If you have been involved in a car accident, you may be wondering how to best proceed with settling a vehicle damage or injury claim against the other driver, so you can put the accident behind you and get on with your life. In this article, we'll offer some tips on the best strategy for setting a car accident claim.
First Things First
Even though the other driver may have caused the accident, you usually will not be dealing directly with the other driver in attempting to settle your claim for damages. Typically you will work directly with the other driver’s insurance company.
Because of this, it is important to gather certain information while you’re still at the scene of the accident, including the name and contact information for the following:
- the other driver
- the other driver’s insurance company
- any witnesses to the accident, and
- any law enforcement officers the come to the scene.
It is also a good idea to take photographs while you are still at the accident scene. Most of us carry cell phones, and most of those cell phones have camera capabilities. While you are at the accident scene, take pictures of the following:
- the locations of the vehicles
- areas of physical damage on each vehicle, and
- the license plates of each vehicle.
The best way to successfully pursue and settle a claim with the other driver or their insurance company is to understand that the insurance company will require a lot of information from you.
The other thing to remember is that the insurance company is NOT on your side. The insurance company is in business to make money, and it makes money when it pays out less money to you on a claim than it otherwise has to. The insurance company tries to accomplish this by arguing (1) the accident was completely or partially your fault, and so you should only be paid a reduced amount on your claim, and (2) you haven’t provided sufficient documentation to support your claims of loss. Sometimes it may argue both points with you.
You may find this process frustrating, and even exasperating. However, the more information and documentation you provide to the insurance company, the more likely you are to receive fair compensation from the insurance company for all of your damages. Remember, the insurance company is not required to reach a settlement agreement with you. The insurance company may say at some point, “This is the best offer we’re going to make – if you want more money, then file a lawsuit.” (More: When Injury Settlement Talks Fail.)
What Types of Damages Can I Collect?
If you are making a claim for property damage only, some of the different types of damages you may be entitled to collect are:
- vehicle damage
- personal property damage -- compensation for items such as a computer that may have been in the car, or a bike on a carrier, if those were damaged in the accident
- car rental -- most insurance companies will reimburse you for a rental car that you needed while your vehicle was being repaired, and
- out-of-pocket expenses -- for example, if you had to hire a taxi to get home from the accident scene or police station.
The insurance company will extend a settlement offer to you based only on the information and documentation you provide. If you haven’t provided proof of an out-of-pocket expense, for example, then the insurance company will take the position (understandably so) that you’re not entitled to be compensated for that part of your loss.
The insurance company will enter a settlement agreement only if it’s the company’s best interests to do so. However, on the whole, the insurance company knows that settling a claim is in its best interests. Litigation is expensive, and the insurance company knows it is more efficient and less expensive to pay fair compensation to you for your loss rather than pay attorney fees to lawyers to fight against you, especially when the outcome of a trial would be unpredictable.
What If I Am Injured?
Sometimes your car accident may be much more serious than just an ordinary “fender bender.” If you suffer injuries in a car accident, the legal issues involved become much more complicated. In addition to those items of damages listed above, you may be entitled to reimbursement of medical expenses or lost wages. You may also claim compensation for your mental and physical pain and suffering stemming from the accident.
Even if you feel comfortable negotiating a settlement for property damage to your vehicle, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your state if you have been injured in a car accident. This is because of the unique circumstances presented by bodily injuries and medical expenses.
For example, you might have been treated and released from the hospital emergency room. The other driver’s insurance company may want you to agree to a quick settlement for the medical expenses you incurred up to that point. However, from a medical standpoint, you may not be fully aware of the extent of your injuries. Sometimes the symptoms of injuries don’t appear until weeks, even months, after a car accident. If you enter into a quick settlement with the insurance company, and then find out that you need more medical treatment for your injuries, you cannot go back to the insurance company and ask for additional compensation.
Learn more about Steps to Resolving Your Injury Claim.