Expert tips on handling car accidents
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 other parties’ insurance adjusters.
Filing an insurance claim and handling insurance adjusters can be daunting without the help of a car accident lawyer. We’ve broken down how to best handle the aftermath of a car accident and how to manage insurance claims below.
What should I do immediately after a car accident?
Prioritize the following immediately after a car accident:
Move yourself and your passengers out of harm’s way
Immediately after a car, truck, motorcycle, or tractor-trailer crash, safety should be your first priority. If you can safely leave your automobiles where they came to rest after the crash, it will give you the benefit of being able to take photographs, which are valuable to the personal injury attorney you hire later.
Assist anyone who was injured in the collision
Delays in emergency treatment after a collision can actually increase injuries. Make sure everyone is okay, and call an ambulance if necessary.
Call the police
This is likely required to file an insurance claim, and will often help your car accident lawyer 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 the police probably have negative motives, even if they seem honest.
Get contact information from all parties involved
Get all names, addresses, phone numbers, and license plate numbers of all driver(s) and car(s) that had any involvement in the crash, as well as all witnesses — whether they directly saw the crash or how people behaved after.
Do not rely on the police to do this. We find that they don’t always adequately review the information in front of them prior to giving tickets, and decide not to include all witness names and information in their traffic reports.
Exchange insurance information
Write down the insurance details of any other person or vehicle involved in the accident. This is very important for recovering your losses due to damaged vehicles, and will save you, your insurance company, and your personal injury attorney time and a headache later on.
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.
Be sure to photograph all vehicles and where they are in relation to surrounding areas. These photos should be taken from different distances—from the road to close-up—all to assess the severity of damage from all vantage points. Use your cell phone if necessary, or get a witness to take some and email them to you on the spot.
Make notes of the scene
Believe it or not, memories fade quickly. While you may think you’ll remember every minute detail about the accident, you likely won’t. Note any conversations or admissions made by the person who caused the crash, as well as bystanders and witnesses. Details of times, conversations, and who spoke with whom are heavily contested in many insurance disputes.
Discuss your legal options with a personal injury lawyer
Don’t wait, because your attorney may need to contact witnesses immediately to obtain recorded statements. They may need to have an investigator time traffic signals, measure skid-marks and interview employees of local businesses.
Can someone really get hurt when there is very little damage to the car?
Absolutely, yet plenty of insurance companies claim that a person wasn’t injured just because there wasn’t severe damage done to the cars involved in the crash. In fact, even the most minor car accidents can cause whiplash or worse.
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 happens to the public; that permanent injuries do in fact occur with very minor damage to the cars, even when the only repairs needed was repainting the bumpers.
How should I approach a doctor’s visit after a car accident in Florida?
Injuries can arise in the moments, hours, days and even weeks after a car accident. No matter how serious the collision, we recommend making a visit to a doctor to assess any injuries you may have sustained.
Consider the following when you do visit a doctor after a car accident:
Discuss your full medical history
You’ll likely be asked to fill out a daunting intake form when you get to the doctor’s office. Be sure to list your entire medical history, pre-existing conditions and all, and don’t just start at the post-car accident pain.
Insurance companies will review your written history with a fine tooth comb in search of omissions. They will try to impeach your doctors’ opinions by saying “That doctor didn’t even know they had prior pain in that area, how can they know if this crash caused this injury?”
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.
Be specific about your 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 that warrants doctor’s treatment, you are already going through a lot. Make certain that you do not make a mistake at your doctor's visits. This gives the insurance company a chance to deny paying for your medical bills.
Avoid embellishing injuries
Lying about injuries is obviously one of the most damaging things you can do to your case. If you are injured, there is no reason to make up symptoms. Most lawyers will typically withdraw if they suspect that clients have lied about their injuries. These days, with MRIs and current doctor’s treatment, doctors can spot people who make up symptoms.
How should I handle my insurance company?
The aftermath of a car accident doesn’t stop at that first phone call with your insurance company.
Understand the coverage you have and what it means
Take the time to read your insurance policy. 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.
Check to see if you have multiple insurance policies that provide coverage
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.
Contact your insurance company after your accident/injury
We recommend calling 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!
Keep track of all conversations
Whether you’re speaking to insurance adjusters, agents, or anyone else involved in the processing of your claim, keep track of any phone calls and updates they give you.
Save all your receipts and bills
Make sure to keep, track and even photograph all receipts associated with your accident or injury. This includes repair work on your damaged vehicle, any medical costs incurred because of the treatment of your injuries, especially those that are covered by your insurance policy. We recommend keeping these all in one file.
Be honest with the insurance investigators
Don’t let your claim get denied for fraudulent reasons. As it is their job to thoroughly investigate every facet of the car accident, lying will only hurt you in the long run.
Don't admit to any kind of liability on your part
Unless you are absolutely certain that the other person did not contribute, simply relay the facts of the situation. The ascertaining of liability is affected by different circumstances, and it is the insurance investigator’s job to gather all facts and evidence to determine liability.
File your claim within your provider’s time limits
All insurance companies require you to file an insurance claim within specified periods of time after the accident or injury. Make sure to keep this time limit in mind, or else your claim may not be considered valid.
What should I ask a car accident lawyer before hiring them?
Hiring a car accident lawyer is no easy feat. When it comes to car accidents, it’s important to remember that not all lawyers were created equally. When interviewing an attorney, be sure to ask the following:
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, trials that were similar, and 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 they definitely know exactly how many cases they have tried, and can give you the names of cases that are in court now or previous trials, as they are public record. Be aware of evasiveness.
Why is it important to hire them right away?
Compare how the various attorneys respond to this very straightforward question. This question puts the 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 will 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 won’t take on a case unless they are fairly confident that they will prevail. Some will even agree to take no upfront payment, unless their efforts lead to you receiving a monetary gain.
In the event that you don’t win the case, you won’t pay the attorney anything. 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?
Most people hire an attorney in hopes that serious stress from the case will be taken off of their shoulders. This is always how it should be, but this doesn’t mean 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 they are 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, product 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. 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 do 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 also 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?
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.
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. These companies 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.
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 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. Oftentimes 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 makes trials harder on plaintiffs.
Why don't all of the plaintiff's doctors come in and testify?
It is a fact that in Florida, 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 because they 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.
Although 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?
An LOP is 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 — send them away, because they won’t pay.
- 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 company’s 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.
Don’t battle your insurance company 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.
Whether you were denied coverage, feel you were underpaid for a claim, or experienced personal injury at the hands of a negligent or insured driver, you don’t need to dispute your insurance company alone.
Get your free case evaluation today.