If you’ve been in a car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance company requires you to document every part of your claim. Here’s how to collect and organize the key information.
The most common documents insurance adjusters expect you to submit with your personal injury claim include:
- Police Reports
- Photographs and Videos
- Medical Records and Bills
- Lost Wage/Income Statements
- Other Documents
You may not need all of these documents for your claim. For example, if you were in a car accident but didn’t miss any work because of your injuries, then you won’t have a claim for lost income.
As important as your claim is to you, it’s just one of many claims the insurance adjuster is handling. Don’t take anything for granted. Make sure you get all the documents you need to ensure full compensation.
Here’s what you need to know about the documents you’ll need and how to use them.
Understanding Police Reports
If police respond to your accident they will complete an accident report after they leave the scene. You’re entitled to a copy of this report. The format of police reports varies from state to state, but all accident reports include certain key information.
What’s In a Police Report?
The police report from your accident should include most or all of the following information:
Accident Date: Make sure the accident date and time are correct. A police officer may complete multiple reports in a day, and can easily make mistakes. The accident date determines when the statute of limitations expires, which is important if you later have to file a lawsuit.
Accident Location: Like the date, the location is pretty basic information. Make sure the police noted the correct address.
People Involved: The report will include your name, the names of any passengers in your car, the name and address of the person who hit you, and any passengers in their car.
Vehicle Information: The report will note the make and model of all cars involved, as well as the vehicle identification numbers (VIN). The owner of the other car will also be identified. This is important because there may be additional insurance coverage if the owner of the vehicle was not the driver.
Witnesses: Any witnesses to the collision should be identified by name, address, and phone number. Impartial witnesses can be especially helpful if their statement backs up your side of the story.
Diagrams: The police officer may draw a diagram of what they saw at the scene. The sketch typically will include the roadway or intersection where the collision occurred, the direction the cars were traveling, and the location of the cars after the collision.
Primary Cause of the Collision: The report will indicate the police officer’s final determination about who caused the collision. The report may also indicate other factors that contributed to the collision such as fog, snow, or a setting sun.
Damages Assessment: This section notes the location and extent of damage to both your car and the car that hit you. The type and severity of damages can help establish who’s at fault.
Insurance Information: The police report should identify the insurance companies providing coverage for each vehicle involved. Insurance contact information is the starting point for you to file your claim.
Charges: Finally, the report will state if the police officer issued a ticket or charged any driver involved in the collision.
Was Drinking Involved?
If the driver who caused the accident was drinking, the police report should include information about any field sobriety tests the officer conducted.
The most common field sobriety tests used by the police are:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
- Walk and turn test
- One-leg stand test
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website has detailed information about field sobriety tests.
Getting a Copy of the Police Report
The police report for your collision is public record and available upon request. Typically you can go directly to the investigating officer’s department to request a copy. Check the department’s website to see if you can order a copy online.
If the state police investigated your accident, you’ll have to go to their office or website for the report.
The law enforcement agency may charge a small fee for a copy of your report. If you have an attorney representing you, they will gladly get a copy for you.
Don’t Forget the Police Photographs
In addition to the accident report, get copies of any photographs the police officer took.
If the accident was serious enough, the officer may have called another investigator to the scene. That investigator likely took a lot of photographs. You’re entitled to a copy of those photos on request.
The Importance of Photos and Video
Photographs of the accident scene paint a clear picture of what happened and who was at fault. Photos of your injuries can be used to show what you’ve endured because of the accident.
Pictures at the Accident Scene
Cameras are everywhere. Almost everyone has a smartphone capable of taking photographs and videos. If you’re not seriously injured, you can use your cell phone to fully document the aftermath of the collision.
If you’re able, take photographs and videos of the scene including the location of all vehicles. Be sure to get any skidmarks on the roadway as well as all vehicle damage.
Take a series of photographs showing the scene from different viewpoints – some close-up views and some long-range and wide views.
Be careful when taking photos and video at the scene. You don’t want to risk suffering another injury or making your existing injuries worse.
Note if the other driver or passengers took photos or video. Your attorney will want to request copies of those if you have to file a lawsuit.
Pictures of Your Injuries
In addition to photographs and videos of the accident scene, take photos of your injuries immediately after the accident and throughout your recovery. Documenting stitches, bruising, or abrasions can help maximize your compensation.
Videos that show you walking with crutches or having any other difficulties because of the accident are a great way to help prove your damages to the insurance adjuster.
Documenting Your Injuries
You are entitled to compensation for any medical expenses you incurred as a result of an accident caused by another driver. To recover these expenses, you must provide the insurance company with copies of your medical records and bills related to your injuries.
There may be a cost associated with obtaining copies of your medical records, though some states require doctors to provide free copies in order to preserve a payment lien.
Get All Your Medical Records and Bills
An auto accident can generate many different kinds of medical records and bills. You will need to document everything related to your treatment following the accident. Records that may apply to your claim include:
EMS Records: If your accident was serious enough for the police to call an ambulance, there will be a separate bill for those services. There may be an EMS record even if you didn’t take an ambulance to the hospital. Request these records and bills directly from the responding EMS unit or check the city or county website.
Hospital Records: Even if you were only evaluated in the emergency room and released, there will be records and bills for that ER visit. You can get copies of those records from the hospital. Don’t forget to ask for copies of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or any other expensive tests you underwent.
Doctor Records: Medical records prepared by your treating doctor are essential to your claim. These records describe the injuries you suffered, your required treatment, and establish whether you need ongoing medical care. All your doctors will have separate bills you need to collect.
Physical Therapy Records: Your doctor may refer you to physical therapy or rehab to treat your injuries and restore your previous level of functioning. You need copies of those records and bills.
Pharmacy Records: Don’t forget your medications. You’re entitled to recover the cost of any medication needed to treat your injuries for as long as you need it.
Travel Expenses: Document your mileage for trips to and from the doctor, hospital or physical therapist, as well as any other travel related to your treatment. For example, if you had to stay in a hotel to see an out-of-town specialist, save the receipts for the hotel and any meals you bought.
Other Records: The records listed above are typical for injury claims, but don’t let others slip through the cracks. For example, if your injury required you to use crutches, a wheelchair, or some other medical device, you’ll need to get proof of those costs.
Review Your Records
Once you gather all your medical records and bills, review them for accuracy. Doctors often dictate their medical narrative long after they see the patient, and they’re not infallible. If there’s important information missing from your record, contact the doctor’s office to get it corrected.
When reviewing your records, you’ll likely see medical terms you don’t understand. Use an online medical dictionary to learn their meanings.
Know Your HIPAA and HITECH Act Rights
Two federal laws guarantee your right to copies of your medical records:
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guarantees the privacy of your medical records. It also gives you the right to obtain copies of most of your health records.
- Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) gives a health care provider thirty days after receiving your written request to provide you a copy of your medical records.
If any healthcare provider refuses to give you a copy of your medical records without a legitimate explanation, or reveals your private health information without your consent, you may need to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Read more about your Options in Case of a HIPAA Violation.
Proving Lost Wages and Income
You’re entitled to compensation for any wages or other income you lost if you were unable to work because of accident-related injuries. The documents you’ll need depends on the nature of your employment.
Full or Part-time Employees
If you’re employed by a company or individual, any or all of the following documents can help prove your lost wages:
- Tax Returns and W-2s: The easiest and most reliable way to establish your lost wages is from the previous year’s tax return.
- Pay Stubs: Your most recent pay stubs will show your weekly, bimonthly or monthly wages. Your paystub can also show any raises or bonuses that weren’t included in last year’s tax return. In most states, lost wages are based on your gross pre-tax earnings.
- Employer Wage Verification: Ask your employer to provide a statement verifying your wages. It should include your salary or hourly pay, the number of hours you work in a week, and any overtime pay you typically get.
If you’re self-employed or work strictly on commission, you may have to work harder to establish your lost income. Documents that can help include:
- Tax Returns: Last year’s tax returns can establish your prior income but may not accurately reflect this year’s income. Self-employed people often experience ups and downs in pay. Before using last year’s tax return, make sure it accurately shows how much you expect to make this year.
- Bank Records: Bank records showing deposits of business revenue are another way to establish how much income you lost.
- Contracts and Purchase Orders: Any contracts that call for you to provide goods or services will show your expected income for that period of time. Pending purchase orders do the same thing.
Example: What if someone doesn’t file their tax returns?
Jackie ran her own business cleaning houses and was typically paid in cash. For the last five years, Jackie has not filed a federal or state income tax return. Jackie was injured in an automobile collision and was unable to work for two months.
When Jackie contacted a personal injury attorney, he requested her tax returns to prove her lost income. Jackie didn’t have them. The attorney knew that the insurance company would want to see her returns as part of any claim for lost income.
Because failure to file federal and state income tax returns can result in criminal charges and fines, Jackie’s attorney advised her not to make a lost income claim.
Include All Forms of Compensation
You’re entitled to compensation for any time you missed from work, even if you took vacation or sick leave to deal with your injuries. Paid Time Off (PTO) used to treat your injuries is fully compensable.
Of course, include all the typical eight-hour days you were unable to work. You can also include half-days and hours you missed from work to attend a doctor’s appointment or physical therapy.
You may be able to recover compensation for any lost opportunity you suffered due to your injuries. If the accident caused you to miss a job interview, the chance to earn a bonus, or the chance for a promotion, include those losses in your demand.
If an accident is serious enough to result in a permanent injury, calculating compensation becomes very difficult. There are many more factors to consider for someone who suffers a disability.
Whether an injured victim will never be able to work again, or is simply prevented from returning to their previous job, they deserve significant compensation.
If you have suffered a serious, life-altering injury, you need an experienced personal injury attorney. The stakes are too high to attempt handling the case on your own. Only an experienced attorney will be able to get you the compensation you deserve.
Some other documents that might be relevant to your accident claim include:
- 911 Call Recordings: In a case where fault is in dispute, the call to 911 may shed some light on who’s responsible. You can request transcripts of these calls.
- Reports by Other Agencies: Most car accidents are investigated by the police officer called to the scene. If your accident was serious enough for the police to involve other investigators, you need to get those records.
- Witness Statements: Did the police take witness statements at the scene? Don’t assume the accident report itself is the only document produced by the investigating officer. There may be additional witness statements taken by the officer either at the scene or later.
- Your Statements: If you gave a statement to the police officer at the scene or any other time, get a copy and check it for accuracy. If there are any errors, contact the police department or let your attorney know immediately.
- Insurance Policies: Check the declarations page of your insurance policy. Depending on the state you’re in, you may have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. You also may have MedPay coverage which allows you to recover some of your medical expenses from your own insurance company.
Pulling together all the documents needed to prove a claim can be a big job. An experienced personal injury attorney will know which documents are necessary and do the work to obtain them, allowing you to focus on recovering from your injuries.
Most reputable personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation. It costs nothing to find out what an attorney can do for you.
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