5 Important Things to Do If You’re In an Auto Accident
1. Wait at the Scene for the Police
Every accident claim has two components, liability (who is at fault) and damages (how much is owed in compensation). One important factor in establishing liability is the outcome of the police investigation. The resulting police report often determines who is responsible for the accident. If the cars are moved or you leave the scene before an officer can investigate, you may lose the opportunity to definitively establish the fault of the other driver. With cutbacks in municipal departments there is sometimes only one officer assigned to investigate traffic accidents. It can take patience to await the arrival of the investigating officer under difficult circumstances, but spending the time to allow the police to investigate the accident could prove invaluable to resolving questions of liability.
2. Get Witness Information If You Can
If you are physically able to safely navigate the accident scene, collect the names and contact information from any witnesses. If the witness stays in the vicinity until the police arrive, their observations will be factored into the police investigative report. However, if the witness is unable to remain at the scene, providing the investigating officer with the witnesses’ name and contact information may allow the police to later question the witness about their observations.
3. Take Photos
With camera equipped cell phones, cameras are everywhere. If you can, start with photographs of the accident scene. Later, when it is safe to do so, document the damage to the vehicles. Finally, and most significantly, depict the visible injuries sustained in the accident. This includes physical effects directly caused by the accident, as well as after effects of treatment such as surgical scaring.
4. Don’t Sign Anything without Consulting an Attorney
Immediately following the accident, the other driver’s insurance adjuster may seem like your best friend, promising quick assistance in exchange for your cooperation. In Connecticut the company of the driver who is at fault makes no payment until the case is fully and finally settled or resolved at trial. There are no interim payments made by the other driver’s company to help with medical bills, lost wages or other expenses. The ultimate resolution of a claim can take months or years, because no claim should be resolved until the full extent of the injuries sustained in the accident can be determined. Quickly responding to an adjuster’s request for authorizations that will allow the insurance company to collect your medical records could provide the insurance company with access to personal medical information that has nothing to do with the accident. For example, records relating to treatment received before the accident could allow the adjuster to devalue your claim by creating confusion about what injuries were caused by the accident. It is essential to maintain control of the information provided to the insurer following the accident. If you feel you have a serious injury consult with an attorney as soon as possible, before any authorizations or witness statements are provided to the insurer representing the driver at fault.
5. Know Your Own Benefits
Connecticut allows drivers to purchase optional medical coverage on their automobile insurance. If you have such coverage and sustain an injury in an auto accident your auto insurance may become your primary source of medical coverage. Such coverage may also include a disability benefit, providing limited reimbursement for lost wages. If you are injured by a driver who is uninsured, has minimal coverage, or who leaves the scene and cannot be identified, it may be necessary to file a claim against your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Certain limitations, however apply to such coverage, including notice requirements that may be mandated by your policy or Connecticut law. Even if the other driver was entirely at fault it is vital that you review and understand your personal motor vehicle coverage.