What to do if you have been involved in an auto accident

1.  AT THE SCENE

a. Get medical care if you need it. If you are uncertain of your medical condition, go to the hospital. Shock, fear, embarrassment and worry over the cost keeps many away from the emergency room. Not only could you have a serious injury that goes undiagnosed because you avoided care, you have no documentation that the injury is caused by the car collision if you discover the injury months later.

b. If you can, get the police to the scene to make a report. The other driver may admit liability to you now but after he or she gets home and thinks it over, tell a very different story to their insurance company or to the police.

c. Photograph the scene if you safely can. Modern phones have good cameras. Take photos showing how the cars are oriented relative to the street. Take photos of the damage and those involved.

d. Get witness information. Do not assume witnesses will stick around and talk to the police. Get their name, address and phone number. Their testimony could be crucial later on.

e. Exchange information with the other driver. Better yet, take photos of drivers license information and insurance cards. Photo the other driver if they will let you. If they are hostile, stay in your car, call police and photo their license plate if you can.

2. AFTER YOU GET HOME

a. Get the medical care you need. Too many people think they can tough it out. They just want their car fixed and to get back to work.  They suffer in pain for months after an accident to get medical care and when they finally they can’t take the pain any more, they go to the doctor only to find out their injury is more serious than they thought and will require months more of therapy or even surgery. When they find out how much the injury will cost them in medical bills and lost time from work they call me. They are shocked when I tell them their claim is either damaged or destroyed by their delay in obtaining medical care.

Remember, a claimant has the burden to prove that all claimed injuries are, in fact, caused by the auto accident. Your physician might be hesitant to write a report or testify that a motor vehicle accident four months ago is the cause of your current complaints if there is no interim medical care to document your complaints just after the accident happened.  The defense could claim that if you had really injured yourself as seriously as you claim, you would have gone to the doctor immediately to obtain care and that you have simply injured yourself at home or work and want to place blame on their deep pockets.

Follow your doctor’s advice on follow-up care. Stopping care early both prolongs your recovery and helps the insurance company defeat your claim.

b. Damage to your car. If you have collision coverage you are probably better off having your property damage repaired by your own insurance carrier because they know they have to insure the car in the future they have at least some incentive to do a good job. They also know that once they pay for repairs they can get reimbursed by the at fault carrier through the process of subrogation. If the accident wasn’t your fault it won’t count against you as an at-fault claim on your insurance. If you have the at-fault carrier fix the car they have every incentive to cut every corner they can in repairs. By cutting corners it saves the carrier money on repair costs and helps them defeat your injury claim.

 

c. How damage to your car affects your injury claim.

Insurance companies hate minor injury claims. Even though these claims arise from injuries that cause significant pain and disability.  The insurance carriers, inundated with these type of claims, are perfectly happy to spend $20,000 or more to defeat a claim that could otherwise be settled for $10,000 to $15,000. They do this by hiring paid experts to testify that there is only minor damage to the back of your car and therefore prove the forces involved in your collision are not sufficient to have generated injury producing forces.  I once took a deposition of one of these so called experts and learned that he currently had 3,000 open files where he had been retained by insurance companies to defeat claims through his testimony. He also testified that he was paid about an average of $5,000 per claim for his services. That is $15,000,000 dollars. Do you think he provided favorable testimony for the insurance companies? Of course!  He testified every day that claimants were liars and could not possibly be hurt. He would take photos of a damaged car bumper and show the jury a slightly scratched bumper as proof of his testimony. Then he would show the jury fancy mathematical calculations he used to conclude the claimant was simply not telling the truth.

 

Ask your body shop to keep all parts they replace and to photograph the tear-down of your bumper so you can produce evidence of a much larger impact than the carrier will want known.  

 

Insurance companies also can hide evidence of injury producing forces through their estimate process. The bumper of your car is covered by a polyurethane shell and the metal frame of the bumper is mounted on shock absorbers. Both are designed to flex on impact and then spring back to their original shape. The polyurethane bumper can hide extensive damage underneath the car that the carrier does not want the jury to see. The original estimate is done in just a few minutes when the adjuster does a “walk around” estimate of your car. He does not climb underneath or take the cover off the bumper to look for damaged parts. He then prepares an estimate for just $700. The car is fixed and the customer thinks his car was repaired for just $700. What the customer doesn’t know is that once the repair shop got the car apart they found thousands more in damaged parts or frame damage. The repair shop has to fix the extra damage so they send the insurer a “supplemental estimate.”  Most customers never know about the supplement. It can easily exceed the original estimate by thousands and it is evidence of a larger impact and of more significant forces on the human occupants of the car. It is evidence against the insurance companies. The insurance companies never tell the customer about the hidden damage or the estimate unless specifically asked.  They often pay the body shop at the end of the month for their supplemental repairs for all the cars they worked on for an entire month in one single check to hide the evidence of additional damage to your car.

 

Always ask the repair shops for any supplemental repair estimates and the parts from the supplemental estimate.