4 Steps to Building a Personal Injury Claim After a Car Accident

Here’s what to do after a car accident to build a successful personal injury claim. Get the compensation you deserve.

Insurers report average car accident claim values of more than $3,000 for property damage and $15,000 for personal injuries.¹

Big insurance companies don’t stay in business by handing out settlements to every claimant. It’s up to you to prove the value of your claim. There are steps you can take after a car accident to help your claim. Here we describe the process of a car accident claim and what you can do to boost your compensation.

4 Steps to Building a Strong Injury Claim:

  1. Start Building Your Claim at the Scene
  2. Notify the Insurance Companies
  3. Determine the Value of Your Claim
  4. Negotiate a Fair Insurance Payout

You deserve fair compensation for your medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This guide can help you build a successful car accident injury claim.

1. Start Building Your Claim at the Scene

It’s important to know what to do after a car accident. Follow these steps at the scene:

Call the Authorities

Start with a call to 911. If you’re seriously hurt, someone else should call for you. Tell the dispatcher your location, report injuries to yourself or others, and let the dispatcher know if the scene is dangerous.

Don’t let the other driver talk you out of calling the police. The responding officer’s police report will be an important building block for your personal injury claim.

An official auto accident report contains detailed information regarding the at-fault driver’s errors and citations, names and contact information of witnesses, weather conditions, accident diagrams, insurance information, and more

Medical Treatment is Essential

Never refuse medical treatment at the scene of the accident. This isn’t the time to be tough. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you have, no matter how mild. Not all car accident injuries are obvious. Pain from injuries like whiplash or head trauma may be masked by the adrenaline rush from the shock of the accident.

If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go with them. The EMS report will include a description of your injuries and the medical care they gave at the scene.

If you aren’t transported to the hospital from the accident scene, see your primary care physician. If your doctor isn’t available, go to the hospital emergency room or urgent care center. Tell your treatment provider you were injured in a car accident.

Refusing or delaying medical attention will seriously weaken your claim. The insurance company will not hesitate to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the collision.

Don’t seek treatment from doctors or clinics that advertise to accident victims. They often run up large medical and therapy bills, beyond what is reasonable for a patient’s treatment. You could be on the hook for what the adjuster won’t pay.

Gather Evidence at the Accident Scene

The police and paramedic reports will help your claim, but they won’t cover everything. If you are physically able, try to gather as much evidence as you can after the accident. The more information you have, the better your chance of a higher insurance settlement.

We’ve made it easy for you with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies of the form and a pen in your car, along with your insurance and registration cards.

Police officers on the scene should help with the exchange of information between drivers. In any case, write down as much information as you can.

Important information to gather includes:

  • The driver’s name, address, telephone number, and email address
  • The driver’s insurance company, telephone number, and the policy number
  • Contact information for occupants of the other vehicle
  • The names and contact information for all witnesses
  • The date and time of the accident

You’ll also need the make, model, license plate number, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for the other vehicles involved in the crash.

Take photographs and video 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 pictures.

2. Notify the Insurance Companies

Notify Your Auto Insurance Company

Notify your insurer even if the accident wasn’t your fault. Your auto policy almost certainly has a “notification clause” that requires you to tell the company about any accidents and cooperate in their investigation.

By notifying your insurance, you may be able to take immediate advantage of policy benefits like med-pay coverage, car repair reimbursement, or coverage for a rental car while yours is in the shop. You might need to use your uninsured motorist coverage if it turns out the other driver allowed their policy to lapse.

Anyone with personal injury protection (PIP) coverage can submit a claim to their own insurance company. In no-fault insurance states, that may be your only option. Your PIP claim will be paid no matter who caused the accident.

Aside from your contractual obligations, you protect your own interests by notifying your insurer of the accident. If someone from the other car hires a lawyer, you can bet they’ll demand money. Your insurance company will be in a tough spot if they haven’t already heard about the accident from you.

Notify the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company

After stabilizing your injuries, the next step is to notify the at-fault driver and their insurance company of your intent to pursue an accident claim.

As soon as possible, call the at-fault driver’s insurance. Although it’s likely that the driver already reported the accident, you must do the same.

If the accident has already been reported, the company will have assigned a claim number and a claims adjuster. The adjuster’s job is to investigate and negotiate accident claims. In the case of both property damage and bodily injury claims, the company may assign separate adjusters to handle each part independently.

Property damage claims tend to be straightforward and are often paid quickly. Personal injury claims, on the other hand, can be complicated, expensive, and take much more time to settle.

Follow up your call to the other driver’s insurance company with written notification of your claim. Use this Sample Insurance Notification Letter to help with the proper format.

Don’t specify how long you’ll wait for a response after notification. If you set a time limit but don’t hear from them, you’ll have painted yourself into a corner. What action are you prepared to take? If you don’t file suit, you may lose credibility with both the at-fault driver and the claims adjuster.

Put the At-Fault Driver on Notice

Most drivers don’t realize they, and not their insurer, are ultimately 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.

If it seems like the adjuster is putting off your claim, you can send a written notice to the at-fault driver. No one wants to be sued, so the driver may influence the adjuster to settle. Your letter may prompt the driver to take a personal interest in resolving the claim.

If the at-fault driver contacts you, don’t argue about who’s at fault or discuss your injuries. Tell the driver you expect to hear from their insurance company, and will only speak with the adjuster assigned to the claim.

3. Determine the Value of Your Claim

Damages in a car accident are the losses associated with personal injuries or property damage. These losses are totaled into a dollar amount for settlement, which is sent to the driver’s insurer in the form of a demand letter.

Personal injury damages include your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Property damages include vehicle repair costs or the value of your car if it’s a total loss, and the value of personal items lost in the crash, like eyeglasses or clothing.

Adjusters and attorneys often calculate personal injury compensation by totaling the injury-related hard costs, like medical bills and lost wages, and adding a multiple of that amount to account for pain and suffering. Most injuries justify a pain and suffering multiplier between one and three times the hard costs.

If you don’t have damages, you don’t have a claim, no matter how angry you might be with the other driver.

Example: No Claim After Rear-End Collision

Jim stopped at a red traffic light. A car slowed behind him but didn’t stop soon enough to avoid bumping into the rear of his car.

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 tickets to the other driver for failure to maintain a safe distance and for driving on an expired license. After the other driver failed a field sobriety test, they arrested him for Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

The other driver’s car had a dent in the front bumper. Jim’s car had impact-resistant bumpers and wasn’t damaged at all. Neither driver was injured.

Without injuries or property damage, Jim has no basis for a claim against the drunk driver’s insurance coverage or grounds for a lawsuit.

The at-fault driver will answer to the local courts for traffic violations and face a criminal conviction for the DUI charge. However, Jim has no basis for a civil claim against the at-fault driver’s car insurance policy. 

Also, if there is only one at-fault driver and several car accident victims (including passengers), there may not be enough insurance money to go around. A judge may have to determine how to divide the available funds among the injury victims.

4. Negotiate a Fair Insurance Payout

Before progressing, carefully decide if you can handle your own claim or if you need to hire a car accident attorney. A minor injury claim can be handled by a layperson, but a more serious injury claim is best handled by an experienced attorney.

Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so it costs nothing to get their professional legal advice.

If you proceed on your own, the best way to build a strong injury claim is to have well-documented evidence showing clear proof of the insured’s negligence, the scope of your injuries, and the impact the accident had on your life.

You then need to gather that evidence into a package for the insurance adjuster, and write a letter demanding compensation for your car accident injuries.

It helps to understand a few terms used by insurance companies and lawyers:

Negligence means failure to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. The other driver is negligent when they don’t follow traffic laws or fail to act responsibly. Driving through a red light is an example of negligence.

Liability means responsibility for what happened. Failure of the at-fault driver to stop at the red light makes them liable for the injuries to the person in the car that was hit.

Proximate Cause is when the acts of another directly cause injuries. The act of running a red light and crashing into the car was the direct cause of the victim’s injuries.

Proving the Other Driver’s Fault

Dealing with the other driver’s insurance company is not easy. They have a duty to vigorously defend their insured, and on top of that, they don’t want to part with their money to pay off claimants like you. Proving the other driver is liable for your damages isn’t always easy.

To get a fair settlement, you must prove:

  1. The other driver caused the accident
  2. The accident caused your injuries
  3. The total cost of your economic and non-economic damages

Dealing With the Insurance Adjuster

Watch what you say. 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.

Take it easy. There’s no need to begin negotiating a settlement amount while you’re still receiving treatment. Don’t let the claims adjuster talk you into accepting a low settlement offer.

Protect your privacy. You don’t have to sign the medical release written by the insurance company. You can provide a release that limits the insurance company to specific medical records after the accident date. The adjuster will need proof of your injuries and medical expenses but is not entitled to see your private medical history unrelated to the accident.

Don’t sign away your rights. Once you sign a settlement agreement and release, you begin the settlement check process. At that point, you give up any right to pursue compensation from the insurance company or the at-fault driver, even if your injuries worsen in the future.

If you have any doubts about the terms of a proposed settlement, seek legal advice from a personal injury attorney before you agree to anything final.

How Long Will a Settlement Take?

Every car accident case is different. Your insurance claim could settle in a matter of months, or take a year or more. How long it takes will depend on the severity of your injuries, how long you need treatment, and the complexity of the case.

Watch out for your state’s statute of limitations, meaning the deadline to settle your claim or file a lawsuit. The adjuster doesn’t have to tell you when the statute is about to run out, and they have no legal authority to grant an extension.

If you have not settled your claim or filed a lawsuit before the deadline, you forfeit the right to compensation.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>