If you are involved in an automobile accident involving another occupied automobile, the law required that you immediately stop and exchange information with the opposing driver. The duties are set out by Washington statute:
“Unless otherwise provided in subsection (7) of this section the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person, or involving striking the body of a deceased person, or resulting in damage to any vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property shall give his or her
• insurance company,
• insurance policy number, and
• vehicle license number and
• shall exhibit his or her vehicle driver’s license to any person struck or injured or the driver or any occupant of, or any person attending, any such vehicle collided with and
• shall render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying or the making of arrangements for the carrying of such person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or if such carrying is requested by the injured person or on his or her behalf.”
Obtain the opposing parties information.
It is important to collect the same information from the other driver, and to write down any comments made by the other driver. Most people do not write down the names and phone numbers of witnesses, thinking that the police will make an adequate record. Oftentimes, the police do not write down that information and it is therefore a good idea to collect it yourself if possible. If you have a camera or a cell phone with camera capability, remember that pictures are worth a thousand words. Recording the scene could come in very handy later if there is a lawsuit that results from the collision.
Report the incident to your insurance company.
Your insurance policy requires that you cooperate with your own insurance company. You should report the accident to your insurance company and cooperate with your own insurance company as they gather information about the collision. Write down your claim number, your claims adjuster name, and the phone number for the claims adjuster. It is always best not to discuss the specifics of your injuries without having consulted with an attorney first. This is especially true at the beginning of a claim, when you may not know the full extent of your injuries and you may be optimistic about your recovery. If your optimism is ill-founded, you will later regret not having had the benefit of counsel. We are not suggesting that you exaggerate your claim in any manner since that course of action is dishonest and unwise, but that you merely decline to discuss specifics until you are certain of your situation.
Consult an attorney before talking to the opposing insurance company.
In all likelihood the opposing party’s insurance company will want to take information from you. It is always best to consult with an attorney before you consent to a tape recorded interview by
the opposing party’s insurance company. Especially in cases of injury, it is our experience that is the at fault insurance company will attempt early on to take a tape recorded statement, and may make an offer of settlement for damages, including medical expenses or pain and suffering.
It is our belief that it is a mistake to settle with an at-fault insurance company for personal injuries too soon after a collision. Many times, people are injured in a collision and do not realize the full extent of their injuries until days or weeks or even months have passed. Remember, once you have accepted a settlement check from an at fault insurance company for personal injury or bodily injury, the claim will be closed and you will not be able to recover additional money, even if you later find out that you are more seriously injured than you first thought.
Obtain medical treatment for your injuries.
If you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, you may have a claim for personal injury (also called bodily injury), including necessary and reasonable medical bills pain-and-suffering loss of life enjoyment and incidental expenses that are directly attributable to your injuries. The value of a claim for personal injury is always negotiable, but it is important to seek treatment that you actually need and to document your injuries by seeking competent medical treatment.
Do not try to bolster your claim by seeking treatment that you do not actually need. Such a course of action is dishonest and generally backfires. The rule of thumb is to obtain treatment that you need, but do not seek treatment if you don’t need it.
How to pay for your medical treatment.
Hopefully, you were right been in an automobile which was fully insured. Your immediate medical needs should be covered under the Personal Injury Protection (called PIP or MEDPAY) portion of the insurance policy. Be sure to tell your medical care providers of that your injuries were received in a car accident, and give your treating care provider information related to your claim so that your insurance company can be billed directly. This should be your primary source for payment for treatment.
The secondary source for payment of medical treatment will probably be your personal health-insurance policy. Once again, you should inform your care providers that your injuries were received in a car accident. Your personal health-insurance company will most likely have a subrogation interest in any recovery that you receive. In most circumstances, your automobile insurance PIP coverage will also result in a subrogation lien against any recovery that you might obtain.
A subrogation claim, simply put, is a claim arising from the right of an insurer to be made whole by whoever caused your injuries and therefore cost your insurer money for your care. A subrogation interest operates as a matter of law and must be satisfied in most circumstances, but there are exceptions which your attorney can explain to you in more detail. Generally, you cannot settle a claim without paying back the insurance company which paid for your health care.
Property damage settlement.
It is common for the at fault insurance company to settle a property damage claim to your automobile separately from any claim you might have for medical expenses or other bodily or personal injury. This is an exception to our advice not to accept a settlement check too soon after a collision. Accepting a settlement for the property damage from the at-fault insurance company does not extinguish your claim for injuries that you might have received from the at fault driver.
If the opposing insurance company asks that you sign any kind of a release of claims, consult an attorney first. If there is fine print on the back of the check, read it very carefully. It may be a release of all claims, which could extinguish other rights to recovery that you may have. You should insist that your automobile be prepared in a professional and responsible manner, consistent with industry standards. Don’t accept repairs which are substandard.
If your car is not drivable, you are entitled to a rental car, but will probably have to pay the cost of the rental car until you have settled the property claim with the at fault insurance company. If you accept a rental car proposal, you have a duty to minimize the amount of time you drive the car at someone else’s expense, and you therefore should promptly to your automobile and return the rental car immediately when the repairs are complete.
If your car is totaled, you must come to an agreement with the opposing at fault insurance company on the fair market value of your car, and when a reasonable offer is made for the value of your car you should once again immediately returned the rental car. There is no obligation for the opposing insurance company to pay for your rental car after they had made a fair offer for the value of your car. When you accept the fair market value of a totaled automobile, the insurance company that paid you owns the wrecked automobile and you should sign title over upon receipt of the payment. You generally will not receive any extra money for improvements that you have recently made to law directly increase the fair market value of your automobile. In some cases, you may purchase the wrecked automobile back for its salvage value.
You are entitled to the fair market value of your car, if it is totaled.
The amount of damages you are entitled to for your totaled automobile is the fair market value of your car. Fair market value is the value that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller in a free and open marketplace. You are not entitled to the amount of debt you owe on your car, unless you happen to owe the exact fair market value of your car. People who drive new automobiles often find that their car is not worth as much as they owe, and they may find themselves in a situation where they still owe payments for a car they no longer own.
In today’s marketplace, buyers have the ability to determine if automobiles have been previously damaged, and the fact that your car has been in a collision may affect its resale value. We call this a “diminished value” claim, and it is an amount which you may be entitled to recover under certain circumstances.
What to do if your vehicle is towed.
Your insurance company or the at-fault insurance company should reimburse you for the expense of having your vehicle towed. If your car is totaled, you have the right to retrieve personal property from your vehicle, and you should therefore contact the towing company and ask permission to remove items of personal property from your vehicle. Be sure to take pictures of your vehicle, since the pictures may come in handy later in the event of a lawsuit. The tow yard will require identification and they may require proof of ownership for their own protection. If your car is not totaled, act promptly to get it out of the tow yard and into a responsible repair shop.
You are better off with an attorney.
The at-fault insurance company would like you to believe that you will have more money in your pocket if you don’t have to split it with an attorney. That is the reason that the at fault insurance company often contacts victim was of automobile accidents within hours or days of the collision to take tape-recorded statements and offer money. That assertion is not true. If your injuries are minor, and the offer from an insurance company is fair, reputable attorneys will tell you that, and send you on your way without taking a fee.
The attorneys at Becker Rovang, PLLC can tell you many stories of cases that have come into our office with low initial settlement offers from insurance companies anxious to keep attorneys out of the loop, that eventually settled for many multiples of the initial offer. The initial consultation is free.
If you don’t like what you hear, walked out of the office and don’t look back. More information is better than no information, and you certainly will not be worse off for consulting with an attorney prior to making a decision which could affect your life.