Finding yourself involved in an automobile accident that damages your vehicle can be a daunting experience. While most of the time a lawyer isn't necessary for these scenarios, as the procedures are generally straightforward, those encountering this for the first time may find the process overwhelming. This guide aims to offer some basic guidance for dealing with non-injury automobile accidents. Please note that if your accident resulted in personal injuries, you should prioritize getting medical treatment and promptly call a lawyer for assistance. Delaying legal aid in injury-related auto accidents can lead to serious complications for your claim.
The first step after the accident: capture images and move your vehicle to safety.
For minor accidents where there are no serious injuries, it's advisable to safely take a few photos of the scene before taking any further actions. These images serve as evidence that police officers can use to accurately document the vehicles' positions in their report. Moving your vehicle off the highway, if functional, improves your safety, clears the way for emergency vehicles, and reduces secondary crash-related congestion.
Next, report the automobile accident to local authorities.
After documenting the scene and moving your vehicle, it's crucial to call 911 to report the accident. Failing to do so may lead to fines, license suspension, or even a misdemeanor criminal conviction. In scenarios where the police choose not to respond, remember you can visit the local law enforcement office to create a citizen’s report.
After contacting the police, this is an ideal time to prepare the necessary paperwork. This often includes your driver’s license, insurance information, and possibly your vehicle registration, depending on your state's regulations. This information assists the responding officer in preparing a police report, which may take a few weeks to become available. It's important to keep the officer's card with the police report number, as you will need it to request the report once completed.
Additionally, reporting the automobile accident to your insurance company is crucial.
Whether you were at fault or not, you can either report the claim to your own insurance company (if you have collision coverage) or to the other party's insurer. Either way, you might still want to inform your own insurance company about the accident, as many insurance policies mandate that you notify your insurer of any automobile accidents you're involved in. Both insurance companies will likely ask numerous questions to understand the accident and determine the responsible party.
Then, it's time to head to the vehicle repair shop.
If you weren't at fault for the accident, or if you have collision coverage, your insurance company will need an estimate for the repair of your vehicle. Once the estimate is prepared, the insurance company will determine whether the vehicle is repairable or "totaled."
Understanding the total loss of your vehicle.
If your vehicle is deemed a total loss, you are entitled to the fair market value of your vehicle at the time of the collision. The insurance company will compare your vehicle to other similar vehicles recently sold or currently on the market, and the average of these will typically be taken as your vehicle's fair market value.
Lastly, it's check collection time or time to retrieve your repaired vehicle.
Once your vehicle repairs are completed, or you've settled the payment details for your totaled vehicle, you'll likely need to return your rental vehicle. Remember that insurance companies typically do not expedite property damage checks, so it could take a week or two before you receive it.
Understanding the aftermath of an automobile accident can significantly ease the process of managing property damage claims. However, if you have any doubts, an attorney can certainly assist you. While most people can handle non-injury automobile accident claims independently, you might prefer to hire an attorney based on their hourly rate. Some law offices offer to handle your property damage claim free of charge if you have a related personal injury claim with them, though this practice is becoming less common.