What To Do After a Car Accident that's Not Your Fault to Maximize Your Personal Injury Claim
In this article you will learn what to do in the event of a car accident that’s not your fault. We’ll cover everything from A-Z, including:
You can use this information to help your case by gathering the appropriate information for your car accident lawyer. It will also help you to avoid saying something to insurance companies that might ultimately hurt your case.
What to Do Immediately After a Car Accident Checklist
Stop your vehicle. You must stop your vehicle as soon as possible after a collision. Be aware of your surroundings and pull over when and where it is safe to do so.
Move your vehicle to safety. If you are able to do so, you should pull your vehicle over to the side of the roadway. It is dangerous to remain in a car in the middle of the road. You could be struck again by other drivers. Florida law requires you to move your vehicle out of the road if possible. Otherwise your car would be a danger to other traffic.
Move yourself to safety. If your vehicle won’t move, you should exit the vehicle and get to safety at the side of the road. Turn on your hazard lights before doing so and turn off the car ignition. If you are badly injured and can’t move, then dial 911 and wait for the ambulance.
Stay calm. A car accident is a sudden and unexpected event. You may be badly injured or just shaken up. Staying calm can help you deal with the situation better.
Check for Injuries. Find out if you or someone else involved in the accident have injuries. Sometimes injuries don’t seem as serious at first because you are in shock and the adrenaline is working. If someone is seriously injured it may be dangerous to move them. Don’t move them unless they are in imminent danger. Call 911 immediately for an ambulance if there are any injuries.
You are required to exchange information with all the other drivers involved in the accident. If you are too injured to do this, the police will collect the information.
Exchange names, addresses, and telephone numbers with the other drivers. Exchange driver’s license information with the other drivers.
Exchange vehicle registration information with the other drivers.
Document the car make, model and year.
Exchange insurance information with the other drivers. Get the name of their insurance company and their policy number. It’s also helpful to get the name, address and phone number of their insurance company. (It is often easier to take pictures of these necessary documents than to write it all down.)
Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any passengers in the other vehicles.
Never admit fault in speaking with other drivers, passengers or witnesses. The cause of the car accident will be sorted out later, and anything you say after the accident can be used against you as an admission of fault.
Do not cause an altercation with the other people involved. It won’t help your case at all and could lead to more injuries.
When to Call the Police
You must notify the police immediately if there are any injuries. Florida law requires this. Call 911 to report the accident and wait for the police to arrive.
Even if there aren’t any injuries, you still must notify the police if there is property damage to any vehicle of $500 or more. Even a minor dent or scrape could cost $500 to fix at an autobody shop. It’s best to report all accidents to the police.
It’s especially important to notify the police if there is any dispute as to who caused the accident. The police will document the basic evidence of the accident and take down pertinent information.
If you think you’ll want to make a claim for your injuries or property damage it’s essential that you notify the police. You’ll need proof of the when, where, what, how and why of the accident. The police investigation is the first step in that process.
The police report is essential to starting your claim. As previously mentioned, you’re required by Florida law to contact the police in most automobile accident situations. The police will document the basic evidence of the accident and collect the necessary information from all the drivers, passengers and witnesses. This information is vital to starting your insurance claim and holding the other driver accountable.
The police will ask you what happened, and you must respond to them truthfully. However, you do not have to admit fault or incriminate yourself (Florida Statute 316.062). The police will use all the information they collect to create a report about the accident. The police will give you a number so you can obtain their report when it’s finished. This may take several days after the accident.
In Florida, as in most states, police accident reports are not admissible at trial. This is known as the police accident report privilege and can be found at Florida Statute 316.066. So the written report will not be shown at trial. However, the police officer may be called to testify at trial and he or she can testify to what they found at the accident scene. They may also be entitled to testify to statements that the drivers made to them. Whether or not such statements will be admissible will be a question for the judge to decide. In most cases, whether or not the police issued you a traffic citation for the wreck will also not be admissible at trial. The courts want juries to decide for themselves what happened in the auto accident and not let the police investigation sway their conclusions.
You might want to dispute the police report if it contains factual errors. Some examples would be incorrect vehicle identification, inaccurate insurance information, or an inaccurate location of the accident. If you think the conclusions in the report are wrong, like a finding that you violated a traffic law, then there is probably not much you can do to get it removed from the traffic report.
Document the Accident: on The Scene
It’s important to document the accident scene. In order to win your car accident case, you’ll have to convince the insurance company or a jury that the other driver was at fault in injuring you. The accident scene will show a lot of evidence that can help you prove these things. For example, the position of the cars when they come to rest after the collision might show who was at fault. Any skid marks on the road may also show who was in the wrong and how fast they were going. Any debris from the wreck or leaks from the automobiles can help show how bad the collision was. The main thing to do if you’ve been in a wreck is to get to safety and get medical treatment. If possible, you should also take some pictures of the scene of the accident. These pictures will help your case down the line. You can’t necessarily rely on the police or witnesses to document the scene. By the time the police arrive, the position of the cars might have changed.
When possible try to do the following things to document the accident:
Use your cell phone to take pictures of the position of the vehicles, the roadway, the damage to the vehicles, and any other important information.
Collect witness information. If there were witnesses to the accident, get their name and contact information. If possible, ask them to write down what they saw and sign it. Witness statements can really help your case. It’s best to get their story soon, before they have time to forget exactly what happened.
Collect police contact information. It’s helpful to get the name and badge number of the investigating officers.
Ask how to get your police report. The police will usually give you a document with an accident report number on it and instructions for how to obtain the police report. It may take several days before the report is ready to access.
Document Injuries and Damage: at the Hospital or at Home
You should go to the hospital or doctor immediately after a car accident if you have any injuries at all, even those that seem minor. Oftentimes people who’ve been in an accident will not feel the full extent of their injuries immediately after the collision. This is especially the case with soft tissue injuries, commonly known as “whiplash.” The shock of the accident and the possible rush of adrenaline can mask the pain for hours. Also, soft tissue injuries often become worse in the hours and days after the wreck. Think of how you might feel after a hard workout at the gym. You may feel great right after the workout, but a day or two later you feel very sore. A similar delay can happen with soft tissue injuries in an automobile accident. At first you feel fine but then the inflammation comes on and you feel much worse.
So it’s important that you don’t underestimate your injuries. The best thing you can do is to seek medical attention immediately or as soon as possible. That way you can get the treatment you need early on to minimize your injuries. Also, insurance companies will seize on any delay in your medical treatment. They will argue that you must not have been badly injured if you waited to seek treatment. This is a false argument, but they will take this argument and try to persuade a jury that it’s true. Don’t give them the chance to try to minimize your injuries. Seek medical help promptly after an accident.
When you get home after the accident and after seeking medical treatment, you should write a summary of the events of the accident. Don’t delay, you want to record what happened while it’s fresh in your mind.
Take some more photos of the damage to your vehicle in case you haven’t already. Take pictures from several angles to best show the damage.
Photograph your injuries as soon as possible and continue to photograph your injuries as you heal.
Start to keep ongoing documentation of the impact of the accident. Use a notebook to make a daily journal of how your injuries are affecting you. Make note of all the treatments and medical care that you have received because of the accident.
Document any missed work that results from your injuries.
Document all costs which result from the accident. This includes medical care, costs to repair your car or rent a replacement car, and mileage to get to medical appointments. Other costs that might also apply would be if you have to hire people to do services for you that you would have done yourself before your injury. For example, if you have to hire someone to mow your lawn or clean your house.
Don’t Speak with Insurance Companies Unless You Have To
People can do the most damage to their claim by speaking with insurance companies. Insurance companies are profit-focused corporations and are not your friend. Talk to a lawyer before you make statements to insurance companies.
Your Insurance Company
You should notify your Insurance Company soon after the accident. Most insurance policy contracts require you to notify them of the accident promptly. Any unnecessary delays might affect how they handle your claim. Once you report the claim to your insurer, they will have someone from their claims department contact you. This will usually happen in one to three days.
Your policy will require you to give your insurance company information about the accident. Be careful, if you have Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage (UM), then your own insurance company might at some point want to minimize your claim. That’s because they’re the ones who would pay on your UM claim. Nevertheless, you will have to tell your insurance company about the accident and your injuries. There may even be a part of your contract with them that requires you to give them a recorded statement. Consult with a car accident lawyer before agreeing to give a recorded statement to your own insurance company.
What you should never say to your own insurance company would be anything that minimizes your injuries or blames yourself for the accident. You must be truthful in telling your insurance company what happened, but don’t minimize your claim unduly.
The Other Driver’s Insurance Company
Don’t speak to them under any circumstance! Only speak to the other insurance company under one condition: if you’ve consulted with a car accident attorney and he tells you to speak with them. Any communications you have with the other driver’s insurance company will be used against you to minimize your claim. They are not your friends in this process.
Often, the other driver’s insurance company will call you soon after the accident. They’ll try to act like they want to help you and pay for your claim. What they really want is to get you to say things that they will then use to pay you less! Do not speak with them. You have no obligation to speak with them.
Never give them a recorded statement. That’s the worst mistake possible. Discuss your case with your lawyer first. After you’ve hired a car accident lawyer, he will send the other driver’s insurance company a letter of representation. After that, the insurance company can no longer even contact you. They will only be able to communicate with you through your attorney.
Sometimes you might have to make a claim with the other driver’s property insurance coverage to get your vehicle fixed. It’s best for your bodily injury claim (BIL) if you can make your property damage claim through your own insurer. They will then get the other driver’s insurer to reimburse them. If you must go directly to the other driver’s insurance for the property damage claim, then you should first discuss this with your lawyer and get advice on how to proceed.
Why it’s Best to Say Nothing at All
It’s best to say nothing at all to the other driver’s insurance company. They will take anything you tell them and try to twist it around so they can pay you less on your claim. For example, if you told an insurer you thought you were going 35 mph at the time of the accident, that would seem like a reasonable response. However, later on they might say that the fact that you weren’t sure of the speed you were going shows that you weren’t paying attention and may well have been speeding.
When to Make a Third-Party Claim
If you have any property damage to your vehicle you’ll want to make a third-party insurance claim. You’ll also want to make a third-party claim if you have any physical injuries. In Florida, No Fault (PIP) coverage will only pay 80% of the costs of your injuries, so you’ll want to make a claim on the other driver’s insurance as a third-party claim to get the 20% that isn’t paid by your PIP.
You should contact an attorney after any accident with property damage or physical injuries. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation. If your injuries are only minor, it might be best for you to make the claim yourself and keep all the money you recover. If you only have property damage, you should probably handle the claim by yourself to maximize your recovery. An attorney will help you make the decision of whether to proceed on your own or with an attorney representing you.
In general, your car accident case will proceed as follows:
Initial consultation with lawyer. The lawyer will discuss your injuries, who was at fault in the accident, and explain how he can help you recover money damages.
Contract for representation with lawyer: If you and the lawyer agree to proceed together, you will sign a contract for representation. Most attorneys in Florida use a contingency fee contract for injury cases. The Florida Bar Association, which governs attorney conduct in Florida, has strict rules about contingency fee agreements for car accidents and personal injury cases. It limits how high of a percentage lawyers can charge in these kinds of cases. Most attorneys in Florida use this fee schedule set out by the Florida Bar.
You and the lawyer will gather necessary evidence to support your claim including the police crash report, photos, witness statements, medical records and bills, and proof of lost wages.
The lawyer will obtain copies of all insurance policies covering you and the other drivers. The attorney will analyze the coverage and tell you what is possible to recover in your case.
The lawyer will help you with a property damage claim to get your vehicle fixed and to make sure your No Fault (PIP) coverage is paying your immediate medical bills.
The lawyer will advise you on how to pay your medical bills that exceed PIP coverage while you wait for your claim to be resolved.
The lawyer will discuss with you when it’s best to make a claim for insurance coverage. Typically, you’ll need to have medical treatments and diagnoses performed first so the extent of your injuries and damages can be determined. This can take months or even longer.
The lawyer will obtain copies of your medical records and will consult with medical experts as needed.
Once your damages and the insurance coverage is understood, your lawyer will discuss with you how best to proceed in making a claim or filing suit. Typically, the lawyer will send a proposal for settlement (demand) to the insurance companies. You have complete authority over how much you are willing to settle your claim for. The lawyer will advise you on your options and make recommendations to you regarding settlement.
The lawyer will negotiate with the insurance companies to obtain the best settlement possible for your claim.
If a settlement figure is reached that you agree to, you will sign a contract to accept the settlement and release the other person from any other claims due to the car accident.
Your lawyer will analyze whether there are any liens that have to be paid out of your settlement prior to disbursing funds to you. These liens include payments your health insurance made for your treatment, payments by government benefit programs like Medicare or Medicaid, and others. These entities have a legal right to be paid out of your settlement before you are.
Your lawyer may try to negotiate reductions in some of your medical bills that are still outstanding.
Your lawyer will disburse your final settlement proceeds to you after all other payments have been made, including the attorney’s fees and costs.
If you don’t reach a settlement agreement with the insurance companies, your lawyer will file a lawsuit against the at-fault drivers and any other responsible parties.
Litigation will commence. Litigation is the process of taking legal action. This can take a lot of time, usually at least a year. In preparation for trial, there will be a lot of requests for documents and statements, depositions under oath, and possible third-party medical examinations of you. This is a time-consuming and stressful process.
Your attorney will most likely hire experts who can testify at trial about your injuries and why the other driver was at fault in the car accident.
After all the evidence is gathered your lawyer will prepare for trial. You will need to be prepared as well.
The lawyer will engage in a long process of filing written documents with the court and responding to documents filed by the defense. There will likely be pretrial hearings that the lawyer attends.
There is often a required mediation where you and your lawyer meet with the other side to attempt to settle the claim again. Mediation is paid for by you and the defendant.
After all the preparations, a trial will take place. A jury of your peers will decide whether to award you money for your claim. You or the defense may appeal the judgment. Appeals are an additional process.
The costs associated with taking a case to trial are numerous. They include the cost of experts, depositions, travel and trial preparation costs. Your lawyer will advance these costs as part of your contingency fee agreement, but these costs will then be paid out of your eventual recovery.
When to Speak to a Car Accident Attorney
It’s best to consult with a lawyer soon after your car accident. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation. After you explain the accident, your injuries and the damage to your vehicle, the attorney can tell you what kind of case you have and whether he recommends you hire a lawyer to help you with it.
You don’t want to delay in contacting a lawyer. Evidence can be lost early on or you could make a mistake in talking with insurance companies. It’s important to start gathering evidence early after the accident. For instance, if there are useful witnesses who saw the wreck, the lawyer can contact them to get their statement. Once time has gone by, they will forget many of the details of what they saw. It’s also important to document the damage to your vehicle properly and get pictures of anything at the scene of the accident that could help your claim. It’s also important to deal with the various insurance adjusters the right way so your claim isn’t compromised. A lawyer with experience in car accidents will have the knowledge to take over the insurance claims for you. That way you can focus on getting better without the added stress and worry of dealing with insurance companies.
The lawyer will help you with many things in your case. In fact, if you choose your lawyer wisely, you may not have to do much except focus on getting good medical treatment and recovering from your injuries. The lawyer should do most of the work involved in making your insurance claims. This can start at the beginning when the lawyer takes over communicating with the insurance companies for you. It continues all the way until the lawyer negotiates a settlement for you. Along the way, the lawyer will advise you about getting medical treatment and paying for your medical bills. In the end, if the insurers won’t pay you a reasonable settlement, the lawyer will file suit and take your case to trial.
How Florida’s No Fault Law will Impact Your Claim
As a Gainesville car accident lawyer, I can tell you that Florida’s No Fault Law will impact how you are compensated for your injuries and lost wages. No Fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage is considered primary. That means it is supposed to pay first. PIP is also supposed to pay in a direct and fast way, without any debate about who was at fault. However, PIP only pays 80% of medical bills and 60% of lost wages up to the minimum $10,000 coverage. So even if you only have $5,000 of damages, your PIP will not fully reimburse you. So you will most likely need a lawyer to handle the rest of your claim, which is the Bodily Injury Liability Claim (BI) and possibly an Uninsured Motorist (UM) claim. The No Fault law also has a requirement that you suffer a permanent injury in order to be compensated for pain and suffering damages.
Here are a few examples of how No Fault PIP affects an injury claim:
You are injured in a car accident while driving your car. The other driver was at fault. You seek treatment for minor sprains, including some sessions of physical therapy. You missed a total of four days of work. Your medical bills total $4,500 and you have $500 of lost wages. Your doctors billed your PIP and were paid 80% of the $4,500 of medical bills, which is $3,600. So you still have $900 of medical bills that weren’t paid. You documented your lost wages and sent that to your insurer. They paid you 60% of your lost $500 of wages, or $300. So you still have $200 of lost wages and $900 of medical bills that weren’t paid by your PIP insurer. You should make a claim on the at-fault driver’s Bodily Injury Liability policy for that $1,100 dollars.
You were seriously injured in an auto accident by another driver’s negligent driving. You had a broken bone that required surgery to fix. Your doctor determines that you had a permanent diminishment of function and thus a permanent injury. Your medical bills and lost wages are over $50,000. In this situation, your PIP coverage will have already paid you the $10,000 early in your treatment. Your lawyer will make a demand on the at-fault driver’s insurance policy for bodily injury and pain and suffering damages. They will value your damages taking into account that you were already compensated for $10,000 by your PIP coverage. So you will not be paid that $10,000 twice. This is called “set-off.” For instance, if you agree with the insurance company that your total damages are $100,000 and you have already been paid $10,000 by PIP, then you will receive $90,000 in your settlement with the insurance company.