How to Build a Personal Injury Claim After a Car Accident

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

Police respond to over 6 million car accidents every year, resulting in nearly as many insurance claims.

Insurance companies report average yearly claim values of more than $3,000 for property damage and $15,000 for personal injury.¹

The at-fault driver’s insurance company usually pays victims, but not automatically.

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.

You deserve fair compensation for your medical costs as well as your pain and suffering. This guide can help you build a successful personal injury claim after a car accident.

Personal Injury Claim Basics

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

Filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance company is not as 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.

To get a fair settlement, you must prove:

  1. The other driver caused the accident
  2. The accident caused your injuries
  3. The cost of your medical care, related expenses, and pain and suffering

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 broad-sided.

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 proximate cause of the victim’s injuries.

Car accident liability claims are based on the other driver’s fault. If their negligence caused the accident, they’re liable for your damages. If the accident was your fault, you don’t have a case. You can only file a claim with your own insurance company.

Compensation for Damages

Damages are the costs associated with personal injuries or property damage.

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 computers.

To win your claim, you must show that the other driver was negligent, and their negligence caused your personal injury or property damage. If you don’t have damages, you don’t have a claim, no matter how angry you might be with the other driver.

Example: Rear-ended by a drunk driver

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 an insurance claim against the drunk driver’s insurance company 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, he won’t be liable to Jim.

What to Do Right After the Accident

It’s important to know what to do after a car accident. Start with a call to 911. If you are 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. Always get an official accident report if anyone is injured or property was damaged in an accident. The police accident report will be an important building block for your personal injury claim.

Medical Treatment is Essential

Never refuse medical treatment at the accident scene. 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. You could have potentially life-threatening injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding.

If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go with them.

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 treatment will seriously weaken your claim. The insurance company will not hesitate to deny your injury claim, arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the accident.

Avoid “Personal Injury” Doctors

Don’t seek treatment from doctors or clinics who advertise to accident victims. They often run up large medical and therapy bills, beyond what is reasonable for a patient’s treatment.

Insurance companies know about these tactics and refuse to pay the inflated amounts, making the patient personally liable for the excess cost. These doctors are not seen as legitimate by claims adjusters and can damage your credibility when it comes time to start negotiating your claim.

Gather Evidence at the Scene

Reports from Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and police will be valuable tools in your personal injury case. The EMS report will include a description of your injuries and the medical care they gave at the scene.

A police 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.

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. You’ll always be ready to gather the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.

Collecting Vital Information

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

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

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

Use your phone, tablet or camera to 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.

Notify the Insurance Companies

Notify your insurance company even if the accident wasn’t your fault. Your auto policy almost certainly has a “notification clause” that includes the following:

  1. You agree to tell the insurance company about any accidents you’re in
  2. You agree to cooperate in your insurance company’s investigation of the accident

By notifying your insurance company, 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.

The other driver’s insurance might not be enough to pay your medical costs if you’re severely injured. Contact a personal injury attorney right away to see if you can pursue compensation beyond their insurance coverage.

Aside from your contractual obligations, you protect your own interests by notifying your insurance company 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.

The At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company

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

As soon as possible, call the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Although it’s likely 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 given it to a claims adjuster. In the case of both property damage and personal injury claims, the insurance company may assign a separate adjuster to handle each part independently.

Property damage claims tend to be straightforward and are usually 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 for professional-looking results.

Don’t specify how long you’ll wait for a response from the insurance company. 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 insurance company, are 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.

Sending a written notice to the at-fault driver of your claim for damages can only help. 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.

Dealing with the Claims Adjuster

You’ll be contacted by a claims adjuster from the other driver’s insurance company shortly after the accident. The adjuster’s sole job is to investigate and negotiate accident claims.

The best way to impress a claims adjuster is to have well-organized notes and paperwork, show clear proof of the insured’s negligence, and verify your injuries and property damage. That’s what personal injury attorneys do. With preparation and the right information you can do it, too.

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 a quick settlement.

Meanwhile, the adjuster will probably ask you to sign a medical release to give the insurance company permission to request copies of your medical bills and records. Be careful!

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 medical records after the accident date.

The claims 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. If you have any doubts about the terms of a proposed settlement, talk to a personal injury attorney before you agree to anything final.

Once you sign a settlement agreement and release, you’ve given up any right to pursue compensation from the insurance company or the at-fault driver, even if your injuries worsen in the future.

When You Need an Attorney

If you’ve fully recovered from a soft-tissue car accident injury like sprains, strains or whiplash, and don’t expect to have any future problems, you can usually negotiate a reasonable settlement on your own.

Soft-tissue injury claims are uncomplicated. You can expect your compensation to be a total of your medical and therapy bills, your out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages for a few days or weeks, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering.

Hard injury claims are much more difficult to settle on your own. Hard injuries can include broken bones, permanent scarring, head injuries, internal bleeding, or spinal cord injuries. Hard injury claims are expensive and complicated.

Don’t trust the claims adjuster to treat you fairly with a hard injury claim. The fact is insurance companies are notorious for making lower settlement offers to accident victims who don’t have an attorney.

If you’ve suffered severe or permanent injuries in a car accident, you have too much to lose by handling your personal injury claim on your own. It costs nothing to find out what an experienced attorney can do for you.

Video: Injury Claims After a Car Accident

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 >>