You have the right to be financially compensated for the damages caused by an at-fault driver. Often a settlement is reached between the other driver’s insurer, and less frequently, a lawsuit is necessary. Whether you collect damages from negotiations with the insurance company or take the matter to court, victory usually rests on ample documentation and persistence. To do this, it is important to gather as much information as you can as soon as possible after the accident. Let’s look at what needs to be done to make sure the outcome provides you with the compensation you deserve.
Collecting Compensation Requires Thorough Accident Documentation
Documentation can mean the difference between settling a claim successfully and winning a lawsuit or failing to obtain needed compensation. Documentation starts immediately after the accident happens. Insurance companies are not in the habit of paying as much as possible on a claim. They will fight the claim by saying that you have not provided as much documentation as they need. This may be aggravating, but one way to prevent this from happening is to gather as much information as possible and document it carefully. Let’s look at some of the more important things to keep track of below.
Calling Your Insurance Company
As soon as possible after the accident, call your insurer. Be polite and keep things brief yet informative when you call. Report that you had an accident and where and when it happened. Tell the insurance representative whether the police came to the accident scene and if anyone was seriously injured or killed. Don’t guess at what injuries the person had even if you are asked. You might be questioned about how the accident occurred.
Get your thoughts in order ahead of time, and give the clearest explanation you can. If you are not sure of something, just say so. One issue that may arise is the insurance company’s request to tape the conversation. You do not have to agree to this. If the representative insists, say that your attorney will be calling them if you intend to consult with a lawyer.
Call the Police
The police are no longer able to come to every accident site, but it is a good idea to report your accident. Let the police know if anyone was injured or if someone died. Try to provide the exact location of the crash. If you are unsure of the address, use cross-streets or mile markers or any other landmark that will help. Wait until the police arrive. Leaving the scene of the accident can be charged as a hit and run with a high penalty attached. When the police arrive, request a copy of their report, and obtain the officer’s name and badge number. The police report provides valuable information that can be used later on such as a citation for reckless driving by the other party.
Most of us carry cell phones, and the vast majority of them have a camera function built in. Use it at the accident site to document the following:
- Damage: Take a picture of the damage to your vehicle and other vehicles involved in the accident. Where you were hit is essential in determining how the accident happened. If the paint is smeared on the impact site, this will help identify which vehicle hit you since manufacturers use specific color on certain makes and models.
- Location: Capture the final placement of the vehicles. This can be used in many cases to determine the trajectory of the vehicles before and after a collision. Using these parameters, forensic experts can develop a computerized model of how the accident happened.
- License plate: Try to include the license plate in the photos of the vehicles. This makes it easier to identify the vehicles later on or in court.
- Street marks: Many times, there are marks on the pavement such as skid marks. These marks are useful to investigators since they can be used to determine the speed the car was traveling at before the accident. A long skid mark means the driver had to apply the brakes for an extended period of time to stop, indicating speeding. On the other hand, an absence of skid marks before a vehicle hits a solid object such as a tree or your car might indicate that the driver did not try to stop or was unaware that an accident was about to happen. This is commonly seen when drivers fall asleep at the wheel or are inebriated.
- Road defects: Road defects such as potholes, lack of signage and non-functioning traffic lights can cause an accident. If possible, take a picture or talk to shop owners or others, questioning the extent of time the road was like this prior to the accident. If a sharp curve without a sign warning drivers to slow down was involved in the crash, take a picture of the area. You might be able to research the location to see how many accidents happened there and if members of the community complained to authorities. This could be used as a claim against local or state officials responsible for roadway maintenance and design.
- Cameras in the area: Many roads have cameras fixed on traffic lights to record those who do not stop. They also record accidents, and requesting footage is a good idea. If this is not available to you, your attorney can subpoena it. Likewise, many commercial establishments have outdoor security cameras. Check with store owners to see if you can review the footage for photos of your accident in progress. This information can help your attorney prove that the other driver was to blame for the accident.
Gather Contact Information at the Accident Site
It is important to identify both witnesses to the accident and other drivers. Obtain contact information, drivers license number and insurance data from the drivers along with the policy number. If the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, get the owner’s name, address and other pertinent information. Ask witnesses for their names and telephone numbers in case you need to get in touch with them after the accident.
You might ask them for a brief summation of what they saw. In many cases, your attorney will use this information as the case proceeds. Witnesses add perspective on the accident that might help win your case.
It goes without saying that if you are injured, it is important to see a doctor immediately via emergency transport in some cases. Otherwise, head straight for your doctor’s office or an urgent care facility once you leave the accident scene. When you are hurt in an accident, the physician’s notes, other medical records and information about your injuries such as X-rays or CT scans are the chief source of injury documentation. After you have been maximally treated, obtain your medical records. The insurer may try to refute your injury claim, but a medical history that substantiates it is the strongest evidence you can provide.
Do What the Doctor Tells You to Do
Follow the doctor’s instructions after the accident. If the doctor calls for bed rest, do it. By saying your movements should be restricted, a physician is commenting on the severity of your injury. By choosing to not follow such instructions, you are saying that the damage does not inhibit your life in any way. This will give the insurer an opening into rejecting your claim for medical care associated with the accident, at least in part.
You can receive compensation for the wages or other monies you would have earned if you are unable to work due to the accident. This includes salary, bonuses, commissions or payment for work done as an independent contractor. You must prove what you lost by submitting employment payroll records or your previous tax return if you are a contract worker. Business owners can submit client bills or other proof that the client employed you.
Once you’ve sought medical care and obtained information from the scene, obtain estimates of how much it will cost to repair your vehicle. In some cases, the cost of repair supersedes the cost to replace the vehicle. A reputable car repair shop will provide this. Granted, the insurer will ask for an independent damage report, but having several estimates yourself will give you the advantage of knowing if their report is on target.
Factors the Insurer May Use to Deny your Claim
There are a number of elements that insurance companies use to refute a claim. These are:
- Documentation was inadequate to prove the claim.
- Medical attention was not secured quickly or not at all.
- Preexisting conditions are the cause of your pain. If this is a concern, have your physician document any changes in preexisting conditions the accident may have wrought. If the collision aggravated preexisting conditions, this can be added to the damages you seek.
- Comments you made at the accident site may hurt you. If you told other drivers, witnesses or the insurance company representative you were sorry for the accident, this can be misconstrued as an admission of guilt even if it isn’t.
- Inadequate proof of wage or income loss you suffered should be noted.
- Limits on your insurance policy or that of the other party may not cover your damages.
One of the arguments insurers use is that you were partially responsible for the accident. If that is the case, you can still collect damages since the state of California is a comparative negligence state. This means that if two or more drivers were responsible for some portion of the accident, they could still receive monetary compensation for that portion of the accident they had no responsibility for.
How an Injury Lawyer Helps Collect Compensation
There are times that you may be unable to fight the insurance company on your own, or you may hit a wall during negotiations. You may also not be able to gather pertinent information due to the injury you suffered. If this is the case, a car accident lawyer can do it for you. He or she will investigate the accident using forensic experts if necessary.
In addition, sometimes adjusters delay settling the case or unfairly deny your claim. In such situations, the presence of an attorney will show them that you are determined to receive the compensation you deserve, and you will take the case to court if it is necessary.
Free Case Review – Find Out How Much You Could be Compensated
Los Angeles auto accident attorney David Azizi applies his sense of fairness to every case, not allowing insurers to demean his clients by shortchanging them. He is there for you, and that shows in everything he does from fighting for your rights to giving you his cell phone number if you need it. Don’t delay since evidence may disappear. Call David at (800) 991-5292 to set up a free case review.