Documenting and Reporting Accidents
by Attorney Ronald M Papell
Should you or a friend or family member be involved in a vehicular accident the steps you take immediately after the accident may determine the extent to which you will be entitled to recover reimbursement for the losses you sustain. In years past a telephone call to the local law enforcement agency would result in an officer being sent to the scene and an accurate record made of the facts, witnesses and even photographs of the scene and the vehicles involved. Due to budget constraints, those days are gone!
A call to a law enforcement agency from the scene of an accident will typically result in the victim being told that unless clearly serious injuries occurred, no officer will be responding to the scene. The caller will be further advised that they should “exchange information” with the other driver(s). Unfortunately, while such advice may be adequate in the most minor of collisions, where an accident results in injuries that may not be life threatening further steps should be taken to document the position of the vehicles and obtain names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses. Cellular telephones can take pictures and even videos that may prove pivotal in determining fault. Even the location of the accident should be recorded in a photograph to avoid the possibility that the other driver will claim that the accident happened at a different intersection (without a stop sign for their direction of travel!) or that it was you who had the stop sign.
You should always remember to copy the information directly from the other driver’s license and insurance ID card and always copy down the license number of all of the vehicles present at the scene including witnesses. Should your injuries worsen and a claim be necessary, such information may become critical to ensure that you can prove your claim. If a commercial vehicle is involved, take down any information that appears on the vehicle. Again, photographs of the vehicle would be advisable.
Should the accident involve a hit and run driver, your policy requires that you file a report with the authorities within 24 hours of the accident. Get as much descriptive information as possible and go to the local police department and file the report. Your failure to do so may result in your own insurance company concluding that the accident was your fault!
While virtually all insurance policies require that you report the accident to their claims department, you are not required to provide a recorded statement prior to speaking with an attorney. Contrary to popular advertising campaigns, insurance companies are not necessarily “good neighbors” nor are you always in “good hands” when you are forced to file a claim for damages. Sometimes, even the most well intended and honest statement by the insured can be used against you by the other parties insurance company and even your own should it turn out that the other driver is not insured and an uninsured motorist claim be necessary. A call to an attorney is a good idea when you are not sure of all the details of an accident and is advisable if you have been injured especially when you are uncertain of the nature and extent of your injuries. It is always in your best interest to protect your rights and to take all steps possible to ensure that you are not denied the compensation that you have purchased insurance to provide!