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Posted On November 6, 2013 Personal Injury
Let’s face it – if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already been in an accident. While it doesn’t hurt to know how you should handle an accident, just in case there’s a ‘next time,’ you’ve already dealt with this accident your way. Maybe you were fortunate enough to do everything exactly as described in How to Handle an Accident. If not, you’re not alone – and you’re not out of luck just yet. Here are the five most common mistakes accident victims make immediately after their accident and what to do if you’ve already made them.
You know that the injuries sustained in an accident can be serious, even life-threatening. Of course, you want the other driver, the witness, or the 911 dispatcher asking you if you are okay to know that your situation isn’t life-threatening. With the adrenaline rush in your body, you may not be feeling any pain (yet). Even if you are hurt, you don’t want to make a big deal out of what you hope is a minor injury. These are all reasons why you might be tempted to tell people at the accident scene, “I’m fine.” However, making this statement is a bad idea. If the other driver or a witness mentions it to the insurance adjuster – or if you yourself tell the insurance adjuster that you’re fine – he or she may later claim that you are exaggerating your injuries or that your injuries weren’t caused by the accident. Insurance adjusters may use statements like this to deny or decrease the value of your claim.
The truth is, this early on, you have no idea if you’re fine or not. In the hours and days following your injury, you probably realized that you’re not fine, after all.
A few better responses to the inevitable question “Are you okay?” are:
If you already made the “I’m fine” mistake, don’t worry about it. Move forward with seeking medical treatment immediately, because the longer you wait to see a doctor, the more it appears that you really are fine and that any medical expenses you incur later are unnecessary. If an insurance adjuster later asks you why you said you were fine at the time of the accident, simply tell them the truth: you weren’t aware of the extent of your injuries until your pain got worse in the hours and days after the accident.
Calling the police is important for documenting your accident and injuries. If you can’t prove that there was an accident to begin with, it will be very difficult for you to persuade an insurance adjuster to offer you any settlement at all. Suppose the at-fault driver decides to pay for his or her property damage out of his or her own money rather than get the insurance company involved and risk a premium increase. Without having any official documentation that the accident ever happened, the situation could come down to your word against the other driver’s.
Don’t let the other driver talk you out of calling the police. Just because there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of visible property damage or because you don’t have obvious severe injuries doesn’t mean that there may not be damage to your vehicle or your body that you don’t know about yet. At the very least, get the name, contact information, and insurance information of the other driver, even if you don’t think you will have to pursue a claim.
If you wait to fill out a police report, you may have to go to the station in person. Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).
If you realize after the accident that you will, in fact, need to pursue a claim, one of your first steps should be to file a police report. Many people don’t know it, but you can file a report after-the-fact, as long as you have the other driver’s information. You can call the police (not 911, but your area’s direct police line) to find out how to go about filing a report. Usually, you will need the other driver’s name and address, the license plate of the other vehicle involved, and the driver’s insurance information. Make filing a police report a priority.
If your injury was a commercial premises liability situation and you didn’t notify the proper authorities of the business, you should likewise approach management at this establishment as soon as possible. There may be video surveillance footage to corroborate your claim of an injury, but the longer you wait to notify staff, the more likely it is that the footage already will be erased.
To file a personal injury claim against the insurance company of the other driver, he or she must be the one at fault for the accident. An insurance company isn’t going to pay you for a collision you caused. Your own insurance company may pay for property damage if you opted to purchase collision coverage, and for your medical bills since your policy includes personal injury protection (PIP), but you won’t be entitled to anything else.
Even if both you and the other driver contributed to the accident happening, you may be able to recover some money. This is known as contributory negligence, and it will result in a lower settlement. Obviously, you don’t want to take the blame for a collision that was not, or not entirely, your fault.
The best action to take is to not discuss fault at all. However, many times people feel a need to apologize and accept blame, even though the accident isn’t their fault. For example, imagine that you stopped suddenly because a traffic light changed, or a pedestrian entered the roadway in front of you, and the car behind you rear-ended your vehicle. Even though your first instinct might be to apologize for stopping short, traffic laws say that you’re not the one at fault. It’s every driver’s responsibility to maintain a safe following distance, which means that the car behind you should have been able to stop no matter how suddenly you hit the brakes.
Just because the other driver blames you doesn’t mean you’re at fault for the accident if they were the ones who violated traffic safety laws. If you made the mistake of admitting fault, think over the accident carefully later. Accidents can be so hectic and confusing that it can be difficult to piece together what really happened. If you realize that you were not at fault, or only slightly at fault, there is no reason that you can’t clarify your statement. In your later interactions with the other driver’s insurance company, clarify the events that led to the accident. You don’t have to say that you initially took the blame. If an insurance adjuster asks you about admitting fault, just tell them the truth: once you investigated the accident more thoroughly, you realized that the actions of their insured are what led to the accident.
Evidence that the accident happened in the way you say it did and caused the injuries you say it caused is what makes your claim successful. Without evidence, for all the insurance adjuster knows, you could be exaggerating or making up the accident in its entirety to get money that you don’t really deserve. That’s why it’s important to collect all of the evidence relevant to your accident and injuries so that you can show that your claim is legitimate and that you deserve the settlement you’re asking for.
Generally speaking, the sooner you begin collecting evidence, the better. Some evidence is time-sensitive. Once the accident scene is cleaned up, you can no longer get a picture of it. Your visible injuries will begin healing and eventually will look less severe. Witnesses’ memories fade over time. Safety hazards are repaired or covered up to protect the owner of the premises.
By waiting to gather evidence, you may have lost some opportunities. You can no longer get a picture of the position your car ended up in after the collision, or of the spilled liquid that caused you to slip and fall inside a store. Any witnesses to the injury are probably gone by now.
However, some evidence is better than no evidence. Take pictures of your visible injuries as they change. If your car or other property sustained damage, take pictures of that, too. Go back to the scene of the accident and get pictures of the intersection, walkway, or another setting that will help you describe the accident to an insurance adjuster. Check the police report and find out if the authorities are aware of any witnesses. If so, you can contact them directly and politely request that they give a statement you can use when submitting a claim to the insurance company. Don’t wait any longer than you have to before you begin collecting evidence.
When you first talk to the other driver’s insurance company, you may not realize that your obligations toward them are very limited. Many of the requests they make of you are not required, and they won’t benefit you. If they ask you to tell them in detail about your injuries, you may make the mistake of using non-medical terms that make your injuries sound less serious than they are. It’s common for people to downplay the severity of their pain to prevent others from worrying, especially if the insurance adjuster appears to be sympathetic. Unfortunately, by making your injuries sound like they’re no big deal, you can unintentionally make it seem like you don’t really need compensation.
When interacting with the insurance company of the other driver, be respectful, but stand up for yourself. If they ask about your injuries, let them know simply that you are seeking medical treatment and that the severity of your injuries is yet to be determined. At most, tell them what body parts hurt (your back, your neck, etc.), but don’t try to guess what’s wrong with them. If you’re not a doctor, you simply don’t have the medical training to determine the nature or extent of your injuries. We’ll talk more extensively about interacting with the insurance company in the future.
If you already gave your insurance company information about your injuries that could make the damage your body has suffered seem less significant than it really is, it is important that you get the medical attention you need as soon as possible. Notify the insurance company that your injuries are more severe than they seemed originally and that you are pursuing treatment. Just as with the situation regarding admitting fault, you can clarify your previous statements to the insurance company.
The success of your claim depends on how you handle the situation, from the moment the accident occurs to the time you officially end your claim by accepting a settlement. There are many pitfalls that you can encounter during the chaotic early stages of dealing with an accident, but making minor mistakes doesn’t mean that your claim is doomed to fail. Sometimes you must simply do a little more work later on in your claim to compensate for these missteps.
Your accident can have a significant influence on your life. Wondering what you can do to minimize the damage?