This FAQ answers the most common questions about what to do after a car accident, what steps to take, avoid potential pitfalls and receive a fair settlement.
Car Damage and Repairs
1. Who pays for the repairs?
The at-fault driver’s insurance should pay for your repairs. However, if the at-fault driver’s carrier proves to be difficult or drags its feet, you can make a claim with your own insurance. Your premiums cannot be raised if an accident was not your fault.
Your own insurance can cover the repairs and bill the other driver’s insurance. In this scenario, you will have your deductible deducted from your repair costs. But you will be reimbursed for your deductible once the at-fault driver’s policy repays your insurance company.
If the other driver’s insurance balks at paying for your repairs, they may believe their client was not 100% at fault for the accident. In this case, your own insurance company would still cover your repairs, and try to reach a settlement agreement with the other driver’s insurance where they reimburse your carrier for at least some portion of your car repairs.
In rare instances, this could become a contested case that has a small chance of going to court. However, this is quite uncommon as most cases get settled out of court.
2. Should I use aftermarket parts for the repairs?
You can use aftermarket parts to save money on repairs, however it is a good idea to use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.
With OEM parts, you get a greater assurance of quality. New OEM parts are ready-made for your vehicle’s make and model and they come with a warranty.
A reputable auto body shop will use OEM parts, not aftermarket parts.
3. My car was totaled. Now what?
Your car was deemed a total loss because the cost of repairs would exceed 70% of its fair market value, based on the Kelley Blue Book. Your insurance will usually offer to pay you the fair market value of your car.
From there, you have a few options:
Get the car back with a salvage title
You can request to get the car back and obtain a salvage title. You can either restore the car yourself, or have a shop do so. Once the necessary repairs are complete, you need to have it inspected. Once it is given the green light to drive on the open road, you can either keep or sell the car. However, most insurance companies will offer little or no coverage for a car with a salvage title.
Collect a check from insurance
You can accept the offer from your insurance company. They will mail you a check. You can cash the check and use it to buy another car. Or if you still have loan payments on the first car, you can use the check to pay the loan off.
However, in some cases you may owe more on the loan than your car was worth. If you have “gap insurance” coverage, you can use it to cover your shortfall. Gap insurance is also known as loan-payoff coverage, which can protect you financially if your car was new and you are still making loan payments on it. If a total loss occurs, gap insurance will pay you the difference between the actual cash value of your car and the outstanding balance on your car loan.
Rent a car or file a loss-of-use claim
You can rent a car. You can use your own rental car policy if you purchased one or you can use the other driver’s. If neither of you have rental car coverage, you do have a “loss of use” claim for the time you are without a car, and the value of this is $25.00 a day.
Bodily Injuries and Medical Bills
4. If I was taken by ambulance to the hospital, who pays these bills?
Ambulance, EMT and hospital costs will normally be paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
They may also be covered by your own health insurance or medical payments insurance, in which case your insurance company would seek reimbursement from the other driver’s insurance.
To ensure that you get reimbursed for your medical bills, make sure you retain all copies of receipts, copays, coinsurance, bills, doctor’s notes and prescriptions. Include them in your claim when you file, along with pictures and documentation of all of your injuries.
5. Why does taking photos of my injuries help my claim?
Pictures of the accident and of your injuries show two things.
First, it shows physical evidence of what you suffered.
Second, it shows where the most impactful forces were, giving clues as to how the accident happened and to which driver was most at-fault.
Physical evidence makes it more difficult for the other side to refute your claim.
Keeping a history of the bruising and how it healed is important proof of the injuries you suffered.
6. How can I find a doctor?
In an accident, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you were not already taken to the hospital for your injuries, you still should go to your primary care doctor first. Depending on your injuries, he or she may refer you to a specialist if necessary.
If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, then you can ask around for recommendations. Ask friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. for doctors with good reputations for treating the type of injuries you suffered.
You can also contact us and we’ll provide a list of doctors.
To learn more about finding a doctor, click here.
7. What if I need surgery?
A settlement with an insurance company is intended to settle all of your claims, even those that have yet to manifest themselves—including surgery.
You or your doctor might request a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to assess the full extent of your injuries before you decide to undergo surgery.
As a diagnostic tool, MRI is widely accepted by insurance companies as reliable, accurate and objective evidence of injuries, and this accomplishes two things:
- Finds the fullest extent of your injuries.
- Increases the full value of your case.
If your doctor tells you that you might need surgery if a conservative course of treatment doesn’t work, find out how much the surgery would cost before you settle.
8. What about my medical bills? What are my options?
There are three options, depending on how much and what kind of insurance coverage you purchased.
If you have health insurance:
Don’t wait for a settlement. Get your treatments and prescriptions immediately, and use your health insurance. However, the insurer paying your medical bills can file a medical lien against the proceeds of the settlement in your personal injury case.
If you do not have health insurance:
You may be able to find a doctor or other health care provider who is willing to defer payment until after you receive compensation for your injury. If they agree to do this, they will likely record a medical lien in order to make sure they get paid once your case gets settled. A medical lien won’t affect your credit score, however.
Medical payments insurance can cover your out-of-pocket medical expenses:
A medical payment policy is a separate insurance policy that covers medical expenses for you, your passengers and any family members involved in an accident, regardless of which driver was at fault. It is a good idea to add a medical payment policy even if you already have health insurance. This policy will cover your co-pays and health insurance deductibles, among other things not covered by your primary health insurance plan.
Whether you have insurance or not, never delay your medical treatment. Your health is very important and any injury must be treated immediately. Keep all of your receipts for co-pays and all medical expenses—these will be used to increase the value of your injury claim.
Getting Fair Compensation
9. Can I get compensated for missing time from work?
Compensation for missed time from work due to an accident will most likely be part of a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
But you need to provide documentation.
First, you need a doctor’s note saying you need to recover and how long you need to wait before going back to work.
Second, you need to track and document how much time you took off work, and how much that time is worth to you, in financial terms.
If you are a salaried employee, this is easy. Simply ask your Human Resources office to send you a letter stating the days you were off work due to your injuries.
If you are self-employed or an independent contractor, either take your hourly rate and multiply it by the time you’ve missed, or use your previous tax returns to prove that your income did decrease in the aftermath of the accident.
Lost opportunities, commission or future income are, unfortunately, more difficult to prove. If you are able to show a decrease in sales or commission in the aftermath of the accident, you may be able to support your lost wages claim.
10. My family members had to help support me after my accident. Can they get compensated for that, too?
Yes. When they help support you after an accident, there is a significant time and monetary cost on their part so they should be compensated.
But you do need to keep track of how much they did for you.
What kind of care did they provide for you? Did they give you a ride to and from doctor appointments? Did they help with your housekeeping? Did they help with the kids, shuttling them to and from school and sports? Did they do your laundry? Did they keep up with the landscaping in your yard?
Their time and help has a substantial financial component. Therefore, it should be included in your claim.
11. What information do I need to support my claim that the other driver was at fault?
First, you need pictures of the scene of the accident, the exterior and interior vehicle damage, the license plates of each car, and of your and your passenger’s injuries. Photos tell a much more accurate story than witness statements and driver’s recollections of the event—these may be very inaccurate or unreliable.
Second, you need to obtain a copy of the police report of the accident. The police are specifically trained to assess the scene of an accident and give a preliminary determination of which driver was at fault. The police report is a strong document that points to the driver believed to be at fault for the accident.
Third, you need to find out whether the other driver had been cited for a traffic violation, DUI, or some other civil or criminal offense. A citation helps establish fault. If there was no citation, then your best bet is to use photo proof that reconstructs the accident and points to the other driver being at fault.
Other ways to establish fault include witness statements, an admission of guilt from the other driver, or physical evidence like paint transfers.
12. Should I make a claim against my own insurance?
Yes you should. That’s what you bought your plan for. Your own insurance agent will have your best interests in mind and defend you against a claim from the other driver.
If you aren’t at fault, your premiums will not increase if you make a claim. In fact, doing so actually helps speed up the process.
Using your own property damage insurance to repair your car is one of the quickest ways to handle property damage. They will pay to fix your car and submit the bill to the at fault driver’s insurance. The other party’s insurance will reimburse your insurance carrier for the car repairs.
Remember your policy limits when making a claim against your own insurance. Each insurance policy has monetary limits that your carrier will pay out.
For example, let’s say you have a 15/30/10 policy (the lowest level in the state of Arizona):
The first number, 15, means a limit of $15,000.00 where one person may not receive more than $15,000.00 for bodily injury in an accident.
The second number, 30, means the total amount of all claims for bodily injury cannot be more than $30,000.
The third number, 10, means that the coverage for vehicle damage is limited to $10,000.00.
Buying a policy with higher limits typically increases your premiums, but gives you much more coverage as settlement costs for an accident can add up very quickly.