Protecting Yourself After an Auto Accident

October 18, 2011

As always, protecting yourself begins long before the actual accident.

Most of my columns are about protecting yourself and your wealth against a variety of claims and liabilities, but what if the asset you need preserve is your rights or a family member’s rights if you are in an accident and injured? Just as people try to assign liability when none exists, others (including insurance companies) routinely try to disclaim liability when it is clear. 

The insurance business model is often adverse to the interests of the parties covered by the insurance company, even your own insurance company, which seeks to exclude as much of any claim as possible to increase its profit margins.

To help create a simple guide to preserve your rights in the unfortunate event of an accident I turned to an expert, Arizona personal injury and business litigation attorney Michael Troncellito. He provided some excellent guidance that we have arranged into a step by step guide below.

As always, protecting yourself begins long before the actual accident. You must have the correct auto insurance coverage to protect yourself in case the other driver is not financially responsible, is uninsured, or you are the clear at-fault party. You should have:

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (“UM”): To cover your injuries and damages when the at-fault driver has no insurance.
Under Insured Motorist Coverage (“UIM”): To cover your injuries and damages when the at-fault driver has insurance, but not enough to fully compensate you for your injuries and damages.
Medical Payments Coverage (“Med Pay”): To cover your and your passengers’ initial medical bills, regardless of who is at fault for causing the accident.

Speak to your auto insurance agent about these coverage types. The premiums for these additional coverage types are minimal and do not increase after using the coverage if you are not at fault for causing the accident. As always, we also suggest that you take proactive measures to put your collectible assets out of reach. This both limits the exposure you face and makes the coverage you have in place a more complete and finite target for the other party’s lawyers.

What to do:

1. Safety First. Call 911. It doesn’t matter how big or small you think the accident is. Call 911. If there are no serious injuries, move the involved vehicles to the side of the road. Get out of harm’s way and to a safe place. Make sure that an incident report is taken. An incident report is absolutely necessary to protect your rights. Without independent verification of what happened (i.e., a police report), the insurance company will not accept liability for its driver.
2. Exchange insurance information: Each driver’s name, address, phone number, vehicle make, model, year, and color, plus insurance company name and policy number, should be exchanged.
3. Admit nothing. Do not even apologize. You should not admit anything to the other driver. If the accident could arguably be your fault, make sure you do not apologize. An apology may be viewed as an admission that you are responsible for the accident.
4. Use your in-vehicle emergency kit. If you have an emergency kit in the car, use it! Grab that pen and paper and make sure to take notes. The accident is freshest in your mind at this point. Do not share the notes with anyone other than your attorney.
5. Seek medical attention. Do this if you are injured or think you may be injured. Even if you do not think you are injured, you may be. So, seek immediate medical attention. If your head is “foggy”, make sure you seek treatment even if nothing else hurts. You can still suffer a concussion or other brain injury, even if you did not hit your head.
6. Photograph and document the accident damage. Make sure you get photos of the other vehicle. Take pictures of your vehicle too. If you don’t have a camera, most cell phones have a photo feature.
7. DO NOT talk on the phone to the insurance company; not even yours. Immediately following an accident is NOT the time to talk to the insurance company. Your emotions will wind up being a disservice to you in the claim process.

Once you have an attorney hired, the insurance companies will stop bothering you and contact your attorney directly. The attorney can also advise you of how to proceed with each remaining step of the process. Police reports and attorneys - without getting both, you stand little chance of successfully protecting your rights.

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