Monday, March 15, 2010

Been in a car accident? Do these things immediately

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a car accident. I'm fine, the guy who hit me is fine, his car is basically fine, my car is not, but cars are fixable and replaceable and people aren't, so in the grand scheme of things, everything is going to be OK.

The insurance companies are duking things out, and we're looking to see what we can afford (my minivan was totaled). But while I wait for more information about the value of my van (or lack thereof), I thought I'd share a few tips for making sure things go smoothly after an accident. These were posted at The 36-Hour Day last week:

1.) Get out your business card. I keep a couple of business cards in my glove compartment, not because I get into lots of accidents (I don't), but because there are times when I need to give out my information quickly and I'm the type of person who only has dead pens, melted crayons, and broken pencils in the car at all times. And no paper.

2.) Make a phone call or send a text message as soon as you can. You shouldn't be on the phone while you're driving, of course (think of it this way: Would you want the other driver's insurance company to subpoena your phone records? So, hang up and drive). After I was hit, but before I got out of my car, I left a message for my husband, which also made note of the time of the accident.

3.) Take pictures. You may have a fantastic memory, but when the adrenaline is pumping and tension is sky-high, your memory can't be trusted. Besides, who wants to get into a your-word-against-his argument with the insurance companies? Once you've made sure everyone involved is OK, whip out your cell phone and start taking pictures. I photographed the other car's license plate and the emblem (so I'd have proof of the make and model) before I even got out of my car, just in case the guy tried to speed away (he didn't; he was really nice). After we traded information, I took pictures of the damage to my car, the intersection where the accident occured (to record the street name and weather conditions), and the damage to his car. I even took a picture of the information he'd scribbled down on a piece of paper for me.

It took seconds to do, and the next day, while talking to his and my insurance companies, I was glad I had the photos. Turns out I had incorrectly remembered the names of the streets at the intersection, and the piece of paper from the other guy had gotten wet in the rain -- it was nearly impossible to read what he had written down in sky-blue ink, but in the photo, it was all still clear.

4.) Use the internet to your advantage. I replayed the event over and over in my head that night and the next morning, trying to figure out what, if anything, I had done wrong. I remembered stopping at the stop sign; I didn't remember seeing the other car. Was it because of the rainy weather? Were his headlights not on? Did I look too quickly? I finally turned to Google Maps, where a set of satellite photos filled in the missing pieces: When stopped properly at the stop sign, a building obscures the view of the lane in which the other car was traveling. I printed out the birds-eye-view photos and the street-view photos, for my files. Coupled with the photo I took of the accident site at the time, it's an accurate record of the scene.

5.) Provide plenty of information. You pay insurance premiums for a reason, so let the insurance company do its job. Don't argue with the other driver, don't try to help him or her figure out who was at fault, and don't try to patch up any damage to your car. But it's fine to send your claim adjuster all the information you've gathered, including copies of the photos, a longer written statement, and any contact information you have for the other driver.

On the down side: My left shoulder hurts, my minivan was totaled, and we're down to a single car for more than a few days, which makes my work-life juggle exponentially trickier. But on the plus side: My husband and I commuted to work together last week for the first time in ages, and the uninterrupted, child-free, one-on-one time gave us an opportunity to reconnect and enjoy each other's company. So, that's something positive, right?

Readers, share your wisdom: What advice would you give to someone who's just been in a fender bender?


fibrowitch said...

Years ago when my truck was in an accident the other driver claimed my truck gate was in horrible shape before he hit it.

The insurance company asked me to prove that the damage to the truck had occurred because of the accident. I had not as a rule taken pictures of my vehicles on a regular basis. Luckily I had taken a trip with my nephews just the weekend before the accident and was able to produce pictures showing the tail gate in good shape before the accident.

So ever since then, and it is easier now, I snap four quick pictures of my car, front back, left and right, time stamp them, and print them out.

Barry Bates said...

Thank you for sharing these pointers, Lylah. And I definitely agree on your tip #4 about giving information. When you are involved in a car accident, it is important to give out details like name, contact information and what exactly happened, especially to your insurance company. When they have the necessary information, they can provide appropriate action and help you with your plight.

Unknown said...

I think those tips will come in handy in case of a car crash. And I definitely have the same opinion on taking photos. Documentations and visual evidence can be a great help when you need to clear the air, and for legal and insurance claim purposes.{Cayla Dupont}

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your pointers, Lylah. This enlightening post can be a great help to raise awareness on what to do in case an accident would happen. But I must agree that it would be a little hard for everyone to remember all these, so it's better to learn how to lose your panic in the face of an unfortunate event.

Maggie Malone

Maggie Malone said...

Thanks for your reminders! These are very basic pointers that we often take for granted. Yes, accidents can leave you disoriented, but you should never lose your head. Assess yourself and the situation, trade information, and don't agree with everything the other party says. And of course, call for legal opinion immediately after the accident.

James M said...

Taking pictures of the car accident is extremely important; having evidence to back your claims can help prevent insurance companies or the other person from screwing you over later on. I like your point about sending a text or call right after it happens so you can have a record of the time of accident, I hadn't thought about that before!