“I think I need a lawyer” Dianna says, as she has a seat in my office. “I was driving down the highway when a car suddenly swerved into my lane.”
Taking up my pen and pad I begin to make notes of the meeting. “Do you have a police report?” I ask, noticing the folder in her hand.
“No” we agreed not to call them to the scene,” she replies. “She was a very nice lady and she had two kids in the car and said she knew it was her fault but she had insurance,” Dianna continued. “So we just exchanged our information.”
“Ok, may I see the card?”
“I have a policy number and a phone number and an adjuster’s name. He is very rude,” she adds. “He told me that his client now says that I swerved into her lane so he is denying the claim.”
“Your case is a swearing match, then,” I reply as I roll my eyes as if I have heard this story all too many times. Dropping my pen, “Do you have any eyewitnesses who can confirm your story?”
“No, I was alone,” says Dianna in a tone reminiscent of a child giving his parents an answer he knows they are not going to like. “I didn’t think I was hurt seriously at the time, so I didn’t want to mess up her insurance rates.”
I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I am afraid that there is little I can do to help you.”
Unfortunately, Dianna’s case in not uncommon. The Good Samaritan agrees not to report the incident and when they go to report the claim, they find the negligent driver’s story has changed, or the insurance has expired, or the company has never heard of the person, or the car is stolen.
If you are in an accident, you should do the following:
1) Check for injuries. If you suspect any injury, get checked out immediately. Some injuries, such as a whiplash injury, may not seem like a serious injury until the next day, when the swelling sets in and the pain is very pronounced. If you have told everyone at the scene that you are “not injured” rest assured the insurance company will parrot that statement back to you and a jury to try to avoid responsibility.
2) If the vehicles are blocking traffic and can be safely moved, move them. It’s the law.
3) Make sure you are off the roadway and in a safe area. Many accidents occur because someone swerves onto a shoulder and hits a person or vehicle that is sitting there. Get as far from the roadway as you can. A parking lot is idea.
4) Call the police and insist on a report. Even if there are no injuries, you need a report. We see people change their story of what happened all the time when there is no report to document it. Sometimes the officer’s will get lazy and tell you that you do not need one. Insist on it. He is not the one who will have to fight the insurance companies over who is at fault. If he continues to refuse, ask for his supervisor’s name and phone number and report it to him.
5) If you have a camera phone, take good pictures of the damage, and any skid marks. Always be sure you are doing this from a safe distance from traffic. Scene photos can also be helpful in understanding the layout of the roads.
6) Make sure you have the officer’s contact information and the other driver’s contact and insurance information before you leave the scene.
7) Report the accident to your own insurance company and find out what kind of coverage you have available in case you need it.
8) Do not give a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company without seeking the advice of a car accident lawyer first. Their adjusters are trained in how to trick you into saying things that can be used against you.
9) Hire an attorney to represent your interests immediately if any of the following is true:
a) Liability is disputed in any way or contributing factors are placed upon you in the police report,
b) You have any injuries that require medical care,
c) You are unfamiliar with the insurance company the person claims to have, or;
d) The other insurance company requests a statement.
Documenting both the accident and the injury is very important. Insurance companies will look for any excuse to fight or even deny your claim. Gaps in treatment, not seeking immediate care, not complaining of injury at the scene—these are all things that insurance companies look for to use as a way to avoid responsibility. If you have any question or concern, you should call a car accident lawyer immediately to get advice.