You never think that an auto accident can happen to you but the reality is quite different. According to the car insurance industry, the average driver files an auto accident & property damage claim every 17.9 years. That adds up to three or four accidents over the course of a lifetime.
The fact is, every time you drive on California’s busy highways, there is a chance of having an accident. While most do not cause serious injuries or fatalities, you can expect the damage to your car to be expensive. Even a fender bender can result in high repair costs.
Before you are ever in a car accident, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. For one, be familiar with your insurance policy. Most people have no idea what the terms of their coverage are or how much their insurance will pay. Always keep your proof of insurance in your car. Know the name of your agent and who to contact when you need to file an auto accident & property damage claim. The more you prepare in advance, the easier it will be to avoid mistakes in the process and to get everything done within the time limits allowed.
The First Thing to Do After an Accident
The most important thing to do is to find out if there are injuries and call 911 if anyone needs medical attention. Getting medical treatment takes precedence over everything else. If no one is injured, you have more time to collect information that you need for your claim.
If the accident isn’t an emergency, the police aren’t going to come out unless they are called. Call the local police on their non-emergency line to let them know the accident took place and to have them come out to the location. Your insurance company may require the police to make an accident report before they will pay your claim. There are some things you should and shouldn’t do while waiting for the police.
Get the names, contact numbers, driver’s license numbers, and insurance information from other drivers involved in the accident. Also, gather information from any witnesses. Later, proving fault will help you get your claim paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Do not take blame for any portion of the accident. This includes making any agreements or signing any documents. Also, don’t tell anyone that you are not injured. The adrenaline produced in response to the accident sometimes blocks the pain of injuries until hours or days later. Even if you think you are fine, you may have back, neck, or other injuries that you aren’t yet aware of.
Notify Your Insurance Company Immediately
Report the accident to your insurance agent/company immediately. Insurance companies have specific time limits for reporting accidents. If you fail to meet them, they can deny your claim.
Your insurance company will obtain a copy of the accident report and take information from you. They will also use the estimate for damages to your vehicle to determine whether to repair it or replace it outright. Generally, this depends on which option costs the least.
If damages exceed $750,000 or there are personal injuries, you are also required to report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days. Otherwise, they may suspend your driver’s license.
Should I Contact the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company?
Some legal professionals advise you to contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company. A safer approach is to let your insurance company deal with the auto accident & property damage claim. In fact, most auto accident attorneys will advise you not to speak with the at-fault driver’s insurance company directly during any part of the claim process.
Even though the other driver is at fault, your insurance company may opt to pay you directly. They can then collect from the at-fault driver’s insurance company through subrogation. When they choose this option, they will pay you for your damages and you don’t have to deal with the other insurance company. However, you must not do anything that puts the recovery in jeopardy. The insurance company must notify you if they don’t pursue subrogation.
Your priority is to get your car paid for so you have something to drive to work tomorrow. The insurance company’s first priority is to pay you as little as possible. There may also be other kinds of property inside your car that they are liable for. Don’t expect the insurance company to step up to the plate and make you a fair offer. It’s better to let your insurance company handle your claim. If they aren’t helpful, then it’s a good idea to have an auto accident attorney to protect your rights.
Know Your Rights
You have rights but if you aren’t aware of them, you could lose out. California is an ‘at-fault’ or ‘tort’ state, meaning that insurance companies only pay claims to the other driver if they can prove fault. To further complicate matters, it is also a ‘pure comparative negligence’ state. Under this law, you can be found partially to blame for the accident, which reduces the amount of damages you collect.
Drivers file auto accident & property damage claims all the time. Some of them make the choice to complete the forms on their own. Trying to file any legal document without understanding the law can result in a forfeit of your rights. Failing to act within the law can prevent you from getting paid for your loss of personal property.
The best way to protect your rights is to talk with an auto accident attorney right after the accident. They know the laws, how much compensation you deserve for property damages, and how to handle the insurance company. An auto accident attorney knows the right way and the time limits to complete a claim in California and when filing with your insurance company isn’t enough.
Determine How Much Recovery You Are Entitled To
The rule of thumb is that your recovery is equal to the difference between your car’s value immediately prior to the accident and immediately after the accident. This amount may equal the cost of repairs or its fair market value. The insurance company chooses one of these methods based on the cost of repair.
If the insurance company decides to pay the cost of repairs instead of totaling your car, you can usually choose who you want to make the repairs. The insurance company has the right to request after-market parts if they are equal in quality to OEM parts.
As mentioned earlier, you are also entitled to recover for property inside your vehicle that gets damaged during the accident. If you wear prescription glasses, carry your computer with you to school, or transport tools of your trade to work, you deserve damages for those items as well. You only have one chance to file for damages when you file the original claim. Make sure you know what is covered on your policy so that no damages are left unpaid.
Contact Your Insurance Company After a Reasonable Wait
It may take up to two weeks or longer to gather the information and consider your claim. If you haven’t heard anything from your insurance company within this period of time, contact them to learn the status of the claim. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, contact the Department of Insurance.
Juggling Your Responsibilities for Filing an Auto Accident & Property Damage Claim
The problem with trying to take the right steps to recover damages after a car accident is that there are so many time limits and procedures you must follow. For example, your insurance company requires you to report the accident within a specified time period while the state of California allows three years to file a lawsuit related to auto insurance. There is also a certain amount of time for filing the initial claim. To further complicate the process, different factors can change these time limits. For example, you have more time to report the accident if it was a hit and run and if it is a criminal case.
Work with an Auto Accident Attorney
The fact is that even the first steps to follow after a car accident are fraught with “what ifs” and legal innuendos. Do you know what to do if an uninsured driver crashes into you? What if they flee the scene?
The laws related to auto accidents in California are complex. All it takes is one mistake to keep you from getting the full value of your property damage. Working with an auto accident attorney from the beginning will help protect your rights and prevent mistakes from costing you in the end.
Too often, drivers take their insurance coverage for granted. They expect the insurance company to pay for damages whenever an accident costs them. The problem is that the insurance company prefers to collect premiums and pay as little back in settlements as possible.
One of the most common issues that arises is that of fault. Insurance companies often try to place part of the fault on you. If they can win their point, they can pay less in damages.
Another common tactic is to offer the person a settlement for less than their claim is worth. Always keep in mind that the insurance company, both yours and the at-fault driver’s, have their own best interests in mind.
That’s why an auto accident attorney is so important to you. They know the laws, the tactics used by the insurance companies, and your rights according to California auto insurance and accident laws.
When the insurance company doesn’t pay, an auto accident & property damage claim lets them know that you intend to pursue your case for damages. When they fail to respond, the next step is to pursue damages in court. If your claim gets to this point, you want an experienced auto accident attorney who is familiar with your case to fight for you.
If you’ve been in an auto accident, contact Batta Fulkerson for an evaluation of your case. We know your rights and we will help you get the damages you deserve.