insurance, some drivers still elect to drive uninsured. If you have been injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver, your UM/UIM coverage can help cover the costs of your recovery.
A Pennsylvania Auto Accident Attorney Can Help You Recover Damages
When you have been injured in an accident, the only thing you want to do is get back to how you were before the accident. Unfortunately, insurance companies can make this hard. You shouldn’t have to spend your time dealing with insurance companies, fighting for fair compensation, when you should be recovering. An experienced personal injury can evaluate your claim and help you understand your rights. Insurance companies consider several different factors when determining an appropriate settlement offer including:
- Medical bills: Your PIP insurance is often not enough to cover your medical bills. If you have exhausted your PIP coverage, your doctor may work with you to bill your charges to your personal injury claim or you may need to use your personal insurance. A personal injury attorney can help you recover costs for doctor visits, surgeries, medication, rehabilitation, and medical supplies. If your injuries are substantial, this may include future costs.
- Lost wages: If your injury causes you to miss time at work, you may be entitled to lost wages. Lost wages typically apply to any lost time due to the accident itself or treatment or recovery related to the accident. This includes time missed for doctors visits, surgeries, and rehabilitation.
- Pain and suffering: Pain and suffering is a broad term to cover non-economic losses. Pain from injuries can last long after the accident occurred. Additionally, if your injuries have caused you to be unable to participate in activities you were able to before the accident, you deserve to be compensated. Pain and suffering can include physical pain, emotional stress, loss of enjoyment, and other non-specific injuries.
What You Say Is Important
There will be several people that you will talk to after an accident. Starting from your first interaction with the other driver, everything that you say matters. The goal of an insurance company is to pay out as little as possible. Consequently, they will try to use anything you say against you. Never admit blame to an accident. If you apologize, say things like “I didn’t see you” or discuss the extent of your injuries with the other driver, the insurance company will document this information.
If you are contacted by an insurance adjuster, whether it is your own or someone from the other party’s insurance, all communication should be directed to your attorney. Insurance companies have been known to use manipulative tactics to implicate a party when no fault exists.
You also must talk to your doctor with complete honesty about your injuries. This will allow your provider to give you the best level of care and will help preserve your personal injury claim. Be sure to disclose all injuries. If you have new pain, headaches, tingling, or numbness, let your doctor know. At the same time, do not play up your injuries in hopes of securing a larger settlement. Not only is this unethical, but exaggerated injuries can lessen your credibility and actually lead to a lower settlement.
Finally, watch your social media activity. Don’t think that the other party’s insurance won’t see those pictures of you kayaking or read the posts of you bragging about how much you lifted at the gym. It’s the job of the insurance company to create doubt about your injuries.
A Car Accident Attorney Might Help
It’s easy to become overwhelmed after a car accident. Insurance companies know this and frequently take advantage of a victim’s confusion, lack of understanding of the law, and desire to put the accident behind them. Unfortunately, this means that most insurance companies will offer far less to drivers that do not have an attorney than they do to those represented by a personal injury lawyer.
If you were in an auto accident or have further questions regarding auto accident claims, contacting an experienced motor vehicle crash attorney can help you understand your best options for moving forward.