1. At The Scene of the Automobile Accident
Remain calm. If the automobile accident is minor, move your vehicle to a safe location and turn on your hazard lights. Do NOT leave the scene of the accident. If there are any witnesses to the accident, get their names, addresses and phone numbers.
2. Contact the Police
Call the police even if the accident is minor. A well prepared traffic collision report can be a valuable asset should liability later become disputed. If you feel ANY pain, tell the officer so that it’s documented.
3. Contact the Other Driver
If the police come to the scene of the automobile accident, there will not be any need for you to communicate with the driver of the other vehicle. Let the police do that. If the police refuse to come to the scene and/or refuse to prepare a report, you are going to need to get the name, phone number, driver’s license number, insurance information (including policy number) and license plate number of the other driver.
4. Take Photos of the Automobile Accident
In this era of smartphones, many people have cameras on their phones. Take photos of the damage to your vehicle, the damage to the other vehicle, the license plate of the other vehicle, any skid marks, views of the intersection, debris in road, vehicle position or any other items that appear to be significant. When taking photos of property damage to a vehicle, do so from multiple angles to show the severity of the damage.
5. Insurance Coverage
Check your insurance coverage immediately- in fact this would be a good thing to do before you get into an accident. Keep in mind there is no such thing as “Full Coverage”. In short, these are the main things you need to look at:
Liability: This is what your insurance pays others if you were at fault.
UM/UIM: This is what your insurance pays if you are hit by another person who is either uninsured or underinsured. Do not carry limits less than what you have for your liability insurance.
Collision: This is what your insurance pays to repair your vehicle regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
Medical Payments (Med Pay): This is what your insurance pays to you for out of pocket medical expenses that are not covered by health insurance. Even if you have health insurance, this could be an important part of your coverage to prevent significant financial hardship.
6. Remember Who Represents You
Your auto insurance has no duty to represent your interests in a personal injury action. In fact, if you bring an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim against your insurance company, your insurance company will become your adversary and attempt to minimize your recovery. Unless you retain an attorney, you will be your own advocate and will be required to negotiate with the insurance company on your own behalf.
7. What Claims do you have?
In any automobile accident, there are typically two claims. One claim is for property damage and the other is for personal injury. The claim for property damage can be handled and resolved immediately. In most cases, the claim for personal injury should be resolved when you are finished with your treatment as long as that happens within two years from the date of loss.
8. Property Damage Claim
If you have collision on your vehicle, you can either go through your insurance company or the insurance company for the other driver. If you go through your insurance, you may have to pay a deductible which can be refunded if the other party is found to be at fault. If you do not have collision on your car, you will only be able to go through the other driver’s insurance. Also, keep in mind if your property damage is above $750.00 you will have to file an SR-1 form with the DMV (this form can be obtained from the DMV website)
9. Personal Injury Claim
Your personal injury claim consists of a number of different factors which include medical bills, out of pocket expenses, wage loss (even if vacation or sick leave is used) and general damages (or what some refer to as “pain and suffering”). Contrary to popular belief, there is no mathematical formula to calculate general damages. Each case is different and is dependent upon your injuries, the type of medical treatment you receive, how long it takes to recover and the quality of your recovery.
10. Medical Treatment
If you are in pain after an automobile accident, seek medical treatment immediately. Any delays or gaps in your treatment will be used against you by the insurance company to demonstrate that your injuries must not have been that serious. Tell the medical professional EVERY part of your body that is in pain. You will be responsible for your own medical treatment. The other party’s insurance will NOT pay your bills as they accrue. There will only be one amount paid by the insurance company when the entire claim is settled. Additionally, you may be required to reimburse your health insurance if they pay for any medical treatment.
11. Should I Hire an Attorney?
As demonstrated above, things can become pretty complicated after an automobile accident. In some minor cases, an individual is perfectly qualified to negotiate things on their own and/or bring a small claims action for their recovery. In more significant injury cases, an attorney is a valuable ally to navigate you through the complexities of the insurance industry. Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis which means the only compensation they receive is based upon the recovery they make for you. This insures that the attorney has a vested interest in maximizing your recovery and that nothing comes out of your pocket.
12. What Should I Look for in a Personal Injury Attorney?
You want an attorney that practices personal injury law exclusively. When some attorneys that don’t frequently handle personal injury cases take on a personal injury case they can become overwhelmed by the nuances of this area of practice. Additionally, you want an attorney who is willing to take a case to trial if need be. If the insurance company knows that the attorney will not take a case to trial, they will not make their best offer on your case. Finally, work experience is a tremendous benefit. If your attorney used to work for insurance company, that attorney is going to be more likely to be familiar with the pitfalls that can occur in a personal injury case and maximize your recovery.
While this list covers some of the issues that need to be addressed after an automobile accident, it is far from conclusive. Each case is different and has its own issues that must be addressed. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding any aspect of this list, consider a referral to a personal injury attorney that can provide a free consultation and address your case’s specific issues.
Penney & Associates strives to work with you by keeping you informed on the latest news and information that relates to personal injury law.
The links to the left will take you to more complete articles/news that may be of assistance to you in evaluating your situation and possible legal resolution.
It may be important to contact one of our California attorneys who can help you protect your legal rights. Please keep in mind that there may be time limits* within which you must commence suit.
* Time Limits on Filing Suit
Statutes of limitation vary from state to state. In general, they limit the amount of time an injury victim has to file a lawsuit. Failure to timely and properly file suit within the applicable limitation period may forever bar your claim.
If you have been injured and believe that you may have a case against an individual, corporation, or other entity, it is very important that you do not delay in seeking legal representation. If substantial time has passed since the incident, you should contact us immediately.