what to do after a car accident

If you have been in a car accident and do not know what to do next, don’t panic, because you are not alone in your confusion. Most people who have been in a car accident are unfamiliar with the process and it is normal to be confused or overwhelmed. When you don’t have a car (or have a damaged car), when you might be in pain or shock, and when you get bombarded by calls and questions from insurance adjusters, these factors all can lead to confusion.

At St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we have handled countless car accident cases. Over the years, we have seen and dealt with everything. We hope that you are not involved in a car accident because we know the stress it causes. If you do happen to be in the unfortunate position of having been involved in a car accident, the following is a step-by-step guide that will hopefully assist you.

What Happens to My Car?

There are multiple scenarios that come into play depending on the cause of the accident and the severity of the damage as follows:

You Did Not Cause the Car Accident

If you were not at fault for the accident, you have two choices. You can go through your own insurance company, or the company for the at-fault driver. Each situation has its own positives and negatives.

  • If you go through the at-fault insurance company, you will not have to pay a deductible. That is a huge plus for most people. But, the downside is that you might be stuck with an insurance company that is inferior to your own. That means the collision shops that they send you to might not be reliable, their customer service could be a hassle, getting a rental car might be a challenge, or their offers to compensate you might be lower.
  • If you go through your own insurance company, the benefit is that they should try harder to take care of you, but you will have to pay a deductible. Having to pay the deductible is a deal breaker for most people. But, if you go this route, the good news is that your insurance company will attempt to recover the deductible from the other insurance company. However, a lot of people don’t want to take that risk or wait to see what may happen.

How Does It Work If My Car Is Totaled?

If there is a chance that your car could be deemed a total loss, then an adjuster will come out to evaluate the damage and then make you an offer. Make sure that you research the value of the vehicle on Kelley Blue Book. This site is generally accepted as an accurate resource to determine the value of the car. If you have recently done any work on the car or have any after-market upgrades, you will need to show receipts and prove it to the insurance company in order to be fully compensated.

We rarely get involved in negotiating the value of the total loss because our clients know the value of their car better than we do. We try to help when we can (as a courtesy only) and we do not take a fee out of the check that you get for the property damage. To my knowledge, very few car accident lawyers will get involved in your property damage claim, and if they do, they should not be charging you.

You Caused the Car Accident

if you caused the accident, your options are more limited. Because you are deemed at fault, there is no one else to go after. So, you must have your own car insurance company fix the damage to the car. And, if the car is totaled, you also will have to go through your own company. In both scenarios, you will be responsible for the deductible. You are still able to negotiate the value of the car in the case of a total loss. Also, you still may be able to select an auto body or collision repair shop of your choosing, as long as they agree to be paid via the insurance company’s rates.

Can I Get a Rental Car?

Whether you are eligible for a rental car depends on a few factors.

If You Were at Fault for the Accident

If you caused the car accident, you can only get a rental car if your own policy provides this coverage. That means that you would have had to specifically purchase it. If you don’t have rental car coverage, then you’ll have to pay out of pocket for the rental.

If You Were Not at Fault for the Accident

If someone else caused the accident, you generally can get a rental car through the at fault driver’s property damage insurance coverage. There is one big caveat. If the driver did not carry enough insurance coverage, then they will not provide you a rental car. This can occur if there is a multi car accident or the amount of the damage was high. In this situation, you would have to look to your own insurance policy to provide the rental. Again, if you do not carry the coverage, you would have to pay out of pocket for the rental.

Which Insurance Company Do I Need to Talk To?

According to your own car insurance contract, you have an obligation to report the accident to within a reasonable time and to cooperate. You may be required to provide a recorded statement. (we highly recommend that you do this alongside your car accident attorney). This does not mean that you must consent to being harassed or constantly bothered by the insurance company. Most of my clients report the accident to the insurance company and as soon as we are hired, we take over the flow of information.

You never have an obligation to speak to the insurance company for the other driver. However, if we believe it is in your best interest after we are hired, we sometimes will consent to cooperate as long as it is under our supervision.

Where Do I Go for Medical Treatment After the Car Accident?

Getting medical treatment after the car accident is perhaps the most important aspect of the case. It is imperative to be seen by a doctor either the day of the accident or within a few days. If you wait to get treatment, your case will be seriously devalued by the insurance company regardless of the severity of the injury.

If you have any question about whether to go to the hospital, err on the side of caution and get checked out. Do not be worried about the cost because your no fault or PIP insurance will cover the bills. Also, the hospital will usually write off a large portion of the bill. If you don’t need or don’t want to go to the hospital, then go to an Urgent Care center immediately. Do not wait to see if you feel better. If you wait, you will not recover nearly as much money or have as much credibility in the eyes of the insurance company (and probably in the eyes of any jury).

Many people think they have 14 days to get their injuries checked out because they have seen it on television commercials. While 14 days is the time frame within which to trigger your full PIP benefits, it does not mean that waiting up to 14 days will help you recover any money. In fact, the longer you wait to get treatment, the less that your claim is worth. Simply put, the 14 day rule has little to no bearing on the value of your injury claim.

Where you go to treat after leaving the hospital or Urgent Care is also important. When you go to see a doctor after the car accident, try and go to someone who specializes in car accident injury claims. Do not try and go to your family doctor or general practitioner. Not only will they likely turn you away and thus cost you valuable time, they generally are not set up to handle car accident claims. If they do see you, they will likely give you an x-ray and some muscle relaxers and send you on your way without in-depth analysis of your injury. So, stay away from them and get to a specialist. A specialist can be an orthopedic doctor, a medical doctor, or even a chiropractor. Again, the emphasis should be to get in with someone who knows what they are doing…and fast. It should be your goal to get quality medical care and to get better. Don’t give the insurance company an excuse to devalue your claim by having a gap between the accident and your treatment.

Who Pays for My Medical Bills?

Florida is a no fault state. That means that every driver is required to carry $10,000 in PIP or no fault benefits. This money is available to pay for medical bills and lost wages regardless of who caused the accident. For most accident cases, this PIP money is enough to get them significant treatment. However, if there is a serious injury or you have gone to the hospital, there is a good chance that your bills will exceed $10,000. In this situation, you can find a provider that will accept your health insurance or you can continue to get medical treatment through a letter of protection (LOP). Medical providers that specialize in car accident claims will accept an LOP as long as they know your attorney. The LOP allows you to continue treating and the bills get repaid out of your settlement money. If you charge your bills to your health insurance, your insurance company will impose a lien for the bills that they paid out of the settlement. Therefore, there is no perfect solution for bills that exceed $10,000, so this is a strategic decision that you and your attorney will have to make.

When Do I Need to Contact a Car Accident Attorney?

Always contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident. While there is no need to rush your decision, the sooner that you have someone on your side to protect your rights, the better. But, the biggest advantage that a car accident attorney can give at the early stages is to establish correct and prompt medical treatment. Few issues are as time sensitive as getting in to see a medical specialist immediately after the accident. This decision can be the difference between recovering big money or leaving dollars on the table.

Contact St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas

We specialize in car accident claims in St. Petersburg, all throughout Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area. We have the experience, accolades, awards, and reputation to handle any type of claim. Car accidents can have profound effects on the lives of the people involved and we strive to provide compassionate and aggressive representation. If you have any questions about a car accident, we would like to help. Please feel free to contact us at any time and we will get back with you promptly. We do not pressure anyone and our consultations are always free.