Deal With Insurance After a Car Accident Like a Pro

About a year ago, my wife was hit from behind and her car was ultimately declared a total loss. She was not seriously injured, thankfully. We did learn from the experience, though, and I’d like to share some of those lessons here. (We also later learned how not to buy a car)

I hope you never have to use this list.

1. Go to a hospital if you suspect any injury, no matter how slight. Except in the case of very low-speed collisions, you will certainly feel sore in the back and neck the next day. So there’s very little reason not to go to a hospital and get checked out.

2. Get a police report. This might seem a no-brainer, but insist that the police write up the accident. Sometimes they’ll be unenthusiastic about doing so. Make them do it anyway.

3. If at all possible, get phone numbers from witnesses. This is absolutely critical. In an accident, you must assume the other driver will give a version of events that puts them in the best possible light. People will often lie about the circumstances of the accident. I know. It happened to me. A woman drove into the side of my car on the beltway in broad daylight and told her insurance company it was my fault. Naturally, any insurance company is going to side with their client – they have a financial interest in doing so.

4. Take pictures. With the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, it’s pretty easy to take pictures of the scene and both cars. It takes a more than a little presence of mind, though, so if you don’t remember, don’t worry about it.

5. Call your insurance company as soon as possible. It’s important to immediately make a statement about the accident to your insurance company. You do not want them to hear about the accident first from the other insurer. Plus, the details of the incident are fresh in your mind.

6. Keep good records. Keep copies of all reports, medical bills, and estimates. Also start a log of contacts with both insurance companies. Record who you spoke to, when, and what the conversation was about.

7. Don’t mention a lawyer unless you truly intend to hire one. As soon as you mention to an insurance company you are talking to a lawyer, they will immediately stop talking to you. Then your hand is played – your committed to hiring one.

8. Don’t accept the first settlement offer. I’m definitely no negotiating professional, far from it. But I have it on good authority from a friend in the business and from personal experience that the first offer is always going to be laughably low. Just tell them that’s not an acceptable number.

9. Using your records, develop a reasonable settlement offer from your point of view. Things to consider include property damage, lost wages, medical payments, car rental, and personal inconvenience. I’ve been told it’s best to stay away from mention of ‘pay and suffering.’ It’s overused and tends to turn off claims agents.

These are all things we learned from our experience when my wife was hit from behind and went through the process. I’m not an expert in this (and don’t want to be!), so take this list as a starting point.