If you’ve been hurt in an automobile accident, you will need an experienced automobile accident attorney who understands the aggravations and challenges you are facing, and who will work to minimize your frustrations while maximizing your chances for a favorable settlement.
To assist you with answers to general questions you may have about your auto accident, we created this guide to help you through the claims process. Below are links to questions that will provide you with answers and guidance.
If you’ve been injured in automobile accident, consider having Terrell • Hogan represent you. Our experienced attorneys and staff have considerable resources to investigate your claim and vigorously pursue justice on your behalf to achieve the best result possible, including going to trial if necessary
To help you if are involved in an accident, we created the following “What To Do After an Auto Accident” to print and keep in your glovebox.
Common Questions After an Auto Accident
What Should I Do First?
Top Priority: Seek Medical Help After an Automobile Accident
After an automobile accident, the first thing we recommend you do is seek medical help if you or your passengers are injured. If the injuries are serious you may go to or be transported to an emergency room. If it’s not necessary for you to go immediately to an emergency room, it’s important that you be seen by a medical facility, or even your primary care doctor. You must be seen by a medical doctor or hospital within the 14 days of the accident to document your injuries. It must be a medical doctor and not a chiropractor. Failure to do so could result in a drastic reduction in medical benefits available under your automobile insurance policy.
What’s the Next Step After Medical Care?
Contact Your Insurance Company After an Auto Accident
After attending to you or your passengers’ injuries, contact your automobile insurance company and inform it about the accident. The contact number should be on your insurance card, or you may have an APP on your telephone. You will be given a claim number, which you will use for your medical treatment, and possibly your property damage.
Be sure to take photographs of the damage to your automobile, and the other automobile(s) involved, including pictures of license plates, and any damage to private property such as fences, utility poles, etc. You will want to get photos of the entire accident scene and close-up shots of vehicle damage, vehicle interiors, skid marks and debris. Some automobile insurance companies have telephone APP’s for this purpose.
If you were not transported to the hospital from the scene of the accident, the traffic accident investigating officer should provide you with a one page accident report. This will have the names of the parties and owners of the vehicles involved and will also have a Traffic Accident Crash Report Number. The full traffic accident report should be available 7 to 10 days after the accident, which will include who is the at-fault driver, witnesses, citations, and other relevant accident information. Most police departments provide an online website service to obtain a copy of the accident report, but you will have to pay for it. However, if you retain an attorney, he or she will obtain it for you.
Should I provide a Recorded Statement?
Auto Accidents: Avoid Recorded Statements if Possible
You should not provide a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If a recorded statement is requested, you should decline. If you have already retained an attorney, provide your attorney’s name and contact information.
You may tell the insurance representative that you will be glad to discuss the property damage, but you are not willing to provide a recorded statement.
If your insurance company requests a recorded statement, the best course is to seek the advice of legal counsel before doing so. However, it is important that you quickly address this as some insurance companies may refuse to provide coverage for refusal to cooperate.
If you have already provided a recorded statement, inform your attorney that you have done so.
How do I get my Automobile Damage Repaired?
After addressing personal injuries, getting your automobile repaired is one of the main issues accident victims are concerned about. Our automobiles are vital to meet our daily needs for work, school, and personal enjoyment. Repairs to your vehicle are made through a property damage claim.
Property damage and personal injury claims are two separate claims. You may resolve your property damage claim without the benefit of a lawyer and it will not affect the settlement of any future personal injury claims.
There are two ways to handle your property damage claim:
(1) You may use the at-fault driver’s auto property damage insurance or your own auto property damage insurance. If the other driver was the at-fault driver, the most common way is to make a property damage claim through the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If you have been provided a copy of the accident report, the at-fault driver’s insurance company and policy number should be listed. You may locate the claims insurance telephone number on the internet by typing in the name of the insurance company and property damage claims.
(2) You may use your own automobile property damage insurance coverage. If you use your own automobile property damage insurance, there may be a deductible that you will have to pay. If you do so, you may submit a claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company for the deductible amount you paid.
Should the at-fault driver’s insurance company request you sign a release for the property damage claim, make sure the release does not say it is a general release or does not contain a provision releasing any and all claims. Most insurance companies do not require a written release for property damage claims.
Who Repairs My Automobile?
You have several options to repair your automobile after an accident. If your automobile property damage is assessed by the at-fault driver’s insurance company, you may be directed to take your vehicle to an automobile body repair shop of the insurance company’s choosing, or you may be asked to find your own repair shop and submit the repair estimate.
You do not have to use the repair facility the at-fault driver’s insurance company recommends. If you find your own repair facility, consider getting at least two repair estimates. If both repair estimates are similar, the insurance company is less likely to dispute the estimate.
If you take your automobile to a repair facility of the insurance company’s choosing, your automobile will be repaired and the insurance company will directly pay the repair facility.
You may use your insurance company to repair your vehicle. But, why would you do so?
We recommend using your own insurance coverage if the at-fault driver’s insurance company is not cooperating in promptly repairing your automobile. This may occur if it is disputing coverage for the accident.
It is also possible that the at-fault driver had no insurance coverage. In this instance, you will need to use your own automobile insurance coverage.
If you use your own insurance coverage, there is often a deductible that may range from $100 to a $1,000.
If you choose to use your own automobile insurance coverage even though the at-fault driver has property damage coverage, you may still be able to recover the deductible portion from the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage.
Should I get After Market or Original Manufacture Parts?
Whomever repairs the property damage to your automobile, it is important to know that repair facilities may be instructed to use “after-market” parts to repair your automobile. Most insurance companies will allow you to insist that Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts be used. However, if you do not tell them to use OEM parts, they will likely use after-market part, which are less costly.
What Happens if More Damage is Discovered After my Vehicle is Repaired?
After an auto accident repairs are done, you have the right to re-open your claim if hidden damage is discovered. Insurance companies may resist re-opening your claim, but if you provide a repair estimate from a certified or reliable repair facility, in most instances the insurance company will pay the additional repair bill for the hidden damage. The longer you wait to discover any hidden damage, the less likely the insurance company will agree to pay for any hidden damage.
What if my Automobile is Totaled?
Insurance companies will generally consider an automobile totaled if the repair estimate exceeds 70% of its “fair market value.” For example, if your automobile’s fair market value is $10,000 and repair costs are estimated at $7,500, the insurance company will total your vehicle and pay you the fair market value.
How is “Fair Market Value” determined?
Insurance companies use industry automobile valuation guide booklets in determining the fair market value of your automobile such as “Blue Book.” The fair market value is based upon the age, overall condition of the vehicle, mileage, general overall condition, maintenance records, and accident history.
Improvements Add Value
There are other factors which may increase the value of your automobile that the insurance companies will not voluntarily tell you. If you have made improvements to your automobile such as a new paint job, new engine or transmission, this increases the value of your automobile.
Keep your vehicle’s general maintenance records and invoices regarding any major improvements you make as this will affect its assessed value.
Maintaining these records is important in case this issue ever arises.
A totaled automobile creates its own financial challenges. If you own your automobile outright, and your automobile is considered totaled, the “fair market” funds you receive for your automobile will likely be insufficient to purchase a replacement vehicle.
What if my Automobile is Financed and I Owe More Than the Fair Market Value?
If your vehicle is totaled in an auto accident and you owe more on it than the fair market value, you will still be responsible for the balance of the loan. For example, the insurance company pays $15,000.00 as the fair market value on your vehicle, but you owe $20,000.00. You will still owe the bank or finance company (lienholder) $5,000.00.
This is where GAP insurance applies. It’s something you should you have. Gap Insurance pays the difference between the fair market value of your automobile and the balance owed on your vehicle loan.
What is GAP insurance?
GAP insurance pays the difference between the fair market value of your automobile and the balance of your vehicle loan. For example, you receive fair market value of $15,000 and you owe $20,000. GAP insurance pays the $5,000 balance.
Most banks and finance companies will require you carry GAP insurance if the balance of your loan exceeds the fair market value of your vehicle. However, if GAP insurance was not required and you owe substantially more on your vehicle that the fair market value, you should obtain GAP insurance coverage.
How do I Meet my Transportation Needs While my Vehicle is Being Repaired?
If you have automobile renter’s insurance under your own automobile insurance policy, you may lease/rent a vehicle while waiting for car repairs. Generally, insurance companies will have car rental companies that they have contracted with and they will direct you to use one of these car rental facilities. They will generally provide a rental vehicle for up to thirty (30) days while your vehicle is being repaired. Often, approval needs to be obtained to go beyond 30 days.
If you do not have automobile renter’s insurance under your auto policy, you may request the at-fault driver’s insurance provide you with a rental vehicle. Some insurance companies will voluntarily do so, and they will direct you to one of their car rental contract companies. However, many insurance companies will direct you to obtain your own rental vehicle at your own expense and submit the bill to them. This can be a real burden if you do not have the financial means to do so. Therefore, it is prudent to include automobile renter’s insurance in your own automobile insurance coverage.
How Does a Repaired Automobile Affect its Overall Value?
Diminution of Value Claim
A vehicle owner may pursue a claim for diminution of value of their automobile. Insurance companies will require clear proof of the diminished value of your automobile.
There are valuation websites you may use or get an affidavit from several automobile dealerships reflecting what the trade-in value of your vehicle would be without damage with damage.
What if my Damaged Automobile is an Antique?
A car more than 20-years-old is considered an antique.
Antique automobiles which have been well maintained, especially in original condition, may have a much higher value than a “Blue Book” might assign to it. If you own an antique automobile, document its value by having it appraised by a professional, document the costs of improvements. Our experience is that insurance companies may not volunteer antique automobiles have higher values than listed in a valuation booklet such as “Blue Book.”
How do I get Compensated for my Personal Injuries and Economic Losses?
In addition to compensation for property damage, you and your passengers may recover the economic losses and pain and suffering damages incurred because of the bodily injuries sustained in automobile accident. These damages are generally recovered from the at-fault driver’s Bodily Injury (BI) liability insurance coverage.
Bodily Injury Claims
Economic and pain and suffering damages are generally recovered from the at-fault driver’s Bodily Injury (BI) liability insurance coverage.
Each automobile owner’s bodily injury coverages have different limits. Generally, BI coverages range from $10,000 to $100,000 for most automobile owners. In rare instances, drivers are insured for amounts up to $500,000 or more. Most commercial vehicles carry higher limits of BI coverage.
The worst case scenario is that the at-fault driver may have no BI coverage. Unfortunately, the State of Florida does not require automobile owners to have BI coverage to drive in the State of Florida. The State of Florida only mandates that automobile owners have property damage and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. That’s where carrying Uninsured Motorist Coverage on your policy comes in.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
If you are injured in an automobile accident and the at-fault driver has no Bodily Injury coverage or limited Bodily Injury coverage, your only option may be to file an Uninsured/Underinsured (UM) claim under your own policy. However, you must carry Uninsured Motorist coverage on your policy to make a claim. (Link to new UM article in this series).
Uninsured Motorist coverage acts as a safety net if you get into a serious accident caused by a driver with little or no insurance. It can reimburse your bills caused by the accident, plus disability, lost wages and pain and suffering when the at-fault driver does not have any – or enough – insurance to cover your losses.
What Losses may I Recover for my Personal Injuries?
If you were injured after an automobile accident, there are two types of damages you may recover.
Economic losses include past and future medical bills, wage loss, and other out-of-pocket expenses you may incur. These are the general economic losses, but there may be more extensive economic recovery in traumatic life-altering injuries.
Pain and Suffering
To recover for pain and suffering in the State of Florida you must have suffered a permanent injury. Permanent injuries must be documented by the assignment of a personal injury impairment rating from a medical doctor or chiropractor. Absent a permanent injury rating from a medical doctor or chiropractor, you may only recover your economic losses/damages.
These are areas where you may need an attorney to assist you with your personal injury claim.
What if the At-Fault Driver has Little or no Insurance?
Uninsured/Uninsured Motorist Claims (UM)
What do you do if the at-fault driver has no bodily insurance coverage, or has inadequate coverage?
Insurance companies offer Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage to cover this situation. The limits of the UM coverage is generally limited to the Bodily Injury (BI) limits you carry under your policy. For example, if you have 100K in BI coverage, you may purchase 100K in UM coverage. If you have 10K in BI coverage you are limited to 10K in UM coverage.
If the at-fault driver had no BI coverage, you may then make a bodily injury claim through your own UM automobile insurance policy. The same procedures utilized in resolving your BI claim will be the same for your UM claim.
If the at-fault driver has inadequate coverage to cover your economic losses and your pain and suffering, you may seek additional recovery through your UM policy.
Historically, most automobile owners carry insufficient Bodily Injury insurance coverage. Therefore, we strongly recommend you consider including Uninsured Motorist coverage in your policy.
How is a Personal Injury Claim Processed?
Should you choose to hire our law firm to represent you, we will provide guidance in resolving your property damage claim, and will assist you through the claims process by documenting your personal injuries and economic losses, and monitoring the progress of your treatment.
Generally, most injured motorists will treat around two to four months. However, for the more seriously injured, treatment may involve many months or longer.
After completing your treatment, our firm will gather all your medical records, medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses.
A claim letter or demand package will be submitted to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. As a result of the demand/claim letter, negotiations will ensue and hopefully a settlement reached, and, if not, a lawsuit may be filed on your behalf.
Why do I Need an Attorney?
If you are injured in an automobile accident, we recommend hiring an attorney because we believe insurance companies are representing their interest and not yours. Therefore, you should always discuss whether you need an attorney with an attorney.
Pitfalls: Settling Your Claim
There are substantial pitfalls to settling your own claim. Often, an insurance adjuster will contact you immediately after an accident. The quicker an insurance liability adjuster can settle your claim, the better for the insurance company.
No to Recorded Statements
The at-fault driver’s insurance carrier will first attempt to get you to provide a recorded statement (link to new article “Should I provide a recorded statement”). We advise against doing this. If you have retained an attorney, provide your attorney’s name and contact information.
Should you fail to account for all of your injuries, misstate facts surrounding the accident, or tell them about pre-existing injuries which have been aggravated, the insurance adjuster may use this information to discount the injuries you sustained or failed to mention, or argue they are not responsible for pre-existing injuries which were aggravated in the accident. Although the insurance company adjuster may seem to be interested in helping you, his or her main objective is to limit the company’s exposure and save it money.
Here are some examples of how handling your own claim could work to your disadvantage. Let’s say that post-accident you are experiencing what appear to be minor whiplash type of injuries, but you do not believe that you are seriously injured. The at-fault driver’s insurance adjuster calls you and you make light of your injuries. The adjuster sees an opportunity to quickly to settle your claim and offers $3,000 to settle it. Given how you feel, you may believe that this is an excellent offer. Plus you just want your automobile repaired and to get on with your life, so you accept the offer. Then several weeks later your symptoms have not abated and you begin to experience radiating pain into your shoulders, arms, or legs, and you realize that your injuries are much more severe than anticipated. You then go to a doctor and discover that you have a herniated disk in your neck or back that requires surgery. By having prematurely accepting the at-fault driver’s insurance offer of settlement and signing a release, you will have no recourse to make a claim.
Another example, you suffered a substantial injury such as a concussion. You are transported to the hospital and admitted, spending several days undergoing numerous diagnostic tests and treatment. Several days later you appear to have recovered and you are discharged. Because of the two-day stay in the hospital and numerous diagnostic tests, your $10,000 in PIP benefits are exhausted. You receive a call from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and it makes an offer that seems generous given that you are feeling much better. You accept. Several weeks later you begin to experience the symptoms of a closed head injury such as headaches, vision or hearing issues, short-term or long-term memory loss, or even nausea. So you seek additional medical opinions and discover that you have the classic symptoms of a closed head injury. Closed head injuries can be short-term or permanent, but the premature settlement of your claim is definitely permanent.
Hire an Attorney
These are just a few examples that reveal how a rush to settlement could adversely affect you. That’s why it is important that you consult with an experienced auto accident attorney before settling your claim. A word to the wise, settling a personal injury claim is not a Do It Yourself (DIY) project. If you have ever done a DIY project, you generally discover that it costs more than you anticipated.
Terrell • Hogan represents the injured as they seek justice. If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, consider contacting Terrell • Hogan at (904) 722-2228 for a free consultation.