Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Oh No, I Was in a Wreck!

Ljubljana car crash 2013

The day after I finished my article on automobile insurance, I got a first-hand look at why you have it. I was running an errand for work in heavy traffic. The car ahead of me stopped, and so did I. Unfortunately, the car in back of me did not. 

The Accident:

Okay, it happened. Your car and another have made contact and there is damage. What now? First, make sure you and everyone in your car is okay. Then, call 911 to report the accident. Ask the operator if the police will respond, as in some jurisdictions they do not respond to accidents on private property or to property damage only accidents. Ask if you should move the cars. Follow his/her directions. Then, make a decision about whether you are better off in your car our out of it. In most neighborhoods, at most times of day, you do not want to be in the cars above, with fuel on the ground. On the other hand, you don't want to be holding on to three kids on the side of the Interstate. If the police have been called, wait for them to arrive. 

Take a deep breath. Once the police arrive, they will gather the necessary information from both parties. Do not engage with the other parties any more than necessary. If it is a minor accident and the police tell you to exchange information without them (the norm in some areas for fender benders that are blocking traffic and have no injuries) do so quickly, politely and without admitting fault. Take photos of both vehicles where they came to rest and, if possible, on all sides once they are on the side of the road. If the police do not respond, make notes for yourself about what happened, and when it happened. If you decide to make a claim against the other driver's insurance, you will need his/her name, make, model and license number of the car and the insurance information. If someone decides to make a claim against you, or if you make a claim with your insurance company, you'll be asked to provide the same information to your insurance company. If you are going to make a claim, whether against your insurance or the other driver's insurance, call them as soon as possible. 

The Aftermath:

Property Damage

No matter which insurance policy you are making a claim on, the next step for the damage to the car (assuming it has been removed from the scene) is the damage estimate. These are done either by an insurance adjuster or by a body shop, and the process is pretty straight-forward. Few auto accident property damage claims are handled by attorneys unless liability is contested. In my case, the other driver's insurance company has agreements with certain body shops and they deal directly with those shops. While I was free to use any shop I wanted, picking one of those meant that I was able to drop my car off and know that the body shop and the insurance company would deal with each other, and that the insurance company would warranty the work. I got my rental, paid for by his insurance, and until my car is ready, I'm set. 

Bodily Injury

It is not at all uncommon for someone to be "fine" at the scene of an accident, and yet to be very sore the next day. Other people hurt at the scene, often from seat belt or airbag contact. They may have bumps and bruises or broken bones and internal injuries, depending on the severity of the accident. There are two things to remember at this point: 1) unless you have hired an attorney, do not sign a document releasing the insurance company until you are back to normal, health-wise and 2) if it is getting close to a year since the accident, and you are not back to normal, see an attorney, even if you have good health insurance.

The Claim Process

Whether it is you or the other party that calls the accident into your insurance company, once they know about the accident, a claim file is open and a number assigned. At this point your insurance company is looking at two things: 1) Liability: In other words, whose fault is the accident, and to what degree? Is it all your fault? All the other party's? Is liability shared? 2) Damages: In other words, how much is this going to cost? An adjuster will talk to you and, if possible, to the other party to determine how the accident happened, what is wrong with the cars and what injuries were sustained. The majority of car accidents are property damage only and are resolved between the insurance companies with little fuss. But why might that not happen?

Liability. The parties may tell very different stories about how the accident occurred and the insurance companies may not agree on the degree of fault to attribute to each driver.

Damages. In short, the question is how much money did this accident cost the person not at fault? Some elements:

  • Medical Bills. Unless there were pre-existing conditions these are easy to add up.
  • Lost Wages. This can be more tricky, especially with claimants who work irregularly, or are paid commission, but the idea is to compensate for time missed from work due to the accident
  • Pain and Suffering, inconvenience etc. Different jurisdictions use different amounts, but for settlement purposes, most places have a lawyers' rule of them that says x dollars per month that you were injured or treating and y dollars because you have that kind of injury.
Generally speaking, the higher the damages and more speculative, the higher the chance that the case will not settle at the claim level.

My next article will deal with what happens when claims are not resolved, and move into lawsuits.

Photo credit: By Dino Kužnik from Ljubljana, Slovenia (Flickr Uploaded by Sporti) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt*


  1. This is great advice on what to do if you end up in a car accident. So sorry to hear about your own accident. Hopefully no one was hurt!

  2. I've been reading quite a bit about Dash Cams lately as a means to help provide evidence of whose fault an accident was and exactly what happened. May also help in the case where fraudsters throw themselves across the bonnet of a car in an attempt to get compensation out of innocent drivers. Often it's the driver's word against the other party and not everyone is honest about what has happened. I hope you weren't injured or too shaken up by your accident. You've offered some great advice for staying calm and working through the necessary steps to take!

    1. I suppose they could be helpful. I'm just not ready yet to record my whole life, kwim?

  3. I never got that part of it. In our jurisdiction the cops come, but don't write up a report unless someone is hurt. But insurance always wants a police report!

    Sorry to hear about your accident! I hope everyone is okay!

    1. Here, they don't write reports on private property--like parking lots, unless someone claims injury at the scene, but a lot of whiplash injuries don't hurt until the next day.

  4. I never got that part of it. In our jurisdiction the cops come, but don't write up a report unless someone is hurt. But insurance always wants a police report!

    Sorry to hear about your accident! I hope everyone is okay!

  5. Sorry that that had to happen to you. It is though a lesson learnt for us who are reading this blog and I think I will know more about the situation had I not red this blog before. Great piece of information to use when you have an accident. God forbid it happens but when it does your prepared. Thanks.

    Joshua Duncan @ Focus Insurance Atlanta

  6. I'm sorry to hear about your wreck. First off, I hope you're okay! Secondly, I hope you had a comprehensive insurance policy that will help you out in a situation like this. Not sure where you live, but fortunately for me, I have very good Somerset MA car insurance from a wonderful local provider called HIG. When I had my first car accident they were there for me each and every step of the way. :)

    Best of luck!

  7. Car accidents are difficult, but I hope you have a reliable insurance company that is working with you through this tricky situation. If you're in need of a great local car insurance company I would definitely recommend KW Insurance, who provide great car insurance in Norwood Massachusetts and the surrounding areas. Since switching to one of their policies I've been very pleased with the high-level of customer service.

    - Sasha

  8. How crazy is that you make the post on why having insurance is so important, then you follow it up with a real life experience. It is almost like it happened for a reason. Good thing no one was seriously hurt. Thanks for the detailed instructions as to what happens next in the process for those of us that need to learn this.

    Kim Hunter @ KHunter Law

  9. Sorry about your accident. I can't believe that some people actually drive around without insurance. Now, that is risky business. My piece of advice is to always make sure that you keep your auto insurance up to date. If you get involved in an accident, take lots of pictures with your cell-phone camera and wait for the cops to arrive.

  10. Wow, I'm so sorry to hear about your accident... especially after your auto insurance blog post. Were you covered by your insurance agency? Were you liable? Would love to hear more about your experience.

    - J.O. from KW Insurance, the leading car insurance agency in Canton MA