Most motor vehicle crashes result in insurance claims and some in car accident lawsuits. Insurance companies do not stay in business by paying every claim that comes their way. Even when a carrier knows its policyholder is at fault, the carrier will still try to reduce financial liability.
Recovering damages related to traffic accident injuries requires more than simply filing an insurance claim. If you follow certain guidelines, you can preserve your accident injury claim’s value and ensure that you have the best chances of receiving the maximum amount of compensation commensurate with your injuries. It’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced auto accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible. Until you have the opportunity, this guide provides in-depth information about guidelines that you must follow to file a car accident claim and preserve its value after suffering injuries in a motor vehicle accident from our experienced auto justice attorneys.
Immediate Steps After a Car Accident
If you’re involved in a car accident, you need to take some immediate steps in the minutes and hours that follow the accidents. In the case of a severe accident, you may not have the choice or the opportunity to complete some of these items, and that’s okay. A passenger, friend, or family member can help, and some items can wait if necessary.
Get Checked out by a Doctor
A traffic accident not only physically traumatizes an injured individual’s body but also causes emotional trauma. The excitement of an accident often initiates an adrenaline rush. As the adrenaline flows through the body, individuals who suffer injuries typically focus on the event, and the adrenaline blocks their perception of pain.
This sometimes leads car accident victims to decline medical attention at the scene of the accident. One may think, “I’m only a little sore with a few bumps and bruises. I don’t need to go to the doctor.” However, this is a false and dangerous assumption that may negatively impact your ability to recover compensation for your injuries down the road.
Some injuries, such as whiplash and traumatic brain injuries, may not immediately show symptoms. Additionally, soreness in some areas of the body sometimes indicates the possibility of a severe or life-threatening injury. For example, soreness in the chest or abdomen can indicate internal organ damage, lung damage, broken ribs, internal bleeding, and other potentially fatal injuries.
When these injuries do not receive immediate medical attention, they can cause further damage and even death. You need to prioritize your health and well-being and let a physician examine you as soon after the accident as possible to ensure that you do not have any life-threatening injuries.
Your medical records will also serve as crucial evidence for insurance companies and defense legal teams. They commonly dispute liability by claiming accident victims had pre-existing injuries or suffered injuries after the accident. When a doctor examines you, he or she will document your injuries in your medical record, providing proof of your injuries to relevant parties. In many cases, simply going to the doctor soon after a car accident prevents the other side from denying or devaluing your claim based on the existence of your injuries.
Gather Crucial Information at the Scene of the Accident
Local or state police may come to the accident scene to facilitate the exchange of information between drivers, passengers, and witnesses. Law enforcement officials will also include this information in their official crash report. However, the police sometimes make mistakes, and the police report is only one person’s narrative about what happened, and it’s rarely an eyewitness account of the accident. Record as much information as possible to ensure that you have all of the facts.
Items that you should write down include:
- The name, address, phone number, and email of any other drivers or passengers involved in the accident
- The insurance carrier, policy number, and phone number of the other driver(s) involved in the accident
- The make, model, license plate number, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for the other vehicle(s) involved in the traffic accident
- Contact information from any bystanders or eyewitnesses who saw the accident take place
- The time, location, road conditions, weather conditions, and traffic conditions
- Any hazards that contributed to the accident, such as a dead animal or debris on the roadway
- Any traffic violations you noticed the other driver commit, such as texting and driving, running a red light, etc.
- Anything relevant about the other driver, such as an odor from alcohol or cannabis
Get Photographic Evidence to Support Your Injury Claim
Photos provide valuable information to help support your injury claim. Keep in mind that the officer who fills out the crash report likely did not see the accident. Photos can support the officer’s narrative about the event, but they can also help dispute any questionable allegations from the report. Additionally, photos sometimes show potential eyewitnesses or security cameras on nearby buildings that might have captured footage of the crash.
If you physically can, use your cell phone to take pictures or video of:
- The scene of the accident
- Any visible injuries
- Property damage
- Vehicle damage
- Hazards or road conditions
If you are too injured to take photos, ask someone nearby for help. Once the crash scene is cleared, you may lose valuable evidence forever.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
Some choose to wait to contact a car accident attorney until after a few days or weeks, but it’s in your best interest to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. A motor vehicle accident attorney can help you take legal action anytime after your accident, as long as you do so within the legally mandated timeline, which is generally four years from the date of your accident. Regardless, calling an attorney immediately will benefit you and your injury claim. A lawyer will immediately initiate an investigation into the circumstances of your accident before facts become blurry and eyewitnesses disappear.
Notifying Insurance Companies
Recovering compensation for losses related to your accident injuries requires notifying your insurance company and the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Contacting Your Insurance Company
Most auto insurance carriers require their policyholders to report an accident even if they were not at fault. It’s likely your auto insurance policy has a notification clause that requires you to notify the company about any accidents and to cooperate in their investigation of the event. Failure to notify your carrier could result in the cancellation of your policy or a policy non-renewal.
Setting aside your contractual obligations to your insurance carrier, you also protect yourself when you notify them immediately about an accident. If the at-fault driver or another driver in a multi-vehicle accident reports the accident or hires a car accident lawyer to demand money, your insurance company will not have the information that it needs to fight the claim. If you report the accident, the company can begin its investigation as soon as possible.
Filing a Claim Under Your Mandatory Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage
If you have registered a car in Florida, you likely already know that you need to have a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage as part of Florida’s no-fault insurance laws. If you suffer injuries in a car accident, you should file a claim under your PIP policy when you notify your carrier about the accident. Florida’s PIP insurance covers up to 80 percent of medical expenses from an accident up to your policy limit, regardless of who caused the crash. Similarly, your PIP policy benefits include payments for up to 60 percent of lost wages up to your policy limit.
It will likely take months or more before you will recover any actual compensation from the at-fault driver or the insurance company, so your PIP insurance helps cover some of your initial losses. As you might imagine, it does not take long to meet or exceed your PIP policy limits. Once this occurs, you should consult with an experienced car accident attorney to determine how to recover compensation beyond your PIP policy.
Property Damage Liability (PDL) Coverage
Florida law also requires you to carry $10,000 of property damage liability (PDL) coverage as part of its no-fault insurance laws. This coverage helps you repair your vehicle without having to wait for the at-fault driver’s insurance company to offer a settlement. A claim under your PDL coverage typically occurs at the same time as your injury claim under your PIP coverage.
Contacting the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Carrier
After your injuries have stabilized, you need to contact the at-fault driver and his or her insurance carrier to file a claim. Florida law requires you to exhaust your PIP coverage before filing a claim with another driver’s carrier. In severe traffic accidents, victims can easily blow through $10,000 within 24 hours if they need an ambulance ride, emergency room treatment, surgery, or hospitalization.
It’s likely the other driver already notified his or her insurance company about the accident, but you must also file a claim. If the other driver reported the crash, the carrier likely assigned the claim a case number and assigned it to an adjuster. Make sure to take down all of the pertinent information for your future reference.
Communicating With Insurance Adjusters
Once you report the accident to the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, the claims adjuster assigned to the case will likely contact you soon. Insurance companies task adjusters with investigating accidents and negotiating accident claims. It’s in your best interest to let an attorney deal with the adjuster and protect you from any questionable tactics. At this point, your attorney will have the notes and documents that he or she needs to prove that the other driver’s negligence caused your injuries.
If, however, you choose to communicate with the insurance adjuster assigned to the accident:
- Do not offer extra information. Claims adjusters use every tool at their disposal to devalue your claim, including trying to get you to say something that will weaken your claim. Only offer minimum information to their questions, and don’t say anything that may negatively affect your case. NEVER admit fault for even a small portion of the accident.
- Do not give a recorded statement. Adjusters try to pressure accident victims to give recorded statements. You do not have to give one, nor should you. If you make a mistake when you are speaking, the insurance company will have an audio record of it and may use it against you. Your attorney might advise you to give a recorded statement, but you should consult with one before doing so.
- Do not release your medical records. The insurance company needs a copy of your medical records and medical bills as proof of your injuries, but it’s not entitled to see your entire medical history. Claims adjusters typically ask accident victims to sign a medical release that permits the insurance company to request copies of the individual’s medical record and bills. Do not sign this release, because it likely gives the insurance company access to records unrelated to the accident. Instead, you can provide a release that limits the company’s access to medical bills and records after the date of your accident injuries.
- Do not negotiate a settlement offer. Insurance adjusters typically try to talk accident victims into quick settlements to limit the total payout. Don’t accept or begin negotiating a settlement offer while you are still getting treated or recovering from your accident injuries. You do not know the true value of your claim until you know what your recovery is going to look like.
- Do not waive your right to sue. If you accept a settlement agreement from the insurance company, you give up your right to seek additional compensation, even if your injuries get worse in the future. Therefore, you should feel certain about a settlement offer before you agree to it, so it’s in your best interest to speak with an auto accident attorney before making your final decision.
When You Need a Lawyer for Your Injury Claim
If you are unsure whether you should hire a lawyer for your motor vehicle accident injury claim, it’s best to take advantage of a free consultation and learn your legal options. It’s easy to know what to do in extreme cases.
Your Florida PIP coverage will take care of minor injuries that heal quickly. When you’ve missed weeks of work because of severe injuries, and you are uncertain of your long-term prognosis, you want an attorney in your corner. Oftentimes, accident victims question whether to seek legal counsel. Always err on the side of caution and speak with an attorney.
Here are some situations for which you will likely need a lawyer:
- You have severe injuries, such as organ damage, brain injuries, back injuries, or spinal cord injuries.
- You have suffered permanent scars.
- Your injuries have left you with a permanent disability.
- The at-fault driver’s insurance carrier denied your claim.
- The at-fault driver’s insurance carrier has made you a low-ball settlement offer.
- The at-fault driver’s insurance carrier is dragging out your claim.
- The at-fault driver has no auto insurance or does not have enough auto insurance to cover all of your damages.
Filing an Injury Claim When the At-Fault Driver Is Uninsured
Florida does not require drivers to carry uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UI) coverage; however, many drivers purchase this add-on coverage to ensure maximum compensation after a motorcycle accident. If the driver who caused the accident is uninsured, your UM coverage will kick in after you have exhausted your PIP policy limit. Your UM coverage will only pay benefits up to your policy limit.
Similarly, once you have exceeded both your PIP policy limit and the at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage limit, your UI coverage will kick in up to its policy limits. If you have not purchased UM/UI coverage, you have limited options to recover damages related to your accident. In some cases, accident victims must absorb their economic losses or pursue legal action against the at-fault parties.
No one wants to face a lawsuit, so perhaps the driver might settle with you if he or she has the financial means. The reality of the situation, however, is that if the driver had significant financial resources, he or she would likely have insurance. If the other driver indeed caused your accident, the court will likely rule in your favor if your case goes to trial.
A judgment allows you to collect money from the defendant, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will see any of it. Sometimes courts will garnish wages, or you can set up a payment plan, but you may struggle to recover adequate compensation if an underinsured motorist caused your accident. You should consult with an accident attorney if this situation applies to you.
Third-Party Injury Claims After a Motor Vehicle Accident
Sometimes, motor vehicle accident victims can recover compensation for their injuries from a third party after a motor vehicle accident. If you cannot collect damages from an uninsured or underinsured driver, your attorney can evaluate your case to determine whether there is an opportunity to hold a third party financially liable for your injuries.
Some examples of third-party liability include:
- A pharmaceutical company, if dangerous side effects from the company’s drug lead to a car accident.
- A medical device manufacturer, if a defective device causes a medical emergency that leads to an accident.
- An auto manufacturer or auto part manufacturer, if defective vehicles or parts lead to an accident.
- A bar, restaurant, bartender, or server who provided alcohol to a driver who caused an accident after leaving the establishment.
- A city, county, or the state, if the failure to maintain roads leads to an accident.
- A business, if its employee causes an accident in a company vehicle.
Third-party claims can help you recover damages when uninsured drivers are involved in an accident, but this is not the only situation. If you have a viable third-party claim, you can also file it in conjunction with a suit against the at-fault driver, as those parties may share liability for your accident.
Workers’ Compensation Injury Claims
If you’ve suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident while driving a company vehicle or while on-the-job, you are likely eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim. You will still take many of the same steps above, except you need to report the accident to your employer. Workers’ compensation covers your medical expenses and also provides temporary payment for lost wages, at least initially.
This will not completely replace your lost income, because workers’ compensation only pays roughly two-thirds of an employee’s average weekly wage. However, workers’ compensation benefits can help pay the bills and provide for necessities while you are waiting for a resolution on the insurance claim.
Contact an attorney immediately before filing a worker’s compensation claim. He or she can advise you on the best path forward to help you maximize your compensation while preserving the value of your claim against the driver.
Waiting for Maximum Medical Improvement
When you file a claim with an insurance company or file a car accident lawsuit, you need to wait until you reach your maximum medical improvement before you or your attorney can negotiate a settlement or go to trial. Lawyers and insurance companies cannot place an accurate value on how much your claim is worth if they do not know the full extent of your injuries. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will push you to settle early, but accepting an early settlement may ultimately limit your claim.
If you have severe injuries, you might need to wait months or longer before your treating physician(s) understands the full extent of your injuries. In some cases, accident victims need multiple corrective surgeries. In other cases, accident victims must undergo multiple types of therapy or specialized treatment to recover. Uncertainty lurks around every corner, and the worst thing possible is for you to settle your case and then find out you need more costly treatment for your injury.
During the weeks and months after the car accident, until you reach your maximum medical improvement, you can take additional steps that will help preserve your claim’s value. The following steps will also make it easier for your attorney to assign a number when demanding compensation:
Keep an Impact Journal
Injury claims offer injured individuals an opportunity to recover for non-economic losses, which are highly subjective and difficult to quantify. If you’ve suffered an injury in a motor vehicle accident, you can strengthen your claim and help your attorney gather evidence by keeping a daily impact journal. It’s impossible to remember every physical and emotional feeling you have when it’s time for you to tell your story in a deposition or in front of a court. A daily journal provides the opportunity for you to show the full impact of your injuries to your lawyer, the insurance company, and the court.
Examples of what you should record in your journal include:
- Physical pain. As you heal, you will have good days and bad days. Take regular photos of visible injuries and throughout the healing process. Also, keep an honest record of the pain you experience. Include the location of the pain and its severity. It helps to compare the pain to previous days and weeks too. Is your pain worse than yesterday? Is it worse than last week? Is your pain subsiding? Keep track of the pain you experience with particular activities and which activities you cannot do because of your pain. This serves as an indicator of your quality of life. You should also bring your journal to doctor appointments because it can help you relay this information to your physician.
- Emotions. A motor vehicle accident—especially one resulting in severe injuries—is a traumatic event that comes with all types of negative feelings and emotions. You might feel stress because you are missing work, losing income, and cannot pay your bills. You might feel angry at the driver who caused the accident. You might feel embarrassed about scars or a disability, or you might feel depressed. The source of some emotions won’t impact your case, but some will. Write down all your feelings, so your lawyer and others can get a sense of the true emotional impact you face as a result of the accident.
- Relationship issues. Depending on the extent and nature of your injuries, your relationships might suffer as a result of your injuries. If you have children, severe injuries can interfere with the ability to parent or to share parenting responsibilities with your spouse. Severe injuries can also impact your sex life and any intimate connection with your partner. Some injuries lead to increased aggression, depression, or other negative emotions, which can impact how your family interacts with you. If mental health services are part of your recovery, sharing these issues with a counselor can also help you recover.
Keep Thorough Records
While a journal helps support the non-economic loss portion of your injury claim, keeping thorough records, especially as they pertain to your medical treatment, helps support the economic loss portion of your injury claim.
Important documents and records you need to keep include:
- Medical bills. Unfortunately, accident victims rarely get one big bill for all their medical treatment costs. If you suffered injuries in a car accident, you may receive separate bills for ambulance services, emergency room treatment, doctor visits, surgery, x-rays, lab tests, other diagnostic scans, physical therapy, mental health services, and more. You need to keep these statements and make copies for your attorney, so he or she can keep track of the grand total.
- Travel expenses. Keep mileage records, gas receipts, and parking receipts for any trips you need to make to and from the doctor.
- Payroll information. You need your pay stubs to prove the time you’ve missed from work as a result of the auto accident and your injuries. Additionally, you need to keep track of any paid time off that you used because of the accident. Vacation time, personal holidays, flex time, sick days, or any other paid time also contributes to the lost wages and benefits portion of your injury claim.
- Receipts for outside help. Accident injuries prevent some victims from performing tasks around the home that they used to do before the accident. Some families chip in to help out, but others may not have the time or resources. Keep receipts for any outside help you hire as a result of your injuries. Examples include a lawn care service, pool maintenance service, cleaning service, and a personal assistant to drive, shop, or run errands.
- Receipts for home modifications. Accident victims who return home from the hospital sometimes need special accommodations to make their homes more accessible. If you had to hire someone to construct a wheelchair ramp, install grab bars in the shower, or build a main floor bedroom, keep all the receipts. Your attorney may include these costs in the economic value of your injury claim.
Accidents are traumatic life events for many. You should not have to absorb the financial costs that come with your injuries when another driver caused an accident that led to injuries. Instead, you can file an injury claim after a motor vehicle accident to hold the other driver accountable for his or her negligence and allow you to recover some or all of the losses you’ve incurred as a result of the accident and your injuries.
Some claims seem simple and do not exceed Florida PIP coverage limits, but still require the help of a car accident lawyer to ensure fair treatment. Others are complex, high-value, and sometimes include multiple parties—and in those instances, an experienced auto accident lawyer can definitely help.