After a car accident, the success of any car insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit will hinge mostly on your ability to prevail on two key issues: fault for the car accident and the nature and extent of your losses (damages). The best way to strengthen your position on these issues is to have documentation that supports every assertion you make.
During car accident settlement negotiations, or in a demand letter, it's one thing to say, "I've received medical treatment that has cost me thousands of dollars." But the other side won't have much room to argue when they're staring at a chronological file that includes copies of all medical records that detail the treatment you've received since the accident, and billing information showing the charges for that treatment.
The lesson here is, for every aspect of damage you're claiming to have incurred because of the car accident -- whether it's physical injuries, vehicle damage, lost income due to time missed at work, or anything else -- you need to come to the negotiating table with proof. The same goes for proving fault for the crash.
Very often, documents and records serve as the best kind of proof. This checklist identifies some of the key records you should track down after a car accident.
If a police officer came to the scene of your accident, he or she most likely prepared a police report (sometimes called an "incident report" or "accident report") either on-scene or shortly afterward. This report likely includes information that will become crucial in any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit -- including determinations as to whether any traffic laws were violated, statements (from drivers, passengers, and witnesses) as to the circumstances and potential causes of the accident, and observations made by the responding officer. (Learn more about police reports and car accidents.)
To get a copy of the police report related to your car accident, you'll need to contact the law enforcement agency that came to the scene, and give them the following information:
If you were hurt in the crash, or just got checked out for precautionary reasons, make sure you get copies of all medical records and billing information related to your treatment.
You should have records of any treatment related to your car accident injuries, from any provider you saw, and covering every phase of your health care -- including treatment received, diagnoses made, treatments recommended, medications prescribed, and any other opinions and conclusions offered by a health care provider.
For larger hospitals and healthcare providers, you may need to call the records/billing department, and it might take a few days or weeks for your request to be processed.
Depending on the severity of your injuries and the details of your treatment, you may need to locate and request medical records for:
If you missed any time at work due to your car accident, you will likely be able to recover any corresponding lost income, but you'll need to show detailed proof of your claimed losses.
You can do this by locating paycheck stubs, direct deposit records, tip records, and any other financial documents that show the exact (or close to the exact) amount of income you missed out on because of time missed at work due to the accident.
If your vehicle was damaged in the accident, as part of any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit, you're probably entitled to have any necessary repairs paid for. But in order to figure out how much to ask for, you'll need to know how much repairs will cost, and in some cases, the actual cash value of your car just before the accident happened.
Depending on the fine print in your car insurance policy, you may need to let the insurance company handle the damage estimate side of things. But in some cases it may be possible to get two or three different vehicle repair estimates from auto mechanics and auto body shops. As for valuation of your vehicle, start with a reputable resource such as Kelley Blue Book.
While not technically a record to gather, another form of documentary evidence that will come in handy in your car accident case is a diary or journal in which you write down all relevant information related to your accident and your injuries, with a detailed focus on ways in which the accident is impacting your day-to-day life. Keeping this kind of chronological record is one of the best ways to make sure you don't forget important details and miss a chance to strengthen your position. (Learn more about keeping a car accident diary to protect your claim.)