So you’ve been involved in a car accident… now what?
Being involved in a car accident is tough; what happens next doesn’t have to be. You may be wondering whether you need a car accident attorney or if you can handle it alone. This article will help guide you on either path.
For most, navigating the insurance process after an accident can be difficult and confusing. After all, a car accident doesn’t happen every day. For that reason, it’s hard to understand the insurance process without having been involved with it before.
First and foremost, we recommend that you seek representation immediately. This will insure that your case and claim are handled in the most appropriate manner, by individuals that deal with this process on a daily basis. However, in some circumstances, some victims do choose to represent themselves and handle their own insurance claim. While this is not recommended, it is possible. The goal of this article is to introduce you to the claims process. Whether you choose to forgo representation and initiate the claim yourself, or choose to seek out representation and simply want to know what to expect, this article will hopefully help ease you into the process.
It is worth mentioning that this article pertains to accidents, which involve minor injuries or subjective injuries. These types of cases are likely to resolve within a few months. In instances where the accident resulted in severe injury or death, it is highly recommended that you seek out representation immediately. Regardless, as previously stated, hiring an attorney is always advised. The sooner you are represented, the faster your case is resolved.
On The Scene
During, and immediately following, the initial shock of an accident, it is difficult to think ahead to your insurance claim. The last thing on your mind is how to prepare for your impending negotiations. Therefore, the most important thing to do immediately following an accident is to focus on your injuries, and the injuries of all other individuals involved in the accident. Once you have determined that no substantial injuries have occurred, call the police, move to a safe area, and focus on gathering information. Read: What to Do Immediately After a Car Accident?
For the most part, responding officers will gather all necessary information on the scene. But, for your own reference, you may find it useful to make a few notes yourself. Determine the other vehicle’s driver and any passengers, additionally; you may want to note contact information, license plate numbers, insurance information, eyewitnesses, accident location, and the names of all responding officers. As previously mentioned, most of this information will be obtainable via copies of paperwork which are given to you by responding officers, a Police Report, or FR-10.
What is an FR-10? It is an Insurance Verification Form. This form must be duly completed and mailed to the DMV within 15 days of the accident. Note, this is different from a Police Report (FR-50), which can be ordered from the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.
Before leaving the scene of an accident, be sure to document the scene. Make notes and photographs of the damage to any involved vehicles. Additionally, take note of which towing service is taking your vehicle. The goal should be to know as much about your accident as possible before leaving the scene. Determine from the officer’s who is the at-fault party, and if at all possible, be careful when making statements. Be honest about the situation, but do not admit to more fault than is necessary.
What is “at-fault”? Being the at-fault party means that your actions are those that are responsible for the damages caused in the accident. Medical treatment, pain and suffering, physical damages, and property damage are covered by the at-fault car’s insurance policy.
What Happens Next
The next steps depend heavily on whether or not you are determined to have caused the accident. If you are named as the at-fault party, your insurance will then focus on paying for the repairs, medical expenses, and other losses through your liability coverage. There is little you need to do from this point. However, if you are not at fault, the focus then switches to your insurance claim. Read: Does my Insurance Cover my Car Accident?
Again, we recommend seeking representation at this stage. The sooner representation is established, the easier this process becomes, and the faster you will, hopefully, receive settlement. But, we know that it is more likely you will choose to deal with this stage on your own. Here are some steps to help move your case along without representation, or if seeking representation later, will not hinder the process.
Immediately following an accident, seek out appropriate medical treatment and work on getting a rental vehicle. The at-fault driver’s insurance is responsible for providing a rental, and ultimately will be responsible for medical bills resulting from treatment for accident-related injuries. Keep track of all medical treatment and expenses related to the accident. Your adjuster will need to know what treatment you sought, and how much that treatment is going to cost.
Side note, it’s important to manage expectations. An auto accident is not a pay-day. A wreck is an inconvenience and hassle, but is not a supplement for winning the lottery. The goal of an insurance claim or lawsuit is to rectify harm done to a victim. Settlements and verdicts should be in proportion to damages, and viewed as a method to make a victim “whole”.
There are two types of claims that arise from the majority of accidents: a property damage claim and a personal injury claim. As I’m sure you understand, a property damage claim deals with personal property (like the car!), while personal injury deals with medical expenses, etc. It is necessary that a claim is filed on your behalf. Claims are to be filed with your insurance carrier, but most importantly with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier. After you file a claim with appropriate insurance companies, the claim goes through a process that leads to a settlement. But, the process is more complicated than that.
After you file a claim, an adjuster will be assigned to your case. He or she is responsible for investigating your accident, and will be the individual that makes settlement offers based on a number of accident circumstances. He or she will contact you for information about your accident. That is why it is vital to have gathered all necessary information.
Dealing with insurance adjusters is tricky. It’s important to note that an insurance adjuster, whether it be your insurance or not, does not always represent your best interest. They are responsible for determining how much money your case is worth. For this reason, they are going to base their determination off of what you tell them. Be careful! Some helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with adjusters are:
- keep track of any and all communications;
- know what your case is worth- determine the value of your vehicle, medical bills, and lost wages;
- avoid making a recorded statement;
- never admit to any level of fault;
- limit information to only that involved in the accident- do not discuss prior medical history or existing conditions;
- and most importantly, get help from an experienced attorney.
From this stage, once appropriate information has been gathered, the claim enters into a stage of negotiation. The negotiation phase is initiated by a Demand.
What is a Demand?
It is a written notice and request for reimbursement. The Demand reimbursement amount is based on medical treatment, lost wages, and other expenses directly related to the accident.
Negotiations between an accident victim or attorney, and an adjuster are what ultimately determine the settlement outcome. While you both have a mutual interest in settling your case, you each will have different ideas of what is fair. Negotiations are best handled by those who have experience. That is why representation is so helpful! An attorney is likely to get the best outcome because he/she has experience and connections within the insurance process. The back and forth exchange between a victim or attorney, and an insurance adjuster will often take some time, but most of the time will result in an accepted settlement offer. Additionally, if a dispute arises, and that dispute is unable to be resolved, a lawsuit can be filed against the at-fault party, and litigation proceedings may ensue.
The ultimate goal of the insurance claim process is to reimburse accident victims for damages that occur as a result. The best, and simplest, method of navigating the insurance process is to hire an experienced attorney to advocate for your best interests.
About the Author
John Henderson is a car accident attorney with Henderson & Henderson law firm in Charleston SC. He provides tailored legal services to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically, as a result of road traffic personal injury. Contact John for car insurance claims, DUI law and legal support or to get a free car accident consultation.