Car accidents are a fact of life. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, other drivers on our roadways disregard speed limits, ignore traffic signals, or drive erratically. When you are involved in a car accident and were not at fault, you may not know what steps you should take in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Here are some of the steps you should take:
Step One: Safety Matters
Your safety and anyone else involved in a collision should be the priority. If possible, remove other vehicles from the traffic flow to prevent additional injuries or damage from another vehicle getting involved.
While you cannot always do so after a serious injury, taking photos can help. Photograph the area where the accident occurred, traffic signals in the area, and the damage to the involved vehicles. You may also want to consider photos of any injuries sustained in the accident if possible.
Step Two: Notify Law Enforcement
Report any accident involving bodily injury or property damage to local law enforcement agencies. Notifying the police regarding an accident will provide a legal record of the accident, which you may need later in the claims process.
When the police arrive on the scene, avoid speculating about the cause of the accident. Furthermore, do not give any indication you bear any fault for the accident. Remember, innocent comments like “I never saw them” or “I am sorry” can mean you admitted partial fault for the accident.
Provide police your name, address, and contact information, provide documentation of your insurance coverage and produce your driver’s license. Beyond that, remain calm and avoid discussing fault with the other driver.
Step Three: Obtaining Contact Information
You should obtain this information from the other driver:
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance information
- License plate number
- Make, model, and year of the car they were driving
You may also want to obtain information from anyone who witnessed the accident. This may include pedestrians, business owners in the immediate area, and other drivers who may have stopped at the scene.
Step Four: Seeking Medical Attention
You need to seek medical attention following an accident. You need to ensure you do not have injuries that may go undetected without a thorough medical workup. Make sure you advise the physician who cares for you in the immediate aftermath of an accident that you were involved in a car accident. Keep in mind, if you struck your head, were thrust forward sharply, or your airbag deployed, you could have internal injuries, including head injuries.
Some of the non-visible injuries in an auto accident include:
- Internal bleeding
- Ruptured spleen
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Getting medical attention is crucial to ensuring you do not have any of these injuries, which could be very serious and lead to additional complications.
Step Five: Reporting Accidents to Insurance
Notify your insurance company about the accident. Provide them with the date, time, location, name of the other driver, and the law enforcement division who took the accident report. In most cases, you will not want to provide them with any additional information until you have taken the time to contact a car accident attorney.
Do not provide a recorded statement when you speak with the insurance company. Speak with a lawyer before participating in any recorded calls.
Step Six: Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
Often, victims of car accidents believe they do not need to speak with an attorney. After all, the accident was not their fault, and they should not have to deal with having an attorney available to prove that. Police reports and witness statements should be sufficient. This is a big mistake.
The reasons for contacting an attorney are not to protect you from being accused of causing the accident. The reasons for speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer are more complicated than that.
Here are some of the reasons to seek legal advice:
- Florida is a no-fault insurance state – what this means is every registered vehicle in Florida must carry a combination of PIP (personal injury protection) and PDL (property damage liability) coverage. However, you must understand that your coverage will not compensate you fully for your losses. Instead, the coverage provides up to 80 percent of medical coverage. Although your insurance may provide some coverage for lost wages, it may not cover any other losses. Your attorney can review your policy to determine if that is applicable.
- Insurance companies and claim minimizing – the insurance company will work hard to reduce what they offer for your medical bills. They won’t reimburse you for whatever they deem unnecessary or unreasonable. An attorney can help you fight back when this happens.
- Vehicle damage coverage – the PDL does not include the damage to your vehicle, just damage to someone else’s personal property. Therefore, you must deal with the other driver’s insurance company as well as your own.
Remember this: Just because you put in a claim against your own coverage does not mean you forfeit the right to hold the other driver accountable for their negligence.
Step Seven: Monitoring Your Health
Once you have spoken with a lawyer, you must continue to monitor your recovery. Remember, your primary focus after an accident is regaining as much of your physical health and mental health as possible.
Some of the ways you can help show your recovery include:
- Keeping all doctor appointments – make sure you follow up with any appointments your physician recommends. This includes seeing specialists if necessary. Do not ignore any appointments during your recovery.
- Keeping a recovery record – keep a record of your recovery. This includes any physical symptoms, changes in your mental health, and the pain you experience. This record will provide your attorney with information for your accident claim.
- Attending rehabilitation appointments – if your medical team recommends rehabilitation services, do not miss any of your appointments. Providers will then document these treatments and give you a written record of your progress (or lack thereof) following a car accident injury.
The best time to file your claim is after you reach maximum recovery. Not everyone heals completely following a car accident.
Some factors that can affect your healing time (and the compensation a car accident lawyer can get for you) include:
- The extent of injuries – the more serious the injury, the longer it will take to recover. Do not rush your recovery time. Your doctor will advise you when it is safe for you to resume normal, or close to normal, activities.
- Your age – the younger we are, the faster we recover. This is a fact. As we age, other physical issues can hamper our recovery time even for minor injuries. Again, do not attempt to rush your recovery.
- Physical health before the accident – if you had excellent physical health before suffering an injury in a car accident, your recovery should go smoothly. However, chronic health conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, or other issues could result in your recovery progressing more slowly.
- Mental health – it is common to feel a range of emotions following a car accident. You may go through a time where you are angry about the accident, which is common. You may also find yourself feeling frightened for no apparent reason. This is also a normal reaction to the undue stress of an accident. Your mental health can affect your recovery, which is another valid reason to seek the help of an attorney. Dealing with insurance issues following an accident is stressful, and a lawyer can help alleviate some of that stress.
Step Eight: Obtain a Copy of the Crash Report
Your car accident attorney will want a copy of the accident report, and your insurance company may also request a copy of the report.
You can obtain a complete copy of the report through:
- Florida’s Crash Report Portal – you can request a copy of the report after waiting ten days from the date of the accident. All law enforcement officers have this time to file the report. The report will cost $10, plus a $2 convenience fee. All major credit cards are accepted. Only those directly involved in the accident may request the data online for the first 60 days. Reports are available for download only for 48 hours after you receive the link by email.
- Request by Mail – you may request a copy of the report by mail. However, you must fill out and sign the proper request form. Mail it to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Crash Records, 2900 Apalachee Parkway, MS 28, Tallahassee, FL 32399. There may be a delay of up to 30 days if you use this option. Anyone in the accident can use the form, your insurance company, or your lawyer. The fee of $10 must accompany the request.
Avoiding claims problems following a car accident
Just as you should do some things following a car accident, you should avoid others:
- Avoid social media postings – social media is a great way to keep in contact with friends and family. However, you should avoid discussing your injuries or your accident with friends and family through social media posts. Any of these posts can quickly get out of hand and could jeopardize your claim.
- Avoid negotiating with the insurance company – do not negotiate with the insurance company once you have hired an attorney to represent your interests. The insurer may attempt to contact you directly about settling your claim. Refer them to your lawyer.
- Do not sign any documents provided by the insurer – always have any documents the insurance company provides for signature reviewed by your attorney. Failing to do so could put your legal rights in jeopardy. Remember, insurers know you face financial challenges while out of work recovering from your injuries. They count on your lack of legal knowledge to pay as little as possible towards your claim.
- Do not accept the first offer – it is common for insurance companies to provide a fast offer after a car accident, particularly if you suffered a catastrophic injury such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Serious injuries like this can take months to recover from, and some people never fully recover. Insurers know that by making a fast offer and telling you it will be their best offer, they can get out of paying the full amount of your losses. Once you accept an offer, the insurance company has no further liability.
Car accidents disrupt the lives of not only the person who suffered an injury but their family. An accident’s emotional toll on a victim and their families cannot be measured in dollars. The primary goal of an accident victim should be to recover as much as possible from your injury and to let your car accident lawyer take care of the claim. This is one way to ensure you can get the maximum possible settlement for your injuries.