Most articles about what to do after a collision are published by insurance companies trying to help themselves. This article if written and published by injury attorneys, The Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield, and is written to provide advice on how you can protect yourself, not the insurance companies. Whether you hire a lawyer or not, whether you hire the Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield or another firm, this article is provided to help you make sure insurance companies do not take advantage of you. This is not an advertisement for our firm, but is intended to provide helpful information to you now.
While you are searching to find the right lawyer to handle your injury case, there are a few simple things you need to know to protect yourself. During the first few days after your accident, there are some things you should do to make sure the insurance companies do not take advantage of you. You want to do everything possible to get better from your injuries and heal, and to make sure you do not do something that insurance companies will use against you, instead of compensating you for your injuries. If you are not going to hire a lawyer right away, or are taking a few days to select a lawyer, make sure you follow these basic and simple steps to protect yourself. It is bad enough you were injured, do not let an insurance company make it worse by taking advantage of you.
AT THE TIME OF THE COLLISION
BE SAFE: If you are in the street, be mindful of other traffic. Make sure both you and everyone else around is not walking in front of other traffic. Turn on your hazard lights. If it is dark, leave the car lights on and be watchful for cars that you might otherwise miss.
GET HELP: Generally, you should call 911. If you or someone else is injured at all, make sure you call. Be prepared to tell the emergency responders where you are located. You should also call if there is significant property damage. The bumper on most newer cars will hide significant damage so you are better off making the call.
TAKE PICTURES: Use your cell phone to make capturing most necessary information easy. Takes pictures of:
The driver’s license of the person that hit you;
The registration of the person that hit you;
The proof of insurance of the person that hit you;
Ask permission to photograph the person that hit you and any witnesses;
The license plate of all cars involved;
Damage to all cars involved;
The scene of the collision showing the location of the impact, any traffic control devices or street signs. (Do this even if you have already moved your cars).
GET PHONE NUMBERS: Phone numbers are not listed on any of the documents you photographed. Make sure you write down phone numbers.
LOOK FOR WITNESSES: It is not unusual for the person that hit you to tell you it was their fault, only for their story to change once their insurance company gets involved. A witness makes it more difficult for the other party to change their story.
EXCHANGE POLICY LIMIT INFORMATION: Insurance companies always tell you to never disclose this information. They say that because this information is helpful to the person who did not cause the collision and was injured. Try to get the person that hit you to disclose the amount of insurance coverage they have. If they hesitate, make sure they understand you will provide the same information as part of the exchange. There is no harm to you in providing this information.
AFTER THE COLLISION
GET MEDICAL ATTENTION: If you think you may have a significant injury, go to the emergency room. Frequently, people will be in shock or for other reasons will not feel pain at the scene of the collision, only to find that they have significant pain in the next few days. The day of the impact is too soon to conclude that you do not have an injury. If you do feel pain, make sure you get to a doctor or chiropractor. Medical professionals will not only help treat you to reduce the symptoms and duration of your injury, they will also document your injury, which is important evidence in your case.
DO NOT GET FOOLED BY INSURANCE COMPANIES: Do not sign anything! If you may have an injury, or you may hire a lawyer, do not sign anything for an insurance company. Do not give a statement, especially a recorded statement. If you handle the matter without a lawyer, you will have to report the collision and speak with an insurance adjuster, but do not give a recorded statement. Do not sign an authorization which waives all your medical privacy and allows the insurance company to get all your medical records. The insurance adjusters you deal with will likely be very nice to you and sound very concerned about you. They will sound like they are there to help you. Do not be fooled. Their only job is to get as much information as they can to deny your claim or to justify a low-ball settlement. Every direct conversation or communication you have with the insurance company is another chance for the adjuster to reduce the value of your case.
DO NOT CALL THE PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY WITH THE JINGLE ON THE TV OR RADIO: There are a lot of commercials for personal injury attorneys showing people telling you how much money the attorney got for them. There is a silly song with a phone number so that you can recite the number without even looking it up. They handle thousands of cases. You have only one case. You want an attorney who cares about you and your case. Take a little bit of time and do some research to find the attorney who is right for you and cares about your case. Whether the Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield is your choice or not, spend a few minutes to get informed and do your homework. See our article on how to select the right injury attorney for you.
GET YOUR CAR REPAIRED PROPERLY: The insurance company will encourage you to use one of their “approved” repair shops. You want your car repaired by someone on your side. The amount of damage to the car will be additional critical evidence to demonstrate how hard you were hit, which may relate to your injury. If you have frame damage and the insurance repair shop does not tell you, you may never know. The insurance company will try to persuade you to use their shop by telling you they offer a lifetime guarantee. But have you ever heard of someone needing to have a repair redone years later? The guarantee is of limited value. And how did that body shop get approved by the insurance company? By guaranteeing to do the cheapest work possible. This is just one more example of the insurance company pretending to be your friend but really just rigging your claim to their advantage.
DO NOT DELIVER: You are not Dominos Pizza. It is not your job to take your car to the insurance company so that they can inspect it at their convenience. They can coordinate with your body shop to see the car. That saves you time and also makes sure you have an expert on hand during the inspection to keep it fair.
GET A RENTAL: Should you rent a car while your car is being repaired? Sometimes. If the other party is at fault, they are required to provide a rental car for you. However, people often think they are not at fault when they are. If the insurance company does not agree to pay for the rental in advance and it turns out you are at fault, you will be stuck with that rental bill. If you cannot live without a rental care you have no choice, but be aware of the risk.
GET A FAIR RENTAL: If the other party is at fault, and their insurance company is paying for the rental car (it should be), you are entitled to a rental car comparable to what you were driving. If you were driving a 1997 Ford Escort, you would not expect the insurance company to provide you with a rental Ferrari. By the same token, if you have a family and drive a mini-van to get the kids to school, you are entitled to rent a mini-van. Do not let the sweet adjuster con you into thinking you have to squeeze into a Kia Rio or a Ford Fiesta for a week.
REPORT THE COLLISION TO THE DMV: If there is more than $750 damage, or anyone is injured, the accident must be reported to the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days. The SR-1 is the required form. This allows the State to make sure everyone involved had insurance. If you do not file the form, your license could be suspended. If the information provided by the other driver turns out to be wrong (it happens more often than you would think), this form will be important for you to get accurate insurance information. You can obtain the form at our website.
RESEARCH TO MAKE SURE YOU HIRE THE RIGHT LAWYER FOR YOU: See our article: How to Chose an Injury Lawyer. Like this article, How to Chose an Injury Lawyer is not an advertisement for the Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield. It is full of useful information to help you search for the right attorney that can help you.