Getting into a car accident can be downright scary and overwhelming. You may be injured, your car may be damaged, and you may not know what to do next. If you’re considering handling your car accident case on your own, there are several important steps you should take to protect your rights and ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries.
At the outset, we must note that handling your car accident case without a lawyer comes with risk! As we have written about before, personal injury victims typically receive three times more money when they have a lawyer representing them. This is a huge difference!
On top of this, car accident lawyers know important laws which directly impact your claim – like the statute of limitations. If you miss or don’t understand these laws, you may waive your claim! As you can probably guess, we don’t recommend that you handle your car accident claim on your own.
Nevertheless, if you decide to handle your own car accident claim, here are some helpful steps on how to settle a car accident claim without a lawyer.
- Step 1: Stay Calm and Check for Injuries
- Step 2: Exchange Information with the Other Driver and Document the Accident Scene
- Step 3: Notify All Insurance Companies and Determine Insurance Coverage
- Step 4: Seek Medical Treatment
- Step 5: Determine if You Have a Case
- Step 6: Gather Evidence to Support Your Case
- Step 7: Prepare a Car Accident Demand Letter and Negotiate a Settlement
- Step 8: Consider Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
Step 1: Stay Calm and Check for Injuries
The first and most important thing you should do after a car accident is to stay calm and check for injuries. If you or anyone else involved in the car accident is injured, call 911 immediately.
Even if no one is visibly injured, it’s still a good idea to call the police and have them come to the scene of the accident. The police will create an accident report, which will be important evidence later on if you decide to pursue a claim for damages.
If you don’t call the police, the insurance company may later argue the accident was not serious or that you did not complain of injuries. To avoid this from happening, call 911.
Step 2: Exchange Information with the Other Driver and Document the Accident Scene
Assuming that no one is seriously injured, the next step is to exchange information with the other driver. Be sure to get their name, phone number, driver’s license number, insurance information, and the make and model of their car. If there are any witnesses to the accident, try to get their contact information as well.
Additionally, if you are physically able, take photographs of the accident scene, including all vehicles. These photographs will be helpful to show how the accident happened and where the cars were hit and sustained damage.
Often times, people will get their cars repaired right away. When this happens, you may lose the opportunity to see or inspect the car in its damaged state. Avoid this potential problem and take photographs.
Further, check and see if there are any nearby homes or businesses that have cameras pointing to the accident scene. Given that more and more homeowners and businesses use cameras, it is not unusual to find video recordings of car accidents.
Step 3: Notify All Insurance Companies and Determine Insurance Coverage
Notify your car insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. It’s important to let your insurance company know about the car accident because you will be entitled to personal injury protection benefits, a critical coverage benefit under your insurance policy. If you fail to do so within 14 days, you may will your rights to these benefits.
Additionally, notify the other driver’s insurance company about the car accident and get the driver’s coverage information. But, you must be careful about what you say. The insurance company will ask you about the accident, your injuries, whether you missed time from work, and other information. You don’t want to say something that may be taken the wrong way and hurt your injury claim.
Importantly, you may learn the other driver has no or low bodily injury coverage. For example, the other driver may only have $10,000 in bodily injury coverage for your injuries. This may be woefully inadequate for your injuries. If you went to the hospital after the accident, its likely you have large medical bill that exceeds the driver’s $10,000 in bodily injury coverage. So understand your settlement may be limited by the available insurance coverage.
Further, it is critical to see if you have uninsured motorist coverage on your policy. If, as discussed above, the party that hit you as no or low bodily injury coverage, you may then have to turn to your own car insurance policy for a potential financial recovery. So check and see if you have uninsured motorist coverage.
Step 4: Seek Medical Treatment
It’s critically important to seek medical treatment after your car accident. Even if you don’t notice any symptoms, you may still have suffered an injury. Often times, injuries may not show up right away. Also, you may have symptoms of any injury, but not relate the symptoms to the car accident. So seek medical care to rule out potential injuries.
What is more, if you wait to receive medical treatment, the insurance company will argue your injuries are not related to the car accident. This is true even if there is an innocent reason why you waited to receive medical treatment.
So, after your car accident get medical treatment!
Step 5: Determine if You Have a Case
If you’re considering handling your car accident case on your own, you need to determine whether you have a case. In general, you may have a case if the other driver was at fault for the accident and you suffered damages. Damages can include things like medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damage.
Well, how do you determine if the other driver is at fault? Generally speaking, we determine fault by relying on the negligence standard, which is defined as the failure to use reasonable care. Importantly, there is no standard fact pattern to prove a party was negligent. Every case is unique.
A party can be negligent by failing to stop at stop sign, failing to yield the right of way to another driver when required, hitting another driver from behind when the car is at a complete stop, texting and driving, etc.
As you can see, a party can be negligent in a number of different ways. It simply depends on the facts and circumstances of your car accident.
Step 6: Gather Evidence to Support Your Case
If you decide to pursue a claim for damages, you’ll need to gather evidence to support your case. This includes medical bills, repair estimates, and documentation of lost wages.
Additionally, and if you are able, get statements from witnesses and, if helpful, the accident report. While the accident report is generally not admissible in court proceedings, insurance companies will find it persuasive in pre-lawsuit negotiations.
Step 7: Prepare a Car Accident Demand Letter and Negotiate a Settlement
Once you have gathered all the necessary evidence, you can then draft and send a car accident demand letter. We have written before about what makes an effective car accident demand letter.
After you send your car accident demand letter, you can begin negotiating a settlement with the other driver’s insurance company. Be prepared to make a counteroffer if the insurance company’s initial offer is too low. Remember, you have the right to reject any offer that you feel is unfair.
How can you tell what is a reasonable settlement offer for your injuries and damages? Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to this question. Every car accident case and car accident victim is unique.
You must remember something very important when settling your car accident case: once you settle, it’s over. You can’t go back and ask for money, even if your injuries worsen or you discover new injuries or damages. What does this mean? It means you must be thoughtful when settling your car accident case – your settlement should recover all of your damages.
Step 8: Consider Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
If you’re not comfortable negotiating with the insurance company on your own, or if you feel that your case is particularly complex, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. An experienced car accident attorney can help you with your accident claim and ensure that your rights are protected. Further, an experienced car accident lawyer may help find additional sources of insurance coverage – sources a non-lawyer may not know were available!
Handling a car accident case on your own will be challenging, and we don’t recommend doing so in the vast majority of cases. Nevertheless, remember to maintain documents and records, gather evidence, and be prepared to negotiate for a fair settlement.
If you’re not sure how to proceed or are stuck, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help guide you through the process. As long as you have not settled your car accident claim, a car accident lawyer can pick up your claim where you left off. So whether you are still seeking medical treatment, in the middle of settlement talks, etc., a car accident lawyer can jump in and take over your case right away!
Barthelette Law – Your Florida Car Accident Lawyer
At Barthelette Law, we have the privilege of representing car accident victims throughout Florida. Having represented numerous car accident victims, we understand the impart car accidents can have on those involved and their families. At Barthelette Law, we are prepared to help you with your car accident.
Contact us today!