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What should I do after an automobile accident?
Call the police immediately. It is always beneficial to have an independent third party document the accident and obtain the relevant information. If the police are unavailable, get all the information you can obtain from the other party including: name, current address, home and cell-phone numbers, and automobile insurance carrier. Be sure to write down their license plate number as well. If the accident was a hit and run, it is extremely important to obtain the same information from any witnesses. Obtaining only a phone number from a witness may not be enough information to locate that person later.
Should I report the accident to my own insurance company even if I wasn’t at fault?
Yes. You may not need to make a claim on your own policy, but if you do, reporting the information right away will make things easier later. If you ultimately have to make an uninsured motorist claim, your insurance company will need time to investigate. Reporting the accident doesn’t mean you are presenting a claim.
Should I sign medical releases and give a statement to my own insurance company?
No. While you have a duty to cooperate with your own carrier if you are presenting an uninsured motorist claim, remember that your own insurer is not necessarily on your side. The insurance company’s goal is to settle the claim for the lowest amount possible. If you are thinking about retaining a lawyer, let your attorney handle the disclosure of your medical records and arrange any statements. This way, your rights are protected while still meeting the requirement to cooperate with the insurance company.
The other person’s insurance carrier wants to total my car and haul it away. Should I allow this?
This is a difficult decision, in part because you have to balance the benefit of retaining the vehicle against taking the money to buy another car. If your injuries were not serious, you may choose to allow the insurance company to total the vehicle and remove it. However, prior to releasing the vehicle, take pictures of the damage from several angles. If your injuries are serious, and especially if the other driver or their carrier is disputing who was at fault, it is best to retain an attorney who will hire a crash expert to assess the damage. An expert who examines the damage can determine many things about the accident including speed and angle of collision. Once the vehicle is destroyed, important evidence is permanently lost.
My insurance company said to send the medical bills directly to them for payment. Should I do this?
No. Although you may have medical-payment coverage on your policy, your carrier will not review the charges that you submit for payment. If they overpay or pay unrelated charges, there will be no way to correct that mistake. In addition, your insurance company will require that any payments made under your medical payments coverage be repaid to them once the liability claim is settled, even payments they should not have made. This reduces the portion of the recovery that goes to you. Allowing your attorney to handle and coordinate the use of medical payments coverage will ensure that it is used in the best possible way.
My insurance company said I am not covered for this accident because the person who hit me doesn’t have insurance. Could this be true? I thought I had full coverage.
It depends. As of Oct. 31, 2001, “full coverage” in Ohio means only liability coverage of at least $12,500, and liability coverage only protects someone else. However, don’t automatically take the adjuster’s word. Check your policy’s declarations page—it provides a breakdown of the amount of your coverage. If it indicates that you paid for Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM), you should be entitled to coverage under your policy. When in doubt, contact a lawyer to further review your policy.
I was not at fault for the accident. Whose insurance company is responsible to pay for the damages to my car?
In most cases, the at-fault party’s insurance carrier will handle your property damage. However, where there is a denial of liability or lack of liability coverage, your carrier may have to resolve the property damage. Your deductible would apply these instances, but may be reimbursed to you in certain circumstances, such as where the other driver is ultimately held responsible.
The insurance company has deemed my vehicle a total loss, but their offer does not pay off my loan. Is this right?
Insurance companies are only obligated to pay the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicle, which would be calculated upon the condition of the vehicle immediately prior to the accident. In some cases, the money owed on a car exceeds the ACV. An attorney can make sure that correct assessments are made with regard to the value of your vehicle so you receive a fair payment.
The insurance company is suggesting that I use one of their certified facilities to repair my vehicle. Can I decline and choose my own shop?
Yes. Ohio law allows you to choose your own repair shop. The insurance company may suggest a shop but cannot force you to accept their recommendation.
I obtained an estimate on my vehicle from my shop, then the insurance company examined my car and wrote an estimate. The two estimates are not even close in price. Should I be worried?
Not necessarily. Body shops typically write a more detailed estimate than insurance estimators. Nonetheless, the insurance company is obligated to repair the vehicle back to its condition prior to the crash. Any repairs not contained in the insurance company’s initial estimate typically are dealt with between the body shop and insurance company.
The insurance company has deemed my vehicle a total loss, but I want them to repair it instead. Do I have this option?
No. The insurance company pays the lesser amount of: a) the value of the vehicle; or, b) the cost of repairs. Typically, insurance companies will consider the vehicle a total loss if repair costs are 70 to 80 percent of the actual value of the car.
The insurance company said they will pay for “like quality” or aftermarket parts to repair my vehicle. Can they do this?
Almost universally insurance companies do not pay for original parts to repair vehicles. The exception is when your vehicle is less than one year old or has fewer than 12,000 miles. You may choose to have original-equipment parts used in repairs if you are willing to pay the difference. However, keep in mind that the insurance company is obligated to repair the vehicle back to its condition prior to the crash.
The insurance company deemed my vehicle a total loss. They presented me with a check for the total loss offer and then cut off payments for my rental vehicle. Why is this?
Under most circumstances, if a vehicle is inoperable, an insurance company will provide a rental vehicle. However, once the insurance company has determined that a vehicle is a total loss, they are no longer obligated to provide a rental vehicle. This is why it’s important to begin the search immediately for a replacement vehicle if you suspect your vehicle will be declared a total loss.