Screech! Crunch! Oh, no!
It’s likely that you have been in at least one car accident. Automobile accidents do happen to virtually all of us—over a lifetime, the odds are that you will experience three to four crashes. The odds are also good that any accidents you have will be relatively minor. In 2009, the numbers said that only 3 out of every 1,000 accidents involved a fatality.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be involved in a car accident, you know the hurt your pocketbook suffers can be significant, what with auto and health insurance deductibles, lost wages, and the costs of a rental car or replacement vehicle. Roughly 10 million accidents happen each year, running the gamut from fender-benders to multi-car pileups on an interstate, and these accidents produce close to $1 trillion in economic losses as well as human costs that result from loss of life, pain and suffering, and the difficulties in going on with one’s life after sustaining injuries.
Speaking of injuries, approximately 3.9 million non-fatal injuries occurred as a result of those 10 million accidents, with 24 million damaged vehicles. The number of folks who went to the emergency room because of an accident amounted to an estimated 2.5 million.
Okay, you’ve got the picture. Now, what do you do if you have an auto accident?
What to Do After the Accident
If life-threatening injuries are in the picture, calling 911 is your first responsibility. Nothing else takes precedence over saving a life or alleviating suffering. However, if you, or someone in your vehicle, are able to do so, the following points list what you should do after an accident. We know that taking care of these steps after the shock and trauma of an accident can be very difficult, but it is critical that you do so:
- Always call the police, even if injuries and damage seem minor. Sometimes what seems minor at the time can turn out to be major.
- Take photographs. Put that smartphone of yours to good use and take as many photos as you think might be necessary of the vehicles, the accident scene, the weather conditions, and so on. If you or any of your passengers have injuries, you will need pictures of them as well.
- Exchange information with the other driver, including name, address, phone number, all insurance information, and license plate and registration information.
- Talk to any witnesses and obtain their complete contact information. This is crucial if you think you might want to talk to a lawyer. Keep that information in a safe place.
- As soon as you can, seek medical attention, even if you think your injuries are not serious. Sometimes medical problems don’t show themselves immediately, and the adrenaline that will be flooding your body post-accident will dampen your feelings of pain for a while.
- Call your insurance agent right away to tell them you’ve had an accident. If it’s possible, check what the “Coverage” and “Exclusions” areas of your policy say before talking with them. Give them the facts, and be honest, but be careful what you utter. Don’t make statements of opinion that could come back to haunt you later.
In the days after the accident, there are additional matters that will need to be taken care of:
- File any required reports with the police. It can be tempting to let this slide, but if the other driver was at fault, you must have that fact on the record. Also, make sure you are filing the report with the proper jurisdiction; always check if you are not sure where a city, county, or state’s border is.
- Be sure to obtain your own copy of the police report.
- Check any other insurance policies you might have, such as your homeowners’ insurance, “umbrella” policies, your credit cards, and so on. You might find additional accident or medical coverage.
- File away any receipts for expenses you might have incurred related to the accident, such as meals, lodging, parking, or purchases necessary to pursuing your claim or recuperating from your injuries. These expenses should be for the time period that starts with the accident until the final settlement with your insurance company.
- Keep detailed notes of all conversations with your insurance company, including the names of the people you speak with, their job titles, their phone numbers, and the dates and times of all calls. It’s also a good idea to get the names of the supervisors of any insurance company employees you speak with at length. You might want to purchase an inexpensive notebook, or keep a computer file, dedicated to this purpose.
- Get a claim number from the insurance company, and use it on all correspondence.
- In South Carolina, you must submit proof of your insurance coverage to the DMV within 15 days of an accident to avoid having your driver’s license and vehicle’s registration suspended.
What Not to Do After the Accident
Just as there is a list of recommended actions to take after an accident, there are also suggestions of what not to do afterward. Some of these precautions are especially worth keeping in mind if you think you might want to proceed with a lawsuit:
- Just say no to “recorded statements.” An insurance company may ask you to allow them to record official statements about the accident with them. You are not required to allow them to record your statement. The danger is this: While you are attempting to be completely honest, they are professionals when it comes to asking the questions in certain ways. It’s possible that the things you say could be twisted. In some states with no-fault insurance, you might be required to give a recorded statement under certain conditions, but in South Carolina you are not required to give one. If you have any doubts about the situation, it’s best to obtain legal advice.
- Likewise, do not sign or give any written statements unless you are completely certain you understand your situation. You could be signing away your rights.
- Do not sign any releases or waivers until you have consulted an attorney, especially if you are feeling pressured by the situation or by the insurance company. If you decide to go ahead and sign, be sure you read the fine print to understand what recourse, if any, you might have later. This is especially important when it comes to reimbursement for medical expenses, unless you are certain all treatments have ended. You will be responsible for any medical bills once the claim is settled.
- If a check says, “final payment,” don’t accept it unless you are certain this is what you want to do. Final means final.
- Understand your own insurance policy. If you have a “replacement coverage” policy, do not settle for “actual cash value,” which is a figure that will include depreciation. You and your insurer have a contract, meaning they have a legal obligation to pay you what is mandated by your coverage. Make sure they stick to it.
- Do not simply accept the first figure an insurance company gives you. If your loss is substantial, it may be worth your while to hire your own independent adjuster or other help. Remember, the insurance company will try to pay you the least that they think you will take.
- Be aware of time limitations; otherwise, you may lose your right to sue. If the situation has not been settled to your satisfaction and you are closing in on the one-year mark, consult an attorney without delay.
Most importantly—don’t lie. Don’t lie to the police, to an insurance company, or on any forms you fill out. Always tell the truth.
When Do You Need an Attorney?
If you have significant injuries or monetary damages, and you were not at fault in the accident, it can be in your best interests to consult an attorney in order to obtain a fair settlement. If you have tried on your own to work things out and the insurer is refusing to pay your claim or to pay what you believe you are owed, then it may be time to seek legal advice, but keep time limits in mind. If you have only one year, do not let your time expire before you seek help from an attorney if the insurance company will not resolve things to your satisfaction.
You do have other options, such as choosing to go it alone in small claims court or “regular” civil court, which allows you to sue for larger amounts of money. However, you will be on your own and will need to do everything yourself. If you have sustained serious injuries or are owed a lot of money, you may find the process daunting.
Working with an attorney has certain advantages. Lawyers know the loopholes and the “gotchas.” They understand how insurance companies operate, and they can read the documents you will receive from the insurance company with different eyes than you could. A good attorney will keep you from signing something that is not in your best interests.
An attorney will also take care of the day-to-day legal details. That means you will not have to spend time coming up to speed on what you need to know to fight the insurance company. Instead, you can get back to your life and concentrate on healing.
So, how do you know you need an attorney? You should consider hiring legal assistance if:
- There is any dispute about who is at fault for the accident.
- There were serious injuries, especially if permanent loss of bodily function or scarring occurred. If you or a loved one will need ongoing care, it is especially critical to explore your legal options.
- A loved one died in the accident.
- The monetary claim is significantly large and the insurance company is not settling to your satisfaction. This claim could be a medical one or even a claim involving your vehicle.
- The insurance company is refusing to settle at all.
- You do not wish to negotiate with the insurance company.
If you are considering initiating a lawsuit, it’s good to keep these suggestions in mind:
- Don’t talk about the details of your accident publicly, including on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
- Save anything you think might be evidence, such as clothing, braces, and pill bottles or prescriptions.
- Keep all your medical appointments. Not going to the doctor could be considered evidence that you aren’t really hurt, or not badly hurt.
- Take photos of your physical injuries and recovery process. It also wouldn’t hurt to keep a log or a diary as a written record of your struggle.
- Do not sign a general medical records release with your insurance company, especially if you think you might want to initiate a lawsuit. The insurance company could use it as carte blanche to search for reasons not to pay you.
An experienced lawyer can help you recover medical expenses, lost wages, money for car repairs or car replacement, and, in some cases, damages if a loved one was killed in the accident. It is generally in your best interests to hire a lawyer at the earliest moment you realize you will need help.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
In some South Carolina car accidents, the victims’ recovery is complicated by dealing with a bureaucratic or hostile insurance company. If an insurance company refuses to pay a valid South Carolina car accident claim, it’s called insurance bad faith, and it is illegal. An experienced Columbia, SC car accident lawyer can help you hold the insurance company to its end of the bargain and collect the compensation you are entitled to. At the Louthian Law Firm we have defended the rights of accident victims and other injured South Carolinians since 1959, and we’re committed to providing personalized service to you while aggressively going after wrongdoers. And because we know how financially devastating an accident can be, we never charge you a dime until your case is won.
For a free evaluation of your car accident case, call our toll-free number at (803) 454-1200. You can also fill out our online contact form.