A Car Accident Checklist Six Steps You Need to Take
During an average driving lifetime, most people will suffer only about three to four car accidents. In spite of the more than 6 million car accidents that occur across the United States every year, most people involved in car accidents will not suffer serious injuries. As a result, many people do not know how to navigate the claims process following a serious car accident.
You’ve left the scene of the accident and have visited the hospital to assess your injuries. Now what? Read on to learn what the experienced car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Michael T. Gibson say.
Step One: Start a File
Chances are, you have a great deal of paperwork from your accident. As soon as you leave the hospital, you should create a file that contains all of your paperwork. When you have a file that has everything important in it, you can easily find any information you need about your accident. Your file should contain the following:
- Your statement about the accident. As soon as possible, take the time to write down your version of what occurred during the accident. If you do not remember something, do not include it in your report. Do include any factors that might have contributed to the accident: the other driver’s behavior, any environmental factors that made the accident more dangerous, or other vehicles that might have added to the danger on the road. If the police took your statement at the scene of the accident or in the hospital, you should ask for a copy of it.
- Your medical records. At the hospital, you will receive quite a bit of paperwork about your injuries: scans, reports, and, of course, your medical bills. Keep track of all of your medical paperwork in your accident file. This paperwork can help prove the full extent of your injuries, show how much you paid for treatment, and provide you with a map of the healing process. You may also have paperwork that contains recommendations for care after the accident or exercises that you should do to help improve your odds of making a full recovery. By keeping all this information in one place, you can easily refer back to it as needed.
- The police report. Contact the police station and ask for a copy of the police report about your accident. You may want to check the report to ensure its accuracy: for example, if the officer stated that you caused the accident, you may need to ask for a revision to that report. The police report may also contain relevant information about other factors that contributed to your accident: a drunk driver or mechanical failure in the other driver’s vehicle, for example.
- Any photos you took at the accident scene. You do not have to print out physical copies of pictures from the accident scene. You may, however, want to start a specific digital file on your phone or computer to help you keep track of those photos. Make sure you create a backup copy in case of deleted photos, lost phones, or other challenges that could cause you to lose track of that vital evidence.
Step Two: Contact Your Auto Insurance Company
Any time you’re involved in a car accident, you should notify your insurance company, even if you did not cause the accident. In many cases, your insurance company can prove a vital resource in helping answer your questions about the claims process. Your insurance company may:
- Cancel your existing auto insurance policy. If you totaled your vehicle in the accident and it is not worth repairing or you cannot repair it, the insurance company may cancel your policy until you have a new vehicle. Many victims of serious accidents choose not to replace their vehicles immediately, especially if they cannot drive during the recovery process.
- Write a new auto insurance policy for a new vehicle. If you do get a new vehicle, you will need a new auto insurance policy. Talk with your insurance company about your new insurance needs. Include what you may have learned about your coverage from your accident experience: for example, you may realize after your accident that you need to add uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage to your policy. Based off how many accidents you have.
- Help fix your vehicle or replace important items in your vehicle. In some cases, your insurance company may fund replacements for your car seats or help pay to get your vehicle fixed while you handle your personal injury claim. Your insurance company will then seek compensation from the responsible party.
- Provide an estimate of the cost to replace your vehicle. Your insurance company may provide the replacement or repair value of your vehicle based on the amount for which you insured it. Talk with your insurance company to find out what it will cost to repair your vehicle. Keep in mind that after an accident, you may have a limited amount of time to take advantage of the insurance company’s repair estimates.
Step Three: Take Inventory of What Needs Repairing or Replacing After the Accident
Your auto accident may have destroyed your car in addition to causing significant physical injuries. You may want to replace your vehicle as soon as possible after your accident to help you get back on the road. In some cases, you may choose to wait to replace your vehicle until you know what to expect from your recovery: for example, if you suffer spinal cord damage, you may need a vehicle equipped to handle a wheelchair. If you sustained a traumatic brain injury, you may not get medically cleared to drive for weeks or months after the accident. Make sure to talk with your doctor about what restrictions you will have to your ability to drive, especially if you have serious injuries. You may want to hold off on replacing your vehicle until you know what type of vehicle you will need or when you will regain your ability to drive.
In some cases, in spite of the serious damage caused by your accident, you may choose to repair your vehicle instead of replacing it. In many cases, vehicle repairs can add up quickly—sometimes to more than the value of the vehicle. If the repair costs exceed the value of the vehicle, the insurance company may choose to total the vehicle rather than replace it. You do not have to stick with the first estimate offered to determine the cost of repairing your vehicle. If you do not like the first estimate, consider asking another shop to provide an independent evaluation.
Even if you do not repair or replace your vehicle, however, you may have several items that need replacement after the accident. These might include:
- Any car seats in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Even if you did not have your child with you at the time of the accident, car seats buckled into a vehicle during an accident can suffer substantial damage. They may no longer provide the support that your child needs to remain safe in a future accident. Check your manual or contact the car seat manufacturer to learn if you need to replace your seats before using them in another vehicle or placing your children in those seats.
- Any items damaged in the accident. Did the screen on your phone get smashed during the accident? Did blood stain items that you cannot clean? Check over any items damaged during the accident and replace them.
As you replace the items damaged in the accident, make sure you keep track of the receipts for replacing those items. By keeping track of your receipts, you can more easily show exactly what you paid to replace them.
Step Four: Contact Your Employer
Following an accident with serious injuries, you may need to let your employer know that you cannot immediately return to work. When you get in touch with your employer, discuss the following:
- The extent of your injuries. Severe injuries, for example, may keep you out of work longer than fairly minor injuries.
- Your sick time. How much time can you take before you lose your income? How many sick days do you have left for the year?
- Whether you can return to work on a limited basis. In some professions, especially if you work at a desk, your employer may allow you to return to work on a limited basis during your recovery. In other professions, including manual labor, you may not have the ability to return to work until you make a full recovery. Discuss your options with your employer, even if you cannot decide until you know more about your recovery.
Step Five: Contact an Attorney
Following your auto accident, you may need an attorney to help maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries. While you do not have to have an attorney to file a personal injury claim, you should hire an attorney if:
- The insurance company offered a very low settlement that does not reflect the full funds you deserve for your injuries. Many insurance companies will attempt to alleviate their financial responsibilities by issuing low settlement offers shortly after accidents. You do not have to accept an initial offer and, in fact, should consult with an attorney before accepting any settlement offer.
- You have no idea how much money you should receive for your injuries. Many people have no idea how much compensation they should expect after an accident with serious injuries. While an attorney cannot guarantee the damages you will receive, working with a lawyer can give you a better idea of what to expect and when to continue negotiating in hopes of a better offer.
- The insurance company tries to claim you caused the accident. If you do not believe you caused the accident, you can work with an attorney to help prove that the other driver caused the accident. A personal injury attorney can help collect evidence and will work with expert witnesses to better understand the conditions that led to your accident and how it was caused by the other party.
An attorney has the power to negotiate on your behalf and can provide valuable advice following the accident. Many accident victims find that by working with an attorney, they can significantly increase the funds they receive for their injuries.
Step Six: Follow Any Instructions Given By Your Doctors
After leaving the hospital, you may still need plenty of recovery time. Your efforts during the recovery process will not only impact how much strength and mobility you gain back after your accident, but also they may determine part of the funds you receive in your personal injury claim. For example, if you ignore your doctor’s orders, the insurance company may argue that you contributed to your own continuing disability. When you follow the instructions given to you by your doctor or physical therapist, however, you can show that you have done your part to assist in your recovery. This may include:
- Attending appointments as scheduled. Physical therapy, for example, works best when you attend all of your sessions regularly. Missed sessions can cause you to lose ground or prevent you from making the same progress you would make if you attended those sessions.
- Resting as needed. Do not attempt to return to work too fast. Many people return to work against the advice of their doctors. This can prolong the recovery process or make your injuries seem less severe, which will reduce the compensation you ultimately receive for your injuries.
- Completing therapy and exercises outside of the office. Many of your therapies will work best when you complete exercises outside the therapist’s office and on a daily basis.
- Returning to gradual activity as recommended. Staying too stationary can cause as many problems for your recovery as trying to return to normal activity too soon. Instead, follow the recommendations of your doctors.
After a car accident, plenty of things will demand your time, energy, and attention. By following this checklist, you can better handle many of those tasks and ensure that you don’t miss important details. But don’t forget that an experienced car accident lawyer can handle many of these tasks for you, giving you the time to recover and hopefully recovering the compensation needed to pay your accident-related bills.
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