What are the Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With a Car Accident?
If you have been involved in any kind of an accident, whether it was a car accident, truck accident, or motorcycle accident, you will undoubtedly have to deal with your insurance company as well as the insurance adjusters of other parties involved. Filing an insurance claim and handling insurance adjusters can be quite daunting without the help of a car accident lawyer. That’s why we’re going to try to make it easier on you by following some basic dos and don’ts to remember, regarding your accident as well as your insurance claims.
DO contact your insurance company after your accident or injury. We recommend you call a qualified car accident lawyer (personal injury attorney) first, because you need someone to look after you. Your insurance company’s job is to do the opposite. Nevertheless, most policies have notification provisions. In other words, if you do not tell them you have been in an accident, they may try to deny coverage!
DO Take time to read your insurance policy and understand the coverage you have and what it means. Take some notes, who explained it to you at your insurance company, and what they said. This important knowledge keeps you on the right track as to what claims your policy will cover.
DO try and get as many details of the accident as possible including taking pictures of the damaged vehicles and if possible, any injuries sustained. Also do try to take down the names and numbers of any witnesses to the accident. This is very important, as it can help your case should it go to trial.
DO write down the insurance details of any other person or vehicle involved in the accident even if it is with your child’s crayon! This is very important for recovering your losses due to damaged vehicle etc… If you don’t have a writing utensil, send yourself an email or a text with your phone, or even take a picture of their insurance card with your camera or phone. Do the same with their drivers’ license. Ask them if they have an “umbrella” policy other than their automobile policy.
DO keep track of any phone calls and conversations with the insurance adjusters, agents, or anyone else you spoke with that is involved in the processing of your claim.
DO save all your receipts and bills for any and all expenses regarding your insurance claim. This would include, repair work on the damaged vehicle, any medical costs incurred because of the treatment of your injuries especially those that are covered by your insurance policy. It is easiest to make one file where you keep everything, notes and receipts in one place
DO be honest with the insurance investigators. There is too much dishonesty out there in the world today and you do not want your claim to be denied for fraudulent reasons.
DO check to see if you have more than one insurance policy that could provide coverage for this accident or injury. Many people have multiple insurance policies that they can file valid insurance claims on. Make sure to check all your insurance policies for such coverage.
DON’T admit to any kind of liability on your part unless you are absolutely certain that the other person did not contribute. Just relay the facts in this situation. The ascertaining of liability is affected by different circumstances. It is the job of the insurance investigators to gather all facts and evidence and then determine liability.
DON’T sign any releases or admissions to insurance agents until after you have consulted an attorney.
DON’T let any time limits to file your insurance claim run out. All insurance companies require you to file an insurance claim within specified periods of time after the accident or injury. So make sure you don’t disregard this time limit or else your claim may not be considered valid.
DON’T take everything that your insurance agent tells you as the last word, especially regarding the value of your claim or a settlement. Insurance companies always try to give you estimates of losses that are lower than your actual losses. Don’t just accept their estimates without doing some estimation of your own or consulting with a car accident lawyer. Remember, insurance companies are worried about their pockets and bottom lines not yours.
DON’T take any check as a full and final payment unless you are certain that it is a fair amount for your losses.
If you have any questions concerning your accident, it is always a good idea to speak to a personal injury attorney regarding your possible case. They can help guide you as well as protect you during the entire process and proceedings. It also takes a huge burden off of your shoulders knowing someone is in your corner with you and looking out for your best interests. Do research the various attorney’s in your area and look at their track records of success. You want to have someone that specializes in this practice of law.
What should I do after a car accident in Florida?
1. Immediately after a car, truck, motorcycle, semi/tractor trailer crash, move yourself and your passengers out of harm’s way. Safety is, of course, the first thing to worry about. If you can safely leave your automobiles where they came to rest after the crash, however, it will give you benefits of being able to take photographs which are valuable to a personal injury attorney you hire later.
2. Assist anyone who was injured in the collision. Call an ambulance if necessary. Remember, the cars aren’t going to move (usually) and delaying in emergency treatment after a collision can actually increase injuries. Watch how the others behave after the crash. Motorist’s behavior after a crash sometimes gets into evidence, and it often angers or pleases jurors.
3. Call the police — this may be necessary to make an insurance claim. While this may not get into evidence, it will often help your car accident lawyer in St. Petersburg or Pinellas Park negotiate for you later. If someone requests that you do not call the police, respectfully let them know that your insurance probably requires it. The fact is that the people who ask you not to call police have negative motives, even if they seem honest.
4. Get the name, address, phone number, and license number of the other driver(s), car(s) involved in any way in the crash. Get contact information for ALL WITNESSES who saw the crash or even if they came afterwards to see how the cars came to rest or how people behaved after the collision. Do not rely on the police to do this. While most of our police are diligent in executing their jobs, we are commonly frustrated when police do not adequately review the information in front of them prior to giving tickets. We are also frustrated when police decide not to include all the witness names and information on their traffic reports. There is no explanation other than laziness.
5. Exchange insurance information. It will save your personal injury attorney (therefore you) time later.
6. Take photographs of all vehicles and where they are in relation to surrounding areas. Make sure to include photos from different distances and directions including from the side of the road to close-ups showing damage to all the cars. Use your cell phone if necessary. If you do not have a cell phone or a camera, you may be able to get a witness to take some and email them to you on the spot. Also, you could call a friend nearby to have them bring one out to you. Digital photos are fantastic because your personal injury attorney will be more able to blow them up for exhibits later at trial or negotiations.
7. Make notes of the scene. At the time, you will not think you will ever forget what happened, but it is a fact; memories fade quickly. Write down any conversations or admissions made by the person who caused the crash, bystanders, and witnesses. Details about times, conversations, and who spoke with who are heavily contested in many insurance disputes.
8. Contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options. Do not wait, because your attorney may need to contact witnesses immediately to obtain recorded statements. He may need to have an investigator time traffic signals, measure skid-marks and interview employees of local businesses. I have even been able to obtain security footage of a car crash from local businesses such as a gasoline station. This was only possible because the client contacted me immediately.
9. Hire a car accident lawyer. The good thing about hiring a contingency fee attorney is that there is little or no downside to signing one up right away (as long as they are good). A contingency fee attorney will not charge you anything unless they get a recovery for you. You can know your attorney is good when you ask them what good it is to sign up right away and they recite number (8) above to you. Keep in mind that all the items I’ve mentioned in number (8) are not always necessary or even desirable, but if the attorney at least knows about them, you are not talking to a complete muppet. There are PLENTY of real estate and criminal attorneys that advertise themselves as personal injury lawyers when they do not know what they are doing. Let there be no doubt; a non-personal injury attorney will mess your claim up and they won’t even know they are doing it. Even if they have the best intentions.
What are common mistakes people make when they go to the doctor after a car accident in Florida?
Car accident lawyers have to deal with savvy, well paid insurance attorneys who will use common and totally normal behavior while you are at the doctor’s office to deny your claim.
Your attorney may have instructed you on some of these issues, but if not, or if you do not have an attorney, consider the following when you do visit a doctor after a car crash and avoid these common mistakes.
MISTAKE: Not giving your doctor a full history.
It starts while filling out your doctor’s intake form. Typically, you will be asked to fill out a very long intake form when you arrive at a doctors office. Often, people quickly gloss over this step as a nuisance. They sometimes list only the worst issue at the time leaving what seems like the less painful issues off. People also get bored with filling out the form or get impatient and leave off what they consider “ancient history.”
Do not do either. Take the time and be complete in giving all of your current symptoms and complete history. The insurance companies will go through your written history with a fine tooth comb looking for omissions. They will try to impeach your doctors’ opinions by saying “that doctor didn’t even know he/she had prior pain in that area, how can he know if this crash caused this injury?”
Furthermore, If you completely leave an injury off the intake form because you did not think was significant, and it becomes more problematic later, the insurance attorneys will assume that you had absolutely no pain at all. They will point out that “you had no complaints at that visit, therefore, you are trying to collect for an injury that happened after the car crash.” This happens most often with joint pain like knees that begin after a crash as dull, intermittent pain but degrade over coming months and eventually become very costly personal injuries requiring expensive treatment.
If you fail to include a complete history of pain, even when it was years prior, the insurance attorneys will call you deceitful and accuse you of trying to collect for old injuries. Be open and honest about prior injuries so that your doctor can identify positively if this is a new injury or not.
MISTAKE: Embellishing injuries.
Lying about injuries is obviously one of the most damaging things you can do to your case. If you are injured you do not need to embellish or make up symptoms. I typically withdraw if I suspect that my client has lied about their injuries. These days, with MRIs and current doctors treatment, doctors can spot people who make up symptoms.
MISTAKE: Not being specific about symptoms.
Your doctor will be best able to identify your injury and treat you if you are specific with regard to your level and frequency of your pain.
If you have been in a car crash and have pain which warrants doctor’s treatment, you are already going through a lot. Make certain that you do not make a mistake at your doctors visits which give the insurance company a chance to deny paying for your medical bills.
Can someone really get hurt when there is very little damage to the car?
Absolutely. Claiming that a person could not have been permanently injured just because there is not a lot of damage to the cars involved is a completely false statement made by insurance companies and their attorneys. Study after study has proven this wrong, and a good car accident lawyer can confidently speak to the damage and injury that a seemingly minor car accident can cause.
This argument is an old myth that more and more are becoming aware of, as more and more people each year are injured with little damage to the car. At this point many people in Florida actually know someone who was in a small fender bender, but just hasn’t been the same since. Sometimes those people have made insurance claims but they often do not.
It is a statistical fact that there is simply almost no relationship between damage to the car and injuries to people inside. Experts agree, the best way to explain this phenomenon is that when a car does not crumple, very little of the shock gets absorbed by the body of the car. Instead, the force of the impact is transferred into the occupant’s body, leaving a person head to whip backward and/or forward causing injuries to the neck. Often times, when a car crumples, there is actually less whiplash to the people inside.
Of course the insurance companies want people to believe that this is not the case. They often repeat over and over how little damage was done to a car, and rely on that to win at trial.
Importantly, studies performed with actual cars and actual people inside the cars mirror the statistics of what happen to the public; that that permanent injuries do in fact occur with very minor damage to the cars, even when the only repairs needed was repainting the bumpers.
What should I ask a car accident lawyer before hiring them?
Hiring a car accident lawyer may seem an easy task. After all, in most towns and cities around this country, people are inundated with advertisements from the many local law firms, loudly pronouncing their expertise in the field. However, not all lawyers are created or motivated equally and choosing poorly can severely impact the outcome of your case. So, when interviewing an attorney, ask the tough questions and evaluate the response that you receive.
Have you handled a case like mine before?
If you haven’t been able to get a clear picture of how often the attorney heads similar cases, then don’t be afraid to ask point-blank. Ask for examples of past cases and trials that were similar. Ask about the damages received by the other clients/plaintiffs. A car accident lawyer may not be able to discuss ongoing cases in too much depth outside what has been plead in public documents or things his client is comfortable with him sharing, but he definitely knows exactly how many cases he has tried and can definitely give you the names of cases which are in court now or trials he has done… they are public record. If he waffles, beware.
Why is it important to hire him/her right away?
Compare how the various attorneys respond to this very straightforward question. This question puts on trial the different attorneys’ experience and depth of knowledge on display for you.
Is it worth filing a lawsuit?
If they answer without reviewing the details of the case, then you have to wonder how thorough that car accident lawyer will be. There should be an initial understanding of what took place, as well as several follow-up questions regarding evidence, witnesses, damages suffered, and available insurance before he or she could even hope to give any information on the worthiness of the case if it was to go forward to trial. Assuming you are completely honest, the lawyer should be able to tell you potential red flags or other problem areas in your claim and what you can expect will result from those.
If we don’t win this case, what do I have to pay?
While the attorney may not be able to predict the expenses that will come up as a result of your filing a lawsuit, most experienced attorneys are not going to take a case that they are not somewhat confident that they will prevail in, so they are willing to agree to take nothing for payment unless their efforts lead to you receiving a monetary gain. In that case, if you don’t win the case, you pay the attorney nothing. Remember that if this happens, you will still be obligated to pay your medical bills, which is why it is important to hire an honest, experienced attorney who will make a real effort to explain to you how your bills will affect your settlement or verdict.
What will you need from me?
When hiring an attorney, the hope is that much of the stress of the case will be taken off of your shoulders. That should be the case, but that is not to say that you will be free of all responsibility. There will be things that the lawyer needs from you to build the case. You can get a fairly decent impression regarding how experienced the attorney really is by how much he or she is able to say in response to this question. Those that have worked on similar cases for years are very familiar with the process and will have ample information to provide about what will be required.
In your experience, how do you think this case will go?
No attorney can predict the future. If they do, run away. In many cases, whether they are for slip and falls, automobile crashes, products liability, or insurance disputes, there are almost always unexpected twists. Early on, an experienced car accident lawyer should not give any more than a general explanation of what risks versus positive outcomes are possible. Then as the case progresses, you can rely on your attorney’s experience as to what is a good settlement offer, but the final decision is up to you. If you are not going to get anything out of your settlement, you should consider getting permission from your attorney to get a second opinion.
What do I need to about a car accident claim that goes to trial?
Courts often keep juries in personal injury cases in the dark about certain things that would affect their decisions. Most of these rules benefit insurance companies. It is absolutely important that you hire a knowledgeable attorney who not only knows these tactics, but knows which ones can be circumvented for the purposes of getting as much of your case in front of the jury as possible.
Common questions about car accident claims that go to trial:
- Why didn’t the plaintiff sue the defendant’s insurance company rather than the person who caused the claim?
- Why isn’t the jury allowed to know if the defendant is insured?
There is a long-standing rule in Florida that forbids a Plaintiff from telling a jury about the defendant’s insurance coverage in personal injury trials. Carl’s Markets, Inc. v. Meyer, 69 So.2d 789, 793 (Fla.1953).
We respectfully disagree with this rule and think it is improper and unfair. We believe that jurors are more than able to use this information responsibly and keeping it from them is intentional and misleading.
What is the effect of this rule?
The effect of this rule is that a person who is making a claim against someone else’s insurance cannot sue that insurance company, but must instead sue the person who caused the claim. Then at trial, the Plaintiff and her personal injury attorney are forbidden not only from telling the jury how much insurance a defendant has, but may not even talk about whether the defendant has any insurance at all.
We have never gone to trial where a defendant did not have insurance. This has been our practice for many reasons and we feel that when we do, the jury should at least know that the defendant is in fact insured.
In each insurance claim made, the person’s actual disagreement in the amount of the harm suffered is with the defendant’s insurance company, not the insured. Yet the Plaintiff has to name the defendant by name in the lawsuit; “Mrs. Plaintiff v. Mr. Defendant.”
As car accident lawyers, we constantly see examples where we suspect that a defendant would have preferred that the insurance company pay the amount requested by the Plaintiff, but instead he or she is forced into trial by her own insurance company. We understand that insurance companies don’t even tell their insured how much the plaintiff has requested for this reason.
The problem with the practice of this rule, is that it gives insurance companies another reason to fight injured people and rely on sympathy for their insured to ask for artificially lower verdicts (and settlements) and force people to trial when they should not be doing so.
In reality, all juries in personal injury cases should know that a defendant is insured and should know at what point their verdict exceeds the defendant’s policy limits.
Common Question: Did the defendant get a ticket or not?
The insurance companies do not allow the jury to hear about whether the defendant got a ticket for causing a crash, nor do they allow statements made to the responding officer into evidence either.
This position is supported in Florida where even if a defendant pleads nolo, (no contest), the ticket will never be known to the jury. The only time when a defendant’s ticket actually gets introduced into evidence is when the defendant actually pleads guilty or is found guilty. Statements made to police officers by parties to an action are almost never allowed into evidence.
Has this defendant hurt people before?
Again, the jury will probably never hear about it. In the past decade as a practicing personal injury attorneys in Florida, we have sued countless negligent drivers who have actually hurt people before in collisions.
The courts in Florida do not allow a car accident lawyer to discuss this with the jury. Often times a seemingly pleasant defendant has a long history of speeding and carelessness that the jury will never know about.
On the contrary, if a Plaintiff in a personal injury suit has ever been in a crash, that often becomes the insurance company attorney’s theme at trial.
Why doesn’t the plaintiff bring more witnesses?
Before every trial, we have a conversation about which witnesses to bring to trial. We are allowed to bring a witness or two who knew the plaintiff both before and after the crash who can talk to the jury about the harms and losses.
In every trial we have ever been in, the insurance company’s attorneys have asked the court to limit the number of before and after witnesses to one or two, claiming that the additional testimony is duplicative and slows the process down.
In fact, this is no less than a defense tactic which make trials harder on plaintiffs.
Why don’t all of the plaintiff’s doctors come in and testify?
It is a fact that in Florida, we personal injury attorneys are rarely ever told what day a trial is actually going to start until that day, which makes scheduling nearly impossible. This problem is eased on insurance company defense attorneys who put on their case second, giving them a few days warning to line up doctors and experts. It’s simply something a car accident lawyer has to deal with.
As a practical matter, although a person’s treating physicians almost always agree with their patients (that they are hurt and that an accident caused the injury), they are trained to be doctors not witnesses, and hate leaving their practice to come to a courthouse ever for any reason. They often vehemently request not to be pulled out of their busy practice to come to trial.
Why don’t witnesses talk about how honest the plaintiff is?
Insurance companies do not like a jury hearing about how honest a plaintiff is because it hurts their case. They argue that it is improper bolstering of character. Insurance company defense attorneys argue that whether a plaintiff is a good person or not is irrelevant as to whether a defendant caused a crash or whether they are injured.
What is a letter of protection (LOP), and does that mean the doctor is pulling a fast one?
LOP stands for Letter of Protection, and they are actually very common for people who have health insurance or money to pay out of pocket for medical treatment. When a person who has no health insurance and not enough money to pay for medical treatment the doctor is given two options:
- Don’t help that person and send them away because he will never be paid.
- Treat the person, but withhold collections until the end of the case with the person’s promise that the doctor will be paid out of the settlement.
Insurance companies and their defense attorneys do not like this because they would far prefer that a person has no treatment at all, keeping bills down and making it impossible for a claimant to find out the full extent of their injuries.
The insurance companies’ attorneys tell the jury that these LOPs mean that the doctor cannot be trusted. This could not be farther from the truth. The doctors that truly care for their patients and want to help them will offer this valuable customer service. It sometimes means that the doctor may never be paid, and that if they do get paid, it will not be for months.
Importantly, the doctors who offer to treat a person under an LOP are not waiving their fee. The injured person still has an obligation to pay the fee regardless of the outcome of the case. Despite this, insurance attorneys still ask juries to cut the doctor’s fees knowing full well that the plaintiff still has to pay the full amount regardless of what the jury says.
You don’t have to do this alone.
We sincerely hope this guide helps you or a loved one after a car accident. No one ever hopes to hire a personal injury attorney, but when they have to, it should be an experienced individual they can trust. If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident, you have our sincere sympathy, and we welcome the opportunity to help you.
We serve the Tampa Bay area and beyond in the state of Florida. Tell us about your accident, and we’ll quickly let you know if you have a case.