Injured in a collision? It will be important to maximize your car accident settlement. Learn how to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Car accidents can be expensive. Medical care alone costs more than most people can afford, and collisions can lead to many other financial and non-financial costs. If you’ve been injured in a collision, you need to make sure you maximize your car accident settlement. So, how do you do it?
5 Ways to Maximize Your Car Accident Settlement at the Scene of the Crash
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If it’s not already too late, there are some important steps you should take at the scene of the crash. To improve your chances of receiving maximum compensation for your car accident injuries, before leaving the scene you should:
1. Call 911
One of the keys to maximizing your car accident settlement is to document the accident as thoroughly as possible. When you call 911, the dispatcher can send a police officer to the scene, and the officer can prepare a police report that summarizes his or her assessment of what happened.
You should get a copy of the police report at the scene of the accident. But, if you don’t get a copy for any reason, you (or your lawyer) can obtain one from the police department later.
Also, keep in mind that you may be required to report your accident to the police. Most states require drivers to report accidents resulting in personal injuries or property damage. In some states (such as California), drivers are also required to report accidents to the DMV.
2. Get the Other Driver’s (or Drivers’) Vehicle and Insurance Information
If you have a fault-based insurance claim, you will need the at-fault driver’s insurance information. While a lawyer can help you obtain this information based on a driver’s license plate, it is best to obtain the at-fault driver’s insurance information at the scene if possible. If your car accident involved multiple vehicles, you should try to obtain the following for each vehicle involved:
- Insurance company name
- Insurance policy number
- Vehicle make and model
- Vehicle color
- License plate number
The police report may also provide this information, but it is a good idea to collect it on your own just in case the police officer mis-records something or it takes you some time to obtain a copy of the report.
3. Take Photos and Videos
Another important way to document your car accident is to take plenty of photos and videos. You should try to thoroughly document the damage to each vehicle involved in the crash. You should also try to document the road and weather conditions, as well as any damage to the road, road signs, guardrails, trees, or other stationary items.
When taking videos to help maximize your car accident settlement, be slow and steady. If you are walking around a vehicle to document its damage, for example, walk slowly and avoid quickly moving your phone up or down. This will help ensure that the video is clear and that any still frames are photo-quality. Here is a checklist of items you should try to document with photos and video at the scene of the crash:
- License plates
- Vehicle damage
- The layout of the crash site (video can be especially helpful here)
- The location of each vehicle on (or off) the road
- Insurance cards (this will make sure you don’t accidentally mis-record policy numbers)
- Any signs or traffic signals
- Skid marks or road damage
- Damage to objects on the side of the road (i.e. light posts or trees)
- Weather (i.e. if it is raining or if there was snow or ice on the road)
- Anything else that is relevant to the crash (i.e. a construction zone or crosswalk)
4. Talk to Any Witnesses
If anyone witnessed the accident and stopped to help, ask them for their names and contact information. When your lawyer investigates your auto accident claim (more on this below), he or she will want to talk to any witnesses who can help verify what happened. When it is your word against someone else’s, having an independent third party corroborate your version of the events can help with proving your right to compensation and maximizing your car accident settlement.
5. Go Straight to the Hospital or Doctor’s Office
You should only take the steps discussed above if it is safe for you to do so. If you are too injured to move, if your head hurts, or if you are concerned that walking around could make your injuries worse, you do not have to do anything except wait for the ambulance to arrive.
Whether you need to ride in the ambulance, you can drive yourself, or a friend or family member can take you, you should go straight to the hospital or doctor’s office after your car accident. Not only could this be crucial for protecting your health and minimizing your medical expenses, but it could also be crucial for making sure you receive just compensation for your injuries.
Whether you go to the hospital or a doctor’s office, there are steps you can take while you are there to help maximize your financial recovery. When seeking medical treatment for your car accident related injuries, you should:
6. Tell Your Doctor You Were Injured in a Car Accident
Remember what we said above about the importance of documenting your accident. With this in mind, when seeking treatment at the hospital or doctor’s office, you should be sure to tell your doctor that you were injured in a collision. Your doctor will note this in your medical records, and this will help prove that your injuries are accident-related.
This is extremely important for maximizing your car accident settlement. If your medical records don’t indicate how your injuries happened, the insurance companies may try to argue that either: (i) your injuries were pre-existing; or, (ii) you got injured after the collision.
Many car accident lawyers will prefer that you contact them before seeking treatment (if possible). This is because they know doctors who are good at documenting and treating accident-related injuries. If you haven’t already received treatment, it will be a good idea to speak with a lawyer first and find out if there is someone in particular he or she wants you to see.
7. Carefully Describe Your Symptoms
When talking to your doctor, try your best to describe your symptoms as completely and accurately as possible. This will help your doctor provide an accurate diagnosis. Do you have a headache? Is your back sore? Where else do you have pain? Is your pain sharp or dull? Does it get worse with certain movements? Do you have any tingling or numbness? The more information you can provide, the better.
8. Get All Necessary Tests
Based on the information you provide and a preliminary physical examination, your doctor will decide what types of tests are necessary to provide a comprehensive diagnosis. You should get all necessary tests. This may involve getting an X-ray, MRI, CT scan or ultrasound at the hospital, and you may also need to go to a lab for bloodwork. It is important that you receive an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible so that you can begin appropriate treatment as quickly as possible—so don’t delay in providing your doctor the information he or she needs.
9. Try to Make Sure You Get the Care You Need
Unfortunately, this day in age, getting the care you need can be difficult. Hospitals and doctor’s offices shuttle patients in and out so that they bill the insurance companies as much as they can. To the extent possible, you should make sure your doctor doesn’t rush your appointment. If your doctor cuts you off before you finish describing your symptoms, let him or her know that you have more to say. If you think your doctor may have overlooked something, don’t be shy about asking questions.
10. Make Sure You Know Your Next Steps
Finally, before you leave the hospital or doctor’s office, make sure you know your next steps. When is your next appointment? Where is your next appointment? Do you have prescriptions to pick up at the pharmacy? Do you need to pick up any medical supplies (i.e. gauze or a brace) while you are there? Should you rest or do exercises? Should you stay home from work? These are all questions your health care provider should answer before sending you home.
When you get home, you may be tempted to take some time to relax. While this is okay, you cannot ignore your situation for too long. Steps you can take to maximize your car accident settlement at home include:
11. Review Your Auto Insurance Policy
Now that you are home, it is also a good time to review your auto insurance policy. In particular, you want to make sure you know what coverage you have that you can (or must) use. While some states have “no fault” insurance laws that require accident victims to file claims under their own personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) policies, most states – including California among others – make “no fault” coverage optional.
With that said, even if you aren’t required to file a PIP or MedPay claim first, it may be a good idea to file a claim if you have the coverage available. These claims usually go relatively quickly; and, while they don’t provide full coverage, they can help you manage your expenses while the rest of your case is pending. A lawyer can advise you of whether you should file a “no fault” claim.
You will also want to determine if you have uninsured/underinsure motorist (UIM) coverage. If you do, you can use this coverage in three main scenarios: (i) the driver who hit you doesn’t have liability insurance, (ii) the driver who hit you doesn’t have enough liability insurance to cover your losses, or (iii) the other driver fled the scene of the accident (i.e. a hit and run). If you aren’t sure what coverage you have, a lawyer can review your policy, and your lawyer can explain which type(s) of insurance claim(s) you should file.
12. Contact Your Auto Insurance Company
After being injured in a car accident, it is important to contact your auto insurance company. This is important because (i) you will need to file a claim in order to seek a settlement, and (ii) if you don’t report your accident, this could put you in violation of your insurance policy.
The sooner you report the accident, the less issues you will have with your insurance company—generally speaking. But, even if you file a claim right away, you can still expect the insurance companies to fight your claim in various ways. To maximize your chances of obtaining a quick and favorable settlement, you will want to hire a lawyer to deal with the insurance companies on your behalf.
If you speak with an insurance adjuster yourself, you will need to be very careful to avoid mistakes. You should stick to the very basic facts (i.e. where and when the accident happened), and you should not make any guesses or assumptions. When in doubt, say “I don’t know,” or “I will need to talk to my lawyer.”
13. Get Organized
To maximize your car accident settlement, you will need to be organized. It is best to get started on this now, as having a plan will make it easier for you to keep track of everything in the weeks and months ahead. Some of the steps you can take to get (and stay) organized with regard to your insurance claim include:
- Take Notes – Take notes while the accident is still fresh in your mind. This will help you avoid forgetting details, getting confused, or having your recollection affected by other people’s versions of the events. Sit down and write down everything you can remember, and then come back to your notes whenever additional details pop into your mind.
- Start a Paper File – You will likely receive insurance documents, medical records and bills, repair estimates and bills, and employment records all related to your accident. To avoid misplacing anything, start a paper file where you put any documents you receive when you receive them. Just be sure to keep track of any due dates or deadlines as well…
- Start a Calendar – From due dates for bills to appointments with your doctors, you could have several dates to keep track of for the foreseeable future. To make sure you don’t miss any important dates, start a calendar where you keep track of everything you have to do.
- Create an Email Folder – In addition to starting a file for paper documents, you should create an email folder for any electronic communications and records you receive. Instead of deleting or archiving emails, save them to this folder in case you need them (or your lawyer needs them) in the future.
- Start a Daily Journal – Your accident-related injuries will affect you in many different ways. To maximize the amount you receive for your pain and suffering in your car accident settlement, you will want to keep a record of all of the ways your injuries impact your life. This includes things like: (i) daily pain levels; (ii) events you are unable to attend; (iii) chores and activities of daily living (ADL) you are unable to perform; (iv) anxiety, sadness, and depression; and, (v) impacts on your relationship with your spouse and other loved ones.
14. Contact Your Employer
If your doctor recommends that you stay home from work to recover, you should contact your employer and make arrangements to stay home. Understanding your options and your legal rights with regard to your employment can be challenging, and it is usually best to rely on a lawyer’s advice to make informed decisions. A lawyer may also be able to send a letter to your employer on your behalf.
In nearly all states, workers’ compensation benefits are only available if you get injured on the job. So, unless you were working at the time of your accident, it is unlikely that you qualify for workers’ comp. However, you could qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) or other benefits, and a lawyer can help you explore pre-settlement fundings and other financial support options while your auto insurance claim is pending.
Recovering from a car accident is a long-term process. Dealing with the insurance companies will take time as well. As you move forward, doing the following will help protect your claim for full compensation:
15. Take Care of Your Medical Needs
One of the most important things you can do after a car accident is prioritize your physical and emotional recovery. You need to follow your doctor’s advice (or seek a second opinion), and you need to do your part to make sure you get better as quickly as possible. Not only will this help minimize any long-term or permanent complications you may experience from your injuries, but it will also help with regard to maximizing your car accident settlement.
How does taking care of your medical needs help with your auto insurance claim? It helps because it prevents the insurance companies from blaming you for your own medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. If you neglect your medical care, the insurance companies will claim that you are responsible for exacerbating your losses, and they won’t pay you the full compensation you deserve.
16. Stay Organized
Keep using the file, calendar, and email folder you created after your accident to stay organized. Keep making daily entries in your journal, and continue to write down any details that come back to you. If your lawyer tells you to keep any other records, keep those as well, and respond promptly whenever your lawyer asks you for information.
17. Be Careful When Dealing with the Insurance Companies
One of the keys to maximizing your car accident settlement is being careful when dealing with the insurance companies. The insurance companies will look for any excuse to deny your claim, and they will not hesitate to take advantage of any mistakes you make. Here are some important tips for dealing with the insurance companies after a car accident:
- Do not admit fault. Under no circumstances should you admit fault to the insurance companies after a car accident. Even if you think you were at fault, there could have still been other factors involved in the crash.
- Do not admit that you may have been at fault. Even admitting that you think you may have been at fault is a mistake. If you aren’t sure what happened (and you won’t be sure until you hire a lawyer to investigate the crash), do not suggest otherwise.
- Do not provide a medical authorization. While you may eventually need to provide your insurance company with medical records, you should not sign a medical authorization (or medical release form). This will give your insurance company access to far more information than it needs to have.
- Do not let the insurance companies tell you what happened. Do not accept the insurance company’s determination of fault—especially if it determines you were at fault (or even partially at fault) in the crash. Instead, rely on the determination of a lawyer who has your best interests in mind.
- Do not accept a settlement on your own. If you want to maximize your car accident settlement, you should not settle on your own. You need a lawyer to calculate just compensation for your lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and other present and future losses.
- How Much Is Your Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Find out the maximum compensation you could receive.
- How Much Is My Car Accident Settlement Worth?
18. Investigate, Gather Evidence, and Determine What Claim(s) You Can File
As we mentioned above, you should not rely on the insurance company’s determination of fault when seeking a car accident settlement. Instead, you should hire a lawyer who can provide an honest assessment of your legal rights.
19. Calculate Your Financial Losses
When seeking to maximize a car accident settlement, one of the key questions is, “How much are you entitled to recover?” Settlements provide compensation, which means that they are intended to replace what accident victims have lost (and what they will lose in the future).
With this in mind, determining a fair settlement amount starts with calculating your financial losses—both current and future. Your lawyer can use his or her experience and resources to calculate just compensation for your:
- Repair bills (or replacement vehicle cost)
- Medical bills
- Therapy and rehabilitation costs
- Prescription costs
- Medical supply and device costs
- Expenses for transportation, cleaning, lawn maintenance, and other services
- Loss of wages, salary, commissions, or other income
- Loss of retirement and other benefits
- Loss of future earning capacity (either partial or total depending on the long-term effects of your injuries)
20. Calculate Your Non-Financial Losses
In addition to compensation for financial losses, car accident victims are also entitled to just compensation for their non-financial losses in most cases. Non-financial losses are ways your injuries negatively impact your life that are unrelated to your expenses and income. For example, non-financial losses that can be recovered in a car accident settlement include:
- Emotional trauma (or emotional distress)
- Post-traumatic stress
- Pain and suffering
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of services
- Loss of society
- Loss of support
There are different ways to calculate just compensation for non-financial losses, and you will need to rely on your lawyer to choose the best method for maximizing your car accident settlement. Your lawyer can help you consider relevant tax consequences as well. No matter what, you should not let your insurance company convince you that you are not entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering.
21. Negotiate with the Insurance Companies
Obtaining a fair settlement for your car accident necessarily involves negotiating with the insurance companies. However, this is not something you want to try to tackle on your own. Insurance adjusters use several tactics to convince accident victims to accept low-ball settlements; and, if you aren’t careful, you will settle for far less than you deserve.
22. Prepare Your Case for Trial
A lawyer can also prepare your case for trial. This serves two important purposes: (i) it shows the insurance companies that you are prepared to fight; and, (ii) it ensures that you will be ready to fight in court if necessary.
FAQs: Tips and Advice for Maximizing a Car Accident Settlement
Do I Need to Report My Car Accident to My Insurance Company?
You will need to report your car accident to your insurance company to file a claim (and to seek a settlement). There is also a very good chance that you are required to report the accident under your auto insurance policy. So, if you don’t report your accident, not only won’t you be able to collect a settlement, but you could also be at risk for losing your insurance coverage.
Should I Still File a Claim if I was Partially at Fault in My Car Accident?
Even if you think you were partially at fault in your car accident, you should still file a claim. Again, you are probably required to do so under your policy; and, even if you were partially at fault, you may still be entitled to coverage. This could include “no fault” coverage under your PIP or MedPay policy and/or fault-based bodily injury liability (BIL) or uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage if you were not solely responsible for the collision.
Should I Use My Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage?
If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, using your UIM coverage could help maximize your car accident settlement. But, since UIM provides fault-based coverage, you will need to be able to convince your insurance company that the other driver (or someone else) is liable for the crash. With this in mind, it is best to hire an experienced lawyer to handle your UIM claim.
Won’t My Insurance Rates Go Up if I File a Claim?
Depending on your insurance company and policy, your insurance rates may go up if you file a claim. But, keep in mind that if you file a successful claim, the amount you recover will more than make up for your additional insurance premiums (which likely pale in comparison to your accident-related losses). Many auto insurance companies offer accident forgiveness as well, so you should not automatically assume that your rates will go up—especially if the accident wasn’t your fault.
How Can I Maximize My Car Accident Settlement?
Maximizing your settlement after a car accident involves several steps. It requires you to make smart decisions, and it requires you to avoid costly mistakes. It also requires an understanding of your state’s liability laws and the process involved in calculating just compensation.
Recap: What You Need to Know to Maximize Your Car Accident Settlement
This Guide has covered a lot of information. While we recommend carefully reading the entire Guide and taking notes to help you remember what you need to do, we also understand that you might not have time to do so. To recap what we’ve discussed above, here are five key takeaways for maximizing your settlement after a car accident:
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Key Takeaway #1: You Need to Take Control of Your Situation
As a car accident victim, you need to be your own advocate. You need to take control of your situation, and you need to not let the insurance companies tell you what to do. Be proactive about getting the medical treatment you need, and get help from a lawyer who has your best interests in mind.
Key Takeaway #2: Consider Professional Help
To maximize your chances of a full recovery, you need to get professional help—and you should do so promptly. This includes seeing a doctor who can provide an accurate diagnosis and provide proper treatment, and it includes talking to a lawyer who can help you recover just compensation.
Key Takeaway #3: It is Important to Keep Records of Your Losses
Recovering just compensation for a car accident requires evidence. This includes both evidence of the cause of the accident and evidence of the extent of your losses. We provided several tips for documenting your car accident claim above, and taking these steps will help your lawyer pursue the full compensation you deserve.
Key Takeaway #4: Mistakes Can Be Very Costly
When you have a car accident claim, mistakes can be very costly—so much so that you could lose your claim entirely. This Guide discusses five key mistakes to avoid when dealing with the insurance companies, and it includes a link to another one of our Guides that discusses additional mistakes you need to avoid when you have an auto insurance claim.
Key Takeaway #5: Hiring an Experienced Lawyer is Your Best Option
Without a doubt, the best way to maximize a car accident settlement is to hire an experienced lawyer to represent you. On your own, you are at a significant disadvantage. But, with a lawyer on your side who knows the law, knows the insurance companies’ tactics, and knows what it takes to win, you can recover the financial compensation you deserve.
So, that’s our overview of 25 ways to maximize your settlement after a car accident. Still have questions? That’s good—you should. While this Guide is intended to be helpful, there is no substitute for personalized legal advice from a highly-qualified lawyer. To get the help you need to maximize your settlement, get a free settlement estimate performed by a local car accident attorney today!
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