You’re either reading this because you’ve recently been in a car accident, or you are trying to prepare yourself for the eventuality of a car accident. Hopefully, you’ll never actually need to use this guide, but if you do, it will help you make an unfortunate incident less of a headache. I’ve been involved in auto insurance claims for a number of years, and the following observations will help you and your insurance carrier have a smoother claim process.
Before a car accident ever happens, you need to ensure you have a few items stocked in your car: pen/pencil, paper, disposable camera and your insurance card. Having all of these items handy beforehand will ensure that you can are able to obtain the necessary information and help set the state for a smooth (as possible) incident.
The very first thing you need to consider is your safety. Think about where the accident happened and where your vehicle is currently stopped. If you’re blocking traffic, at the bottom of an icy hill, or around a blind curve the first thing you should do is move your car to the shoulder, if it is possible. If your car is immobile, step away from your vehicle in the direction against the flow of traffic you are blocking. This will ensure that if your vehicle is truck, debris will not be thrown in your direction.
Next, it’s a good to check on the other person to see if they need any medical attention. Helping the other person can by no means be considered an admission of fault.
You want to exchange information with the other person: name, address, telephone number(s) and insurance company and policy number. Basically, you want the other person to have their insurance company be able to reach you. It’s also a good idea to jot down the make/model of any other vehicles and license plates. Make note of how many passengers and try to get their names.
Next, if there are any witnesses who stopped, try to get their name(s) and telephone number(s). Even if it seems clear-cut as to who is at fault for the accident, get their names. Many times, a witness leaves the scene of an accident without leaving their name and something develops later on that would make their statement critical to the investigation.
It’s also a good idea to call the police. In some jurisdictions, you can be charged for leaving the scene of an accident. In other jurisdictions, the coverages available to you depend on whether or not the police were involved with the accident. Besides, it’s always a good idea to have someone oversee the exchange to make sure everyone is cooperative. They likely will not file an actual report if the accident is minor, so don’t expect to have a police report.
With the disposable camera you keep in your car, take pictures of everything: your car, the other cars with license plates, the drivers and passengers of the other car (assuming this doesn’t create a hostile environment), the scene layout, where the cars came to rest, any debris or skid marks left on the roadway, anything that would have obstructed the view of one driver or another, any non-vehicle property that was damaged, and any thing else you think might be important. If the other driver starts doing jumping jacks and pushups, try to snap a picture of that in case he later says he was so terribly injured. Most of these pictures will be of no use and your insurance company will do little with them, but that is a good thing. However, in few and far between claims, some of this information can be very handy in determining the outcome of the investigation.
Next, call your insurance company. You don’t have to do it from the scene of the accident, in the ambulance, your hospital bed, or as soon as you get home and are too hyper to talk. Do what you need to do to get comfortable, go home, and call to report the accident when you are of clear mind. It is important to report the accident as soon as possible, but there is no problem calling them the next morning if that is what you feel you need to do.
If you’ve calmly followed these steps, you have done everything you can to collect the information your insurance company needs to investigate the accident. From there, it’s a matter of cooperating with your claims representative and following through until the case is resolved.