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What to Do When an Accident Happens

Several times a month I receive calls from clients, old and new, who tell me they were in a motorcycle or car accident. They want to know what to do. It finally dawned on me that I should have this advice outlined in writing.

Call your insurance company. Tell them what happened. Stick to the facts and refrain from giving opinions. In order to keep your coverages you need to cooperate with your own insurance company.

Take a thorough set of photographs of the damages to your vehicle and any visible injuries to you or your passengers. If there are any medical treatments which change your appearance, such as casts or braces, update your photographs with those changes. Likewise, photograph or videotape the scene of the accident and any debris and marks left on the road.

Your insurance policy should provide for personal injury protection (PIP). When buying insurance make sure you never waive PIP coverage. The PIP insurance is primarily responsible to pay your medical bills or the medical bills of a passenger or pedestrian or bicyclist you hit. In fact, your own health insurance company will not pay for those services if there is PIP coverage until PIP coverage (probably $10,000 or $35,000 limits) is exhausted.

If the cause of the accident is reasonably clear then the insurance company for the person causing the accident is primarily responsible to repair your damaged vehicle (or pay its fair market value if totaled). The insurance company for the driver causing the accident is also responsible to provide you with a comparable rental car for a reasonable amount of time while your car is being repaired or during a reasonable amount of time to buy a replacement vehicle.

The insurance adjuster for the party causing the accident will undoubtedly pressure you to give a statement, probably tape recorded. I would advise against allowing a tape recorded statement or an in-person interview about your injuries. However, in order for them to pay for the property damages, they will want some sort of a statement from you as to how the accident happened. Again, stick to the facts and don’t express opinions. They will undoubtedly try to pressure you for information as to your injuries or the injuries of passengers but all you need to tell them is that you are still suffering from the effects of the crash and are still under medical treatment. Don’t listen to them if they hint that they will pay for your medical bills. In most cases they won’t pay for medical bills or time loss until it is part of an overall settlement for the personal injuries including income loss, disabilities, pain and suffering.

The most important task for an injured person is to get better. What that means is to be aggressive about getting all of the medical care you need and treatments that are recommended by medical practitioners. Make sure you accurately describe your symptoms to your medical practitioner. Don’t try to be brave and try to minimize or injuries, or to exaggerate them either.

At the scene, unless it is a fender bender, call 911 and report the accident. I advise people to always carry a portable camera (which can be your cell phone) and take pictures of the ending positions after a crash before the vehicles are moved out of the way. If the police come they will give you a preliminary report with an incident number. Keep it. Both drivers are required to share basic information with one another which includes name, address, telephone number, license plate numbers and insurance information including name of insurance company and policy number. We are all require to carry at least $25,000 of liability insurance and to carry a card from the insurance company in our vehicles. Ask to see the other party’s card and write down the information. If there are any witnesses to the accident try to get their names, addresses and telephone numbers.

I recommend you go to my website and download the accident report form and keep it in your glove compartment along with a pen. If you can’t download my report form then call us and we will send you one.

Keep a diary of pertinent information for your attorney. You should make daily entries in the diary. They should be short, no more then a few sentences or even the notation of “same” if nothing has changed from day to day. In that diary you should record a summary of the symptoms you had that day, the medical treatments you attended, including the mileage and time it took to go to those appointments, and any contacts with insurance adjusters, car repair facilities and so on.

You should keep all of your papers together, including accident report forms, businesses cards from medical practitioners, photographs, your diary and all other information pertaining to the accident. Make sure you make a photocopy of your own insurance policy from start to finish including especially the declarations page which summarizes all of your coverages and put the copy together with the rest of your accident paperwork. You can sign releases of medical information for your own insurance company but not for the other party’s insurance company. Read them carefully before signing to make sure that they are not anything more then they were represented to be.

Never settle the case until you feel 100% better for at least a month without even any twinges of any pain or discomfort and only after you have been cleared by the medical practitioner who had dealt the most with your case. Last, remember that there is a three year statute of limitations meaning that if you do not settle the case a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of the accident or you will lose all your rights.

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