What Should I Do if I’m Involved in a Car Accident?

What Should I Do if I’m Involved in a Car Accident?

If you’re involved in a car or vehicle accident, the first action that should be taken  is to contact the police. When contacted, the police can confirm the identity, insurance, and driver’s license status of each person involved in the car.

This may seem like a simple step, but it is very important. Having the police document the basic information of every individual involved protects you from “phantom” passengers appearing in the future who were not really in the car during the accident. Having the police confirm the identity of the occupants and drivers involved also ensures that you are not being provided with a fake name or identity by an individual looking to dodge their responsibility legally imposed upon them.

When the police are notified, at a minimum the police will provide each party with an operator’s exchange report. This is a one-page informational document that provides basic information of the people involved in the accident. This information includes name, address, insurance company (depending on your state), date of birth, license plate number, and make/model of the cars involved.

Police Reports

If your accident resulted in a significant amount of property damage to either motor vehicle or an immediate report of injuries, the police will complete a full police report. This police report will contain all the information contained by an operator’s report, but will also include a narrative containing a brief summary of what each driver claimed to have occurred.

Additionally, this narrative often contains the Police Officer’s own subjective belief regarding how the accident occurred and who the Police Officer believes was at fault.

This narrative is very important to obtain. Not only does this narrative contain a neutral third party opinion, but the narrative is often the most honest answer given by the drivers before they can be influenced by any outside friends, family, or colleagues. Due to the importance of obtaining all of the correct information, it is best practice to always call the police when you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Seek Medical Treatment

After contacting the police, if you are hurt you should seek medical treatment. Generally, the police will offer to contact emergency medical technicians to transport you to the hospital. If you do not feel you need an ambulance and your car is able to be driven, you can seek medical treatment on your own.

I am often asked by clients whether it makes a difference on a case if a person sought emergency treatment or went for treatment on their own either the day of the accident or a few days following. In my experience, it makes no difference. While I am not a doctor, I have spoken to clients who suffered immediate injuries and those who developed injuries as time progressed and the shock of the accident dissipated.

In my legal experience, most clients did not seek treatment until a few days after the incident. In negotiating their cases, I rarely have encountered  an insurance company that tried to penalize a client for not seeking emergency treatment.

Contact Your Insurance Company as Soon as Practical

Regardless of whether you seek medical treatment, following an accident you must always timely contact your insurance company to notify them of the accident. If at all possible, contact your insurance agent within twenty-four (24) hours of the accident. Pursuant to the language contained in standard insurance policies, you have a duty to cooperate with your insurance and notify them of any claims. The duty to notify timely is most important in hit and run accidents where an insurance company can deny your claim for failure to notify within twenty-four hours.

For motor vehicle accidents not involving a hit and run, the requirement to notify is more relaxed so long as no prejudice to the insurer occurs, but still important nonetheless.

Once you notify your insurance company, your duties are not done! You still must coordinate your rental car, property damage (money to get your car fixed or replaced), and medical benefits.

Obtaining a Rental Car

You have a right to a rental car through your own policy if you bought an insurance policy providing for a rental car. Additionally, you are entitled to the services of a rental car through the other driver’s insurance policy if you were not at fault for the accident. You are entitled to a rental car that is similar in “make” as to the car that was damaged, and you can keep the rental car through a date that is either indicated in your insurance policy or is agreed to between you and the insurance company.

Generally speaking, you are entitled to a rental car during the time that your car is being repaired or, if your car is totaled, for approximately five to seven days following the first offer of reimbursement being made. Unfortunately, you are not entitled to keep a rental car for an indefinite period of time.  Be sure to contact your insurance company before getting the rental car to understand your rights.

Getting Your Vehicle Replaced or Fixed

In addition to coordinating your rental car, you must get your car fixed or be reimbursed for the value of your car. When you report the accident, the insurance company will coordinate to have you bring your car to an appraiser to detail the damage. If the car is not operable, the appraiser will come to observe your car. If the value of the car is more than the cost of repairs, the insurance company will pay to repair the car. If the cost of repairs is greater than the value, the insurance company will offer to pay you what they believe to be fair market value for the car.

Fair market value of the car is negotiable.  Your insurance company has a legal obligation to treat you fairly in determining the value of your vehicle.  Make use of Internet websites where cars are listed, and try to find several that are similar in make, model, condition, mileage, and other variables as your car.  This will help you get the most money possible if you believe that your insurance company is not offering fair value.

Coordinating Medical Benefits

Finally, your medical benefits must be coordinated. In Massachusetts, you are entitled to Personal Injury Protection Benefits. In New Hampshire, if you have insurance, you generally are entitled to a smaller medical bill payment coverage. Depending on the State, you could be entitled to up to eight thousand dollars of coverage of medical bills, lost wages, and deductibles. The process of coordinating your medical bill coverage requires knowledge of both automobile insurance law and familiarity with health insurance coverage.

How I Help

I can guide you through the process of coordinating your rental car, property damage and medical bill coverage, in addition to seeking full compensation from the responsible driver and that driver’s insurance company. If the driver responsible for the accident is uninsured or underinsured, I will also seek recovery from your insurance company to the extent that these benefits are available. There are no additional legal fees  for these services, as the firm’s fee is contingent upon recovering a bodily injury settlement from the person who injured you, which is separate and distinct from coordinating these benefits.

Please call me to get started with your case.

How Can I Help?