UPDATED: Oct 23, 2019
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No one wants to be in a car accident of any kind, but some situations are arguably worse than others. In an ideal situation, a car accident leads to no injuries and no lawsuits, and only minor property damage, and can be easily resolved through insurance companies. But that situation, while it is the norm, is not the only situation that can occur. If you ever find yourself in one of these nightmare scenarios, here are a few pieces of advice:
What to do in a Serious-Injury Auto Accident
It’s been a long day, you’re driving down the freeway after dinner with some friends, finally headed home. Your eyes and body ache with exhaustion, you’re having a little trouble staying in your lane, and all of a sudden, the sound of a car horn is muffled by the sounds of screeching tires and an impact that sends you grasping for control of your vehicle. Seconds later, another deafening, powerful crash sounds as you come to a stop on the shoulder. You see a horrific scene in your rearview mirror: the car you thought you only tapped has spun out of control and turned upside down in the grass median. A few other drivers have stopped and run over to the vehicle, trying to help, but emergency vehicles aren’t there yet. In this moment, within all of the panic and worry and confusion and chaos, you know your life will never be the same.
This situation is terrifying. A nightmare, even. While you can hope it never happens to you, and do your best to prevent it, there are some things you can keep in mind if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
- Remove your vehicle from the traffic lanes if you can. If you can’t, put your hazard lights on as a signal to other drivers.
- Call 911. Never other witnesses or drivers have already called , so be sure to call. Law enforcement and medical personnel should arrive soon.
- Check yourself for any injuries. If you can safely get out of your vehicle, do so.
- Provide assistance if you can. Be careful not to move anyone who is injured unless their life is in immediate danger, as you m ay only worsen their injuries or cause permanent damage. Furthermore, providing improper medical assistance can lead to serious lawsuits after the fact.
- Jot down your recollection of the events leading up to and including the accident. This is a story you can expect to tell many times.
- Gather any witnesses you can find and get their contact information, including name, address, phone number, email, and driver’s license number.
- When medical personnel arrive, stay out of the way and let them do their jobs.
- When law enforcement personnel arrive, tell them the truth. They will likely keep you on the scene for an extended period of time while the accident clears.
- Call your insurance company and begin the claims process.
- If the accident was caused by an outside factor such as poor road conditions, a hit-and-run driver, or if you believe the other driver was at fault, contact an attorney who specializes in car accidents. If you were at fault for the accident and have liability insurance coverage, your insurer has a duty to provide and pay for an attorney to defend you in the event the victims of the accident file a lawsuit against you. You can expect that you, your insurance company, and your attorney will be contacted by representatives from the victim’s insurance company, and perhaps by attorneys filing a criminal lawsuit against you for negligence, wrongful death, or a handful of other potential charges.
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What to do if You Suspect You’ve Involved in an Accident Scam
You fall victim to an accident scam. You’re driving along, minding your own business, not talking on the phone and definitely not singing too crazily to your new favorite song. Basically, you’re doing everything right. Then out of nowhere, a car cuts in front of you and slams on its brakes. Simultaneously, another car pulls up next to you, rendering you unable to swerve. You slam into the car in front of you and are now at fault in an accident, the unsuspecting victim of a pair of scammers.
- If you can safely move your vehicle from the roadway, do so. If not, put on your hazard lights as a signal to other drivers.
- Jot down the license plate and vehicle information of the vehicle you hit, as well as that of the other vehicle, if you can.
- Call 911 and ask for law enforcement officials to arrive on scene.
- The driver of the other vehicle may appear to be angry or physically injured. Stay calm and exchange insurance and personal information, such as address, phone number, and driver’s license number, with him or her. Do not give out personal financial or social security information.
- Using a camera or camera phone, take photos of the damage. Be sure to also get photos of the other driver or drivers and passengers involved. Take notes on their physical characteristics.
- When law enforcement officials arrive, tell them what happened and explain your suspicions. You may initially be ticketed for the accident, but this can be rectified later.
- Once you have left the scene, call your insurance company. Tell them what happened, and explain that you believe you were the victim of a scam. They can advise you about what your next steps should be.
You’re Involved in an Accident with an Underinsured or Uninsured Motorist
You’re injured in an accident and the other driver’s insurance can’t adequately cover your damages. Let’s say a driver hits you, and you have $35,000 in medical bills and are demanding $10,000 for a pain and suffering settlement, giving you a $45,000 claim. If the other driver has $25,000 as a policy limit for physical injury liability, you’ll only be able to collect $25,000 from their insurer before you have to sue the driver for their assets, which most attorneys are reluctant to do. Do you walk away with the $25,000, hoping to reduce your medical bills or to negotiate use of another form of insurance? Do you try to get an attorney to sue for the other driver’s assets? Neither, actually, but you will need an attorney to navigate this complicated situation.
- Use your own Personal Injury Protection coverage to pay for all medical bills up front.
- Tell your insurer that they have to wait their turn to go pursue any reimbursement from the other driver’s $25,000 policy, then sue the driver for the $10,000 pain and suffering settlement.
- After you get your $10,000 settlement, the other driver’s insurer will have $15,000 left over to hand out from their $25,000 on the liability policy, and your insurer can go get $15,000 as reimbursement for their $35,000 in medical bills they paid.
In this case, you get your medical bills paid, you get a $10,000 settlement, the other guy’s insurance pays out their full $25,000 in limits, and your insurer is stuck with $20,000 in expenses they can’t recover, unless they go sue the driver for his house and assets, which usually doesn’t happen. Your insurer won’t be happy, but it’s not your fault, and they can’t demand reimbursement from you. This is the risk they take in providing insurance, and they calculate their risk into the premium cost up front, so don’t worry about your insurer’s pocketbook. In most states, the customer has the right to seek their pain and suffering settlement before the insurer gets reimbursed to medical bills. If this situation is navigated correctly, it can be a huge benefit to you by using your own insurance to pay for accidents in which you were not at fault.