The most important steps you can take to protect yourself after a crash, from Bay Area Bicycle Law’s founder, Michael Stephenson
1 – Tell Your Side of the Story to the Police
The police/traffic report is a crucial tool in protecting your rights after a crash, so call the police if no one else has. If there are any mistakes in the report, make sure to contact the reporting officer and request changes.
2 – Do Not Make Any Statements to Anyone Else
Anything you say can be used against you in an insurance claim or lawsuit. Even if you feel fine right after the collision, you may discover after the initial shock passes that you have been injured. If you think you might not be injured, and the driver, police, or anyone else asks you if you are injured, a good response is “I’m not sure right now, I am still in shock.” Additionally, refrain from apologizing to the driver or anyone else. Apologizing is often a natural reaction in a stressful situation—even if you don’t believe that you were at fault—but apologizing will be taken as an admission of guilt by the insurance company, and will make your case more difficult and likely reduce your settlement. Even if you believe that you were at fault, it is better not to say so, because such an admission can damage your case if facts later come to light that indicate that it was in fact the driver who caused the collision (e.g., the driver was texted or otherwise distracted, or the driver wasn’t medically cleared to drive). However, you should share your ID, insurance, and contact information with the driver.
3 – Obtain Witness and Driver Contact Information
Sometimes the contact information in the traffic collision report is not accurate. Because locating an individual (especially one who would prefer to remain unfound) can be difficult and expensive after the fact, it is important to get this information while you are still at the scene of the collision, when possible. Be sure to get the driver’s insurance information as well as contact information.
4 – Make Notes of the Incident and Preserve Evidence
Write down what, how, where, why, and when it happened. Note the weather conditions at the time of the collision, damage to the vehicles/people involved, and anything that you heard said. Following the collision, continue documenting your injuries, medical care, and pain. Don’t throw out or repair any damaged property until you’ve spoken with an attorney. Take photos of your injuries, damaged property, and anything else you think might be relevant to your case.
5 – Do Not Speak with Any Insurance Company Representative Until After Speaking to an Attorney
An insurance adjuster’s job is to use what you say against you in order to reduce your settlement and save the insurance company money. Even very sophisticated people will often fall into traps when speaking to insurance companies. There are “magic words” that have legal effects of which you may not be aware. Effectively communicating with an insurance company about your case in a way that preserves your interests takes more than just smarts and sophistication—it requires knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations, and of how insurance companies evaluate your case. And even if you don’t make a mistake, once you talk to the insurance company, it is your word against the adjuster’s word. In some cases, the insurance adjuster may claim that you made a statement that you did not in fact make, resulting in a “he said, she said” argument. Having an attorney involved will help to ensure that you are treated fairly.
6 – Get The Medical Treatment You Need
Make sure you take care of yourself and get as much treatment as you need to feel 100% better, if at all possible. Insurance companies will blame you for not getting enough medical treatment if your injuries don’t heal as well as they would have with treatment. So in addition to being important to your health and wellbeing, medical treatment is also important to your insurance claim or legal case.