If you've been involved in a simple car accident—for example, you have run your vehicle into a ditch—it is generally easy to settle your insurance claim within a number of days or weeks. You'd contact your insurance company and, in order to settle your claim, your claims adjuster may just require evidence from the body shop of the work done to repair your vehicle. The money you'd receive would depend on the size of your deductibles.

What to Do After a Serious Car Accident

If you have been involved in a serious car accident, your first instinct may be to contact your insurance company. However, serious car accidents are more difficult to settle and usually take much longer, as detailed investigations need to take place. You should try to keep calm and gather as much information as possible, including:

  • The name and address of the other driver and/or car owner.
  • The year, make and model of the driver’s vehicle.
  • The insurance company's phone number and driver’s policy number.
  • The contact details of any witnesses.
  • Photographs of the accident, noting the time of day and weather conditions.
  • Photographs of any injuries suffered in the accident.

You should also contact the police so that they can assess the situation and prepare their own accident report.

How to Report a Car Accident to the Insurance Company

You can telephone your insurance company to report the car accident. However, before you phone them, you need to know what to say. Only provide your insurer with the facts of the accident and not with your opinions. Trying to be helpful by making what you believe to be innocuous comments might have an adverse effect on your claim.

When to File a Car Accident Insurance Claim

After you have reported the incident, you may need to formally file a car accident insurance claim. If you decide to file your insurance claim without professional assistance, you should provide your insurance company with all of the information that you have gathered at the earliest possible opportunity. You should bear in mind that the claims adjuster will be looking for valid reasons to pay out a lower amount on your claim; therefore, you must provide a true and detailed report in order to gain the compensation that you deserve.

The adjuster will review all of the information provided to them and carry out their own in-depth investigation into the accident. They may speak to eyewitnesses and the police officer, as well as inspect the scene of the accident and study photos and hospital records. You may be asked to sign a medical authorization form giving the insurer authority to acquire your medical records directly from your treating medical establishment.

The insurance company has a duty to act fairly and in good faith toward you, its policyholder. There should be an adequate investigation by the adjuster and a reasonable and fair offer of settlement made, without excessive delay. Rejecting your claim without thorough or appropriate investigation, or offering a settlement that in no way covers your loss and damage, is considered bad faith.

You will be asked to complete the insurance company’s paperwork and may be interviewed face to face by the adjuster. Usually, the insurance company will give you a deadline by which to accept your settlement offer. You should review their offer thoroughly. If possible, speak to the adjuster to find out what details they took into account in coming up with their offer figure. It may be that they have left out elements that you consider essential or have not given enough credence to others. If you believe that the offer is fair and compensates you in full for your damages and injuries, you can agree to the settlement.

If you do not believe that the adjuster’s settlement offer is fair, and it is clear that they do not intend to negotiate, you may wish to consult a personal injury attorney by telephone for a free car accident consultation.

Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney Following a Car Accident

You do not have to go through the car accident claims procedure by yourself if you do not feel confident enough to do so. You may wish to consult a personal injury attorney or a car accident attorney before contacting your insurance company. (It may be a good idea to use an attorney if you have very little knowledge of how insurance companies calculate their settlements.)

Using an attorney can give you peace of mind and avoid jeopardizing your insurance claim. They can prepare the initial report and initiate contact with your insurance company. An attorney experienced in personal injury claims will know how to negotiate with your insurer to achieve the maximum monetary result. Once you have retained an attorney, your insurance company should direct all further communications to your attorney and not liaise directly with you.

An attorney will be invaluable in complex cases, and you should certainly consider consulting an attorney immediately if one of the following situations arises:

  • A death has occurred as a result of the accident.
  • Someone has been badly injured (e.g., broken bones, amputation or paralysis).
  • You have caused injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist.
  • The limits of your liability insurance are too low to properly cover the accident.
  • Your insurance company is seeking to lower your settlement because of a pre-existing medical condition that was exacerbated by the accident.
  • Your insurance policy lapsed due to late payment or non-payment, and your insurance company says you are not insured.
  • Your insurer has passed your claim on to its own attorney.

What if I get in an accident but don’t have car insurance?

Driving without insurance is a serious offense and you will receive a hefty fine as well as having your license suspended or revoked.

The rules of each state vary, so you should consult a personal injury attorney for advice. Most states are “fault” states, meaning that the driver who caused the accident, or their insurance company, will be responsible for the payment of all damages to the driver not at fault. If you were not at fault, your attorney can file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for compensation on your behalf. This process can be lengthy because many at-fault drivers fail to report accidents to their insurance company. In addition, the insurer may deny that its policyholder was at fault, particularly if the policyholder tells them a different tale and there is no police accident report.

If the at-fault driver also has no insurance, then your attorney may issue court proceedings against the driver to try and recover the cost of damages to your vehicle, medical treatment, loss of earnings, as well as pain and suffering. That money will come from the at-fault driver’s pocket. However, you may find that it is extremely difficult to recover compensation, as many uninsured drivers have very little money. You could end up bearing the entire legal costs of the court proceedings and recovering nothing.

At present, there are 12 “no-fault” states. If the car accident occurred in a “no-fault” state, there is no requirement for either party to prove who caused the accident. Generally, your insurance company would pay your medical costs if you are injured; however, if you have no insurance, you will be responsible for your own medical bills. Damage to your car will still be based on fault.

If you were injured in an accident caused by the other driver and you did not have car insurance—whether or not you were at fault—there may be restrictions on what you can recover from that driver. This is the case in states that have the “No Pay, No Play” rule. These states prohibit you from recovering non-economic damages such as for pain and suffering, although you may still be compensated for your medical bills. The “No Pay, No Play” rule tries to address the injustice of someone being able to benefit from another person’s insurance when they would not be able to provide similar benefits if the situations were reversed.

Can I get insurance after the accident?

Getting car insurance after an accident when you were previously uninsured will be difficult, but not impossible. If you intend to seek insurance coverage after the accident, you have a duty to report any previous accidents that you have been involved in. This is necessary so that the insurance company can determine their risk of providing insurance coverage to you. The insurance company will carry out its own investigations. Your insurance premiums are likely to be set at rates significantly above those that the company would normally offer to a first-time customer. Many insurance companies will refuse to provide insurance coverage if your driving license has been suspended or revoked as a result of the accident.

What is a car accident settlement?

This is the amount of financial compensation awarded to you for your damage or personal loss. A full evaluation of your circumstances is needed to determine what your claim is worth. The settlement will take into account the costs of repair and damage to your vehicle. It will also incorporate an element for medical expenses and other related expenses, along with money for pain and suffering.

You can write your own accident settlement demand letter to the insurance company, which sets out your losses and the lump sum that you require in the final settlement.

You will be asked to sign a waiver form. If you sign the waiver and accept the settlement, you will have relinquished the right to make further claims for damages if, for example, medical issues arise later on.

If you have an attorney, that person will negotiate your car accident settlement. The majority of vehicular accident claims (around 95%) are settled out of court. If the insurance company refuses to make a large enough settlement, your lawyer may suggest taking your case to court. The judge will determine the amount of compensation to which you are entitled, which may be more or less than what you and your lawyer expected.

How much is my insurance settlement likely to be?

This will depend on the seriousness of the accident and the nature of your injuries, as well as the terms of your car insurance policy. Check whether you have collision and/or comprehensive coverage. The insurance company will only pay for injuries and damages that are included in your policy. If your policy carries limits to medical coverage, you will not be able to claim above these limits.

The insurance company’s settlement will take into account the extent of damage to your vehicle caused by the accident, as well as any injuries that you sustained or are likely to develop in the future. The greater your injury, the more money you are likely to recover. The greater the damage to an expensive vehicle, the more you are likely to recover for that vehicle. (Trying to claim $20,000 in damages for a car valued at $4,000 is unlikely to prove successful.)

If the other driver was clearly at fault, there is unlikely to be any debate over liability. If, however, you were partially at fault, then the size of your settlement may be affected by your state’s contributory negligence or comparative negligence laws.

Additionally, remember that your attorney will deduct their own agreed cut of your settlement before giving you any money recovered from the insurance company.

How to Win a Bigger Insurance Settlement

In order to win a bigger settlement, you must be able to prove that you have suffered considerable damages, injuries and expenses. It is important from the outset that you keep a detailed record of these. To achieve the biggest insurance settlement possible to cover your damages and injuries, you will need to be diligent when gathering information. You will be able to substantiate your claim by providing the following evidence:

  • A record of how the accident affects your health (through, for example, visits to your medical practitioner).
  • Records of any hospital attendance and the treatment received, as well as receipts for prescribed medication.
  • A list of any future medical visits lined up.
  • Your doctor’s prognosis for your recovery and any potential medical complications that may arise, as well as the costs of treating the same.
  • Records of your time taken off work and proof of lost salary.
  • Notes of any special factors likely to make your claim worth more, such as your age or particular occupation.

If you have been diligent in your collection of evidence, your attorney will find this an invaluable aid to the negotiations with your insurance company.