Car accidents rank right near the top of stressful events. An incident beyond your control interrupts your trip, your knees begin to shake and the other driver suddenly becomes the enemy, especially if he was the one who piled into the rear of your car. Relax and take a few deep, slow breaths. It’s your insurance company’s job to save you aggravation -- and money.
Exchange driver’s license and insurance card information with the other driver and find a witness or two who saw the accident. People who heard the crash or arrived after the fact don’t count. Don’t discuss the accident with the other driver, as there's little you can solve at the scene of the accident.
Report the accident. Even if the damage is minor and the two of you decide to work it out between yourselves, you need a legal record of the accident if the other party changes her mind somewhere in the future. Be sure to get the officer’s name and badge number for future reference. Take several pictures of the damage to both cars while the officer is there so he can testify that he saw you taking pictures if it becomes necessary.
Notify your insurance agent of the accident and the other driver’s identity and insurance information as soon as possible -- or report to your company’s claim center. Bring a copy of the police accident report as well as the officer’s name and jurisdiction. Names and contact information for any witnesses may or may not be on the police report, so pass them along as well.
Follow your insurance agent’s -- or claims adjuster’s -- instructions and get any estimates required by your policy. Release your car to your insurance company if it has been towed.
Provide a proof of loss statement on the form provided by your company. Statements may vary, but all require information about you, your vehicle, insurance policy and any lien holder, such as a bank, that has an interest in the vehicle.
Call your agent to find out whether your company plans to subrogate your loss. If the accident was the other driver’s fault, your company should take legal action to recover their loss -- and your deductible -- from the other driver’s company. If, on the other hand, the other driver’s company is subrogating against your company, you should contact an attorney who will represent your interests in this complex process.
Become familiar with the terms of your policy before an accident. Know what information you’ll need to get, who to contact and what options you have for towing, rental cars and lost wages. Knowing where you stand helps reduce the panic an accident can cause.
A citation does not establish guilt until it’s adjudicated -- demand your day in court. Check your state’s laws, but in many states, a plea of no contest to a citation cannot be interpreted as an admission of guilt in a civil suit, which might follow an accident. As always, an experienced attorney can protect your interests in court proceedings.
Never -- particularly during subrogation -- talk to representatives of the other driver’s insurance company or sign anything they offer. Your actions may adversely affect your legal position or ability to recover damages.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images