You’ve Had an Accident. Now What?

Before I get into the series on documentation plans, I thought I’d post something totally different that a friend requested I post. I wrote this after dealing with a rather serious auto accident in 1993 that finally got resolved in 1997 and even required me to sue my own insurance company. When I began the process, I didn’t think that that was a good idea, but after I got jerked around egregiously by the company I’d been paying premiums to for a couple decades, my reluctance evaporated like spit on a hot griddle.


Someone pulled out from a stop sign too early and broadsided you at 30mph. You’re definitely banged up. What do you do now? This article will describe what you should do from the minute the accident occurs to make your life easier and to minimize problems getting suitable compensation from the insurance company.

  • Call the police and don’t move.
    Get the police there as soon as possible. Don’t depend on others to call them. If you’re injured or trapped, say so and request immediate medical attention. Until the police or emergency services arrives, don’t get out of the car unless your car is on fire or likely to be hit again, even if you don’t think you were injured! If you’re suffered a serious trauma, you can compound the injury (sometimes fatally!) by moving around without a cervical collar or back support. Furthermore, getting out of the car may actually increase your chances of getting hit by a passing car.
  • Be careful about saying too much.
    You’re required to speak to the officer at the scene if s/he asks you about the accident. Before you say anything, breathe deeply and think. Describe the accident as completely as you can. If you’re simply too rattled to give a description, say so. Request a copy of your statement. Get the officer’s name and badge number for your records. You’re not required to speak to anyone else. Don’t.
  • Write down what happened as soon as you can.
    As soon as you can, write down your complete recollection of the incidents occurring before, during, and after the accident. Describe everything you can remember, no matter how trivial: your physical feelings, weather, road conditions, traffic, behavior of other people… everything. Save a copy for your records. If your insurance claim goes to arbitration or trial, read this statement whenever you’re asked, “What happened?”
  • Get checked over completely.
    You may not need to go to the ER, but you should get checked out ASAP to document your condition. Be sure to mention every single pain, bruise, and feeling and verify that the doctor has written this down in your exam record. (ER docs don’t always make a note of conditions such as deep bruises if there’s no apparent trauma, but that doesn’t mean that these conditions aren’t real.) If you’re seeing a chiropractor or osteopath, get a full range-of-motion exam done within a couple of days, too.
  • Start a day log.
    The pain you may be in immediately after an accident is as nothing compared to the pain you’re going to be in two days later. To accurately document a claim for pain, suffering, and lost productivity, you need to keep a careful record of how you feel each and every day and what effect it’s having on you. Include any changes in your senses (particularly vision and smell), appetite, sex drive, memory, sleep patterns and dreams, or your ability to focus and work. You may make several entries a day for the first few weeks. Also be sure to record your emotions: depression, anger, and confusion are typical even several months later.
  • Don’t trust the other person’s insurance company.
    Regardless of whether you’re at fault or the victim, count on the other insurance company to circle their wagons. Give them the minimum necessary information; don’t admit or sign anything.
  • Don’t completely trust your insurance company, either.
    Your agent may be a great guy, but your insurance company is not likely to be on your side for a claim for productivity loss or pain and suffering (there are wonderful exceptions to this). While you should work with your insurance company, be aware that your and their interests may diverge, particularly if they’re going to be called on to use your underinsured motorist coverage. Remember that the first layer of insurance adjusters is often there to wear you down. If you are getting a lot of resistance, be sure to ask the question “Do you have the power to say ‘yes’ to what I’m asking you?” If the answer is “no” (usually), shift the focus of your argument to “Well, I’m wasting my time dealing with you. Who has the power to say ‘yes’?” You’ll at least be talking to the right person.
  • Consider hiring a lawyer, but don’t get one “just because.”
    Whenever you can settle something amicably without a lawyer, the world is a better place. But if the insurance companies are being difficult, you will need to get a good lawyer and have them go to bat for you. It’s always prudent to talk to a lawyer early on to find out the possible advantages of having representation, but remember that not all accident cases should be litigated. (And if you do get a lawyer, follow their advice.)
  • Don’t settle your claim too early.
    You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true. Many deep tissue traumas don’t manifest until 6-12 months after the accident. If you settle too early and then have the onset of significant accident-related pain a few months later, you have little recourse for obtaining additional coverage.
  • Be reasonable.
    Nobody ever gets everything they deserve or want in the way of a settlement. Even with a good lawyer and a large insurance policy, you’ll only get a percentage of what you can claim for damages. Be prepared to compromise. If the insurance company makes you a settlement offer, discuss it with your lawyer and then sleep on it. If you can live with the offer and your lawyer recommends it, consider accepting it. Once the case is settled, you can move on with your life, which is the most important thing of all.

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