Millions of car accident insurance claims are filed every year in the United States. One thing they all have in common is that a driver’s negligence caused property damage or personal injuries to someone else.
Dealing With the Insurance Company
If you expect the other driver’s insurance company to pay for your damages, you have to convince the company’s claims adjuster that their insured’s negligence directly caused the collision. If you can’t, you may be stuck paying for your own car repairs and medical bills.
Insurance companies don’t just hand over their money. It may be perfectly clear to you that their insured caused the accident, but you still have to present enough evidence to persuade the adjuster to settle the case for a fair amount.
By the time you first speak with the claims adjuster, he will have already investigated the accident. He may have already determined his insured caused the collision, but you can be sure he won’t admit that to you. Claims adjusters are experts at finding ways not to pay a victim a fair settlement amount.
Try not to get frustrated. With dedication, a little common sense, and hard work, you’ll be able to settle your claim for a substantial amount – without having to pay an attorney to handle your case.
Circumstantial and Direct Evidence
Circumstantial evidence includes the position of the cars at the time of the collision, weather, time of day, witness statements, photographs, and more.
Traffic accidents usually have a great deal of circumstantial evidence. One or two of these factors alone probably won’t be enough to prove the other driver’s negligence. But when you begin to put together more and more circumstantial evidence, you start building a solid case.
Direct evidence includes an at-fault driver’s statement admitting he caused the accident, or one of the at-fault driver’s passengers admitting that the driver was speeding or driving recklessly.
Direct evidence can be much stronger than circumstantial evidence, so you often need less of it to build a solid case.
There’s one form of direct evidence that can be strong enough to prove your case on its own. It can be found in your state traffic laws. If the other driver violated a traffic law, the police will document it, either in a police report or with a traffic citation.
Police Reports and Contributing Factors
Almost every police report has a separate section called Contributing Factors. Police officers clearly note their opinions of the cause(s) of the accident in this section. Contributing factors can include bad weather, a blown tire, brake failure, or any number of unexpected, intervening events.
The most often cited contributing factors are violations of the state’s traffic laws, which are documented when police officers issue traffic citations. Collisions are often caused when a negligent driver breaks a traffic law.
There are occasions when both drivers are cited for committing traffic violations. But more often, there’s only one driver who the police think was solely responsible for the collision.
As soon as possible after a collision, you need to request a copy of the police report. The report could be the most important piece of evidence in your settlement negotiations. Most police reports are available a few days after the collision, for a small fee of under $10.00.
Review the police report carefully. You may find clear entries by the responding officer noting her opinion of the contributing factors that led to the collision. Also check if any traffic citations were issued to the other driver. A traffic citation is perhaps the best evidence you can have for winning your auto accident insurance settlement.
Using Traffic Tickets in Settlement Negotiations
Police officers receive continuing legal education to stay up to date with many police procedures. Those procedures include auto accident reconstruction, evaluation of contributing factors in accidents, and updated state traffic laws.
A police officer issues a traffic ticket only after a thorough investigation of the collision, and the factors directly or indirectly leading to it. That investigation includes:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Noting the position of the vehicles at the time of the collision
- Evaluating traffic conditions, weather, skid marks, property damage, and more
After the officer’s initial investigation, she will determine what caused the collision. In many cases, car accidents are caused by one driver’s violation of one or more of the state’s traffic laws. It’s common for the officer to issue a citation to that driver.
If you’re planning to negotiate your own settlement, get a copy of your state’s codified traffic laws. The books are usually in paperback form and can be purchased online for about $20.00. Instead of buying one, you could check your local library to see if it has a copy of the state traffic code.
You can also go to your local courthouse; many have law libraries open to the public. There you can look up the specific traffic law the police officer cited, and determine how the law was violated by the at-fault driver.
Return to the Scene
Police officers aren’t infallible. Their first duty at an accident scene is to identify the people involved, and see if anyone needs medical care. So much is going on at an accident scene, it’s easy for an officer to miss something. Maybe there’s a witness they didn’t speak with, or a skid mark on the shoulder of the road they didn’t see.
It’s always a good idea for you to return to the scene of the accident within a day or two, if possible. Don’t wait too long, since traffic scenes can change. Rain can wash away evidence, and other cars can leave skid marks that confuse the scene.
Find a safe place to view the area. Take a hard look all around, and see if you can find any evidence of a traffic violation. It could be a bent stop sign hidden behind a tree, or a yield sign the officers failed to notice. Write down any traffic violation the police may have missed. You can use that information as additional leverage in negotiations.
Your knowledge of the traffic citations issued, and the laws that were violated, sends two clear messages to the claims adjuster:
- You won’t accept any of his attempts to minimize the traffic infraction’s relevance in the collision, nor the citation’s weight in proving the fault of his insured.
- If the claim can’t be settled fairly, and it turns into a lawsuit, you’d call on the police officer to testify. The officer would testify that the on-scene investigation concluded that the defendant’s traffic violation was the exclusive cause of the accident.
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