It Happened to Me: My First Car Accident
I was recently involved in my first car crash. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt too badly and the damage to my car was fairly minor. I found this experience very enlightening as a personal injury attorney. Usually I am the one giving advice to my clients as to what they should do after being in a collision, and I found myself trying to follow my own advice.
No, I didn’t tell the police officer that I was an attorney and I didn’t tell the person that hit me. I didn’t want to put the other driver on guard and I didn’t want the responding police officer thinking I had knowledge that I could attempt to use to my advantage.
For legal reasons, I won’t go too much into how the crash happened. Both of our insurance companies are working against each other, and I don’t think sharing that information would be beneficial. I can say that because of a lack of witnesses, the officer that arrived at the scene was unable to establish fault, and my account of what happened and the other driver’s account differ.
What I want to do is give a step by step analysis of my actions right after the crash happened. Hopefully, I will give you some guidance as to what you should do and what you should look out for in the event you are involved in a car accident.
- I Got Our Cars Off The Road
There was no debris on the road and both cars were drivable. Moreover, the crash occurred during rush hour and there was a lot of traffic. If possible, I recommend you move your car out of the way of oncoming traffic in order to avoid a second collision. This will also give you a chance to catch your breath as you deal with the aftermath of the crash.
There are times when you will not want to attempt to move your vehicle. If your car has sustained extensive damage, it may not be safe to move your vehicle. It is best to leave it to the professionals when they arrive. Where the crash occurs and how the vehicles are positioned after the crash is evidence that you can use going forward. If there is any vehicle debris on the road that is also evidence to point to how the crash happened; moving that evidence can damage your case. At the very least, it is extremely important you take pictures of the scene.
- I Called a Police Officer
A police officer coming to the scene is important for a number of reasons. The officer is able to facilitate an easy exchange of insurance information. The officer is able to call for medical aid if needed along with other officers to help direct traffic. The officer is responsible for creating a crash report that insurance companies will use to help conduct their investigations.
When the officer arrived to my location after the crash he took both of our insurance information and imputed it into a form called a “driver’s exchange.” This is a one page sheet of information that has your name, any passenger names, the other driver’s name, along with all the vehicle information and insurance information. Always ask the officer for a driver’s exchange before you leave the accident scene. It will have the investigation number along with the defendant’s insurance information so you can reach out to them if needed. I also asked if he was able to “establish fault” in the crash. An officer’s “fault determination” cannot be used as evidence in court, but it does help the insurance companies as they conduct their investigation.
Everything you say to the officer at the scene and all the details in the report is privileged information and cannot be used as evidence in court. However, insurance companies can use the report to supplement their investigation and it makes insurance company decision making go a lot faster. Also, while an officer can’t repeat what anyone told him during his investigation he can revert back to his physical observations of the scene, and he can testify to those observations. If you are feeling pain, make sure you tell the officer as well. It will put the insurance companies on notice that people were injured.
- I Called My Insurance Company
` It’s important you call your insurance company after the crash occurs. I briefly told them what happened in an unrecorded statement. They had questions for me about whether I was injured and where the damage was to my car. Regardless of who was at fault for causing the crash, your own insurance company will always be your first line of defense in covering your medical bills. They will pay for 80% of your medical bills up to $10,000 (or $2,500 if you don’t have an emergency medical condition).
I reviewed my coverage and determined how that could help me going forward. It is important to know that the coverages listed below do not come standard. You have to ask for those coverages to be applied to your policy.
Collision Coverage – Thankfully, I purchased collision coverage with my policy. That means that, even if I caused the damage to my vehicle, my auto insurance company will pay for the cost to repair it. Depending on the type of coverage you buy, you may have to pay your deductible to get repairs started. There are several options for purchasing your deductible. The greater your deductible, the less expensive your insurance (however, the cost for a lower deductible isn’t that much and I would always recommend you have the lowest deductible you can afford). If the other driver is found to be at fault, your insurance company will pay back your deductible after they receive payment from the other company. If you do not have collision coverage and the other party is not found at fault, you may be responsible for the entire cost of your unfortunate, vehicle repair.
Rental Coverage – I had not purchased rental coverage. This means that while my car is being repaired my insurance company will not pay for a rental vehicle. However, if the other driver is clearly at fault, their insurance company will pay for your rental while your vehicle is being repaired. If this happens to you, make sure you ask your insurance company for discount codes for the rental car company.
- I Bought the Full Crash Report
The police officer who investigated the crash will create a full report with more extensive information about how the crash happened. It usually takes 3-4 days for the report to become available. I bought mine on buycrash.com for $16.00, but you can also go to the police station and pick it up from them directly. You’ll need to show ID.
My insurance company is still fighting with the other insurance company as to who is to blame. Do not speak to the other driver’s insurance company directly. Always let your attorney do so for you. The other insurance company’s main job is to gather evidence to be used against you. If the other party is clearly at fault, I always tell my clients they can call the other insurance company solely to talk about getting their vehicle fixed. Any conversation about how the crash happened, or regarding their injuries, should go through your attorney.
Being in an accident myself has given me a lot of insight about what my clients are going through. Most, if not all of my clients have gone through so much more than I have, but I hope that sharing my experiences can help you.