I’VE BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT: NOW WHAT?
By M. Jamie Imboden, Attorney
Car accidents can be an horrific event in one’s life; an event that can forever change one’s day to day activities and that of their family. Nothing in this short article will prevent the inevitable, but it is my hope that it will provide a roadmap to set your
mind at some ease during an exceedingly stressful time.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008 there were 5.8 million police reported traffic crashes in the United States (who knows how many went unreported). Of those 5.8 million reported collisions, 37,261 people were killed and 2.3 million were injured. So, the odds are you are going to be in an automobile accident at some point in your life and nearly one-half of you will be injured. Here are some basics you need to know.
RULE NO. 1 – STAY CALM
After a crash, you will likely feel an array of emotions (often many at the same time) including shock, nervousness, anger, and sadness. Despite this natural reaction, do your best to stay calm or to calm yourself down. The first few moments after a collision can have long lasting effects on your well being, that of your passengers, that of the other driver, and ultimately on any future personal injury claim.
RULE NO. 2 – STAY SAFE
If you are unable to get out of your car, stay where you are, keep your seatbelt fastened, turn on your hazard lights, call 911, and wait for help. Do not move your car from its current location unless it is unsafe to leave it where it is. The reason for this will
become obvious as you continue to read this article.
RULE NO. 3 – REPORT THE INCIDENT
Call the police as soon as possible. Washington State law uses a vehicle damage threshold to determine whether a party is legally required to report an accident. Don’t worry about the threshold. Report the incident and ensure that a written report is drafted. An accurate crash report can be very important should a legal battle ensue regarding fault for the collision. The report can be used to verify your version of what happened and may provide additional accident details documented by the officer (e.g. skid marks and eyewitness information).
RULE NO. 4 – TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS
If possible, take photographs of the accident scene, the vehicles involved in the collision, and any visible injuries sustained by those involved. If litigation results from your accident, the photos literally will be worth a thousand words and hopefully dollars.
RULE NO. 5 – GET MEDICAL HELP
If you do not feel 100%, see a doctor. This does not mean that you have to go directly to the emergency room, but you need to, at a minimum, see your regular physician as soon as possible. Documented your injuries by way of medical notations is invaluable. With this in mind, should you need to go to the doctor for any unrelated illness or injury, be sure to advise the doctor about your accident related problems as well. Defense attorneys love to point out medical visits where a plaintiff did
not complain of accident related pain.
RULE 6 – MAKE CONTACT WITH YOUR INSURANCE CARRIER
Most of you probably have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage on your vehicle. PIP is a no fault insurance coverage which will pay for your medical bills up to your policy limits (typically $10,000.00, but can often be as high as $35,000) incurred after a vehicle collision (including when you are a passenger or a pedestrian struck by a car). One of the greatest advantages to PIP is that you are allowed to see any healthcare provider you choose. Even if you have health insurance through Kaiser Permanente, you can choose to see any provider you would like whether they are a part of the Kaiser system or not. You need to keep in mind that your automobile insurance policy has a cooperation clause. What this means is that if your insurer requests that you see provide a recorded statement or that you attend an independent medical examination, you have to comply. If you do not, your benefits will be cut off. Keep in mind that any PIP benefits received will have to be reimbursed from any money you receive from the liable third party. There are lots of rules and exceptions to this that result in more money in your pocket, more than can be explain in this article. So, if you want to learn more about how you keep your money, give us a call.
RULE 7 – DO NOT TALK TO THE THIRD PARTY INSURER
The only reason to speak to the other party’s insurance carrier is to ensure payment for your property damage. Do not talk to them about your injuries or treatment. There will come a time for that, but not now. You can give a recorded statement about that the accident details, but decline to answer questions about your condition.
RULE 8 – CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY
There are many pitfalls in dealing with an injury claim on your own. To state the obvious, the liable party’s insurance carrier is not there to help you. They do not have your best interest in mind. Their job is to pay you as little as possible as soon as possible and get you to sign a release forever barring any claim against them or their insured. While you may decide not to hire an attorney because you are confident you can handle the claim on your own, you should at a minimum consult with an attorney to prepare yourself for the barrage of telephone calls and written communication from the adverse insurance company. With that being said, please give us a call for a free consultation. There is a lot more to know than what has been stated in this article.