Dealing with insurance companies after a car accident can be a hassle and time-consuming. As creatures of habit, a car accident takes us off our normal schedules. Dealing with pain from the injuries is enough, but adding on doctor’s appointments, lost sleep, missed time from work, and getting the car repaired can feel like it’ll never end. And this isn’t even mentioning some of the tricks insurance companies use to get unsuspecting car accident victims to accept less than they should.
The following are some tips to help you maximize your car accident settlement and get through your claim more smoothly.
- Seek Medical Attention Right Away. This is by far the most important step in this process. Not only for your claim, but your health as well. Many people believe after an accident that they aren’t injured and don’t seek medical attention. This is due to the adrenaline in our bodies hiding the injuries and shock. But failing to see a doctor will have long-term effects on your health and the strength of your claim. The insurance company wants to see properly diagnosed injuries by a doctor, how symptoms of those injuries affected you, and a treatment care plan. Don’t try to tough it out because you’ll only be hurting yourself.
- Gathering Information. You’ll want to try to get as much information at the scene of the accident or shortly after that you can. We understand this isn’t always possible due to the circumstances, but if you can, it will definitely help your claim. You’ll want to try to collect:
- Other driver’s name and address;
- Other driver’s insurance company and policy information;
- Copy of driver’s license and registration;
- Statements and contact information from witnesses;
- Pictures of the accident sceneWe recommend using your smartphone to try to take pictures of as many of these items as possible. This way it’s stored and can be easily transferred. Some car insurance apps even have a checklist you can use.
- Contact Your Insurance Company. Every car insurance policy has a duty to notify your insurer that you’ve been in an accident. You must contact your own insurance company immediately. There is no requirement to immediately speak with the at-fault party’s insurance company. At the very least, we recommend speaking with a San Diego car accident lawyer first. Many people don’t realize their rights in this regard. Unfortunately, insurance companies use tricks like the recorded statement to get people to accept less. If you hire a car accident lawyer, they’ll handle the communication with the insurance company. If you decide to handle the claim yourself, make sure you only stick to the facts of what happened.
- Collect Bills and Records. You’ll need to collect medical bills, medical records, paystubs, property damage estimate or invoice, and any other hard costs you’ve incurred (ex: rental car, additional babysitting). All of these will be combined with the information you gathered under number 2 above. Facts of what happened, including time, place, date, photos of the scene, a copy of the police report, and names and addresses of those involved are all necessary to prove your claim in addition to medical records and bills. If there are witnesses, their statement can help support your claim.
- Investigation. The claims adjuster assigned to your claim will immediately begin their investigation. It’s very possible they’ll be in touch with you within 24 hours of the accident to make a settlement offer. Be careful not to accept the first offer without having fully evaluated your damages first. This is why it’s critical to know the full extent of your injuries by seeing a doctor. How can you accept a settlement offer without knowing how much the car accident affected your life?You also need to remember that adjusters are trained negotiators that know more than you. They will use any advantage they can to get you to provide more information than they’re entitled to and accept less.By California law, the investigation process must be conducted in a “reasonable” time. But this can be very frustrating for accident victims who are in need of money in the short term.
- Settlement and Release. If the insurance company determines you’re not the at-fault party, they’ll offer you a settlement. Like we’ve learned, the first is usually not the best unless they’re offering the policy limits. Before you sign anything, make sure you have a clear idea of what your damages are. Most people who handle their own claims have a belief their claim is worth more than it actually is. And this makes sense. But the reality is that you need to look at the claim objectively and not subjectively.
Once you’ve agreed on an amount, the insurance company will send you a “Release.” This means you’re agreeing not to sue them for any injuries in return for financial compensation. It’s extremely important to make sure you’ve recovered the maximum you can. The second you sign that release and give it to them, you won’t be able to sue for anything else that happens. (Ex: you agree to accept $1,000 and sign a release. A week later you go to the doctor and find out that surgery is necessary because of an injury you sustained in the accident. You will not be able to make a claim for that surgery or pain and suffering because you’ve already “released” them of your claim).
It’s important to remember insurance companies are in the business to make money. In most cases, you’ll be dealing with the insurance company of another individual, not yours. The way insurance companies continue to make money is by finding ways to pay you less. Even if you ultimately decide to handle your claim yourself, car accident lawyers usually provide free case evaluations or consultations.
My name is Daniel Hanecak and I am a San Diego Car Accident Lawyer. I know from personal experience how stressful and time consuming a car accident can be. When you call Hanecak Law Inc., you will speak with me directly. It is my aim to provide you with free and friendly advice. Call me today at (858) 206-4326 for a free case evaluation.