At the scene of a collision
Q: What should I do at the scene of an accident?
Most people know to collect the other driver’s insurance information. But you should also get the other driver’s name, address, license plate number and driver’s license number. This information may come in handy later if you have trouble resolving the claim with the insurance company. It is also a good idea to take a photo of the other driver’s insurance card or driver’s license with your cell phone if you can. But be careful, if the other driver is angry or aggressive call the police and avoid any kind of physical confrontation.
Q: Should I call the police?
It is usually a good idea to call the police, even if you don’t think it is a serious accident. The police will take statements from both drivers, which prevents the other driver from changing their story later on. The opinions of a police officer also carry weight with insurance companies and with judges. If the police say that the other driver is at fault, everyone usually listens. The police can also make sure you have all of the information you need about the other driver and create a police report that will document the collision.
Q: Do I need to file a police report?
The Washington State Patrol can help you figure you if you are required by law to file a report. But it’s always a good idea to do so. In fact it’s best to have the police come to the scene. The officer will write a report and this opinion carries weight. The officer can help provide neutral observations, find witnesses and prevent the other driver from changing their story.
Q: I’ve been in an accident, what can I do to preserve my rights?
If you don’t want to hire an attorney yet, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Make sure you keep copies and take photographs of everything. Even if you don’t think you will need it, it is better to be safe than sorry. Take pictures of your car, of the other driver’s car, and of your injuries. If you can take photos of the scene, if there are skid marks these can disappear before you can talk to an attorney and that evidence may be lost forever. Write down everything that happened so you don’t forget important details. Write down everything you can about the other driver, not just the name of their insurance. You want to have their address, their phone number, their insurance information. If you can, take a photo of their insurance card.
Repairing your vehicle:
Q: I need my car how do I get it fixed?
Usually, insurance will pay for repairs. If the other driver caused the accident, their insurance should pay for the repairs. If the other driver’s insurance won’t pay, talk to your insurance to find out if you have coverage.
Certain insurance companies will invent very creative reasons to refuse to admit their driver was at fault. These reasons often have little basis in law or fact. An attorney can help pressure them to make a decision and admit their driver is at fault.
Q: Where should I go to get my car fixed?
You should always go to a body shop that you think is reliable. Check online and read the reviews before going to a body shop. You do not have to go to the body shop that your insurance company recommends, you can always go somewhere else to make sure you get a complete estimate. You might also try going to Verifacts Automotive, which has a list of highly regarding body shops that are usually reliable.
Q: The insurance company recommended a body shop, can I go somewhere else?
You should always go to a body shop that you are comfortable with. Many of the national collision repair chains rely on referrals from insurance companies for repeat business. This means they may have a conflict of interest because they want to keep getting referrals. Washington law provides that an insurance company cannot simply reject an estimate because you don’t go to their approved body shop. If they claim an estimate is too high, they must give you a written explanation of why it is too high.
Q: Do I need to get my car fixed, can’t I just pocket the money?
Yes! This is actually very important. Often when you get an estimate it comes from an adjuster or mechanic who only looks at the outside of the car to identify the damage on the surface. When the body shop actually makes repairs to the vehicle they have to take the car apart. When they do this, sometimes they find hidden damage. When they find hidden damage, they submit a “supplemental estimate” to your insurance company. Insurance will pay to fix this hidden damage. But if you don’t get the car fixed sometimes they never find it. Don’t get stuck with hidden damage!
Finding all of the damage can also make your injury claim easier to resolve. I cannot tell you how many times, insurance adjusters tell me this is not a serious crash because there was only a scratch on the bumper. If you can show them a supplement with hidden damage, this will take the wind right out of their sails.
Q: What are common problems that arise when getting my car fixed?
Common problems that I see are incomplete repair estimates that do not find hidden damage and poorly done repair work. If you think there might be hidden damage or that the repair work is not done correctly always take the vehicle back to the shop or go someplace new to get the work done right. Insurance should pay for the additional work.
Getting medical treatment:
Q: I didn’t feel hurt right after the accident, but felt really bad the next day. Is this going to hurt my case?
No. In fact this is extremely common with muscle and ligament injuries. I’ve heard multiple explanations whether it is the adrenaline from the crash that wears off over time or post-injury inflammation of the muscle. Do not second guess yourself just because you did not feel hurt right away, see a doctor and make sure everything is okay.
Q: When should I go to the doctor?
This is a personal decision with no right or wrong answer. You should go when you feel you have to. Don’t be afraid to go if you think you might be hurt. Most people have insurance that will pay for the visit, take advantage of that insurance. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Q: Who is going to pay my medical bills after an accident?
This depends on who is at fault for the accident. If the other driver is at fault, many people expect that driver’s insurance company to pay for treatment. This is not always the case. Usually the other driver’s insurance will only make one final payment, they will not pay for your treatment while you are still treating. This means that someone else has to pay in the meantime.
Many drivers have personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. This is a policy issued by your insurance company that will pay for your medical bills while you are treating. Check your policy to see if you have PIP, if you don’t consider adding it to your policy. It is inexpensive and you will be glad you have it after an accident.
If you do not have PIP coverage, your health insurance may also pay for your treatment. However, many health insurance policies have limitations on the amount of physical therapy, massage therapy or chiropractic treatment that you can get.
If your health insurance will not pay for treatment and you do not have PIP coverage. You may be able to find doctors that will treat you in exchange for a lien. This means that they will treat you and agree to get paid later, but use a lien to force the insurance company or your attorney to pay them your settlement money instead of you. If you cannot find someone who will agree to this arrangement, you will need to pay for treatment out of pocket and be reimbursed by insurance after your injuries have healed.
Q: What kind of doctor should I go see, should I go to a chiropractor or my regular doctor?
This is a personal decision with no right answer. You need to make the decision that is right for you. Find a doctor you trust and remember you can always change your mind later on. If you go to one doctor and he is not helping, you can always try someone else. You will need to work with your doctor to make the best decisions for you.
The best advice I can give is to remember: there is no good medical decision that will hurt your case, and no bad medical decision that will help your case. If you are consulting with your doctor and making the best medical decisions you can, it is always easy to explain those decisions to the insurance company. Do not worry about what you are “supposed” to do, good decision making come from informed conversations with your doctor about your specific situation.
Resolving the claim:
Q: The insurance company wants me to give a recorded statement, what should I do?
It is always a good idea to talk to an attorney before giving a statement. Whether or not you need to give a statement depends on the facts of each collision. It also depends on which company is asking. If you’re insurance company wants a statement you typically have to give one, but they owe you a duty to protect your rights as well. Be wary if the other driver’s insurance wants to take a statement, they usually do not have your best interest in mind.
Q: How much money will I get?
I never put a dollar value on your claim until I have all of the information I need. This means at our first meeting I cannot tell you how much money you will get. This is dependent on many things, ranging from the severity of your injuries to the type of medical treatment you need. It will take time for me to gather all of the relevant facts, then we can talk about the money. Remember that a lot of different factors go into evaluating a claim and I can never make promises about how much you will get. If an attorney promises you a dollar amount, you should be very suspicious of that attorney.
Hiring an attorney:
Q: When should I talk to an attorney?
The best time to talk to an attorney is right after the accident. Hiring an attorney right away will make sure your rights are protected from the very beginning. Having the right evidence can make or break your claim. An attorney can help you preserve evidence and make sure all your insurance benefits are available.
Many people simply don’t know what needs to be done after a crash to protect their claim. If you hired me right away I can give you advice on the best way to proceed to make sure that you claim is resolved favorably to you. I know many of the tricks and excuses that insurance companies use to deny claims. By hiring me right away I can help you defend against these excuses.
Q: There are so many attorneys in Seattle, why should I hire you?
Above all else hire someone you are comfortable working with. A legal case can drag on for a long time. You need to trust your attorney, you need to be comfortable talking to your attorney and trust that they will give your case the attention it needs. As a newer attorney I have a smaller case load and more time to spend on your case. But the most important thing is to find an attorney you get along with. You will spend many hours working with your attorney.
I am one of the only attorneys in West Seattle who does primarily car accidents. This means I eat, breath and sleep this type of case. I pride myself on giving each and every client my personal attention. I don’t use paralegals to handle my cases, so I put my personal attention into every detail of your case.
Q: You seem like a new attorney, don’t I want somebody with more experience?
The advantage to hiring a young attorney is that I have a smaller case load. I will have more time for you than the bigger law firms. I pride myself on giving personal attention to each every case. I don’t pawn you off on a paralegal or assistant: I answer my own phone and I answer my own email. When you hire me, you will get me. Especially if you have a small value case, I won’t push you aside and ignore you the way some busier attorneys might.
I have only been practicing law since 2012, but my very first job was doing car accidents and these have been a focus throughout my career. Because I have focused my practice on car accidents and personal injury, my mentors all practice in this area of law. When you hire me you get the benefit of their experience and the benefit of my attention!
Q: What if I can’t afford an attorney?
Like many attorneys I typically use a “contingent fee.” This means that you don’t owe me any fee until you recover money. If you don’t get anything, you don’t owe any fee. This fee agreement helps my clients get representation even if they aren’t working or can’t pay right away.
Q: I don’t want to file a lawsuit, why do I need an attorney?
An attorney can do more than just file lawsuits. I spend a lot of my time working with insurance adjusters to solve problems for my client. I have the time to make call people until they answer, to visit the scene of the accident, to research your issues. I also know the law and how to navigate the system. I know what evidence insurance needs before they will pay your claim and I know how to help you get it. This can give you an advantage negotiating with your adjuster.
Finally, hiring an attorney ensures all your options are available. Few people really want to file a lawsuit. It is a long arduous process, trust me. Insurance companies know this and will use it against you. They have more time and more resources than you do. Don’t let them take advantage of you, sometimes you have to show you are willing to file a lawsuit to get a reasonable settlement.