You have a legal obligation to cooperate with your car insurance claims representative regarding the facts of your collision. However, it's vital that you understand the scope of what information you are required to provide so you don't inadvertently damage your case.
Filing Your Claim
Your first priority after an auto accident should be seeking medical attention for any serious or life-threatening injuries. After the immediate medical needs of all involved have been addressed, you will want to provide information to law enforcement officers on the scene regarding the facts of the collision and how it occured. When dealing with law enforcement, make sure you are honest and that you describe how the collision occurred to the best extent possible. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene and secure contact information from any witnesses or from the other driver.
Although you should file your claim promptly, it's not necessary to contact your insurance company the same day as your accident or while at the scene of the accident. It's fine to wait until you return home or until you've had a chance to rest and recover from the initial shock of the collision.
If you're worried about the cost of the accident and how it will affect your future insurance premiums, you might be tempted to forgo making a report. However, you must report all accidents—even if you believe the other driver is 100 percent at fault. The terms of your policy most likely require full disclosure of every accident. It's also possible that you may be found partially at fault for the accident and you rinsurance company may need to defend you. Additionally, it is posbbile the other driver has insufficient insurance coverage to provide reimbursement for your damages and you may need to make an underinsured motorist claim against your own insurance company. If you have not been cooperative, you may compromise your own bility to protect yourself from claims or your right of recovery.
Your Insurance Company’s Rights
Policy terms vary, but most auto insurance companies require the following after an accident has been reported:
- You must provide a basic factual account of the accident. This includes a general statement of what happened before and immediatly after the accident, identity of those involved and witness names to the collision. Your insurance comapny may ask about contact information for the doctors who are treating your injuries, but this information should be withheld until you speak with an attorney.
- You must allow access to your medical and work records. Your insurance agent will likely ask you to sign a form authorizing the release of these records so your losses can be formally verified before a settlement offer is made. I do not recommend that you provide the insurance company with an authorization to secure your medical records without first consulting an attorney. Those are your private records and you control the distribution of those records. However, at the time you are prepared to resolve your claim you will then be required to provide the medical record and billing information required to justify settlement of your claim.
- You must allow the insurance company's representative to inspect your vehicle. Taking pictures of your vehicle damage at the scene of the accident is helpful, but the insurance company is entitled to request an in-person inspection before repairs are made.
The concept of subrogation rights may also factor into your car accident settlement. Subrogation is intended to prevent double recovery, which means you're not allowed to profit twice from a car accident settlement.
Subrogation refers to the right of a third party to collect reimbursement for any payments they've already made on your behalf if another party is found liable for the incident and pays for those same losses. In a car accident case, this can happen when you use your own car insurance to pay for repairs to your car or your own health insurance to pay medical expenses. If you're covered by government assistance benefits such as Medicaid or Medicare, subrogation will apply as well. The government requires a person using public healthcare benefits to repay that which has been expended by the government and then recovered by the injured party from another insurance company.
Hiring an Attorney
Unfortunately, your insurance company may not have your best interests in mind as they're working to process your claim. To protect yourself, it's best to obtain professional legal representation.
A skilled personal injury attorney can guide you through every step of the settlement process. Your attorney can:
- Review any release you sign to make sure you're not giving permission to the insurance company to look at irrelevant information such as your credit history, unrelated medical historical medical care or any medical condition not related to your current injuries.
- Participate with you at any statement you may provide to make sure you're not providing information that could be misinterpreted or used against you.
- If you're determined to be partially at fault for the accident, the attorney can negotiate on your behalf to lower your percentage of fault. Since there is no set formula for determining fault following an auto accident, a skilled attorney can increase your eligibility for compensation by showing that you are either not liable, or less liable for the collision than what the opposing side wants to attribute to you.
- Locate experts to testify on your behalf and obtain evidence to support your case.
- Make settlement demands and review settlement offers to make sure they adequately compensate you for your damages.
- If appropriate settlements are not received, the attorney will prepare the case for trial and then try the matter to secure a proper verdict for all the medical expenses, loss of earnings, other out of pocket losses as well as the pain and suffering from the injuries.
The legal team at Inland Empire Law Group is committed to helping California residents who have been injured in auto, motorcycle and truck accidents receive the compensation they need to move forward with their lives. Please call to schedule a free, no-obligation case review at either our Victorville or Rancho Cucamonga locations. You can reach us at 909-481-0100 for the main Rancho Cucamonga office, 760-243-9100 for Victorville cases or (888) MY IE LAW for cases anywhere in Southern California.