If you have ever had a fender bender, you may have had the experience of going through the other driver's insurance company to pursue compensation for your financial losses. Most of the time, car accident claims that involve only property damage progress relatively straightforwardly.
On the other hand, car accidents that involve injury may prove much more difficult to navigate successfully in a way that will allow you to recover reasonable compensation for all the financial losses you may have faced.
Step One: The Police Report
Immediately after the accident, you may need to file a police report that will help provide vital evidence about when and where the accident occurred and the parties involved.
A police report serves as an essential part of an accident claim.
While you can file a car insurance claim without a police report, a police report can help provide a solid basis for your claim, including an officer's estimation of what likely caused the accident.
Before you file a car accident claim, you may want to obtain a copy of the police report. Ensure that the police report accurately reflects what led to the accident and where and when it occurred.
Step Two: Reporting the Accident to the Insurance Company
To receive compensation through an insurance claim, you must report your accident to the insurance company. You may need to contact your insurance company and the liable driver's insurance company following a car accident. Some insurance companies may have clauses in their policies that require you to report the accident.
In other cases, you may choose to report the accident to your insurance company so that you can use your insurance to cover part of the accident, including:
- PIP insurance to help cover the immediate cost of your injuries
- Uninsured motorist coverage, when the motorist that hits you does not carry insurance
- Collision coverage, when you caused the accident
You may also choose to use your insurance company, in some cases, to help streamline the repair process and get your vehicle up and running sooner. In some cases, your insurance company will pay out compensation for your accident shortly after the accident, then seek compensation for the liable driver's insurance. You may have to pay any deductible amounts before your insurance coverage kicks in.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Contact the Insurance Company After an Accident?
In general, if you suffered injuries or severe property damage in your accident, you may want to talk to an attorney before you connect with the liable driver's insurance company. For you to pursue compensation through the other driver's insurance, the insurance company will need to talk to the liable driver and get a statement about the accident.
The insurance company may also want a statement from you. You may want to talk to a lawyer before you issue a statement to the insurance company about the accident. Suppose at any point during that statement, you indicate that you may bear partial responsibility for the accident. In that case, the insurance company may use that statement to reduce the compensation you can recover for your accident.
The insurance company may also ask questions about any injuries you may have sustained. You may need to navigate your answers to those questions carefully to avoid reducing the compensation the insurance company will pay for your losses.
A lawyer can help you more effectively navigate those potential challenges to maximize your compensation.
Step Three: Investigation
To recover compensation for injuries sustained in a car accident, you will need to give the insurance company time to investigate the accident and the extent of your injuries. At the same time, your lawyer may help collect evidence related to the accident.
In some cases, that investigation process may not take long. The driver that caused the accident may admit liability, and the insurance company may accept that admission of liability and move forward.
On the other hand, the insurance company may sometimes want to conduct a much more in-depth investigation into the conditions that led to the accident. The liable party may deny causing the accident, or the insurance company may want more information about the exact cause before paying out.
Your lawyer may also want to investigate the causes of the accident, particularly if multiple factors may have contributed to the incident. Both sides may want to look at several critical pieces of evidence to get a better idea of what led to the accident and, therefore, who bears liability for it.
If any video footage exists of the accident, both sides may want to take a close look at that footage to get a better idea of who likely bears liability for the accident. Video footage can often make it clear exactly what caused the accident, from a driver who failed to observe the speed limit to one who ignored the right of way or chose to drive aggressively.
In some cases, camera footage may even contain images of a driver looking at a phone while in the car. Video footage may include traffic cameras, dash cams, or security footage from nearby businesses that may have captured the accident.
Often, car insurance companies and attorneys will take statements from witnesses about the accident. Witnesses may have had a clearer view of all factors that contributed to the accident than the parties involved.
In addition, witnesses can offer an unbiased view of what caused the accident. Frequently, witness statements can offer greater insight into the conditions that led to the car accident.
If you intend to use witness statements as part of your car accident case, however, you may need to start working with a lawyer to collect those statements as soon as possible. Witness memory often proves highly fallible and may grow foggier and less accurate over time.
Gathering witness statements soon after the initial incident can make it much easier to get an accurate testimony about the accident.
Accident Scene Photos
You cannot go back in time and take insurance companies, the court, or your attorney to the scene of your accident. You can, however, use photos from the accident scene to help recreate the scene.
You and the other party involved in the accident will have the opportunity to present any photos you may have taken of the scene.
A review of that information can, in many cases, make it easier to determine what may have led to the accident.
In some cases, you may need an expert to help recreate what likely led to your car accident, based on the evidence available.
Your lawyer can connect you with an expert who can help carefully recreate the conditions that led to the accident based on a survey of other available information, including photos of the accident, information about the scene of the accident, and the damage to the two vehicles.
An expert recreation can help establish liability in cases where it might prove more difficult than anticipated to establish that the other party caused the accident.
Your Medical Records
In addition to investigating the likely cause of the accident, the insurance company that covers the liable driver will generally want to look at evidence of your injuries. As part of your injury claim, you will generally claim compensation based on the injuries and financial losses you sustained during the accident.
The insurance company may want proof that you suffered the injuries, particularly if you claim severe injuries like traumatic brain injury or back and neck injuries that kept you out of work for a long time following the accident.
You may also need to provide evidence of the medical bills you have faced as a direct result of your accident and your injuries. Your medical bills often serve as the critical foundation of your injury claim since they display the largest financial losses you may have suffered while recovering from the accident.
Most car accident claims will also include compensation for the damage to your vehicle from the accident. In most states, car insurance includes separate bodily injury and property damage categories.
However, to recover compensation for the damage to your vehicle, you may need to have your vehicle examined by a body shop chosen by the insurance company.
That shop will estimate what it will cost to fix the damage, and the insurance company will either pay out compensation for those repairs or the cost of replacing the vehicle, depending on the extent of that damage and the likely cost of repairs.
Step Four: Offer and Negotiation
Once the insurance company has had the chance to look at all the evidence related to your accident and any demand package your lawyer may have put together detailing your losses, you will generally receive a settlement offer. An early settlement offer will, in most cases, not reflect the full damages you may have sustained.
Many people find that early settlement offers do not cover the full extent of the medical costs they already faced, much less any potential medical costs or other financial losses from the accident.
You may want to have your lawyer look over any settlement offer you may have received from the insurance company. Your lawyer will give you a better idea of how that settlement breaks down and what compensation you may deserve.
Car accident victims frequently decide to negotiate and try to get additional compensation after that initial settlement offer. The negotiation process can prove long and complicated, depending on how much compensation you need to ask for and how much the car insurance company initially offered.
You do not have to accept a settlement offer from an insurance company that does not fit your needs. At each stage of the negotiation process, as the insurance company increases its offer, your lawyer will provide you with essential information about those offers and help you determine whether the current offer continues to fit your needs.
You may have to sit down with a mediator if you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation. Most car accident settlement negotiations do not reach that stage.
However, in some cases, you may need a mediator to help you more clearly establish your rights with the insurance company. Mediation serves as a last line of negotiation before you go to court over a car accident claim.
Once you have reached a settlement agreement, your claim ends through negotiation or mediation, and you will generally receive payment.
Step Five: Court
Most car accident claims settle out of court since going to court often substantially increases the cost associated with the settlement process and may make things much more difficult for the insurance company.
However, in some cases, a car accident claim may have to go to court for you to reach a reasonable resolution.
You may have a greater likelihood of going to court if:
- You suffered very severe injuries in the accident and need to ask for substantial compensation.
- The insurance company heavily disputes liability.
- You and the insurance company start far apart on your initial offers, and the insurance company does not seem willing to budge.
Having a lawyer to represent you in court can increase the odds that you will recover the compensation you ultimately deserve.