How to Build a Personal Injury Claim After a Car Accident

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Car accident claims are based on the other driver's fault. If their negligence caused the accident, they're liable for your damages.

Damages can be personal injuries, property damage, or both. If the accident was your fault, you don't have a case. You can only file a claim with your own insurance company.

Negligence and Damages

To win your claim, you must show that the other driver was negligent, and that his negligence caused your personal injury or property damage. If you don't have damages, you don't have a claim, no matter how angry you might be with the other driver.

You're either injured, or you're not. Your car is either damaged, or it isn't. Your moral judgment has no bearing on your personal injury case. No matter how fast the other driver was going, how many tickets the police officer issued, or how intoxicated he was, without injuries or property damage, you don't have a case.

Example: Minor rear-end accident

Jim was stopped at a red traffic light. A car came up fast behind him, and didn't stop soon enough to avoid bumping into him. Jim and the other driver pulled off to the side of the road. When they got out of their cars to talk, the smell of alcohol was obvious on the other driver's breath. Jim immediately called 911.

When the police arrived, they issued the other driver tickets for Failure to Obey a Traffic Signal and Driving With an Expired License. After the driver failed a field sobriety test, they arrested him for DUI.

The other driver's car suffered some damage to the front bumper. Jim's car had impact resistant bumpers, and wasn't damaged at all. Neither driver was injured.

Does Jim have a valid claim against the drunk driver?

The answer is, no. Although the other driver was clearly negligent, and the police issued tickets and arrested him, Jim didn't suffer any damages. He had no personal injuries or property damage to base a claim on.

The requirement for damages isn't limited to car accidents. Any time someone is injured or has their property damaged due to someone else's negligence, they likely have a strong claim. This could include slip and falls, dog attacks, defective products, etc.

Example: Foreign object in salad

Sally was dining at a restaurant and found a piece of broken glass in her salad. She was upset because she might have swallowed the glass and been internally injured. She called the manager over and showed him the piece of glass.

The manager apologized, saying a plate broke in the kitchen and a piece of the plate probably fell into her salad. He created an incident report, said her meal was on the house, and offered a free dessert to everyone at the table.

Does Sally have a case?

The answer again is, no. She wasn't injured. It doesn't matter how upset or traumatized she was over finding a piece of glass in her food. What matters is that she didn't swallow the glass and become injured. If she had swallowed the broken glass and suffered internal injuries, the restaurant's negligence, along with her injuries, would make for a strong case.

What to Do Immediately After an Accident

If you're involved in a car accident and are injured, the first thing you should do is call 911 and report the accident. If you are seriously hurt, someone else should call for you.

Reports from Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and police will be valuable tools in your personal injury case. The EMS report will include a description of your injuries and the medical care they gave at the scene. EMS may also transfer you to the nearest hospital, where doctors will create more medical documentation.

A police report contains detailed information regarding the at-fault driver's errors (including tickets issued), names and contact information of witnesses, weather conditions, accident diagrams, insurance information, and more.

Don't let the other driver talk you out of calling the police.

Always call the police if anyone is injured or any property was damaged. Don't agree to any arrangements that don't involve making an official accident report. If you plan on filing a personal injury or property damage claim against the other driver, a police report will be very helpful.

EMS and the police can only document certain information in their reports. Try to gather any additional information you think may help during claim negotiations. The more information you have, the better your chance of a higher settlement.

Write down the following as soon as possible after the accident:

  • The driver's name, address, telephone number, email address, and any other contact information you can get.

  • The driver's insurance company's name, telephone number, and the driver's policy number.

  • The names and contact information for all witnesses.

  • Your immediate thoughts and observations.

Also take photographs of the accident scene, your injuries, and damage to the cars. If you're badly injured, ask someone at the scene to help you take photos.

Here's a free form to make recording information easier after a car accident.

The Next Few Days

You'll need to see a doctor to get treatment for your injuries. To make a strong case, you must have credible, independent medical documentation. Be sure to get referrals to any specialists you need to treat specific injuries.

Be wary of doctors and clinics advertising directly to personal injury victims. Many of these doctors have reputations for unnecessarily extending the length and cost of treatment. Insurance adjusters know who these doctors are, and immediately discount their credibility. This lack of credibility can be especially damaging if your case goes to court.

See your own doctor first. If you don't have a family physician, ask for referrals from family and friends. Seek out doctors who will objectively treat your injuries and render the medical documentation needed to support your case. Accept as much medical treatment and therapy as the doctor orders.

You'll be contacted by a claims adjuster from the insurance company shortly after the accident. The adjuster's sole job is to investigate and negotiate accident claims.

The best way to impress a claims adjuster is to be organized, show clear proof of the insured's negligence, and verify your injuries and property damage. That's what personal injury attorneys do. With preparation and the right information, you can do it too.

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