According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 5 million car collisions occur each year resulting in 30,000 deaths and injuring more than 2 million people. Car collisions have become a norm in our daily commute. Despite the advances in car technology that are designed to protect us, such advances cannot fully protect us from the most dangerous factor – human carelessness. After a collision, emotions and adrenaline always run high. Therefore, you must prepare yourself. Below is a list of important things that you should do after a collision to protect yourself, if possible. This list is meant to be a basic guideline designed to help protect you from insurance adjusters and their tricks.
- If you are injured in any way – obtain medical treatment as soon as possible. Dial 911 if you need immediate medical assistance or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room. If you feel “OK” it is still important to get evaluated by at least your primary care doctor to ensure that you did not suffer significant injuries. Soft-tissue injuries can take several days to develop. An injury, if untreated, may become substantially worse. If you fail or delay in obtaining treatment, an insurance adjuster will assume you were not hurt. Even waiting one week is viewed as suspect by an insurance adjuster.
- Call the Police and Insist on a Collision Investigation. With most car collisions, there are no witnesses. There may be conflicting versions as to what happened and who was at fault. Sometimes the other driver may admit to you for being at fault, but upon reflection will quickly realize that their insurance rates will go up so they change their story once they call their insurance company. Therefore, it is important to dial 911 and involve a traffic police officer to investigate the collision. Keep in mind, however, that an officer is not required to write a report if there are no injuries and the property damage is less than $700. If the at-fault driver does not want to involve the police then insist that the driver write up an admission of fault at the scene, and that in this note they include their signature, the date, the location of the collision, and a brief description of what happened.
- Do not move your vehicle. Unless your vehicle poses as a hazard to other traffic, it is important that you leave it in the same position that it came to rest after the collision. The positions of the vehicles will help officers investigating the collision determine fault.
- If you are feeling symptoms of an injury in any way, tell the investigating police officer. Even if you feel like the symptoms are not severe – let the officer know. This will provide clear documentation from the very beginning that you were genuinely injured by the collision. Insurance adjusters look at the police reports with a keen eye.
- Photograph the Property Damage. If you can, always take photos of your car before it gets repaired. If you can take photos of the scene of the collision – even better. Such photos tell a powerful and persuasive story that can add value to your claim. Most of us have cell phones with cameras so use your phone to take some photos.
- Obtain Names and Phone Numbers of Witnesses. Witnesses rarely stick around after a collision. Just like everyone else witnesses are commuting – on their way to work or to an event and do not have time to wait for an officer to show up. Therefore, do your part in getting their name and contact information for the officer. These independent witnesses are crucial to proving responsibility for the collision.
- Call Your Insurance Company to Report the Loss. Call your own insurance company and let them know what happened. If your auto policy contains Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”), have them open a claim so your medical bills will be paid timely. Do not be surprised if you get a call from the other driver’s insurance company the day after (or even the day of) the collision. At first, the other insurance adjuster will be very friendly to you and politely ask you to provide them with a written or recorded statement. Never give a statement to an insurance adjuster for the other driver. No matter what you say, it will be used against you. Instead, tell them you have decided to hire an attorney. Furthermore, make sure that you do not sign a medical or employment records authorization to allow the other driver’s insurance company to obtain all of your medical or wage records. They will parse through your entire medical history with a critical eye to undermine your claim with any chance you get.
- However, if you have PIP – different rules apply. You need to sign a medical authorization to open a PIP claim. Also, providing a recorded statement to your PIP adjuster is required.