How to use detailed notes after an accident to build a stronger insurance claim and support your demand for compensation.
When you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you expect the at-fault driver’s insurance company to pay fair compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
No matter how badly you’re injured, the insurance company won’t just write a check for the full value of your injury claim.
The burden is on you or your personal injury attorney to prove to the insurance company that you are injured and their insured is to blame.
Here’s where we unpack how your notes about the accident and what happened afterward can significantly boost the strength and value of your insurance claim.
4 Key Elements in Strong Injury Claims
It doesn’t matter if you decide to represent yourself or hire an attorney, there are four essential steps for proving the insurance company should pay:
- The at-fault driver had a duty to avoid causing harm to you and others
- The at-fault driver was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable driver would do
- The at-fault driver’s negligence injured you
- You suffered real injuries and other damages caused by the at-fault driver
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.
Gathering evidence begins at the accident scene, even before the police or other emergency services arrive on the scene.
We’ve made it easier for you with a free Accident Information Form. Keep a copy of the form and a pen tucked in your car with your proof of insurance.
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 accident and how you feel during treatment and recovery. Describe as well as you can 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 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.
Notes to Help Prove Negligence
Much of the important information and evidence you’ll need to show the other driver’s duty of care and 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 and conditions leading up 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, like 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
- License plate number, make, model, and color of the vehicles
- Insurance information (policy number and company phone number)
Not all states give you the right to ask for the names and contact information for 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.
Take advantage of our Car Accident Guide and Laws 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 at the accident scene. You may not be in any shape to chat with individuals at the scene, so to 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 and the service or reference number of the police report
People who saw what happened and may have tried to help have no legal obligation 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
- What the provider told you about the need for treatment
- What the provider told you about 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 dated, 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 Prove 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 accident-related 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
- Losing the ability to walk or the use of a limb
Keeping Track of Communications
Protect yourself by documenting any contact you have with the at-fault driver and their insurance company.
Have a page for contact information that includes the:
- Insurance company name and contact information
- 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)
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 insurance company
- Medical authorization forms
- Requests for information
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
When You Need an Attorney
If you’ve completely recovered from minor injuries and the other driver’s insurance company has accepted liability, you probably can negotiate a fair settlement on your own.
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. They know you probably don’t have the legal skill or the energy to fight for more money.
Most attorneys represent injury victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney’s fees won’t be paid unless your case settles or you win a court verdict.
There’s rarely a charge for the initial consultation, so you have nothing to lose. Find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
Video: How to Take Notes and Organize a Claim
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