Taking Notes After a Car Accident: Tips to Boost Your Insurance Claim

Writing detailed notes after a car accident helps build a stronger insurance claim. See why good notes support your demand for compensation.

The notes you write down after an auto accident can significantly boost the strength and value of your insurance claim.

It’s important to write down everything about the accident while it’s fresh in your mind. What you saw and heard after the crash may include details that aren’t in the police accident report and may point to the other driver’s fault.

Continue note-taking throughout your recovery. Your notes will paint a vivid picture of your pain and suffering that will support your demand for compensation.

Why Notes After a Car Accident Are Important

The burden is on you or your personal injury attorney to prove to the insurance company that you’re injured and their insured is to blame.

Good note-taking and organizational skills are essential in successfully negotiating a personal injury claim. Written documentation of important facts, statements, and how your injuries have affected your life will result in a higher settlement offer.

As soon as you are able, begin writing your notes. Don’t worry about trying to evaluate what might be “important.” Everything about the accident and its effect on your life is important. Don’t leave anything out.

Your notes should include:

  • What you see
  • What you hear
  • What you say
  • What you do

Your notes should also include how you felt during the collision and how you feel during treatment and recovery. Describe how you were afraid, intimidated, frustrated, depressed, sad, distraught, grief-stricken, nervous, or any other emotional side-effects from the accident and your injuries.

It’s okay to write about feeling angry or frustrated, but don’t include information that can be used against you like rants, slurs, or name-calling in your notes written after an accident.

Notes used to support your auto insurance claim can be called into evidence, where they will be read by the judge, jury, and the at-fault driver’s attorney.

Good notes can mean the difference between an average personal injury settlement and a substantial one.

What to Write Down After an Accident

Much of the important information and evidence you’ll need to prove the other driver’s negligence can be collected at the scene of the accident.

Equally important, your notes about the circumstances leading to the accident, and what happened at the scene can also help prevent accusations that you were also to blame for the crash or caused your injuries to be worse.

In some states, you can lose the right to compensation if the insurance company can show you contributed as little as one percent to your injuries.

Leading Up to The Crash

Write down everything you can remember about the events leading up to the accident, such as:

  • The date, time of day, and weather conditions
  • Your right-of-way at road signs, traffic signals, or traveling down the road
  • You were wearing a seat belt (or helmet if you were on a motorcycle)
  • What you did to try to avoid the accident, or if there was no time to react
  • What you saw before the crash, for example, if the other car was weaving, had no headlights, was speeding, the driver was on a cell phone, and so on
  • What happened during the crash, such as air-bags deployed, roll-over, or you were knocked unconscious
  • Any damage to road signs, guardrails, or other solid objects damaged in the accident

People and Vehicles Involved

Include basic information about the cars and people involved in the accident. This will help you remember other details that may prove the other driver caused the crash.

Almost every state requires drivers to share:

  • Driver contact information
  • Driver’s license number (if requested)
  • License plate number, make, model, and color of the vehicles
  • Car insurance information (company name and phone number)

Not all states give you the right to ask for the names and contact information of passengers in the other car, but you have every right to write down what you see, hear, and even smell.

Note observations of the other people involved, including:

  • Apparent gender and approximate age of the passengers
  • Noticeable injuries, or lack of injuries
  • Comments made by the driver or passengers, especially passenger remarks about their driver
  • The smell of alcohol or marijuana
  • Odd or inappropriate behavior
  • If a passenger gets rid of any items, or rapidly leaves the scene
  • If anyone trades seats in the other car

Be sure to tell the investigating officer about potentially incriminating evidence you observe.

For more specific information, see the Car Accident Guide for your state.

Emergency Responders and Witnesses

Never refuse medical care at the scene or wait to see how you’ll feel before getting a medical evaluation. The insurance company will jump at the chance to deny your claim, arguing that the accident didn’t cause your injuries.

Make notes about helpful people and witnesses at the accident scene. You may not be in any shape to chat with individuals at the scene, so try to put together as much information as you can when you’re able.

Note information about rescue personnel:

  • Names of the paramedics and their contact information
  • The fire or rescue company at the scene (there can be several small fire departments in the same county)
  • Names of the police officers, badge numbers, and the reference number of the police report

People who saw what happened and may have tried to help have no legal obligation to give you their name or provide witness statements. If you find a potentially helpful witness, be sure to write down their contact information.

Documenting Your Physical Injuries

Unless you have medical records and bills which prove you suffered real injuries, you won’t have a strong insurance claim.

The total of your medical bills is the most important number used to calculate the value of an injury claim. However, bills don’t tell the whole story. Insurance companies are only willing to pay “reasonable” medical expenses.

The notes you take about your medical treatment after an accident can help prove that your medical, chiropractic, dental, or physical therapy expenses were reasonable and medically necessary.

Keep track of the dates you were hospitalized, traveled to medical or therapy appointments, or had in-home nursing care.

Write down the name of every medical provider who cared for you, along with:

  • How you were transported, and the costs involved
  • What you told the medical provider
  • What the provider told you about your current condition and the need for treatment
  • Your medical prognosis, meaning what you can expect in the future

The insurance company will measure your special damages by adding up the bills for your medical care, lost wages, and related expenses.

Make detailed notes about the need and cost for:

  • Assistive devices like a cane, walker, wheelchair, shower chairs, boots, and slings
  • When others must help you with bandages, medications, bathing, dressing, toileting, meals, and any other activities of daily living
  • Accommodations made at home, like a hospital bed downstairs, bathroom safety rails, or portable commode
  • Services you had to hire because of your injury, like childcare, lawn care, or housekeeping

Notes to Justify Compensation for Pain and Suffering

There are no medical records that will reflect the depth of your pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

Nonetheless, if you have records and bills from a mental health care provider for accident-related treatment, it will help support a higher demand for pain and suffering compensation. Even if you did not receive mental health treatment, your notes can still support your demand.

Be sure your dated notes include detailed information about your:

  • Pain levels
  • The side effects of medications for pain, infection, or anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Bad dreams or night terrors
  • Embarrassment or humiliation caused by others helping with dressing, personal hygiene, or toileting
  • The distress caused by the inability to care for children or elderly parents
  • Depression and humiliation from loss of sexual ability
  • Grief caused by the accident-related loss of a loved one
  • Worries about money while you are out of work

Long-term disability or permanent injuries caused by a car accident are valued much higher than soft tissue or otherwise minor injuries.

Whether you are writing your own notes or making notes for a loved one, don’t hold back about the impact of permanent injuries.

Make detailed notes about the emotional effects of:

  • Permanent scarring
  • Multiple revision surgeries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Amputations
  • Losing the ability to walk or the use of a limb
  • Blindness

Protect Yourself by Tracking Communications

Protect yourself by documenting any contact you have with the other driver’s insurance company throughout the claims process.

Contact Info and Phone Call Notes

Have a page for contact information that includes the:

  • Insurance company name and phone number
  • Insurance policy number
  • Claim adjuster’s name, and direct telephone number
  • Insurance claim number

If you have a property damage claim and a bodily injury claim, you may have to deal with two different adjusters and two claim numbers.

Write down the date and time of every telephone contact you have with the insurance company, even if you had to leave a message.

Your telephone contact notes should include:

  • Who initiated the call
  • Whom you spoke with
  • The content of your conversation
  • A list of records they asked you to provide
  • Any settlement amounts that were discussed
  • Any other information or observations (was the person friendly, rude, pushy, or trying to trick you)

Keeping a Record of Written Correspondence

It also wouldn’t hurt to have a page where you list the date and a description of any correspondence you send or receive from the insurance company.

Record correspondence with the insurance company, such as:

  • The initial notification letter to the insurer
  • Medical authorization forms
  • Requests for information

Tracking Your Settlement Negotiations

If you’ve decided to negotiate your injury claim directly with the insurance company, it’s important for you to keep detailed records of any settlement discussion with the insurance adjuster.

Notes of settlement discussions should include:

  • Written offers and counter-offers
  • Telephone negotiations
  • Details of the arguments the adjuster is using to justify their offer

Notes for Your Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have serious injuries, you’ll need an experienced attorney to get the full value of your injury claim, especially when it comes to pain and suffering. Insurance companies are notorious for offering lower settlements to badly injured claimants who don’t have an attorney.

Bring your notes about the accident and any other evidence you’ve collected to the initial consultation with a personal injury attorney. The information you’ve gathered will help the attorney make a more accurate evaluation of your claim.

Take good notes about the attorney visit to help you decide if the attorney is a good fit for you. Most injury attorneys offer a free consultation, so you can meet with more than one before making your decision.

Video: How to Take Notes and Organize a Claim

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 >>