Each year there are over 6 million motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Every day we get into our cars we face the risk of being involved in an accident. Everyone knows someone who has been involved in an accident, whether it be through the fault of someone else, or one's own negligence. There is no question that being involved in an auto accident can be a major inconvenience, an aggravation, and can cause great disruption to one's activities. No matter who is at fault, there are certain actions one can take which may help alleviate the problems associated with an accident.
The very first thing one should try to do following an accident is stay calm. Access the situation as quickly as possible. Is anyone injured? Do the vehicles need to be moved to a safer location? Is there a threat of further incident? Once you have been able to make your assessment, you will be in a better position to know what to do next.
Obviously, if there are injuries involved, help should be called immediately. If someone appears to be seriously hurt and can remain where they are, do not move them. Wait for the proper police and medical personnel to arrive at the scene.
If there are no injuries, the police should still be called so that an official police report can be prepared. Sometimes, the police will inform the parties that a report should be filled out at the police station as opposed to the accident scene. Under such circumstances it is advisable to keep a disposable camera in your vehicle so pictures can be taken to assist in documenting the accident scene. Regardless of whether it is at the scene or at the police station, one should always have a police report prepared. In order to make sure the police report is complete, always obtain the following information at the accident scene:
1. Names, addresses and phone numbers of those persons involved in the accident;
2. Driver's license and license plate numbers;
3. Insurance information;
4. Date, time and location of the accident;
5. Extent of physical damage to vehicles; and
6. Names and addresses of any witnesses.
Once all necessary information has been exchanged and the accident scene has been cleared, you should report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible. Most insurance policies indicate that an insured must cooperate with their insurance company's investigation of the accident. Assuming all those involved in the accident have applicable insurance coverage and the insurance companies are appropriately notified, each company will open a claim file.
If the auto accident in question was caused by another driver, you may very well have a legal claim against the other driver and his or her insurance company for any physical injuries and/or any property damage caused by the accident. Should such claims exit, it is important you put the driver at fault and his or her insurance company on notice as soon as possible. Once the proper insurance company is put on notice, a claims adjuster will be assigned to the case, and will most likely attempt to contact you and attempt to take a recorded statement concerning the accident and injuries. Be advised that a person is not obligated to give a recorded statement, and in most cases should be advised not to give a recorded statement to the insurance adjuster, other than perhaps stating the undisputed facts of how the accident occurred. Certainly, one should not discuss injuries with the claims adjuster, as it would be too premature to know the seriousness of the injuries, and the type of care and treatment that may be required.
Often times, the safest thing to do is contact your attorney and allow the attorney to handle the claim. Your attorney will know how to deal with the insurance company, and it will be one less aggravation you will have to deal with. Furthermore, your attorney will be able to gather all relevant information including: medical records, medical bills, loss wage statements and other pertinent information to put together a settlement package to forward to the claims adjuster. Finally, your attorney will be able to participate in meaningful negotiations with the claims adjuster in an effort to reach a fair and amicable settlement to your claim. If the claim cannot be settled, your attorney will be in a position to properly file suit against the wrongdoer and advocate on your behalf in the court system. Be advised that statistically, claimants who are represented by attorneys are paid significantly more that those who go unrepresented in resolution to claims with insurance companies. Should you choose not to have a lawyer be weary of insurance adjusters seeking a quick settlement in exchange for a signed release.
What happens if the person who caused the accident and caused your injuries and damages has no applicable automobile insurance or does not have enough insurance? Be advised that you still may be able to recover for your damages. Such recovery will come from your own personal uninsured/underinsured automobile insurance policy. Such a policy covers you for injuries caused by and uninsured and/or underinsured driver. What steps need to be taken to file this particular claim on your behalf? Once again, the first step is to promptly notify your insurance company of the accident and that fact that the person who caused the accident may not have applicable insurance. Should your insurance company request a recorded statement from you, most likely you will have to comply, as you have a duty to assist with the investigation under the terms of your uninsured/underinsured policy. Depending on what your uninsured/underinsured policy states, you may be compensated for your injuries and damages. Once again contacting your attorney may be the best way to handle this type of claim, for the same reasons as those mentioned above.
Finally, recent changes in Ohio law and laws in other states may provide additional insurance coverage where inadequate insurance coverage exists to compensate injured parties. Your lawyer would best be able to address what other insurance coverage may be available to you.
No matter how careful we think we are being when we are driving, we are always at risk of being involved in an motor vehicle accident. Knowing what to do when involved in an accident can make the experience a little bit less aggravating. If you are ever in doubt about your rights and obligations after being involved in an accident, always consult with an attorney.