Being involved in an auto accident is a terrifying experience. The moments immediately following the collision are quite emotional and confusing. However, it is important to understand that there are steps you should take to ensure the legitimacy of your claim and to protect yourself.
First and foremost, make sure that everyone in your vehicle is safe. If there are any injuries, contact 911 immediately. Stay close to those that are injured, keeping them calm and alert until help arrives. If you are not seriously injured, these next steps are imperative to building a strong case by gathering as much information and evidence as possible.
The location of the accident may still be a danger to you and those involved in the collision. Be sure to assess your surroundings and relocate to safer surroundings if need be. Contact the police, sheriff, or highway patrol so that a report may be filed. When the authorities arrive, disclose all the facts to the best of your knowledge. However, you may not know all the facts, so do not admit fault.
This is the only time you will be able to collect as much information regarding the scene of the accident and those involved. Begin by getting basic information regarding the other drivers involved. Obtain their full names, driver's license numbers, insurance carrier and policy numbers as well as their year, make, model and license plate of their vehicle. Also note the damage to the other vehicles. Gather contact information from other passengers and witnesses as well.
Ask for the reporting officer's name, badge number and report number so that you can obtain the police report after it's been completed. Also, try to get the name of the EMT Company as well as the names of the EMT's that treated those that were injured. If possible, take as many photos of the scene of the accident including skid marks as well as the property damage on all vehicles involved.
(See What to Do at the Scene of an Accident for more in-depth information)
Contact your insurance carrier to inform them of your accident. Write a detailed account of your accident as soon as you can after the accident. Include the time of day, weather and road conditions. This step is important because cases may take longer to settle than expected. The more time that passes, the more details about the accident you will forget.
Contact your attorney so that they may begin working on your claim immediately. Seeking treatment for your injuries should be your number one priority after an accident. There is no time to waste in getting treatment and a diagnosis. Many insurance companies have a 2 week period in which they will consider your injuries as a proximate cause of the accident. Anything after those 2 weeks can be highly disputed as being caused by other circumstances or that there was too long of a "lapse in treatment".
Collect any and all of the medical records and bills that you can. As a patient, you can request these records and documentation much easier than your attorney, and often without cost to you.
(To learn more, check out Your First Steps After a Car Accident)
The insurance company may want a recorded statement from you. As harmless as this step may be, it is important that you are careful with your words when it comes to making a recorded statement. This statement is recorded for a reason. Insurance companies are not your friends; they are merely trying to keep from compensating you the full value of your claim. Leading questions may prompt you to say more than needed and may very well hurt your case. Anything you say can be used against you by the insurance adjuster as inconsistent. Your attorney should always be present on the recorded phone call with the insurance adjuster so that they make sure the insurance company does not ask you any irrelevant or ridiculous questions. (Click here to learn what to expect in an auto insurance adjuster interview.)
If there is a dispute with your 3rd party claim, do not give up hope on recovering compensation for your injuries. We encourage our clients to add the Personal Injury Protection coverage on their policies. This coverage is inexpensive and the amount of coverage ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. The policy acts as a reimbursement for medical expenses you have incurred or already paid for out of pocket. When speaking to your insurance agent, be sure to specify that it is Personal Injury Protection you are seeking; not MedPay. MedPay is another form of medical expense compensation however, if you are also seeking recovery from a 3rd party insurance (other than your own) your MedPay will ask to be reimbursed. PIP does not require reimbursement. (Find more information on How Third-Party Car Insurance Claims Work.)
Once your treatment has seized, your attorney will draft what is called a "demand package." This package includes a detailed account of the accident that includes your medical records and bills that will be used as evidence to demand an amount that will cover your medical bills and compensate you for your time, loss of enjoyment, pain and suffering.
Negotiation processes between your attorney and the insurance company is often tricky. Your attorney should relay any offer made to you for consideration as well as give you advice on whether they believe this is an adequate offer or not. Once a final offer has been made, it is up to you and your attorney whether this offer is sufficient or if going to trial would be an option. Every case varies.
(Find a lot more information in our section on Car Accident Settlements)
The State of Texas requires every driver to carry the minimum liability limits of $30,000 per injured individual, $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. This is also known in short as 30/60/25.
In the event that your medical bills exceed the policy limits, those who carry Uninsured/Underinsured motorist are able to make a claim through their own insurance for the same limits in order to cover all of their bills. However, when making an Uninsured/Underinsured claim, your settlement amount will be off-set by your PIP coverage. (i.e. your settlement amount is $20,000 and you have $5,000 in PIP coverage, your final settlement amount for Bodily Injury would be $15,000 with the $5,000 PIP off set to total $20,000.)
Get more in-depth information in our Car Accidents and Insurance Coverage topic area.