The decisions you make in the days following an accident are crucial to your injury claim. Taking a proactive role in your claim against the at-fault driver will help you get a substantially higher settlement offer. Here we outline what to do in the days after an accident to strengthen your claim.
Nobody expects to be in a car accident, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared. You’ll likely be confused and disoriented immediately afterwards. Trying to remember exactly what information you need for an insurance claim will be close to impossible. Yet, if you don’t gather the proper information, winning your claim will be more difficult.
Download this Accident Information Form and keep a copy in your glove compartment. In the unfortunate event you’re in an accident, it will guide you through the information-gathering process. You’ll be glad to have this helpful reminder as you begin the claims process.
Seek Proper Medical Treatment
If you were taken by paramedics to the emergency room, get copies of your admitting chart and all other documentation and test results, including doctors’ notes, x-rays, MRIs and CAT scans. This documentation is crucial to your claim.
If you weren’t taken immediately to the hospital, follow-up with your primary care physician as soon as possible. After an accident, the pain of injury can be masked by adrenaline. You may be more seriously injured than you think. Also, if too much time passes between the accident and your seeking treatment, the insurance company may deny your claim.
Avoid “Personal Injury” Doctors
Don’t seek treatment from doctors or clinics who advertise to personal injury victims. These doctors are not seen as legitimate by claims adjusters, and often lack the objective credibility you’ll need to rely on when negotiating your claim.
They often run up large medical and therapy bills, beyond what is reasonably necessary for a patient’s treatment. Insurance companies know about these tactics, and refuse to pay the inflated amounts, making the patient personally liable for the excess cost.
Notify the Insurance Company
After stabilizing your injuries, the next step is to notify the at-fault driver and his insurance company of your intent to pursue a claim. As soon as possible (no later than a few days), call the insurance company. Although it’s likely the at-fault driver already reported the accident, you must do the same.
If the accident was already reported, the company will have already assigned a claim number and given it to a claims adjuster. In the case of both property damage and personal injury claims, the insurance company may assign a separate adjuster to handle each part independently.
Letter of Notification
Follow up the call with a notification letter to the at-fault party (the insured) and his insurance company. Even though you already reported the claim by phone, it’s always a good idea to confirm it in writing.
Most drivers don’t realize they, and not their insurance company, are liable for any damages they cause in an accident. Auto insurance covers the insured driver up to their policy limits, but any amount above that is the driver’s personal responsibility.
Notifying the at-fault driver of your claim can only help. No one wants to be sued, so the driver may help influence the adjuster to settle. Your notification letter to the driver can prompt him to take a personal interest in the way your claim is handled.
Follow-up with the Adjuster
You should hear from the claims adjuster soon after filing your claim. The adjuster will try to pressure you into giving a recorded statement. It’s not necessary for you to give one, and if you’re not careful, you may say something that weakens your claim. In a serious injury case, you should never give a recorded statement without first consulting an attorney.
If the at-fault driver contacts you, don’t discuss the facts of the collision or your injuries. Tell the driver you expect to hear from his insurance company, and will only speak with the adjuster assigned to the claim.
Don’t specify how long you’ll wait for a response from the insurance company. If you do set a time limit, but don’t hear from them, you’ll have limited your options. Then, if you don’t file suit, you may lose credibility with both the at-fault driver and the claims adjuster.
You’ll be in a strong starting position if you:
- Use the Accident Information Form to gather important info at the scene
- Seek proper medical treatment immediately after the accident
- Notify the insurance company soon after the collision
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