Honk! Screech! Wham! You’ve just been in an automobile accident. Now what do you do?
First, check yourself and your passengers. Are you all right? Anybody hurt at all? If so, anybody hurt badly? Assuming you are all uninjured (or at least not severely injured), the next thing you want to do is quickly assess the damage to your car.
Once you have an idea about your injuries and an idea as to whether or not your car is likely drivable, call the police. From an insurance standpoint, it is always better to have a police report. Sometimes if the weather condition are very poor (especially if it is icy or snowy), there may be an emergency plan in effect that states your should not call the police for minor accidents if there are no injuries, no drugs or alcohol involved, and both cars are drivable. Obviously, you should obey such a mandate if it exists. But barring such a contingency, it is best to at least call the police and let them advise you if they will not come out.
If the police are not coming out, you definitely want to get the name, address, phone number, insurance company and, if possible, policy number of the other party in the accident. If the police do come out, that information will all be on the accident report and the insurance companies will request a copy of that report. Oftentimes you can get the case number from the police officer: ask him/her for it. It will assist the insurance company in getting the report more quickly, which in turn will help the company settle your claim more quickly. It is also helpful if you know if the other person got a ticket (you obviously will know if YOU got a ticket).
Most insurance companies request that you contact them as soon as practical following an accident if there are no injuries. If you are in an accident at 2:00 in the morning, wait until normal business hours that day to call your agent or claim center (unless your insurance company has 24/7 claim service). If you are injured, you or your representative (generally, a family member or close friend) should call and report the accident on your behalf as soon as possible.
The insurance company will want as much information as you can provide. They will want to know where the accident happened, approximately what time it happened, and if the police were called.
The insurance company will also want to know what happened. Although this is an obvious question, it isn’t always so easy to answer. I took insurance claims for several years and it is not that uncommon for people to honestly not know what happened. Try to give all the information you can: the direction you were going; if it happened in an intersection (as most accidents do), what type, if any, of sign or signal was there. If there was a signal, what color was the light? Approximately how fast were you going?
Always call your own insurance company and get your story on file with them. Even if the other person was obviously at fault or if you don’t have collision coverage, you should still have your version of the accident on file with your insurance company. A lot of people will try to bluff and bluster the other insurance company into paying the claim when it was actually that person who was at fault.
If your insurance company requests you call the other company, do so. Be as polite, considerate, and helpful to the other company as you were to your own. At least ninety percent of insurance companies and adjusters want to do the right thing for everyone involved.
One last consideration: be as business-like as possible. Of course this hits much closer to home for you than it does for the insurance adjuster: it is your life that was thrown off course as a result of the accident. If you are a salesman, your car isn’t drivable and you need a rental car, let the adjuster know. You may be told there is no coverage or you may be told how to obtain a rental. If there is a question as to whether or not it would be covered, keep your receipts so you can be reimbursed if possible. If you are reasonable and courteous with the insurance professionals, they will be reasonable and courteous with you.