What to Do After a Car Accident
Although every car accident is different, your personal injury lawyer or your paralegal will ask you a standard set of questions at first. These questions usually include:
How did the accident happen?
How much damage was done to the vehicles?
Were you injured from the accident and, if so, to what extent?
Taking the right steps after an accident (if you are able to) can help resolve these questions for everyone.
Here is a list of the things you should do.
1) STOP. Don’t leave! If you leave, you will probably be charged with leaving the scene of an accident. This is a moving violation. It will result in points on your record, increased insurance premiums, and a ticket with a fine. And that is in addition to the property damage to your vehicle and any injury you might have received.
2) Call 911. Tell them that you have just been involved in an accident, and give your location as best you can.
Sometimes, the police will not come to the scene, but will instead advise you to exchange information with the other driver. If this happens, you should still do a “walk in” at the police station to file an in-person report as soon as you can. Too often, insurance companies use the lack of a police report as a way to either deny liability or downplay the severity of the accident.
3) Call your own car insurance company as soon as possible. Most policies have language requiring you to inform them of an accident within a fairly short time frame, so be sure to let them know. You should do this even if you were not at fault.
4) Gather as much information as you can. If you are able to do so, get the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone at the scene. Take several pictures of your vehicle from different angles as soon as possible after an accident.
5) Don’t sign anything. If another driver’s insurance adjuster shows up at the scene, don’t give a statement and don’t sign anything.
6) Get any medical attention you need. Although some people wind up leaving the scene of an accident in an ambulance, it is far more common to only notice pain several hours or even days after the accident. Seek medical attention as soon as you think you might be injured.
What about property damage?
1) Liability. If it was another driver’s fault, their insurance company should pay to repair your car. If it was your fault, your own insurance company will pay for the damage to the other driver’s car. Whether your car gets fixed depends on the type of coverage you have.
2) Repair vs. total loss. An insurance company is going to weigh the cost of repairing your car against the fair market value of your car.
Although you are entitled to your own estimate with a mechanic of your own choosing, so is the insurance company. Further, they are only required to pay for the lowest estimate.
Can they use salvaged or aftermarket parts to repair my car? The law does require that any after-market parts installed on your car be clearly identified in the estimate. The Federal Trade Commission says that aftermarket parts should not void any warranty you have on your car but keep in mind that, if the aftermarket parts are defective, it could still void your warranty.
Total loss. If the insurance company “totals” the car, they will give you (or the bank, if you are still paying off the car) a check for the fair market value of the car.
3) Car rental while your car is being repaired/replaced.
Your car insurance. Rental insurance is not usually included in comprehensive of full coverage. It is an add-on to your policy that you have to pay a little extra for as part of your premium. If you use your own rental insurance, you will go by the terms set forth in that agreement.
The other driver’s insurance. Some insurance companies pay upfront for a rental. However, insurance regulations typically only require that the insurance company reimburse you after you have paid for the rental yourself. Therefore, if you have to rent a car on your own and then submit the cost for reimbursement, we advise you to rent the least expensive vehicle you can.