DO’S AND DON’TS IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN AN AUTO ACCIDENT:
If you are involved in an auto accident, there are certain Do's and Don’ts that will help protect your rights and to avoid further harm to yourself. Here they are:
1. Stop the Car: The first thing that you should do when involved in an auto accident is to stop the car. Turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers on the road. Move your car to a safer place, like a shoulder, if it is safe to do so. Stay calm. Get out of the car if it is safe to do so.
2. Call 911: Call 911 if anyone is injured and wait for help. If you are capable of providing first aid, then do so. Do not attempt to help the injured person if you do not know how to provide medical help. If you are injured, inform the police officer and/or paramedics about your injury and request appropriate medical help.
3. Gather Information: Exchange information with others involved in the accident, including the driver’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, and auto insurance information. Get the same information from any passengers as well. Obtain information about the model, make, year, and the license plate number of the other driver’s vehicle. Take pictures of the damage to the vehicles, and also the scene of the accident. If there are witnesses to the accident, obtain their names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers. If the witnesses are reluctant to give their information, or you are unable to take their information, then write down the license plate number of their vehicles, or take the pictures of their license plates. Note the date, time, and weather conditions at the time of accident. Draw a sketch of the accident site, including damage to the cars, if possible.
4. Get Continuing Medical Help: Consult with your doctor about your injuries and take remedial measures. Keep records of all your medical bills, medications, and visits to the doctor. Continue your medical treatment regularly and keep records of everything because they need to be presented to the insurance company of the driver at fault. If the injuries are long term or permanent, then continue with the medical treatment as advised by the doctors, including regular follow up treatment. If there is a break in the treatment, or if you delay seeking medical treatment, or if you consult doctors on and off, then insurance companies may not accept your medical bills as related to the accident.
5. Inform the Department of Motor Vehicles: You are obligated to inform the Department of Vehicle in California within ten days of the accident if the damage to the property is more than $750 or any people are injured in the accident.
6. Contact Your Insurance Carrier: Call your insurance company and inform them about the accident. They will open a claim for the property damage to your car, and after charging you the deductible, your insurance company will compensate you for the damage that was caused to your vehicle irrespective of whether it was your fault or not. If it is later decided that it was someone else’s fault, then your insurance company will refund the deductible charged or reimburse you.
7. Check Repair Estimates: You should check with the insurance company’s adjuster to make sure that you are compensated adequately for your property damage. It is always a good idea to shop around, and check with other repair shops to get their estimate of damages to make sure the compensation offered is fair.
8. Contact Third-Party Insurance Company: If the other driver is at fault, then their insurance company will fix your car. In that case, you are not responsible for paying your deductible as all of the expenses will be borne by the other driver’s insurance company. Again, it is advisable that you check with repair shops in the area to make sure you are being appropriately compensated.
9. Obtain Police Report: Obtain copies of the police report of the accident from the appropriate police department. Note that it usually takes a few weeks for the police officer to prepare the report and submit it. The report will identify all the parties involved and witnesses, as well as the police’s opinion as to who was at fault. Often the insurance company of the driver at fault will deny your claim for compensation based on what their insured said to his or her own insurance company even if they admitted fault at the time of accident. This is why it is always a good idea to obtain a police report. If there was no police report, or the police did not come, then keep records of the statements made by the other driver and witnesses at the time of accident, and photographs of the accident scene, cars, and injuries.
10. Check Med-Pay Provision: If your insurance policy has Med-Pay coverage, then the insurance company will pay for the medical expenses related to the accident up to the coverage amount. This is paid irrespective of who was at fault in the accident. If you have Med-Pay, make sure you ask your medical provider to bill the insurance company.
11. Rental Car: If your policy has a provision for a rental car, then ask your insurance company to provide for a rental car for the time you are unable to use your car. If you are using someone else’s car for the period your car is in the garage, then the insurance company will reimburse you a fixed amount per day for the use of the other car in place of the rental car—but you have to demand it.
1. Do Not Admit Fault: Do not voluntarily admit that it was your mistake. The other side may be equally liable or at fault. You do not know. Some states are “No-fault States” and insurance policies in those states pay claims irrespective of the fault of the driver.
2. Do Not Provide Unqualified Help: If you are not qualified to provide medical help, then do not try to help the injured person because you may aggravate the injuries. If you aggravate injuries, you may be held liable for negligence.
3. Do Not Leave the Scene Early: Do not leave the place of an accident after the accident even if you think you were not at fault because you may be held criminally liable for “hit and run.” Make sure that the authorities are called and information is exchanged as discussed above.
4. Do Not Rush to Settle: Do not accept early settlement offers from the insurance company as your injuries may be worse than you think or you may be eligible for more compensation than what is initially offered. Some injuries do not show up immediately after the accident. For example, whiplash and other injuries may show up after a few days or even a few weeks depending upon the injury. Do not sign any papers that the insurance company gives you unless you understand all the terms and conditions of the settlement.
5. Do Not Rush to Provide a Statement: Most insurance companies request statements from drivers and passengers immediately after the accident. Do not rush to give statements to the insurance company. You should know your rights before making any statements. DO NOT PROVIDE ANY STATEMENT TO THE OTHER DRIVER’S INSURANCE COMPANY.
Consult An Attorney: It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney if you are involved in an auto accident. You are entitled to compensation for medical bills, wage loss, and pain and suffering. You may also be eligible to claim compensation for the negative effects on your lifestyle and the loss of future activities in your and your family’s life. An attorney will advise you about your rights, and how to protect them. He will also advise you on how to preserve evidence and records, and prepare you to provide a statement to the insurance company. He will help you receive proper medical treatment for your injuries and also ensure that you are fully compensated for all your losses. Personal injuries attorneys usually work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they do not charge any fees unless they recover compensation for you.
(Mahesh Bajoria is an attorney practicing law at Fremont, California. He can be reached at 510-791-9911 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your legal advisor before relying on the author’s views. This does not create an attorney-client relationship).
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