What You Should do if You’re in an Accident
By: J & B
After you have been in a motor vehicle accident, it may be difficult for you to think clearly, let alone think in terms of protecting any legal claims you may have as a result of the accident. However, there are some simple steps you should take after an accident, no matter how minor it may be, that can help protect you after the accident – especially if you have trouble down the road getting the insurance company to pay your medical expenses or other covered losses.
Exchange insurance and contact information.
If your accident involved another driver, you should exchange your insurance information and contact information with them, but nothing else. Do not discuss fault. Do not discuss the accident. Even simple statements like, “I didn’t see you” or “I’m sorry” may come back to haunt you later when it’s time to determine fault. On the other hand, make note of anything the other driver may have said after the accident. Such statements could be helpful in the event there is later legal action.
Collect information about the accident.
It is important to take note of as much information about the accident and how it occurred as you can while you still remember it. If you have a camera, take pictures of the accident scene, including the damage to your car and the other vehicle. If there were witnesses to the accident, ask them for their contact information. Write down a narrative of how the accident happened. There may be important details or impressions you remember immediately following the crash that you may not remember a couple of days later.
Call the police.
It is always a good idea to have a police report for the accident – and if someone was injured in the crash or a vehicle had to be towed from the scene, then the police must file an accident report. The officer will review the property damage to both vehicles and should attempt to interview the drivers, any passengers and any witnesses to the accident. The officer also may make a conclusion as to fault and include it in the official accident report. Traffic citations may be issued if the police feel violations of the vehicle code were committed. You will want to keep a copy of this report for your own records.
Go to the ER.
There have been many people who have walked away from a car accident thinking they were fine only to learn later that they were injured. Don’t be one of those people. You could have a concussion, a neck or back injury or even a traumatic brain injury and not be aware of it immediately after the accident. If you do not want to go to the emergency room, then consider making an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you have any symptoms or medical conditions following the collision. Either way, it is important to find out if you have been injured in the accident and, if you have been, to get the treatment you need to get better.
Contact your lawyer
Before you call your insurance company to report the accident, contact your attorney. Even your own insurance company may not have your best interests in mind after an accident. As soon as you speak with a claims representative, the insurer is going to begin collecting information that can be used against you, either to deny your claim or to significantly reduce the amount of your recovery. An attorney experienced in helping accident victims can work to protect you by establishing the validity of your claim and working to maximize the amount of your monetary recovery. A lawyer also can help you if the insurance company tries to use any unfair practices against you, like avoiding your calls and using other tactics to delay paying your claim.
Protect Yourself before the Accident: Buy the Right Type of Insurance Coverage
While there may be little you can do to prevent someone else from hitting you, you can take steps to make sure that you have maximum financial coverage in case you are injured in a motor vehicle accident. The most important way to do this is to buy the right type of insurance coverage.
In Pennsylvania, this means four key things:
- Maximize your Liability coverage
- Maximize your Uninsured and Underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage
- Always choose “full tort” coverage and not “Limited tort” coverage
Elect to “Stack” your UM/UIM coverage
State law only requires drivers to carry liability coverage in the amount of, $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident (often referred to as 15/30 coverage). This means that if you are involved in a car accident and injure someone else, your insurance company will pay a maximum of $15,000 to each injured person up to a total of $30,000 for the accident. If you are in an accident that seriously injures someone, however, these amounts are unlikely to pay all of the injured person’s medical expenses thus exposing you to legal action for the remainder of the damages. It is normally prudent to carry liability insurance coverage in greater amounts, usually at least limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.
Since liability coverage only covers the people you may injure in an accident, you need additional coverage for you in case you are injured. This is known as a UM/UIM coverage, or “uninsured” and “underinsured” motorist coverage. UM policies provide coverage in cases when you are hit by a driver who does not have car insurance. It also will cover you if you struck by a hit and run driver. UIM policies provide coverage if you are hit by a driver who does not have enough insurance to cover all of your injuries. For example, if you suffer catastrophic injuries in a car accident and the other driver only carries the basic liability requirements (15/30 coverage), your UIM policy can help cover the difference, up to the UIM policy limits.
Lastly, Pennsylvania drivers are given the option to select full tort or limited tort coverage. Full tort coverage means that you have full legal rights to recover compensation for all of your losses from the at-fault driver – both economic and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Limited tort coverage, on the other hand, means just what it says – you have limited legal rights to recover compensation for your injuries from the at-fault driver. Thus, a limited tort insured may normally collect only economic damages such as the medical expenses incurred.
Thus, if you have a limited tort policy, you generally only will be able to recover your economic losses in a lawsuit against the other driver, which includes medical expenses, lost wages and other out-of-pocket expenses. Your ability to recover compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses (often the largest component of damages) is limited to four exceptions:
- The accident was caused by a drunk driver
- The accident was caused by an out-of-state driver
- You were in a “commercial vehicle” at the time of the accident
- You sustained a “serious injury” in the accident
Under Pennsylvania law, a serious injury is defined as an injury that “results in death, serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement.” The law, however, does not specifically define serious impairment of a bodily function or permanent serious disfigurement, which can make it very difficult for accident victims with a limited tort policy to recover damages for pain and suffering even when they have what most people would consider a serious injury.
Limited tort policies are attractive because they can lower insurance premiums by as much as 15%. This cost savings, however, will not seem so significant if you are seriously injured in a car accident. There are other ways to cut costs from an insurance policy, like increasing your deductible, which will be less harmful overall than choosing a limited tort policy.
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, make an attorney experienced in handling accident cases one of the first people you call. Your attorney can begin working on your behalf to protect your rights and help you recover the compensation you are owed. For more information, contact a knowledgeable attorney today.