Not necessarily. Many of the costs caused by a car accident can be minimized, managed or prevented by knowing what to do after the crash. Here’s a play-by-play for car accident scenarios — consider this an accident airbag for your wallet.
Once you’ve made sure you are okay and calm enough to think rationally, see if you can get out of the car. Call 911 immediately, assess the situation, find out if anyone is injured and gather witnesses. If the vehicles involved are on the roadway, carefully set up flares from your emergency car kit (yes, you should have one) to alert oncoming traffic of the accident.
After you’ve contacted the police, share insurance information with the other driver(s). Be sure to get:
• Insurance carriers• Insurance agent names and contact info
• Insurance policy numbers
• License plate numbers and car type/models
• Phone numbers
• Driver’s license numbers and states
• Home addresses
• Names of any passengers in the car
The more information you have, the better. You want to be ready for any legal issues or inaccurate claims that may arise later. Here are some tips that could ensure you get the appropriate cash for damages and don’t end up overpaying someone else.
• Get names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
• If you have access to any type of camera, take detailed photos of the damages for backup.
• Do not admit fault in the accident; instead, let the police sort it out as there could be other circumstances of which you aren’t aware. Don’t react to anything that might be said — just make a note of any comments or hostile actions that were made.
• Don’t sign any documents unless you completely understand what you’re signing.
The Same Day
Call your insurance company and notify them about the accident. The sooner you call, the fresher the accident will be in your mind, and you will be able to give the most accurate information. Be sure to mention the following:
• Body damage: Note any soreness or pain you may be feeling. You might not think you’re hurt at the scene, but you could have more pain in the next few days and your insurance company should note that.
• Auto damage: Before you file an insurance claim, take your car to a reliable mechanic to have it assessed for repair costs. If the physical damages are minor (a few scratches or dings), you may want to consider paying out-of-pocket to avoid accruing possible higher insurance premiums. Ask your insurance agent what your options are, and how they affect your premium and deductible. If the damages are more severe, and especially if anyone has been injured, you’ll want to file an insurance claim as soon as possible to avoid debilitating out-of-pocket expenses that could come from ongoing complications such as lawsuits or medical expenses.
The Day After
Call your insurance agent to:
• Request paperwork for filing a claim (if you decide to file one). You’ll want to discuss the cost of the damages with your insurance agent before making any decisions. The insurance company may provide you with some alternatives if the cost of the car repairs is close to the value of the car.
• Find out if a rental car is covered in your policy if you need one.
Contact the police department and request to have a copy of the police report sent to you for your records — your insurance agency should request their own copy. If you are contacted by insurance agents other than yours, refer them to your insurance agent rather than dealing with them on your own. Also, be sure to keep any receipts and a list of expenses caused by the accident, such as replacement transportation, prescriptions, missed work or services you may need because of an injury.
After an accident is a good time to review or adjust your insurance policy. An even better time, however, is right now — before you even have an accident. Here are some items to consider before you buckle up again:
• What does your insurance policy currently protect you against?
• What are your policy’s exclusions (things your policy doesn’t cover)?
• Do you want to adjust your policy or add coverage?
• How much (dollar amount) does your policy cover? Can you increase or decrease it?
Knowing how to protect yourself with well-informed decisions will help you avoid any crippling expenses from a car crash.