Protect Your Car Accident Claim After a Crash: 6 Steps

Boost your chances of coming away from the car accident claim process with a good result.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you've been hurt in a car accident caused by someone else's negligence, you have a right to be compensated for your injuries and other accident-related losses. But getting the best result starts with making the right moves, both immediately after the crash and once the car accident claim process gets rolling.

Protecting your right to compensation after a car accident usually comes down to three things:

  • gathering the right documentation and evidence
  • being patient or persistent with the insurance company (depending on what's called for in a given situation), and
  • getting help when you need it.

Step 1: Document the Scene of the Accident as Soon as Possible

The aftermath of a car crash can be chaotic. Immediate medical attention, if necessary, should always be your first priority. But when you're safe, document as much as you can about the moments leading up to the accident and the scene of the crash.

Talk to witnesses. Get the names of anyone who saw the accident and their contact information. Get a sense of what they saw and ask follow-up questions. Find out if they are willing to write a statement or talk to an investigator. The more information you can get that confirms your version of the accident, the stronger your claim will be. Learn more about how witnesses can help your car accident claim.

Call the police. Police involvement adds another layer of documentation to your claim. A police report carries a great deal of weight with insurance adjusters and attorneys. The person who is at fault for the crash might try to keep the police out of it. Don't fall for this tactic. If you're injured or your car is damaged, call the police.

Take pictures. Use a camera or your phone to take pictures of the scene, all vehicles involved in the accident, and your injuries. Capture anything that might have contributed to the accident—a traffic sign that the other driver ignored or a poorly maintained or designed road. Make sure that you can tell what date the pictures were taken so that they can be used as evidence in court if necessary. If you don't have a camera or camera phone, ask witnesses if they would be willing to take pictures.

Step 2: Seek Immediate Medical Attention

If you're injured in a car crash, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Whether you're dealing with your own insurance company or the at-fault driver's insurer, a course of necessary medical treatment in the hours, days, and weeks after the accident will provide difficult-to-refute evidence of your injuries, and will serve as the best support for your injury claim.

Follow your doctor's orders to the letter. If your doctor puts restrictions on what you can do, follow your doctor's orders. Don't get caught playing tennis while making a claim for a shoulder injury. If your injuries—and your losses—are significant, you don't want to risk blowing your settlement by overexerting yourself.

When it comes to insurance claims, perception can play a role in getting paid. If an adjuster thinks you're faking or exaggerating your injury (malingering), your claim will be denied.

Step 3: Document Your Injuries, Property Damage, and Other Losses

After you've documented the scene and sought medical attention, make sure you start (and continue) gathering records related to the accident and proof of any losses that you might end up claiming as part of the car insurance process, or later on in a lawsuit. That includes:

  • any police report generated after the car accident
  • your medical records, bills, and doctor's notes (these are the absolute best evidence of your injuries)
  • pay stubs or records from your employer showing proof of time you missed at work and lost income, and
  • receipts, invoices, and other financial records related to any other crash-related losses.

For property damage, start collecting repair estimates for damage done to your vehicle. Most insurance adjusters will demand an "independent" inspection of the damage to your vehicle, but if you're armed with two or three estimates of your own, you will be able to make a strong argument for the repairs you need, and the associated costs.

Learn more about what evidence you'll need for your car accident case.

Step 4: Don't Settle or Sign a Release Too Soon

Once you get the car insurance claim process started, don't be surprised if the insurance adjuster gets back to you fairly quickly with an offer to settle your claim in exchange for your signing a release. This is when patience can come in handy.

Chances are, at this stage, you don't understand the full extent of your car accident-related losses (especially if you're still receiving medical treatment). Getting money now might seem pretty great, but signing a release means giving up your right to take any future action over the accident, even if it turns out your injuries or vehicle damage is worse than you first thought. Learn more about what to consider before signing a release after a car accident.

Step 5: Be Patient, Professional, and Persistent

Dealing with insurance professionals requires patience and persistence. The old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar applies to car crash claims. If you want to maximize your settlement amount, you should try to stay on the insurance adjuster's good side. Adjusters hold the purse strings, and ultimately, they decide your fate until you're ready to file a car accident lawsuit.

Especially if you've already rejected an early, lowball settlement from the adjuster (as we discussed in Step 4 above), it might be some time until you hear from the insurance company again. Don't be afraid to make follow-up calls, or regularly check on your claim. Insurance professionals are dealing with hundreds of cases and sometimes yours may unintentionally get put on the back burner. But don't be rude. You may still be able to negotiate a favorable car accident settlement if you maintain contact and stay professional.

Step 6: Consider Talking to a Lawyer

If you're comfortable handling the car insurance claim process yourself, it's possible to do that and come away with a fair settlement. But sometimes your persistence and professionalism won't be enough to get the outcome you want. If an adjuster is refusing to come to the negotiating table with a fair offer, or if they're ignoring you or denying liability, it might make sense to discuss your situation (and your options) with an experienced car accident lawyer.

Next Steps

Soon after the car accident claim process gets started—and perhaps after you've received an initial, unsatisfactory settlement offer from the insurance adjuster—it might make sense to put together a demand letter in which you spell out your side of the case, detail your losses, and make a counter-offer. Learn more about demand letters in car accident cases.

If the insurance adjuster simply won't come to the table with a fair offer, attorney involvement (and the threat of a lawsuit) can often be the best way to motivate adjusters to settle a claim. Learn more about when to hire an attorney after a car accident. You can also use the features on this page to connect with an injury lawyer in your area.

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