Author: Attorney Trent S. Kerns
You've just had an accident. You're heart-rate is understandably high and you're likely frazzled. While you are dealing with the initial shock, there are important things you should try and remember that can help you if you have an injury claim.
1. SEE MEDICAL HELP FOR INJURIES. First, if you or someone else is injured in the accident, dial 911 or ask someone else to call for you, so that anyone injured can receive medical care as soon as possible. If you're not seriously injured, you may want to postpone getting medical attention until after you've spoken to a police officer, but generally, the sooner you receive treatment for your injuries, the sooner you'll be on the path towards healing.
2. CONTACT THE POLICE & REPORT THE ACCIDENT. Following any accident, regardless of size, contact the police, even if the accident is on private property. It is essential that you report the accident to the police. If the police aren't contacted, many insurance companies will try to dispute that the accident even happened, especially if their insured doesn't report it. The police officer may also be able to obtain information about the other driver for you, and can verify the information, too.
3. GET ACCIDENT INFORMATION & EVIDENCE. Next, always get the other driver's information. If possible take pictures of the vehicle before leaving the accident scene. Keep in mind that the person driving the vehicle may not be the actual owner of the vehicle, so you may need to find out that information as well. If photos aren't obtained at the scene, you or someone for you should go to the towing storage facility to take photos of your vehicle. If it's absolutely impossible to obtain photos of your vehicle then write out a detailed description of ALL the vehicle damage.
4. REPORT THE ACCIDENT TO THE INSURANCE COMPANIES. Then make sure you report the accident to your insurance company, as well as the other driver's insurance company so that they can each begin setting up the claim. You may have a type of coverage on your policy called "medical payments"; if you do, your policy requires that you give "prompt notice" to your insurance company or you may forfeit recovery under that coverage.
5. DO NOT GIVE RECORDED STATEMENT OR AUTHORIZATION TO INSURER. Do not give a statement to the other driver's insurance company, recorded or otherwise. Just report it and give the date, location and name of the responsible driver. They do not NEED your statement to open and begin processing your claim, so don't be fooled. Insurance companies will also want you to sign medical authorization forms. DO NOT SIGN ANY FORMS. By signing these forms, you are allowing them to review your entire medical history, not just the accident-related treatment. Again, insurance companies WANT this information, but don't NEED it to set up your claim.
6. COOPERATE WITH YOUR DOCTOR. Report all injuries to your physician even if they begin days, weeks or months following the wreck. Keep all your doctor's appointments.
7. KEEP NOTES & RECORDS. If you have an injury claim, keep track of your injuries and keep track of your Keep all accident-related documents (i.e. receipts, doctor's notes, out of work slips, letters from insurance companies) in a central folder or location to refer back to when necessary.
8. KEEP YOUR INFORMATION PRIVATE. Keep the details of the accident mostly to yourself. It is best not to discuss the accident with anyone other than your attorney. Be mindful that ANY information you put on a social-networking site such as Facebook or Twitter is public information and possibly admissible in court.
9. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY IF YOU NEED ONE. The insurance company has a team of trained professionals who immediately begin working for their insured as soon as an accident is reported. If you are injured, you should have someone working for you and should consult an attorney who specializes in accident cases. If your injuries are minor and you have dealt with insurance companies before, you may not need an attorney. But the initial consultation to find out if you need an attorney is always free at Allen and Allen, so why not discuss your needs with a professional who is on your side? If you don't need us or we can't help you, we'll give you some practical advice on how to handle your claim on your own.
These practical tips should help you avoid making any mistakes before you have a chance to talk to an attorney. When in doubt, protect yourself by talking with an attorney who specializes in injury claims. And, as always, be careful and drive defensively!
About the Author: Trent Kerns is a Chesterfield accident attorney. For over 25 years he has worked to protect the rights of Virginia residents injured in car accidents and other difficult liability cases.
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 The SCC Bureau of Insurance form policy requires "prompt written notice" (Model Policy at PP 05 96 01 05). However, Virginia statutes only require notice "a soon as practicable under the terms of the policy". See Va. Code §38.2-2201.B, which states: "? the coverages ? shall be payable to the covered injured person notwithstanding the failure or refusal of the named insured or other person entitled to the coverage to give notice to the insurer of an accident as soon as practicable under the terms of the policy, except where the failure or refusal prejudices the insurer in establishing the validity of the claim." (See full statute at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+38.2-2201 ). Under either requirement, the insurer must be prejudiced by any failure to give timely notice.