Auto Accidents Basics


If you are in a motor vehicle accident, your first concern should be to attend to the health and safety of all who are involved. Once that is done, the following steps will help you to protect your rights against the at-fault driver and insurance company.

I. Identify The Driver, Vehicle Owners And Witnesses.

It may be difficult to locate people once they leave the accident scene. Do not assume that the police will get all of the necessary information. Be sure to write down the license plate numbers of all cars involved. Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of the drivers of all vehicles and of all witnesses to the accident and who come upon the scene shortly after the accident. If the driver of the vehicle is not the owner of the vehicle, be sure to get the owner's information as well.

II. Notify Your Insurance Company About The Accident.

It is important that you notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as you can, even if the accident is not your fault. Otherwise, you may jeopardize your right to medical payments, uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage. If you do not notify your insurance company, you may also jeopardize your right to liability coverage if someone later claims the accident was partly your fault. It may take months or even years before you recover damages from the at-fault driver and his/her insurance company. Meanwhile, bills mount and your credit may be affected. Therefore, it is generally best to turn in your claims to your own insurance company initially so that the bills will be paid. You and your insurance company can later be reimbursed by the at-fault driver and his/her insurance company.

III. Take Photographs Of The Damage To All Vehicles Involved.

A person can have a serious injury even though there is little damage to his/her vehicle. However, many insurance companies are reluctant to pay for your injuries unless you have photographs of damages to vehicles. It is too late to get photographs once the vehicles are repaired. Do not just take photographs of exterior damage to the body of the vehicles. Show any cracked glass or broken windows. Show damage to the interior compartment of the vehicles such as bent steering wheels, damaged dashboards, seats which are broken or forced back, etc. Take photographs of any objects such as purses or packages which were thrown about in the collision.

IV. Keep Copies Of All Repair Bills.

Do not just turn the bills into your insurance company or throw them away once your vehicle is repaired. The repair bills may become important evidence of the force of the impact in a later claim for personal injuries.

V. Take Photographs Of Any Black And Blue Marks, Bruises, Abrasions Or Cuts To Your Body.

A picture is worth a thousand words. These marks which prove your injury often disappear in a few weeks. It may be too late to preserve this evidence by the time that you learn you may have a permanent injury. Also take photographs of you wearing any casts, slings or other medical devices which are prescribed.

VI. Seek Medical Attention As Soon As You Realize You May Be Injured.

Even though you may have a permanent injury, the insurance company may try to claim that you were not hurt because you did not go to a doctor right away. Do not assume that you will be better. If you feel any pain or discomfort seek medical attention as soon as you can.

VII. Be Sure To Tell Your Doctor In Detail Where It Hurts And Be Honest.

Be sure to tell your doctor about all pains and difficulties you are having as a result of the accident. Do not hold back. Problems which seem minor now may become major later. If you do not tell the doctor about a problem early on the insurance company may claim that it was not as a result of the accident.

VIII. Keep Track Of All Time You Miss From Work, School And Other Activities Because Of Your Injuries.

You may be entitled to compensation from the at-fault driver and his/her insurance company even if your employer pays you for missed work or if you use vacation time or sick days. These benefits are valuable and their loss may be compensable.

IX. Keep Track Of Your Mileage To And From Medical Appointments.

X. Write Down The Names, Addresses And Phone Numbers Of The Doctors, Hospitals And Clinics Where You Go For Treatment.

XI. Keep Copies Of All Of Your Bills For Medical Treatment And Prescription Medications.

It is important to have copies of these bills even if your insurance company pays for them.

XII. Generally, Submit Your Medical Bills To Your Automobile Insurance Company First.

It may take months or even years to settle with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Meanwhile, your doctors want to be paid and you do not want outstanding bills affecting your credit. Usually your insurance policies will provide that your automobile medical payments coverage pays bills first, and your health insurance company pays its share of any balance. If the at-fault driver does not have enough liability coverage to reimburse both you and your insurance company for losses, then generally you will be paid back before your automobile medical payments coverage is. However, if your health insurance company is an ERISA Plan, they may have to be paid back first. The at-fault driver may not have enough liability coverage to compensate you as well. Therefore, it is generally best to have your automobile medical payments coverage pay bills before your health insurance company does.

However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. You should consult with legal counsel soon after you are injured to examine your insurance policies and give you an opinion as to where the bills should be submitted.

XIII. Do Not Give A Written Or Recorded Statement To Anyone Without Consulting With Your Legal Counsel.

The law does not require you to give a statement to the at-fault driver's insurance company. That company is not on your side and may try to use your statement against you.

You even need to be careful about giving a statement to your own insurance company if the at-fault driver is uninsured or does not have adequate insurance limits. If this is the case, be sure to consult with legal counsel before giving a statement to any insurance company including your own. If the at-fault driver does not have any insurance coverage you may have a claim against your own insurance company for uninsured motorist benefits. If the at-fault driver does not have adequate insurance coverage to fully compensate you for all of your damages, you may have a claim against your own insurance company for underinsured motorist coverage benefits. In such a case, your insurance company might be adverse to you and try to use your statement against you. Your policy may require you to give a statement, but you should not do so without your legal counsel being present.

XIV. Follow Your Doctor's Advice For Treatment.

Take your prescription medications. Do any exercises that your doctor prescribes. Do not miss appointments. Otherwise, the insurance company may argue that it is your fault that you did not get better. Most important, good health is always better then a good lawsuit. Your goal is to get better so that you can enjoy your life.

XV. Keep A Journal Of How The Accident Affects You.

You can write this in a notebook, on a calendar or in your computer. Your memory of the accident will fade with time. It is important to record your recollections promptly. The first part of your journal should detail the events of the day right before the accident, what happened during the accident and what happened after the accident. You should note anything said by any of the drivers or witnesses. Note the injuries you receive and how your activities and sleep have been affected. Later, record any changes in your condition. You do not need to keep a daily record, but the better the record, the better legal counsel will be able to serve you.

XVI. Get A Copy Of The Police Report.

Check the report for accuracy. Police officers occasionally make mistakes. Bring any errors to the attention of the investigating officers so that they can correct them.

XVII. Contact Legal Counsel Early.

Evidence disappears with time. Markings on roadways disappear. Layouts of roads may change. Witnesses' memories fade. It is important that counsel be able to secure valuable evidence before it disappears.

Your claims may be barred if proper notices are not given. Especially in the case of claims against any governmental agencies or workers, the law requires that notices be given within a very short period of time. Failure to do so may bar your claim.

Insurance policies need to be reviewed and decisions made as to what notices need to be given to what companies and to whom claims should be presented.

The earlier that counsel is involved the better. Hopefully you will have a quick recovery. However, it is important that counsel be involved long before you may know that you have a permanent injury.

We hope that you have found these tips useful. Please contact us if you have any questions. We have attorneys who concentrate their practice in the area of personal injury and insurance law, and who have helped hundreds of people just like you.