You’ve Been in a Car Accident; Now What?
You Still Can’t Believe What Happened
The accident just occurred. You still can’t believe what happened. Your pulse rate is a zillion miles per hour and you are shaking from the adrenaline rush. Compose yourself.
You first want to make sure that everyone in your vehicle is O.K. After your vehicle is secure, then check on the occupants of the other vehicle(s). Make sure appropriate aid is called.
You have a legal duty to exchange information with the other driver. However, if there are any possible questions about how the accident happened, you may want to get the name/address/telephone number of all witnesses before they leave the area. Not all witnesses wait around for the police to arrive.
When you exchange information with the other driver, DO NOT DISCUSS FAULT. You have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.
You will need from the other driver: Name/address/phone number/driver’s license number (take it directly from their license)/insurance company/policy number (also directly from their card)/year, make, and model of vehicle and license number (from the vehicle)
Cooperate with the police investigation.
However, if you are likely to be charged with a crime or DUI, DEMAND YOUR ATTORNEY. Do not waive your rights.
When the police officer asks you if you are injured; tell him/her the truth. Since adrenaline can mask symptoms for several hours, it is okay to say you are not sure , or you do not know.
Depending on your condition and/or the condition of your passengers, you may want to go the emergency room by ambulance, aid car, or by your own vehicle.
The Next Day
Even if you did not hurt the day of the accident, you will, for sure, the next day, “I feel like I have been run over by a Mack truck” is commonly heard.
If you have not seen a healthcare provider yet, you definitely should go in now. Some people figure, “I’ll tough it out, I’ll be fine.”
Maybe so, maybe not. Most insurance adjusters will argue that if you do not see a healthcare provider soon after the accident, you are not injured. The “system” does not respect being “tough.”
What Healthcare Provider?
I have been around too long to say one kind of treatment is better or worse than another. I can tell you that the healthcare provider you have the most confidence in will be the most beneficial for you.
I tell my clients to seek out the healthcare provider that is the most beneficial to them, and to follow their advice. Ten years from now they may or may not remember the result of their claim. They will definitely remember if they still hurt or not. The number one priority is to get better.
Should I Talk to the Insurance Adjuster or Not?
You should report to your insurance company as soon as possible. You should not deal with the other person’s insurance company. They will contact you as soon as possible to obtain a statement. If you give a statement without consulting with an attorney you may waive certain rights or seriously impair your claim.
What Are My Rights?
If the other driver is at fault, their insurance company will probably pay for your car repairs or total loss value as well as loss of use. They will probably then say “we won’t pay anything else until the case is settled or we are told to do so by a jury.”
You should have personal injury protection coverage on your policy. This coverage generally will pay $10,000, for necessary and reasonable medical expenses incurred within one year of the accident. You can obtain a longer time period or a higher dollar limit. Your company would then recover what they paid out at a later time from the at fault driver’s company. In addition to property damages, loss of use, depreciation, and incurred medical expenses; you are also entitled to wage losses (which may also be payable on your coverage), future medical expenses, and wage losses, pain and suffering, as well as loss of enjoyment of life to date as well as what can reasonably be anticipated in the future, as well as any other “damages” caused by the accident.
If the other driver does not have insurance, or does not have sufficient insurance coverage to take care of your damages then you may make a claim against your own under-insured motorist coverage. It is like your carrier steps in for the at fault driver. Since uninsured people cause a disproportionate number of accidents, I can not overstate the value of having higher policy limits to protect yourself.
If you are at fault; you should have collision coverage to repair your car or obtain the total loss value (subject to a deductible); the personal injury protection coverage still applies to pay your medical expenses and a portion of your wage losses; and your liability coverage should pay for damages to the other persons. (Hopefully you have sufficient coverage.)
Should I Hire an Attorney?
You would expect me to say “yes” since I am an attorney. In 39 years of practice I have never seen a case where the net recovery was less than if my client did not have an attorney. It is just too difficult to outsmart the insurance industry without an attorney.
What if There are No Injuries, Should I Still See an Attorney?
Yes. Most attorneys have a free initial consultation. Your attorney can give you advice regarding your property damages, particularly if there is any question about your vehicle being a total loss.
When Should I Hire an Attorney?
Right away. In most circumstances the fee will be a contingency of one third of the amount recovered, plus costs. This is the same whether you have your attorney early on or at the end of the case. Why do any of the work yourself? Besides, you would rather have your attorney deal with the insurance company, than deal with the hassles yourself. You can be sure that you do not make any mistakes. I tell my clients to forget about their claim. I will do their worrying for them. My Client’s job is to concentrate on getting better.
C. Joseph Sinnitt has specialized in personal injury trial practice for more than 39 years representing persons who are injured through car accidents, or other causes, as well as doing defense work for persons insured through Pemco Insurance Company. Mr. Sinnitt has developed an understanding of multiple perspectives, and has seen “both sides of the fence” regarding personal injury claims. He understands how case are evaluated by insurance companies, and what is necessary for an effective presentation for settlement, or in the alternative, for trying the case to conclusion.