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Car crash claims are time-consuming and disruptive, but the ordeal is more manageable if you know what to do after a car accident. Fortunately, there are ways to make the claims process more straightforward and secure a fair settlement for your losses. Here’s what to expect after a car accident regarding claims, injuries, and challenges and tips to get you moving in the right direction.
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Carefully Document The Accident
What happens after a car accident? While the details may be vivid in your mind at the scene, remember that your memory fades. Your adrenaline-soaked brain at the accident scene may not hold on to details because accidents put you in survival mode, not memory mode. You may also remember new information as time passes and may even reinterpret the events based on the information you learned after the accident. That’s why it’s essential to document events when everything is fresh in your memory soon after a crash.
You have many options for this task. If you keep a pen and pad in your glove compartment, start by writing down everything you remember, such as:
- Light colors
- Street names
- Positions of skid marks
- Weather conditions
Many people find writing difficult after an accident because their hands shake, so don’t hesitate to use modern technology. Voice memos, videos, and photos also create excellent contemporaneous records. Do whatever works best for you, but don’t delay in documenting the events because it can make all the difference in the process that follows. Also, update your record as you remember more details of the accident.
Start The Claims Process
A good tip regarding what to do after a car accident is to file your claim after you document your experience. You want to report damage and injuries to the insurance company while you remember them. The steps listed after this one will overlap with the claims process.
Usually, you start by filing your claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance. Some companies have a drive-up claim service if your vehicle can still be driven. Others allow you to submit your claim online or through an app.
When you take that route, the best-case scenario proceeds as follows:
- You file a claim
- The insurance company investigates and sees their driver is at fault
- The adjuster arranges to pay for car repairs or issue a property damage settlement if your car is a total loss
- The adjuster arranges payment of any medical bills and copays resulting from the accident
- You receive a little extra for pain and suffering
- The claim file closes
However, very few auto accident scenarios are so straightforward. Depending on what to do after a car accident, you may find that you need to:
- File a personal injury protection (PIP) claim with your insurance company to cover medical bills, but handle property damage through the other insurer
- Use your underinsured/uninsured coverage to cover medical bills and property damage because the other driver didn’t have insurance or enough coverage
- Dispute an adjuster’s conclusion about accident fault
- Insist on finishing medical treatment before you settle
In the worst-case scenario, the other driver’s insurance company determines that you’re at fault and denies your claim. That leaves your claim in the hands of your insurance company, leaving you to pay deductibles and copays. Even when you go through your insurance company, you can face a claim denial if you were intoxicated at the time of the accident, broke a policy provision, never followed through on medical treatment, or failed to present enough information.
During the claims process, read over documents before signing them. If any documents seem questionable, consider seeking legal advice. You don’t want to limit your recovery amount or accidentally settle your case too soon.
Seek Medical Attention
The same survival mode that keeps you from remembering details also masks pain. So as you go through the list of what to expect after a car accident, symptoms of your injuries are definitely near the top.
Car accidents cause injuries by:
- Throwing your body forward then suddenly backward
- Jerking you sideways into the windows
- Inflicting burns and impacts when airbags deploy
- Blunt force trauma from flying objects
- Cutting and scraping from broken glass
Even if you feel fine, see a doctor and get x-rays. While neck pain could be “just” whiplash, it can also indicate a herniated disc, joint injury, or a pinched nerve. Lower back pain could be a sprain or strain, but early aches may also arise from a herniated disc or compression fracture. Neck injuries frequently cause debilitating headaches that disrupt your work and routines.
Seeking medical attention helps you feel better sooner and builds a more robust insurance claim. An insurance company is more likely to take an injury claim seriously if you seek treatment and stick to a plan. But if you delay weeks, or even months, while lingering in pain, that defeats your credibility when you seek medical expense coverage later.
Get A Damage Estimate
As you figure out what to do after a car accident, always remember that your physical health comes before property repairs. Once you handle medical issues, then move on to your car.
Vehicle damage is usually the easiest element to settle in a car accident. The damage is often apparent and cost estimates are objective.
You have two choices: You can either secure an estimate from a body shop recommended by the insurance company, or you can find a body shop on your own. Insurance companies maintain a record of body shops, which makes finding one easier. Also, it streamlines the repair and payment process because they likely dealt with one another in previous accidents. But many people feel more comfortable with shops they’ve used before or which are recommended by friends. You don’t have to take insurance company recommendations, so do what’s most comfortable for you.
File An Accident Report
Most states require drivers to file an accident report with their department of transportation agency, department of motor vehicles, or the state police department. Deadlines for accident reports vary by state, but it falls typically between three to five days after an accident.
You can generally find accident report forms by visiting your local police department’s website, for example, or contacting the DMV or other agency in charge of driver licensing.
Get Copies Of Police Reports
If law enforcement reported to your accident scene, you likely have a business card with the officer’s badge number and perhaps a case number. Call the police department and use this information to order a copy of the report. Some states, like Washington, maintain online systems for ordering reports.
Police reports aren’t always accurate, and you should know ahead of time if an officer considers you at fault for the accident. Knowing that’s the case helps you decide whether you need a lawyer and it can prevent some uncomfortable surprises during your claims process. Be prepared to pay a nominal fee for the report, but it’s worth the cost of knowing what’s in the report.
Be Careful What You Say And Where You Say It
Here’s one bottom line to remember: If your documentation states it, don’t feel the need to embellish it. For example, if a police report indicates the other driver was reckless and received a ticket, you don’t need to launch into a long-winded story about every single detail. Let your documents speak for themselves.
Basically, whenever you add more details, an insurance company will look for any inconsistencies and use that against you to deny your claim. The best way to avoid that is never to volunteer information unless specifically asked about the issue.
Finally, never post about your accident on social media. Many cases have ultimately been decided based on social media content because someone posted too much or inadvertently admitted something detrimental to their case.
Still Wondering What To Do After A Car Accident?
Sometimes, the best answer to what to do after a car accident is simply to find a lawyer. Involving a personal injury attorney early in your claim takes much of the work off of you and places it into the hands of a trained expert. Find out if this is the best course of action for you by scheduling a free initial case review today.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.