Getting into a vehicle collision is never a great experience, let’s be honest. However, if you get injured and then fail to take all the appropriate steps, it can be a downright disaster.
I work as a case manager in a personal injury law firm, and everyday I deal with clients who make life a lot harder on themselves, and me, by not taking the rights steps. Of course, this is largely understandable, most people never expect to get in an accident and the world of insurance can be a jungle; it is their job to pay out as little money as possible despite their grandiose claims of “being on your side” and being “like a good neighbor”. Believe me, they are not your friends.
Here are a few steps to help you prepare for the worse:
- Don’t get in an accident. It sounds glib, but most accidents can be avoided. Don’t talk on your cell phone while you drive, leave a safe distance between yourself and the car in front of you, look left and right after your light turns green and make sure nobody is about to run that red light that you naturally assume they can see. Look after number one and assume that most other drivers suck. And wear your seatbelt.
- Make sure when you insure your car that you have both PIP (personal injury and property) and UIM/UM (under insured motorist/uninsured motorist). I have far too many clients who thought signing the PIP waiver and saving $10 a month was a great idea. They don’t now; nobody is paying their medical expenses and their bills are in collection. PIP pays dollar for dollar and there is no co-pay. If you can afford it, get a little extra PIP. $10,000 is good, but with a $7,000 Emergency room bill and a month of chiropractic care that can get eaten up very quickly. And make sure you pay your bills on time. I also have clients who had PIP, missed a payment and let their insurance expire and three days later got in an accident. Insurance companies rarely let that slide and cover you anyway.
- If you do unfortunately get in an accident, become documentation Nazi. Make sure the police come. Gather any witnesses’ names and phone numbers you can. Take photos of everything, your injuries, your car, their car, the location, everything. Get everyone’s insurance details. Report the accident to both your insurance and the at fault parties insurance as soon as possible. If you go to the ER, get your records. If you get any medical treatment, make sure to mention that your injuries were sustained in a motor vehicle accident so that your provider puts it in their notes. Tell the provider every little thing that hurts. For heaven’s sake, keep track of your bills and make sure your insurance company has copies of everything. Keep an “injury diary”. Detail what hurts, when and what triggers it. Record every doctors appointment, and if you have to travel to get there, keep track of your mileage. Also keep track of any time off work you were forced to take both for the injury and to attend medical appointments.
- If you feel your injuries are bad, get yourself a personal injury attorney. Statistics show people with an attorney get 2-3 times better settlements than those without. Insurance companies are cheap, can be bullies and frankly are not very much fun to deal with. An attorney can’t be bullied, they know all the tricks. Once you have retained an attorney, you no longer need to even talk to your insurance company, most attorneys will even help you deal with your property damage for free, as well as handling your personal injury claim. This takes a lot of the stress out of it for you. Do everything your attorney tells you to do, believe me, we know the game. Also, continue to do everything listed in section 3.
- If you chose to go it alone without an attorney never, I repeat never, accept the insurance company’s first offer. Don’t believe anything about only having a short time to settle or they only have so much money for this accident. It’s all lies. Most states have either a 2 or 3 year statute of limitations (SOL) on motor vehicle injuries. Keep all of your documentation listing in section 3, then come up with a settlement figure that you believe is appropriate (we like to go with 2-3 times a client’s medical expenses). Submit all your paperwork with a letter explaining your pain and suffering, physical limitations and the way your injuries have affected your life, i.e. you can’t play golf, cast a line or hang glide anymore. On that note, it’s a good idea to turn all of your social media sites to private. Insurance adjusters will go poking around and if they see photos of you on Facebook break dancing on the weekend, you can kiss a good settlement on your back injury claim goodbye.
Call any attorney offering a free consultation. You don’t have to sign, the first appointment is free and most will offer you good advice for handling your own case and let you know what your state’s SOL is. If you have received an offer from an insurance company, many will evaluate it for you and if they think they can beat it by a substantial amount, they may be willing to sign you up on an existing offer contract, meaning they will only take their percentage from whatever amount they can get you above your current offer.
As said, the best bet is to just not get in an accident. However, if you do, following the above steps, with or without an attorney, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of coming out the other side in good shape.