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Tips & Advice

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What to Do When You Have an Automobile Accident

The moments after an automobile accident can be confusing, but being prepared can help you remain calm. It’s important to know what to do immediately after an accident and what to do in the days following the accident.

Immediately after an accident

  • Don’t Panic
  • Pull off the road if the accident is minor. If the accident is serious or if there are injuries, don’t move the vehicles. In addition, don’t move the vehicles if you believe there will be a dispute as to fault. NOTE: If you have reason to believe the accident as staged by a carjacker, drive away to a safe or public location, signaling to the other driver that you are doing so. Don’t get out of your vehicle if you fear threatened.
  • Take any necessary safety precautions. Set up flares or warning triangles starting 50 feet behind the vehicle. Turn on your flashers. If possible, direct traffic away from the scene.
  • Don’t get into an altercation with the other driver, no matter how certain you are he or she was at fault.

Gathering information

  • Exchange key information with the other driver, including name, automobile owner’s name, insurance company, insurance policy number, and driver’s license number. If you are hesitant about safety, don’t give your address or phone number to anyone but the police.
  • Write down the license plate number and state of any other vehicles involved in the accident. You’ll also want a description of the car, including color, make and model. Note current condition of the car and whether it has damage unrelated to this accident.
  • If passengers or other individuals were involved, get their names and find out how to contact them.
  • If possible, get the name, address, and/or phone number of witnesses to the accident. Get the name of the police officer responding, as well.

Legal concerns

  • Call the police right away and ask for medical assistance if necessary. Police should always be called to the scene of a serious accident, and also to minor ones if property damage is significant or if a traffic violation is involved (e.g. running a stop sign). Call the police right away if you believe the other driver is intoxicated.
  • Don’t leave the scene until the police arrive.
  • Don’t discuss the accident at the scene with anyone except the police, not even the other driver. In addition, don’t admit responsibility for the accident because there may be legal repercussions. Just discuss the facts.
  • Immediately write down your recollection of the accident, noting time, weather conditions, road conditions, positions of vehicles, etc.
  • Don’t take any money for settlement of a claim at the accident scene. Later, if you don’t want to involve your insurance company, you can always negotiate a settlement with the individual. If you do so, have him or her sign a letter releasing you from further liability.

Insurance obligations

  • Call your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Your policy probably includes a clause stating that your insurance company should be promptly notified. Your state may have a law that limits the amount of time you have to notify your insurance company.
  • If you have a car loan, notify the lienholder. If your vehicle is declared a total loss, you should notify the lender because it’s likely that the insurance company will issue a check to the lienholder, not to you. Sometimes, the amount of the settlement may not be enough to pay off the balance of your loan. In this case, you’ll have to make arrangements with the lender to pay the difference. Remember, too, that you need to continue making your car loan payments while your claim is being settled.
  • Some states have laws requiring that individuals who have been involved in an accident involving injury or property damages report it to the DMV. Check with the police, the DMV, or your insurance company to find out if your state has such a requirement.

How do you file an automobile insurance claim?

When you call your insurance company, you will be asked for specific information regarding the accident. The more information you have collected at the scene, the faster your claim will likely be processed, and the better your insurance company can judge how to proceed. You will likely receive forms in the mail that you have to sign, and you may have to document your claim with other paperwork, such as medical bills and a copy of the police report (although your insurance company may request this directly from the police).

Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to your case who will be in charge of investigating and recommending settlement of your claim. An appraiser will likely look at and photograph the damage to your car, and you may have to contact a repair shop to get a written estimate (sometimes the adjuster does this). You may receive money right away (after satisfying your deductible), or the claim may be held up, depending on how complicated the situation is.

NOTE: If you feel that the settlement offered is too low, you can appeal it to the insurance company. You’ll have to support your case, but you may be able to get a larger settlement.

Minor accidents:

If the amount of your loss is less than your deductible, should you report the accident?

Having even a minor accident can potentially make your insurance premiums rise. However, consider also the consequences of not reporting the accident. If you are involved in an accident with another driver and you don’t report it, the other driver may still report it to the police or his or her insurance company and you may be held liable. An unscrupulous driver might even claim that you left the scene of the accident. Since you didn’t report it, he or she might be able to make a case.