How Do I Settle a Car Accident Claim?
Getting into a car accident is not something that can be foreseen or prepared for. It simply happens in the blink of an eye. And although it may happen in seconds, the repercussions can last a month, a year, several years, or even the rest of your life. One thing is almost certain, however, and that is that you will likely be in some state of shock initially following the accident, whether you were injured or not.
It can be tough to know exactly what to do after you’ve been involved in a car wreck. Particularly if you were not to blame for the crash, what you do after it happens can set you up for success or failure as far as getting your life back in order. So let’s discuss some things that you can do to facilitate your financial and physical recovery.
What to Do at the Scene of the Crash
This section assumes that you are not so injured that you are sent immediately to the hospital. If you are functional after a crash, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.
It is a good idea to photograph the scene of the crash. We all carry phones equipped with cameras these days, so put that to good use. Photograph the cars and their positions after the crash (assuming they haven’t been moved yet). This can help create a forensic analysis of who was at fault for the crash later on. Also get photos of the damage to each vehicle, each vehicle’s license plate, the scene (like if it is at a busy intersection or red light), weather conditions, if applicable, and any injuries that are visible.
You’ll want to get the contact information for the other driver or drivers as well as any witnesses to the crash. You also need to get the information off the driver’s license of the other driver. In fact, you may want to take a photo of the license if the other party is OK with that. And, of course, getting their insurance information is also critical.
Make sure to call the police so that they can file a police report. Takedown the names of officers, and ask about getting copies of the report sent to you. Then go to the doctor as soon as possible. Document all of your visits, receipts for how much money you spent at each medical visit, and the initial diagnosis/prognosis. The insurance companies are going to require a great deal of information from you, so be sure to have documents supporting everything from car repairs to physical therapy sessions.
Call an Experienced Lawyer and Begin the Claims Process
It is a very intelligent move to call an attorney as soon as possible after your accident. They have done this many times before, and they know how to get you the most money for your claim. However, whether you have an attorney by your side or decide to try to “go it alone,” here are some important steps that will happen as your case progresses.
Don’t Speak to the Other Party’s Insurance Company
If you have a lawyer, leave this to them. The insurance company is not your friend and will do everything in their power to pay you the least amount of money possible. They have many tricks and tactics up their sleeves to get you to believe that “this is as good as it gets.” And if you don’t know any better, you will likely believe them and accept a low-ball offer. Even a seemingly innocent conversation with an adjuster can result in you saying things that they can later use to claim that you were more at fault for the accident than you actually were. A lawyer can protect you while not saying anything that can hurt your claim further down the road. Let them deal with the insurance adjusters.
File a Claim and Initial Demand Letter
Your lawyer will file a claim for you. This initiates the recovery process. But be patient, because there is a long road ahead most times. After your attorney speaks with you and analyzes the documentation that you have provided, they will draft an initial demand letter and send it to the other driver’s insurance company.
The demand letter is a letter that details the facts and circumstances surrounding the wreck. This letter is your best chance of presenting your case to the insurer without the need to go to court. Your attorney will detail all of your property damage, physical injuries, medical treatments, medical prognosis, and the like – all in an attempt to lay the foundation for the financial recovery request to come. The letter will include a request for financial recovery, usually at a rate that is significantly higher than your case is truly worth. This gives you and your lawyer a “wiggle room” for the negotiations that are about to take place.
Once the insurance company receives your demand letter, negotiations begin. They will likely go over everything that you have provided them and will come back with a counter-offer. This offer may seem incredibly low. But keep in mind that, just as you built-in wiggle room in your initial demand, they are building in wiggle room with their initial offer. The first offer is almost always a low-ball offer. Don’t accept it (unless your attorney thinks it wise) and wait for negotiations to get into full swing.
This process may be a long one, so clothe yourself in patience. In fact, if your injuries are still in a state of flux where your doctor(s) are not even sure when and if you will fully recover, then it may be in your best interest to wait until your doctor and attorney can arrive at a number that will keep you taken care of well into the future. This means keeping all doctor’s appointments diligently until your physician stabilizes your condition and can assess the likely cost of medical treatment into the future. Keep in mind that, once you accept a settlement, there is no going back for more money later. So you need to be sure to get the proper amount the first time.
If your lawyer and the insurance company cannot arrive at a mutually agreeable offer, mediation may need to take place. That is simply when a neutral third party called a mediator will sit with the parties and try to help them reach a mutually agreeable resolution. If all else fails, it is time for a trial. Relatively few accident cases ever make it to trial though, because insurance companies do not want to have to pay attorney fees to fight what may be a losing battle. So stay positive because a settlement is likely going to be reached.
Trusted Lawyer Ready to Help You
David M. Benefeld is an experienced lawyer ready to help you with your claim. Call us today, or contact us online for a free consultation. We look forward to helping you get the recovery that you deserve.