Q:

Can I control whether my car is repaired or replaced?

A:

This can be a difficult issue. For most people, getting back into their own vehicle, so long as it is safe, it a priority. Normally, the insurance company has the option to either repair or replace your vehicle, depending on whether it costs less to replace your vehicle than to repair it. If this is the case, the insurance company will declare your vehicle a "total loss," and take action to replace your vehicle. If your car is declared a "total loss," the insurance company buys your car for its market value (see below), which can be difficult to determine. If you wish to keep the wrecked car, you may purchase it back from the insurance company for its salvage value. The insurance adjuster can deduct the salvage value from the settlement and you can keep the car.

Often the situation is reversed, and the insurance company chooses to repair a vehicle rather than replace it. In this case, if you are concerned about the safety of the repaired vehicle, you should contact our office to discuss your options.

Q:

How is the market value of my car determined?

A:

You are entitled to recover the "fair market value" or the "actual cash value" of your vehicle immediately before the accident. One common source used to estimate fair market value is the Kelley Blue Book. Other sources of information are the local newspaper or the Auto Trader, which may list the for-sale price of cars of the same make, model, and year as yours. Occasionally, an expert vehicle appraiser is used to help prove the value of your vehicle.

Q:

What if I am “upside down” on the loan for my car?

A:

If you owe more money on the loan for the car than the fair market value of the car, you are "upside down" on the loan. Unfortunately, if your vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company is not required to pay more money to you simply because you are "upside down" with your car loan. They are only obligated to pay the "fair market value" of your car.

Q:

Can I choose my own repair shop?

A:

Yes. You always have the right to decide who will repair your vehicle, however the cost of the repair is not always determined by the estimate given by the repair facility of your choosing.

Q:

What kind of parts will be used in the repair?

A:

You have the right to demand that only original manufacturer parts be used in the repair, so if your car is a Pontiac, you should receive genuine Pontiac (GM) parts. Since your car was probably not new at the time of the accident, however, the mechanic may use refurbished or reconditioned parts.

Q:

What if my car already had some damage before the accident?

A:

If your vehicle had damage to it prior to the accident, it can be difficult to determine exactly what portion of the damage was caused by the accident itself. For example, if your car has a mechanical problem, the insurance company may claim that it existed prior to the accident if some evidence indicates that there was substantial wear and tear. Therefore, it is important that you prove the connection between the auto accident and the damage you are claiming. Ordinarily, mechanics and collision repair personnel can help to prove the age of body damage or the cause of a mechanical failure. They can assist to convince the insurance company that the auto accident caused the damage you are claiming.

Q:

Will I have to pay the towing and storage costs?

A:

In most cases, unless there is a dispute as to who was at fault in the accident, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident will pay the reasonable towing and storage costs (if necessary) of your car. After evaluating the vehicle, if the insurance company declares the car a total loss, they will have the car moved to a wrecking yard or a free storage area. If you refuse to allow the insurance company to move your car, however, you will have to pay the storage costs from the day of your refusal forward, or you can pay to have it towed to your home.

Q:

What about license and registration fees that I had to pay to drive the car?

A:

In order to drive your vehicle, you had to pay a tag fee and registration fees. You are entitled to be reimbursed for the prorated amount of these costs that are unused. The insurance company should also reimburse you for tag transfer fees and, in some cases, a prorated amount of sales tax on the actual cash value of the car at the time of the accident.

Q:

What if I need a rental car? Do I have to pay for it while my car is being repaired?

A:

If you caused the accident, or if there is a dispute over who is to blame, then you must either pay for the rental car yourself or seek coverage under your own insurance policy if rental coverage is available. Many insurance contracts do not provide for rental coverage for their own customers, so you need to contact your insurance agent to determine what coverage exists. If the other driver is at fault, then we will demand that the insurance company for the person who caused the accident provide you with a rental car for the time needed to repair your vehicle. Sometimes, you must pay the rental car bill first, with reimbursement coming from the insurance company later.

Q:

What kind of rental car am I entitled to?

A:

The insurance company has to pay for the reasonably incurred rental cost of a substitute vehicle. Often, there are disputes as to what qualifies as a “substitute” vehicle. Essentially, it should be a vehicle of similar quality, within the confines of what is available for rent.

Q:

Should I purchase any extra insurance on the rental car provided to me?

A:

Your own insurance policy should cover you while driving the rental car, but you should call your insurance agent to be sure that you are covered. The other driver’s insurance company is not required to pay for additional insurance if you choose to purchase it from the car rental company.

Q:

What information should I obtain?

A:

It is important that you seek immediate medical attention if you are seriously injured in an automobile accident. After everyone is out of danger and any medical and police help has been summoned, obtain the following:

  • The full names of the drivers of all of the vehicles involved
  • The driver's license numbers and addresses of all of the drivers
  • If any of the driver's appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, notify police or other emergency personnel immediately
  • The full names and addresses of any passengers in any of the vehicles
  • The full names and addresses of any pedestrians or other parties involved
  • The full name, address, and phone number of any witnesses to the accident.

In addition, you should make observations and record notes about the following:

  • Did any person involved in the accident report any personal injury shortly after the accident?
  • Was medical assistance rendered at the scene of the accident?
  • What personal injury did the injured person report? Did anyone say "I'm not hurt"?
  • What was the actual location of the accident?
  • In what direction were the vehicles traveling just prior to the accident?
  • At what time of day did the accident occur?
  • What were the weather conditions at the time of the accident?
  • Was there anything "wrong" with the vehicles before the accident, such as a broken headlight or brake light?
  • Was there any damage to the vehicles as a result of the accident? What parts of the vehicle were damaged?
  • Who are the registered owners of the vehicles (names and addresses)?
  • Were all vehicles involved in the accident insured? What are the names of the insurance companies and the policy numbers?
  • Did any of the vehicles need to be towed from the scene of the accident?
  • How did the accident occur?
  • Did anyone accept responsibility for the accident, or make a comment such as "It was my fault, I am sorry. I was speeding / not paying attention / not wearing my glasses / distracted / tired / late for work / in a hurry / my coffee had just spilled / I should have seen you but I was on my cell phone / I've been taking these pills / my eyesight isn't what it used to be after dark, etc"?
  • Did the police come? If so, did they issue anyone a ticket? Which officers were present? What are their names and badge numbers?
  • Was any of the drivers involved driving while working, or driving a company owned vehicle?

Q:

Should I call the police?

A:

Yes! It is important to contact the police immediately if you are involved in an accident. Doing so will provide proof of the accident, and will allow for an immediate investigation of the scene of the accident. In addition, police will take statements of witnesses, and will examine the other driver to check for drug or alcohol use. The police can also be valuable witnesses to your injury at the scene, and they can assist in securing an admission of fault from the negligent driver.

Even in minor accidents, resist the temptation to "keep things simple" by "settling up" with the other driver on the spot. You should make sure that you have not suffered injuries which do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident, and you should always consult with your doctor and an experienced attorney to make sure that you are aware of all of the avenues of recovery available to you.

Q:

When should I contact an attorney?

A:

After leaving the scene of an accident, or while still there if you are safely able, you should immediately contact an attorney who is experienced in handling personal injury matters. At , we will promptly arrange for an attorney to consult with you free of charge so as to enable us to immediately take action on your behalf, while all of the evidence is still "fresh". If necessary and feasible, we will have an investigator conduct a thorough analysis of the accident scene so that no evidence goes undetected.

Q:

Should I contact my own insurance company?

A:

Most auto insurance companies require their policyholders to promptly report every auto accident. Your insurance company will want to gather all of the basic information concerning the accident for its records - whether you are at fault or not. Sometimes the insurance company will want your authorization to make a recorded statement concerning the accident. We suggest that if you or your passengers were injured in the accident, or if you believe the insurance company might try to claim you are not covered or you have any concerns about the adequacy of your coverage, you should contact an attorney before you go any further, and certainly before you give the insurance company permission to record your conversation (NOTE: You should never give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company without consulting with an attorney). However, bear in mind that failure to provide information to your insurance company on a timely basis - your policy will set forth how quickly you must notify the company - could result in loss of coverage for the accident, without it constituting bad faith by the insurer.

Q:

Should I go to the doctor?

A:

Never hesitate to get checked out by medical professionals even when you feel okay. Many times the onset of physical complaints begins 12 to 24 hours after an accident. Even if you did walk away only feeling "shaken up" after being rear-ended by a truck, tomorrow morning when you get out of bed it may be a different story.

It is also important that you get medical attention if you feel any pain or discomfort. Many people hope that their pain will go away on its own and wait for several weeks before finally succumbing and going to the doctor. Waiting to get treatment is not only not good for your health - it will hurt your chances of obtaining an appropriate settlement for your injuries, since there will be no medical record of your injury at the time of the accident. Seeing a doctor following the accident will insure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort and future treatment you may need later.

Follow the doctor's advice to the letter and never miss a doctor’s appointment. Do not substitute your judgment for that of an experienced medical professional. If you do, it will be used against you in court.

If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job worker's compensation report, or the like. If your condition required immediate medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. Make sure you promptly follow-up with treatment from your regular doctor or an appropriate specialist following hospitalization.

Q:

Is there anything special I should tell my doctors?

A:

When you are reporting your injury to police, paramedics, hospital staff, and doctors, take extra care to identify specific complaints, and do not omit any complaint you may have, no matter how minor. If something does not feel "right" your doctor needs to have this information order to render an informed medical opinion.

Even if you feel it is "no big thing" or not related to your accident, you still should recite all of your complaints. A dry mouth, a light headache, and a little dizziness may be evidence of something more serious. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis.

For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers and a minor crick in the neck, may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of major disruption to a cervical disk. If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery, it would have been far better to have had the initial medical diagnosis at the time of the accident in order to prove when the onset of the fracture to the outer wall of the disk occurred. Otherwise, the defense will argue that it could just have well occurred picking up a bag of groceries three weeks after the accident.

Q:

Do I need to take pictures of the accident scene?

A:

Absolutely. Even if the police take photos, you should try to take several rolls of pictures if possible. Always take multiple rolls of film of the accident location, the vehicles involved, various approaches to the accident scene, and of the persons involved, particularly if they have suffered an injury. Plan on taking three times as many photographs as you think you might need, taking shots from multiple angles and locations. By moving around as if on the points of a compass, you will enable an accident reconstructionist to construct a more accurate diagram of the collision.

A good quality camera is obviously preferable, but even a small disposable camera is better than nothing, and they are normally widely available in convenience stores and gas stations if you do not have one in your vehicle.

If you are unable to take photographs, contact our office immediately at . At , we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Q:

Do I have to take photos right away or can I wait?

A:

It is very important to take photos as close in time as possible to the time of the accident. This is particularly important when it is necessary to photograph "impending" skid marks. Tires do not immediately lock-up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process, a tire begins to leave an imprint on the roadway before actually skidding. These marks are "impending" skid marks and are faint marks that can normally be seen on the roadway for only 24 to 48 hours after a collision. An impending skid and a skid mark, when taken together, give a more accurate record of the actual speed of a car before braking. Lay a shoe or other easily measured item next to impending skid marks while photographing them so an accident reconstructionist can later compute actual distances based on the photographs.

If you are unable to take photographs, contact our office immediately at . At , we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Q:

What about preserving other evidence besides photos?

A:

In many cases, even though it may not seem important at the time, it later becomes vitally important to have access to the physical evidence of an accident. For example, in cases where a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, it is necessary to examine the seatbelt to determine if it was functioning properly. If the seatbelt is lost because the car which contains it is sold or destroyed, it may be impossible to bring a claim against the seatbelt manufacturer and/or the car manufacturer - something which can make or break the recovery of damages in cases where there is little or no other adequate insurance coverage available.

If the evidence is removed to another location, it is important to put everyone on notice by certified mail, including owners, tow operators, wrecking yards, police impounds, and the like, that they must take every step to preserve important evidence, and the failure to do so will subject them to being sued for allowing evidence to be destroyed. In some cases, we are required to go to court quickly to get a restraining order and preliminary injunction in order to avoid alterations or destructive handling and testing of potentially incriminating evidence.

If you are unable to retain any piece of evidence associated with the accident, contact our office immediately at . At , we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Q:

Should I talk to the other driver’s insurance company? What if they call me?

A:

Never give an oral statement to the other side’s insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. If you are contacted, be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies' claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in using every psychological technique to maneuver you into giving information which can hurt your claim, including discouraging you from using the professional services of a lawyer.

Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Simply say "thank you for calling but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time."