We have been signing up a lot of car crash cases lately, which can happen more often during the winter months when the roads are icy. When a person is involved in a crash, it can be unsettling and scary. These feelings can lead to someone failing to exercise their better judgment. Who, after a crash has been told "Can we not tell the insurance company about this?" or "You don't really need to call the cops, do you?" or my favorite, "It doesn't even look that bad, I'll pay for it."
Keep these five steps in mind to make sure that you protect yourself and your ability to recover should you be involved in a crash.
1) Regain your awareness.
Immediately after a crash, be aware of yourself and your surroundings. First, make sure that you and everyone in your car are alright, or at least are not in any imminent danger. Next, look around, take note of where you are, where your car is, and where the other car is. Often times these sorts of details can be lost if a person moves their car after impact. Bring yourself back, take notice of where you are, where your car has ended up after impact, and what is going on. These critical details can and will help you or a police officer recreate the crash on a police report. Once you know that you and everyone in your car are alright, do not feel like you have to move your car. If you want to sit in your car until the police arrive, that is your choice.
2) Take pictures of everything.
If you are feeling good enough to get out of your car, and it is safe to do so, make sure that you take photographs. Take pictures of the crash from far away to take in as much of the scene as you can. Include street signs if you can to set the scene. Take pictures of your car and any damage including close ups of any scrapes or scratches that may result from a lower impact crash. Take pictures of the car that hit you as well. More is better than less. You can always delete pictures later, but if you do not take them at the scene, you may not be able to recreate them later on, especially if your car is towed away. Additionally, take pictures of any skid marks on the road, nearby stoplights, nearly street cameras or businesses nearby that may have security cameras. Any footage may be recoverable to prove liability in your crash. Finally, take pictures of any injuries you, anyone in your car, or anyone in the other car or cars suffers as a result of the crash. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, etc.
3) Call the police.
If you are involved in a crash and do not call the police, they will not write a report later. Often times we have people call us and say that there is no police report because at the time of the crash they did not feel hurt, but then felt pain later that day or the next day. Now, they are left with injuries from a crash, and no police report to show for it. If you believe that you may need a police report, it is your right to call the police and obtain a report. Remember that this is your body, your car, and your life. If the other person encourages you not to call the police, remind them that you are just making sure to cover your bases. If a police officer says he does not want to file a report because there is little perceived damage, insist that he or she file a report to protect your interests should you need a report down the road. Some people will have great difficulty finding an attorney to represent them if there is no police report. When dealing with a car crash, better safe than sorry.
4) Exchange insurance information with the other driver and notify your insurance company immediately.
This may seem like a no brainer, but it is an important step to take. We have helped clients who have been involved in a crash, and they only get the other driver's contact information. Not surprisingly, someone who causes a car crash is not going to feel compelled to return your phone calls. Make sure you get their insurance information as well, and take a picture of their card instead of relying on handwritten notes that can be misread and misplaced. Additionally, notify your insurance company. Just notifying your own insurance of a crash will not affect your rates and can often times protect you from your rates going up. If your company finds out that you were in a crash and did not tell them, they may be inclined to cancel your policy. When you notify them, they will set up a file, help you conduct an investigation, and will find out much faster than you will if the other driver's insurance is valid or not.
5) Contact an attorney.
This may seem self serving, and it probably is a little bit, but hear me out. People want to work out car crashes on their own, but often times they can shoot themselves in the foot. Insurance companies are in the business of saving money, not giving it away. Allstate is not able to buy the naming rights to the Sugar Bowl every year because they give money to anyone who gets hurt. State Farm does not get their commercial time for free. They collect premiums, and do whatever they can to avoid paying claims so they can keep that money.
The other driver's insurance company, while seemingly helpful and nice, are going to do whatever they can to minimize their insured's fault and maximize your fault in the crash. Insurance companies will ask to take your recorded statement, and they may ask you questions that you are not prepared for at the time. I have dealt with cases where someone is stopped at a red, the light turns green, and then a driver blows a red and t-bones my client's car. That driver's insurance company offered me a 50/50 split on liability because in her recorded statement before talking to me, she told them she did not check to see if the intersection was clear before she proceeded. I was able to recover for her anyway, but this made it more difficult and certainly affected the value of the claim.
These are just five things you can do, but there are plenty more. If you have any questions, give us a call any time.