By: Carlos Mesa
Takeaway: The key to submitting an accident claim involves protecting your claim and your legal rights to increase your chances of settling your claim.
An accident is a traumatic event. The immediate jolt to the body and the pains or fear of injury can oftentimes leave you so dazed and stunned that it becomes difficult to remember even the most basic steps to take in the immediate aftermath. So, if you ever find yourself in the midst of such an unfortunate event, it is important that you know exactly what to do to attain information that will allow you to:
- Protect your claim
- Protect your legal rights
- Increase your chances of settling your accident claim
If you are unable to take any of these steps due to injury, get someone to do it for you. Either way, if you’ve been in an accident, here’s what needs to happen to settle your claim.
Get the names and contact information of any witnesses
Witnesses who saw the accident happen or noticed a condition that affected the scene are important when it comes to supporting your story. Do not hesitate to ask around. If anyone saw how the accident happened or saw anything that could have contributed to it, take down those people’s names, addresses, cell phone numbers and email addresses.
Take photos and video
Take photos and/or a video of the accident scene soon after the event. If you can do so safely, take photos and/or video of:
- The immediate and surrounding areas of the accident scene
- Any damage to your own personal property and the property of others involved
- Any visible injuries you suffered at the accident scene.
After you have left the scene of the accident and are recovering from your injuries, take photos and/or video of:
- Your medical care and treatment (i.e. a bandage or cast, stitches, staples, etc.)
- A day in your life while recovering (showing how the accident is affecting you and your life)
- Anything else you believe would visually explain how the accident is affecting you. Do not post these photos or videos on social media. It is counterproductive. Insurance companies scan social media websites as part of their claims investigations to determine the worthiness of a claim.
Seek medical treatment
Any injuries you believe are accident-related should be treated by a doctor. It is an important part of your claim. During treatment, follow your doctor’s instructions; this includes taking any prescribed medications and completing any exercise or therapy programs. Any gap in therapy or non-compliance with a doctor’s orders will hurt your accident claim. Continue medical treatment until you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Maximum medical improvement refers to the point at which you will not benefit from any further medical treatment. Once you are at MMI, your doctor will prepare a final report of your treatment and condition. (Get more tips in 10 Myths About Personal Injury.)
Get insurance information
Be sure to get insurance information from the others involved in the accident; this includes other drivers, any affected bystanders or pedestrians, and the owners of the property on which the accident occurred. Note the name of the insurance companies and the insurance policy numbers. Report the accident to these companies. They will ask you about the accident, your injuries and your medical treatment. Provide accurate responses. Jot down the claim number and the name of the claims adjuster during this call. You will be using that claim number and communicating with the assigned insurance adjuster until the claim is closed.
Get the accident or incident report
A vehicle accident report is prepared by the police agency responsible for the jurisdiction in which the accident occurred. It lists how the accident happened, the parties involved, any witnesses, the accident scene conditions, and other important information. Get a copy of the accident report, because the insurance company will require it. An incident report is a report prepared by the owner or supervisor of the location where the incident occurred. It lists basic information about how the event happened, witnesses who have information about the accident, and the conditions of the area in which the incident occurred. Because it is prepared by the business owner or supervisor as part of a claim or potential claim, you do not have a right to the incident report. However, if they provide you with a copy of the report, take it.
Keep all receipts
Keep an official record of co-payments from doctor visits and other medical bills, car rental bills, and any other out-of-pocket expenses you pay as a result of the accident. These expenses are part of your accident claim.
Get copies of all medical records
There are several types of medical records that are frequently used in an accident claim. These include:
- Emergency room or hospital records
- Chiropractor or orthopedic physician records
- Physical therapy notes
- Surgical reports
These records outline your injuries, your recovery and any residual physical problems that affect the value of your claim.
Determine the value of your claim
There is no precise formula for determining the exact value of your accident claim. Each accident claim is different. However, two things influence the value of your accident claim, including:
- Economic Damages
These damages generally consist of past and future medical expenses, past and future out-of-pocket expenses, loss of past wages and loss of future earning capacity, and the amount of damages to personal property. These components constitute the economic damages of your claim.
- Non-Economic Damages
These damages generally consist of past and future pain and suffering, inconvenience, and the loss of enjoyment of life. These damages depend on the severity of your injuries. As a matter of common sense, who would a juror be more likely to give greater non-economic damages to: a person who had a sprained neck or a person who once walked but is now confined to a wheelchair? While the answer may seem obvious, the value of your non-economic damages falls somewhere in that extreme range of personal injuries.
Prepare your accident claim for filing
Once you have all of the information and your doctor has placed you at maximum medical improvement, your accident claim is now ready to be filed with the insurance company for settlement discussions. This is done through a settlement demand letter. The settlement demand letter outlines the following information:
- The facts and circumstances surrounding the accident
- The theory of liability (who ran the red light, a wet spot on the floor, etc.)
- An outline of the injuries
- A time line of the medical treatment sought
- A listing of any permanent injuries and future medical care needed
- A listing of the economic damages
- A settlement demand, which includes the economic and non-economic damages
- A 30-day deadline for a response.
Several things are typically included with the letter:
- The accident or incident report
- Medical records and bills
- Out-of-pocket expense receipts
- Pictures and videos
- Witness statements
Send this letter to the insurance adjuster by certified mail or other traceable delivery.
Negotiating and settling your accident claim
In response to the settlement demand letter, the insurance company will either respond with a request for more information, send a counteroffer or pay your settlement demand. If the insurance company needs more information, provide it to the company as quickly as possible. If the insurance company counteroffers, you can accept the amount offered or continue to negotiate for a different settlement amount until the matter is settled. If the insurance company agrees to your settlement demand, this acceptance will be communicated in writing. Any settlement will require you to sign a release to get the settlement check. You should consider consulting with an attorney to review any settlement papers proposed by the company for your signature. It is worth the money. If your case does not settle, then filing a personal injury lawsuit for your accident claim will be the next step.
Taking these 10 basic steps when filing an accident claim will help you process and settle your claim.