Do Not Sign A Release Without Understanding Its Contents
When should I notify the insurance company about the accident?
Immediately after an accident, you should notify your insurance company about the accident. Even if you are not injured, it will be important to document any property damage to your vehicle. If you are injured, it is important to notify both your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company as soon as possible.
In many cases, an adjuster for the other insurance company will contact you before you are able to report the accident. At this point, the correct step is to confirm the accident and your injuries without discounting them in any way and obtain the information. I would recommend speaking with a car accident attorney before making any further statements. An experienced advocate will then be able to make a claim on your behalf thereby protecting your rights.
Who pays for the property damage to my vehicle?
The usual process begins with both the other driver’s and your insurance company inspecting the vehicle or having it reviewed at a licensed repair shop. If the other driver’s insurance company is accepting fault for the accident, they will pay to have the damage repaired. In some cases, it is easier and quicker to have your insurance company pay for the damage to your car except that you will be charged a deductible that will be returned to you when your insurance company submits a claim to the other driver. When a car is a total loss, its value is determined by a number of factors, including comparable prices on similar vehicles.
If you lost personal property in the accident, you should make a claim for this loss as well. Property damage claims are separate from the personal injury claims; however, you should be cautious if you are asked to sign a release concerning any property damage.
What kind of evidence should I keep?
If you are injured in an accident, your attention is often directed at your medical care and treatment. However, important evidence is often developed in the days and weeks following an accident. Before the vehicles are repaired, it is important to take pictures of the vehicles involved or the intersection where the collision took place and any injuries that may heal with time. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal of the days of work missed or doctor appointments. You should keep this information and any statements from the other driver together. Mike Sudekum provides his clients with a folder to retain this information for their personal file.
Should I speak with the insurance company representative/adjuster?
Despite the pressure that may be implied in the conversation, there is no legal requirement that forces you to speak with the representative/adjuster from the other driver’s insurance company, including the right to not give a recorded statement. On the other hand, you should and in fact are required by the policy to cooperate with your own insurance company following an accident.
If you are injured, you may want to consult with an attorney before making recorded statements with your insurance company because in the event that the other driver did not have insurance, your claim will be made against your insurance company. Regardless of whether you make a recorded statement to the other insurance company, the adjuster will investigate the accident and attempt to minimize the exposure for damages.
What kind of papers do I have to sign?
Once the insurance company learns that you are injured, the adjuster will attempt to have you sign medical authorizations as part of the normal procedure. These forms are often overly broad and allow insurance companies to obtain medical information that is unrelated to your accident. The adjuster will then use this information to limit your claim. If you are asked to sign these forms, it is time to speak with a car accident attorney.
Should I hire an attorney?
The best way to answer this question is to consider the players in the game. The insurance company has experience representatives evaluating your injuries and setting the value of your case (in many cases through data entered into a database). You – hopefully – have experienced a significant car accident that resulted in medical treatment and personal injuries. You are unfamiliar with the law and the range of compensation that you should receive.
An experienced personal injury attorney navigates the system for you. S/he will know the “tricks of the trade.” A lawyer will be able to ascertain if the adjuster is making a fair offer or is placing undue value on circumstances that should not impact the value of your case. This value comes from an understanding of similar verdicts, settlements and other factors, such as your treatment, time missed from work and property damage. The other risk is whether you should sign a release at that time. An attorney will be able to explain the specific provisions of a release to you. Of course, the decision is yours.