Learn how to make a strong car accident claim and deal with the insurance company. You deserve fair compensation after an accident.
Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of personal injury claims in the United States. More than 4.8 million people need medical treatment every year because of car accidents.¹
Car accident injuries can range from minor scrapes and bruises to permanent disability and death.
When you’re injured in an accident caused by someone else, you have the right to expect fair compensation.
What to Do After a Car Accident
Vehicle collisions are sudden and violent. You may be confused in the aftermath and not know what to do. It pays to think about the right steps to take after an accident. Your actions can have serious effects on your health and financial future.
The below steps are critical to building a strong car accident claim.
7 Critical Steps After an Accident
- Move to a safe area. If your car is driveable, move it off the road. If your car can’t move, leave it and move yourself to safety. In some situations, it may be safest to wait in the vehicle until police arrive.
- Check for injuries and call 911. Tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else might be hurt, or if your car is in a dangerous location.
- Get medical treatment. When paramedics arrive, let them treat you. Go to the hospital if they recommend it, and follow up with outpatient treatment. Refusing medical care at the scene and not getting follow-up treatment can sink your injury claim.
- Stay calm and exchange information. If no one is seriously injured, get the other driver’s contact information and insurance information. This includes their license plate and policy number.
- Gather evidence at the scene. If you’re able, collect as much car accident evidence as possible. Take photos, preserve damaged personal items, and talk to witnesses. But don’t risk making your injuries worse. If you’re injured, you can rely on the police accident report.
- Notify the insurance companies. Soon after returning home from the scene of the accident, notify your insurance company and the at-fault driver’s insurance of the collision. At this point, you’re just letting them know. Try to give as little information as possible.
- Consider consulting an attorney. If your injuries and property damage are minor, you may be able to handle the claim yourself. If you suffered moderate to severe injuries, you need an experienced attorney in your corner.
Click for What to Do After an Accident in Your State
How to Calculate Car Accident Compensation
You can estimate your car accident compensation by totaling your economic damages, then adding a multiple of that amount to account for your pain and suffering. The multiple depends on the severity of your injuries, but is commonly between 1-5 times your medical expenses.
3 Steps to Calculating a Minor Injury Settlement
- Add up your economic damages: Add up all your medical expenses, lost wages, transportation costs, and any other accident-related expenses you can document.
- Account for your pain and suffering: Take the total of your economic damages from step 1 and multiply that amount by 1-2x to get an amount you can claim for non-economic damages. More serious injuries will get a higher multiple.
- Combine both amounts for a total demand: Add the amounts for your economic losses and pain and suffering together to arrive at a reasonable estimate of your claim’s value.
Factors that Influence Your Car Accident Compensation
- Shared fault and negligence laws: In most states, your compensation will be reduced according to your percentage of fault for causing the accident. Depending on the state, if you are equally or more at fault than the other driver, you will be barred from getting any compensation from the other driver’s insurance.
- Amount of economic damages: Compensation is largely based on verifiable costs, like medical bills and lost wages. If you have no physical injuries verified by medical records, it will be much more difficult to get compensation.
- Severity of injuries: Minor injuries have lower payouts, with a nominal amount for pain and suffering. Severe, potentially disabling injuries are high-dollar claims and more difficult to calculate. Only an experienced law firm can fairly value serious injury claims.
- Auto insurance policy limits: Many drivers only carry the state’s minimum requirement for auto insurance. If your injuries are severe, there won’t be enough insurance money to cover your damages. If the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured, you’ll need to file a first-party claim with your own insurance company for compensation.
Who’s At-Fault for the Accident?
Determining who’s at fault in a car accident requires evidence. You must prove the at-fault driver did something wrong, or failed to do what any reasonable driver would do under the same circumstances.
Evidence proving fault can include traffic citations, witness statements, accident photos, cell phone records, the other driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and more. The police report can help establish the other driver’s fault and show that you did nothing to cause the collision. This is another reason why it’s critical to call 911 after an accident.
The Auto Insurance Claims Process
Each state has different rules, but most auto insurance companies handle claims in similar ways.
Steps of the Auto Insurance Claims Process
- Notification: You or your attorney will send a notice of intent to file an injury claim to the other driver’s car insurance company. The company will respond with a claim number and assign an adjuster to handle the claim.
- Recorded Statement: The adjuster may call and ask to take your recorded statement, but beware. The adjuster is trained to get you to say things that can hurt your case. You are under no obligation to give a statement before consulting an attorney.
- Car Repairs: The at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for your car repairs (or payoff for a total loss) and rental car charges while your vehicle is in the shop. If you have collision coverage, you may choose to let your own insurer handle your car accident property damage claim.
- Early Settlement Offer: You may get a settlement offer immediately. The insurance adjuster would love to get you to settle for a small amount and go away. It’s better for you to put off settlement discussions until you’re finished treating your injuries.
- Begin Negotiations: After you’ve finished treatment, it’s time to open claim negotiations. You begin the process by sending a settlement demand letter and supporting documents to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
- Final Settlement: After a few rounds of negotiations, you will hopefully reach a compromised settlement agreement. Once you sign the agreement, you should receive your check within a few weeks.
- Failed Negotiations: If negotiations fail, you have other options, including arbitration or filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Negotiating a Car Accident Claim
If you’ve fully recovered from relatively minor injuries, you might decide to settle your car accident claim without a lawyer. Preparation is key to successful negotiations.
Gather and organize your evidence so it’s easy to find while talking to the adjuster. Prepare your notes and talking points in advance, and know the strengths and weaknesses of your case. It helps to try thinking like an adjuster to anticipate what their arguments might be.
Experienced negotiators expect both sides to compromise, but always keep in mind your “bottom line” amount and never go below it. If settlement discussions break down, you have other options. Remember, you can consult an attorney at any point in the claim negotiation process.
Tips for Dealing With the Insurance Company
- Remember that the insurance company is not on your side.
- The adjuster is not your friend. Don’t confide in them or discuss your money problems, marital woes, or other personal issues they can use against you.
- Gather and organize as much evidence and accident-related information as possible.
- Don’t give a recorded statement before consulting an attorney.
- Don’t sign anything – including a medical release form – that you don’t fully understand. The insurance company only needs medical records directly related to your car accident injuries.
- Wait until you’ve fully recovered to discuss settlement. An attorney should handle claims for serious injuries.
- If you decide to handle your claim without an attorney, be prepared and stick to the facts during settlement negotiations.
- You have the right to consult an attorney at any point in the claims process, up until you sign a settlement agreement.
Common Types of Accidents and Causes
While no two auto accidents are exactly alike, each type of accident has its own unique factors. A bus accident is different from an ATV crash, a rear-end accident is different from a pedestrian collision. Learn more about the specific type of accident that caused your injuries to get a head start on building a strong claim.
Type of Accident
Common Causes of Accidents
- Cell Phone Distractions
- Texting While Driving
- Falling Asleep While Driving
- Poor Road Conditions
- Getting Hit by a Drunk Driver
To better understand the different case types, review some car accident case examples.
Benefits of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
Hiring a licensed personal injury attorney can help your case in many ways. They have years of experience pursuing accident settlements and dealing with insurance companies.
You may be able to negotiate a fair settlement for minor injuries without a lawyer, but for serious injury claims, an attorney is critical.
What a personal injury attorney does:
- Handles correspondence with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
- Obtains evidence you’d have a hard time gathering on your own
- Identifies additional sources of compensation
- Likely negotiates a higher settlement than you could on your own
- Files a lawsuit if the insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement
- Handles your claim so you can focus on recovering from your injuries
To help avoid getting into an accident, review our Guide to Driving Safety.
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Car Accident Claim Questions & Answers
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