It happens. Someone has hit you while you were driving. The impact has caused damage to your car, your body and maybe several others. You have never been in this situation before. This is the first time this happened to you and you have no idea what to do first, or last, or in between. That’s ok. Just follow these steps listed below and the headache of dealing with a car accident will be much less painful and cumbersome. Hopefully, we will share some secrets to help you as well.
- Make sure you and everyone else involved is ok. This might sound like a given but this rule extends beyond the time period immediately following the car accident. Immediately after the accident, as long as you can safely exit your car, make sure everyone is ok. If someone appears seriously injured, call 911 immediately.
Look for any signs of unconsciousness or severe injury. Secondly, over the next few weeks, pay close attention to your body. Are the aches and pains going away? Or are they increasing, or have they reached a plateau? Many injuries, including soft tissue injuries to the ligaments and tendons in your back won’t fully surface for up to 6 weeks or more after the crash. Pay attention to headaches that can be caused because of cervical injury—these are commonly known as cervicogenic headaches. Additionally, rib fractures may not show up on the original x-ray because of swelling of the soft tissue. If you have pain breathing, this could be a sign that your ribs are fractured and you may need more care. Also, the emergency room may prescribe you narcotics for pain. If so, the pills will mask the symptoms so be aware of your body when the pills run out.
If you still have trouble, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or orthopedist. For more information see:
- Call the police. This is incredibly important and, again, seems like common sense. However, many people feel bad about being in a car accident, especially if it is the first time. You MUST call the police. The police will get all the necessary information you will need down the road (no pun intended). If you do not call the police, I can almost guarantee you will never hear from the other party again. No matter how much the other guy says “please don’t call the police. I will take care of this.”—ignore him. Save yourself some serious hassle and financial hardship by calling the police immediately.
Here is what the police should do:
- Get all information of parties involved, including names, addresses, insurance information, license plates, etc…
- Write a report with all parties’ statements of the accident and how it occurred.
- Include all witness information, including statements and contact info.
- Give you an accident referral card with the report number and the other parties’ information—MAKE SURE YOU GET THIS.
If you know of a witness, tell the officer on the scene. It is very important that the officer is made aware of all witnesses to the crash. If the officer refuses to talk to the witness or ignores you, get the information yourself. It is very important in getting this mess cleaned up.
- Notify your insurance company. After completing the first 2 steps, make certain you call your insurance company so they can open a claim. The contact information will be on the insurance card you have in your car. If you don’t have that, call your agent. If you don’t have that, you likely don’t have insurance and are in trouble. The insurance company will ask for the following information:
- Date and time of the crash
- Your policy number
- What car you were driving
- How it happened
- Parties involved
- Police department and report number
- Vehicles involved
- A recorded statement
- They will also give you a claim number for the accident—write it down.
- They will also arrange for a rental if you have such coverage.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT give a recorded statement to anyone until you have consulted an attorney. The recorded statement is the death toll to many claims because you may not have any idea how the car accident occurred. Then you start guessing and that is the worst thing you can do. If the insurance company asks for a recorded statement, the response should be: “Before I give permission for a recorded statement, I would like to consult a lawyer so that I know my rights. Please follow up with me in 3 business days. Thank you.” Don’t say anymore. Remember this cardinal rule:
Insurance companies are in the business of making money. They don’t make money by paying out your claim.
At this point, various aspects of your insurance are involved, including liability, uninsured motorist (UM), rental coverage, property damage limits (PD), personal injury protection (PIP–Not in Missouri), Medpay, underinsured motorist (UIM), umbrella and any other endorsement (extra coverage) you may have or you may not even know you have. You must consult a lawyer to see what policy coverage will be at play. This is important because if the crash is not your fault and the other party does not have insurance, your insurance company will become adverse to you. What does that mean? It means this—in this circumstance, your insurance company will “step into the shoes” of the driver who did not have insurance (uninsured motorist) and fight against you. Do not try to fight an insurance company after your first car accident. That is like trying to fight your death sentence on the way to the gallows. You will lose. Call a lawyer.
- Call a lawyer. Technically, steps 3 and 4 are interchangeable. The only reason I have step 3 ahead of step 4 is the fact that the car accident may be your fault and/or you may need a rental car. You must notify your insurance company immediately so you avail yourself to the defenses they provide you. If you don’t cooperate with the insurance company, they could refuse to defend you in your case or refuse to pay any money you may be liable for to the other person.
Why call a lawyer? Simple—this is your first car accident. An experienced attorney has dealt with people after their first car accident for years. That lawyer knows what to ask you and how to help you. And best of all—-IT’S FREE!!!! Yes, calling a lawyer for advice after a car accident is completely 100% free. You don’t have to sign a single thing. You don’t have to qualify for anything. All you need to do it CALL. Yes, actually dial the number and speak to a living, breathing person. Very quickly, a car accident lawyer should be able to assess the situation of your accident help you plan your next steps. The lawyer may even want to arrange a meeting time—take advantage of this because it is still FREE!
You must do this quickly because evidence will get stale quickly. Witnesses’s memories can get foggy and be influenced by a variety of factors. Pictures get lost. Witness information gets misplaced. It is important to get the pertinent information as soon possible so the clearest and most accurate picture is developed.
The insurance company has a team of adjusters and claims managers who are mobilizing immediately upon notice that you were in a car accident. You need the same response from your lawyer—you must protect yourself. The insurance company requires their claims people to make contact with you within a certain time period after the crash (usually within 24 hours) and mandates that they try to get a recorded statement from you or an in-person meeting with you as soon as possible. You should not agree to any of this and you do not have to, no matter what the insurance adjuster says. If an adjuster shows up at your house for a statement, call the police. This type of claims practice is harassment and morally wrong.
Remember, at this point, there is a lot you don’t know—i.e., what coverage applies, who is at fault, what your injuries are, etc… Do not start making statements without knowing the entire situation. Making statements only knowing part of the truth will hurt your case. Do not hurt your case.
The lawyer will also be able to help you set up a rental car. In case with no life threatening injuries, getting a rental and trying to resolve the property damage portion of your case can quickly consume you. Do not let it. Ask for help and you can get it.
*Important: If you are injured and confined to the hospital, do not let any insurance adjuster come to the hospital for a statement and/or to have you sign anything. Your number one focus should be getting better—don’t worry about the insurance company. They can and will wait.
*Important: If any adjuster says the words “We will pay all your medical bills and give you $xxxxx.xx”, run to the nearest lawyer’s office. They are trying to get you to sign your health away and what they really mean is we will pay your immediate medical bills—the rest and any follow up care, we will claim are not related to this crash. Your health is priceless.
- Focus on you. After you have completed the previous 4 steps, you must do this 5th one. At this point, you have contacted a lawyer, you have contacted your insurance company and you have the police information. There is nothing else you can do except focus on recovery.
At this point, it is very important that you do everything you can to get better. You MUST make it a priority to see the doctor for appointments, to schedule follow up care, to make it to your therapy appointments, etc….You are the only one responsible for getting the care you need. No one else has that job and no one else knows what you need unless you speak up.
When it comes to dealing with insurance companies, once you settle your case, the case is closed forever. You can never come back for damages in the future. As an injured victim, you only have one shot to make sure you are made whole and your injuries are taken care of. To ensure this, a claim takes time. Lots of time. The severity of your injury may not be known for months as the doctors try various treatments. Do not rush your recovery. Your health is the number 1 focus after a car accident and your actions should reflect it.
The aftermath of a car accident, especially someone’s first car accident, can consume your life, but only if you let it. This whole experience is an inconvenience and a burden. That will never change but the process can be better for you than it is for most. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do this on your own. Follow the steps outlined above and I guarantee you will have much smoother and easier resolution to your claim.
30 Mo. Prac., Insurance Law & Practice § 10:1 (2d ed.)
*The choice of a lawyer is an important one and should not be based upon advertisements. Each case is different and nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice regarding any of the above.