WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I’M IN A CAR ACCIDENT?
No one wants or expects to be involved in a car accident. However, one recent study found that at least 77% of drivers will be involved in a collision at some point in their lifetime. Therefore, it’s important to know what steps to take if (and when) you find yourself in a car accident. It’s also important to know what to do (and what not to do) immediately after an accident to best preserve your right to seeking compensation, especially if you’ve been injured.
Make Sure Everyone Is Safe.
First, make sure that you are not seriously injured. If you are seriously injured, try to remain calm and wait for first responders to assist you. After making sure you are okay, check on everyone else involved in the collision for injuries. If it seems like anyone is seriously injured, you should immediately call 911.
If it appears that no one is seriously injured, check your surroundings to make sure you are not in an area where you could be hit again. If necessary, move your vehicle out of traffic and to the side of the road. You should not, however, get out of your vehicle until you have made sure it is absolutely safe to do so.
Report the Collision to the Local Police Department.
Even if it appears as though no one is injured, the accident should still be reported to the local police so that a report of the car collision can be made. Many drivers who are hit fail to report the collision to the police, often because immediately after an accident a driver may feel fine (usually because of the adrenaline rush that occurs in a crash). Later, however, a driver may realize that they have been injured (especially with back and neck injuries) that they did not realize at the time of the crash.
Make sure to request a copy of the police report. If you notice any errors in the actual report, call the department to see if the investigating officer will correct the errors. Be aware that in some cities and towns, the police will not come to the scene of the collision unless there is a certain amount of property damage. If the police do not respond to the scene, make sure to go to the police department and fill out an operator’s report.
Exchange information with the other driver. This includes the driver’s name, address, license plate, and insurance information. If the other vehicle also has passengers, you should try to take down the name and addresses of the passengers as well. However, do not get into an altercation with the other driver or other passengers while attempting to exchange information. If the other driver becomes hostile, stay by your car and wait for the police arrive.
Also, do not admit fault, or seek to get the other driver to admit fault. This is not the time to sort out who is to blame. If the other driver does admit fault (or apologizes), please take note of such comments.
Almost everyone today has a smart phone that can also be used as a camera. Use the camera to take photos at the scene. You should take photos (from several different angles) of the property damage to your vehicle, property damage to the other vehicle (including the other vehicle’s license plate), and location of the vehicles (if they weren’t moved after impact).
If you’re able to do so, you should also try to take photos of the actual scene of the accident so that later on you can remember exactly what it looked like at the time the accident happened. The photographs will also be helpful to establish fault if you need to bring a lawsuit for any injuries you have sustained. Many drivers fail to take pictures, which makes it more difficult to prove their case if a lawsuit is brought. Remember, there is no such thing as too many photographs!
Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as you can after the collision. When you call your insurance company, the representative will go over the different insurance coverages and benefits available to you under the insurance policy that you purchased. The five types of coverage you should ask about are: (1) collision coverage to cover property damage; (2) rental coverage; (3) uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage; (4) No-fault personal injury protection (PIP); and (5) medpay benefits.
If you have collision coverage, your own insurance company will pay for the property damage to your vehicle, and if the other driver was at fault they will get reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance company. Be careful, because you may have a deductible applied to your coverage, which means that your insurance might require you to pay a certain amount of your property damage out of your own pocket. If you do not have collision coverage or prefer to have the other driver’s insurance pay for your property damage, and the other driver was at fault for the accident, you may make a property damage claim through the at-fault vehicle’s insurance company. You will also be entitled to a certain amount of money to cover a rental vehicle for a reasonable amount of time through your own insurance or the other driver’s insurance if they were at fault. If you were at fault for the accident, and you do not have collision coverage, property damage to your car and rental will have to be paid out-of-pocket.
UM benefits come into play if the vehicle that hit you was at fault for the crash, but was uninsured. You may be able to access underinsured benefits if the other driver was at fault for the crash, but did not have enough insurance to reasonably compensate you for your injuries.
What is PIP Coverage in Massachusetts?
Finally, PIP coverage is the no-fault insurance coverage that pays your medical bills, lost wages, and replacement services. In Massachusetts, if you have a deductible on PIP coverage, then you will personally be responsible for the amount of the deductible some of which may be paid through your health insurance. While you may be thinking that your insurance should not be responsible for your medical bills when you are not at fault for the collision, it is important to remember that you are not surcharged for accessing PIP benefits (your premium does not go up!), and your insurance company will typically collect that money back from the at fault driver’s insurance company.
The insurance representative will also go over the details of the accident, any injuries you and your passengers may have sustained, whether you are seeking medical treatment, and whether you will miss any time from work. It is important to tell your insurance representative any and all injuries you are experiencing, no matter how small the injury may seem. The representative will set up a claim for you and provide you with the name of the adjuster handling the claim, as well as a claim number.
Injured drivers often fail to exercise their right not to talk to the insurance company of the other driver. It is likely the other driver’s insurance company will also try to reach out to you for a statement that is often recorded. Remember there is no requirement that you speak to the other insurance company. If you are considering or planning to hire a lawyer, you may want to wait to speak to an attorney before you speak to the insurance company. You can simply say to them something like “I don’t wish to discuss the accident at this time.” They may tell you that they are only trying to expedite your claim (or something like this) – do not believe them. In particular, do not answer any question about whether you have been injured. As the saying goes, anything you say to them can later be used against you. No matter how nice they may seem on the phone, the insurance company is not your friend.
Get Medical Treatment
Injured drivers often fail to get treatment immediately or soon after an accident. Often this is due to not wanting to be a burden, or feeling that their injuries are minor and will quickly heal on their own.
If you require emergency medical treatment go to the hospital immediately. If you do not require immediate care, make an appointment with your primary care physician. It is likely that immediately after the accident, the adrenaline is still running through your body and you may not feel any injuries until later that day, or the next day. As things settle down and your body begins to relax, you may start to feel the aches and pains associated with the collision. It will be important to schedule a visit with your primary care doctor so that you can document your injuries. Additionally, depending on your health insurance, you made need a referral from your doctor in order to get the appropriate medical treatment. If your pain becomes too great, and you cannot wait until the appointment with your doctor, you should go to the emergency room or an urgent care center.
It is also important to remember that some doctors refuse to treat patients who are injured in of a motor vehicle accident, or there is a significant delay before you can get an appointment. If this is the case, you should, again, go to the local emergency room or urgent care. You may also be able to make an appointment with a different medical provider, such as a physiatrist, chiropractor, or physical therapist, who can help you with your injuries. If you postpone treatment, in a later case the other side may claim that you were not really injured from the crash.
Should You Consult With a Lawyer?
You may be wondering if you need a lawyer, or if you can deal with the insurance company on your own. The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you sustained injuries in the motor vehicle accident which will cause you to seek medical treatment. This is because under Massachusetts law, an individual cannot bring a claim against another driver unless they incur over $2,000.00 in medical bills. The only exception to this rule is if the injured party has died, or suffered a broken bone or scarring.
At Alekman DiTusa, we offer a free consultation to those who have been injured in vehicle crashes. Please feel free to contact our office. Once we learn about your case, we can answer your questions and let you know if we can help you obtain compensation for your injuries.