After a car accident, you should immediately take steps to protect your legal rights.
Some of these actions include:
- Getting medical care
- Reporting the collision to the authorities
- Seeking legal advice
- Gathering information related to your case
- Considering litigation
You don’t have to navigate the claims process alone. You can entrust your case to a personal injury lawyer. They can manage everything your case handles, from its filing to negotiations.
Have a Doctor Evaluate You After an Accident, and Don’t Downplay Any Injuries
There’s no denying that car crashes are expensive, and you may need to pay some bills out of pocket initially. Afraid of those expenses, you might delay getting medical help. However, you not only risk worsening your injuries, but you risk jeopardizing your claim by making it seem like you aren’t as hurt as you are.
Even if you feel fine, get checked out by a medical professional. Some injuries (like whiplash) take time to feel, and a delay could complicate your recovery period. Such an injury could also negatively affect your quality of life years later, according to BMC Public Health. You don’t even need to have suffered a serious crash; even low-impact, low-speed rear-end collisions can cause life-altering conditions.
In short, don’t make assumptions. Your health and your wallet both depend on it.
How Getting Care Also Protects Your Claim
Seeking treatment protects you both legally and medically. Getting care creates medical records that can prove you deserve compensation.
- Establish the existence of an injury
- Create evidence about that injury
- Provide information for assessing losses
- Identify doctors to consult or provide testimony
- Protect your injury’s severity from being questioned
For example, let’s say you assume you’re okay after a collision, only to find out days later that you have serious back and neck pain. You want the injury included in your claim, but an insurance adjuster contests your condition’s cause and severity.
This is not to say you cannot recover compensation if you don’t report your injuries right away, but you can expect more pushback on your story. Insurance adjusters look for any opportunity to lower or deny a claim; don’t give them any fuel.
Report Your Car Accident to the Police and Your Insurance Carrier
After a car accident, you should report it to the authorities. That includes both the police and your insurance provider. Failure to do so can have serious implications.
Many states consider it a crime not to report an accident if a certain amount of damage or injury occurred. Unless you can immediately recognize a specific dollar amount of damage to a vehicle, it’s best to err on the side of caution and report an accident. Police reports also create further evidence and can even cite a specific driver for causing the accident, clearly establishing fault.
While you won’t face charges for not reporting an accident to insurance, you can make it harder or even impossible to collect damages. Don’t be swayed by other drivers who claim the accident doesn’t warrant a report. You could wake up two weeks later in pain from a delayed injury and find that an insurance company won’t cover anything because you didn’t report the crash. A quick call just to notify a representative can cover your bases.
What to Provide in Your Statement to the Insurer
Although reporting an accident to the insurer is important, you don’t have to share a lot. Instead, you only need to disclose:
- The contact information of everyone involved, including witnesses
- Your vehicle’s details, like its make, model, year, and license plate number
- Basic facts from the accident, like its time, date, and location
What to Avoid Sharing With the Insurer
In a similar vein, there are also some things you shouldn’t share with the insurance provider. You should avoid:
- Downplaying any injuries or saying you don’t think you’re injured
- Making guesses or assumptions about what happened
- Accepting settlement offers or terms without seeing them in writing
- Answering any questions you aren’t sure about
In fact, you don’t have to give an official, recorded statement at all, despite what the insurance adjuster may claim. It’s not a requirement. Moreover, they may ask more questions than you need to answer, all designed to trip you up or manipulate you into admitting some level of fault. You are under no obligation to provide anything but the basics.
Your conversation with them is also just that—a conversation between two parties—so you can ask questions of your own. Get the name and contact information of the adjuster, as well as the claim number. Write down any information, like promises, a timeline for your claim, or your next steps. That way, if the adjusters don’t live up to what they said, your legal team can hold them accountable.
Get Legal Advice About What to Do After Your Car Accident
At any point after your crash, you can contact a personal injury lawyer to receive support and information. Take advantage of free consultations to interview potential attorneys, keeping in mind that you may work with a team for months or even years, depending on the complexity of the case.
To help narrow down your options:
- Request references from the lawyer to confirm their track record
- Ask about their background as a personal injury attorney and in this area of law
- Look at reviews to get a feel for how they treat their clients, including their responsiveness and accessibility
- Ask them directly about how they communicate with clients during a case and how often they provide updates
- Request information on payment and determine if they charge on a contingency-fee basis, meaning you only pay if they win
- Provide details about your situation, and feel free to ask specific questions
Treat the process of finding a lawyer like the hiring process. You’re the interviewer, and they must prove they have the skills to manage your claim.
What a Lawyer Does in Car Accident Cases
Attorneys can take over the logistics of filing and proving an injury claim. For instance, they can:
- Identify who was responsible for your accident
- Tally your medical bills, lost income, and other losses
- Review and explain the liable insurance policy’s terms
- Work to ensure your claim moves forward
- Negotiate on your behalf for an appropriate settlement
- Hold insurance companies to their promises
- Assist in scheduling appointments and getting car repairs
- Settle disputes between you and the insurance company
Don’t feel afraid to openly communicate your feelings with your attorney, including frustrations or concerns. A lawyer who fits your case can listen and adapt.
Communications Your Personal Injury Lawyer Can Handle
Negotiating a settlement for an injury claim requires a lot of back-and-forth conversation, which can feel overwhelming for car accident victims. Your representative can therefore speak on your behalf in most situations related to your case. That includes managing all emails, phone calls, texts, meetings, and any other forms of communication.
You can ask your lawyer to handle interactions with:
- Insurance adjusters
- Company representatives
- Other drivers
- Property owners
- Third-party field consultants
Even if some of these parties are on your side, you don’t have to deal with them on your own. If anyone contacts you directly, you can simply refer them to your legal representative.
Gather Evidence Useful for a Car Accident Claim or Lawsuit
You can leave the investigation to your lawyers. Common evidence that can help build a claim or lay the foundation for a lawsuit includes:
- Police accident reports
- Doctors’ and nurses’ notes
- Treatment plans
- Specialist consultations
- Diagnostic tests and scans
- Employment records
- Proof of income
- Photos from the scene
- Traffic or bystander videos
- Witness statements
- Weather reports
- Traffic and road conditions
- Accident analysis data
- Phone records
- Transportation logs
- Rideshare app data
- Drug and alcohol testing
Some of this evidence can point to specific liable parties and help settle disputes. For instance, trucking transportation logs can show if a driver violated their hours-of-service regulations, supporting a drowsy driving claim or suit. Rideshare app data can show that a Lyft driver was in an accident while transporting a passenger, meaning Lyft should cover the resulting expenses.
This evidence can also prove useful in assigning a value to your case. Your medical and employment records, for example, can show what bills and lost income need reimbursement. Similarly, treatment plans can highlight future expenses you’ll need covered for continued rehabilitation.
Let the Experts Talk
Your lawyer may not have all the answers—and that’s okay. They often consult experts on certain topics related to injury cases. For instance, a psychologist can provide testimony about a PTSD diagnosis. An expert on your vehicle can analyze an equipment failure or design flaw.
In your case, you can possibly have your case supported by evidence from:
- Lab technicians
- Physical therapists
- Financial experts
Determine When to File a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit is a step taken once other avenues stop working. Reasons include if an insurance company is operating in bad faith, or if the parties can’t reach an agreement without an impartial verdict from a jury. Sometimes, the mere act of filing is enough to spur all parties to agree on terms, making a court case moot.
Another scenario that could require a personal injury filing is if the driver who hit you was uninsured or underinsured. Without adequate coverage from the at-fault party, you may need to pursue the driver directly with a lawsuit. They would then have to pay your damages out of their own pocket. Your personal injury lawyer can advise you on this option.
When considering a personal injury lawsuit, you must consider the statute of limitations. These filing deadlines vary from state to state and typically allow several years from the date of the accident to file. The period is short enough to preserve crucial evidence but long enough for injured victims to reach maximum medical improvement. That way, they can pursue appropriate damages.
If Your Case Was a Hit-and-Run
If you carry personal injury protection (PIP) or similar coverage, you can potentially file with your own insurance company to recover damages after a hit-and-run. Otherwise, you can pursue the driver with a lawsuit if law enforcement finds them.
In cases where the driver isn’t identified, the statute of limitations sometimes pauses until they are found. Once identified, you don’t have to wait for the motorist to face criminal charges to file a civil suit against them. Even if they aren’t convicted of a hit-and-run, you can still pursue them privately for compensation.
If the Accident Incapacitated You
Some car accidents are so severe that victims are left in a coma or otherwise incapacitated. If this applies to your case, tolling exceptions may apply, as well. Once you are capable of filing a suit, the clock starts ticking.
If Your Case Involves a Government Entity
Negligent road maintenance, a lack of signs or signals, and other roadway errors may point to a city government as the liable party in your accident. Likewise, if you were hit by a city bus or train, the government is sometimes liable for the actions of its employees.
If this happened to you, the statute of limitations usually differs from other personal injury cases. In some states, the deadline is shorter. Others require notice of a claim before filing. Your car accident lawyer can review the deadlines that apply to your case to ensure you file on time.
Be Proactive After Your Car Collision
Above all else, you should take control after a collision. This crash may have left you hurt, confused, and feeling powerless, but you can exercise your rights following an accident. Get the medical care you need, ask for respect from insurance companies, and consider finding a lawyer who prioritizes your interests.