Gas station in the morning - copyright: Carolyn Franks

Just a Fender-Bender?

It’s 3 a.m., the roads are empty, and you pull over at a gas station to fill up your tank after a long drive back from your family’s annual beach trip. As you leave the station, you glance in both directions to make sure no one’s coming, despite the empty roads, and pull out. Suddenly, a truck comes out of nowhere. You slam on your breaks while the truck swerves, but you bump into each other anyway. There’s no or very little damage, as far as you can tell. Your family’s shaken and the truck driver’s grumbling about exchanging insurance information, and you’re tempted to just get back to the long drive ahead.

What should you do next?

Know What to Do

No one likes the hassle and inconvenience of dealing with an insurance claim, especially when it’s three in the morning and you’ve had a long night. According to the National Safety Council, between January and June of 2015, traffic-related injuries and deaths jumped 14 percent from the same time period in 2014. About 2.3 million serious injuries were reported, and the total cost, which includes things like medical bills and lost wages, amounted to $152 billion. With such high stakes, it’s crucial that people know what to do if they get into an accident, even if that accident seems like a minor fender-bender. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in the scenario above.

Don’t get chatty

You might be tempted to strike up a conversation with the other party, but make sure you keep certain opinions to yourself. Your medical condition, his medical condition, the state of the vehicles and other damage should be left up to experts to examine. Also, you never want to admit fault, accept responsibility or tell the other person that you’re “okay.” Anything you say now could be held against you if you end up in a legal battle, so stick to the facts.

Call the Police - copyright: Cathy Yeulet

Call 911 or the Police

If there’s significant damage or bodily injury involved, call 911. The operators can send an ambulance and the police to your location. If no one appears injured, then you’ll have to make a judgment call about how quickly you want to involve any medical personnel. At minimum, you should check in with your regular doctor as soon as possible to make sure there’s no unseen issue.

For your written DMV test, you must know when it is necessary to make a report to the police or the DMV. Check your state manual for state laws and details.

Regardless of damage or injury, it is, however, always a good idea to call the police and make a report. You may not need the report, but it’s better to have one on file than to need it later and be without. Calling the police will also alert the other driver to the fact that you mean business, and it discourages shady dealings.

Exchange Insurance Information

How good is your auto insurance? The National Safety Council reported that an average out-of-pocket cost for an auto accident without injury was just under $9,000 in 2012. With injury, the cost jumped to nearly $79,000. If death was involved, the responsible party paid an average of over $1.4 million. These are all out-of-pocket costs, meaning the responsible parties either had no insurance or didn’t have enough to cover the loss. In 2012, the Insurance Information Institute reported that one out of every eight drivers didn’t have auto insurance. Oklahoma tops the list of uninsured motorists at 26 percent, followed by Florida at 24 percent, Mississippi at 23 percent and New Mexico at over 21 percent. South Dakota had the lowest percentage of uninsured motorists at nearly 8 percent.

If you get in a car wreck, you’ll need to exchange insurance information with the other party. Don’t make the mistake of failing to get the other person’s information too. Your insurance carrier will handle the details of a claim on your behalf, but they’ll need the other party’s information to complete the process. Collect the person’s name, home address, phone number, and insurance information. You don’t need the license number because the police will record this information from all parties.

Document Everything

Take pictures, collect witness statements and keep track of every piece of paper that you receive related to your incident. Medical statements, ER reports, the police report and other documents could make a big difference if you end up needing a lawyer or filing a personal injury claim. If you don’t use your phone as a camera or you’re likely to forget your cell phone, keep a disposable camera in the glove compartment of your vehicle. That way, you’ll always have access to a camera if you need to take pictures during an accident. An added bonus is that film-based photos are harder to lose than digital files.

File a claim.
Even if you don’t think there’s any damage, go ahead and file a claim with your insurance provider. The company will send an assessor to measure the damage and report back with their findings. Keep in mind that your insurer is typically trying to protect its own assets, which means the assessor is working on behalf of the company. You can hire your own insurance assessment agent to conduct an objective assessment, but you’ll have to front the cost. However, if you feel that the damage assessment isn’t accurate, then you may want to invest in a third-party review.

The steps outlined above apply to most auto incidents, but if there’s significant damage or bodily injury, then you may also consider speaking with an attorney who specializes in auto accidents. Avoid law firms that advertise quick and “easy” out-of-court settlements. You may not have to go to court, but you should hire a firm that wants to help you rather than one looking to make a quick buck. If you get caught up in a fender-bender at 3 a.m., you might be tempted to brush off the incident and move forward with your life. Take the time to handle it properly, and you’ll more than likely save yourself some time, effort, and money in the long run.


Author: jgdavis