6 Things To Keep In Mind After A Car Accident

When my husband and I were involved in an accident in which a guy (who we now suspect might have been drunk) hit the back of our car, we had no clue what to do, so we did a lot wrong.

That accident left me with an injury that causes chronic, daily pain. After the surgeries, multiple therapy appointments and upwards of $200,000 worth of medical bills, I want to use my experiences (and, let’s just be honest here, total ignorance) to hopefully help others. Here are some things to know if ever you’re in an accident:

Auto


Always Call The Cops

I don’t care if the only visible damage is a chip of paint, get a police report. The insurance companies are going to ask for one and if you end up needing an attorney, they’ll want it too. As I will discuss further down, you might be in shock and not notice that you’ve sustained a soft-tissue injury (or, like in my case, more severe damage) in the accident. If you have, you’re going to want that report.

We did not call the police until it was too late. Being young, inexperienced and in shock, we let the guy talk us into just exchanging information and leaving the cops out of it. That was a mistake. By the time we realized it, however, the cops wouldn’t come out unless we wanted to report it as a “hit and run”, which it obviously wasn’t. The entire process would have been a lot better for us had we called them right away. Plus, if he was drunk, it would have taken a potentially dangerous person off the street.


Seeking Medical Care

In Florida (and most other states – check the specific laws for yours) there is a Statute of Limitations when it comes to injuries arising from an auto accident. Here, you have only 14 days to seek treatment in order for it to be covered. This isn’t the only problem you’ll come across; if you do sustain an injury and need care for it, the insurance company’s attorneys are going to use everything in their power to discredit you, including how long it took you to seek care.

The problem with this is that symptoms don’t always appear right away. After an accident you are usually in shock and unless you’ve got a broken bone or cuts or scratches, you may not notice you’re in pain until later, even the next day. And because people get in accidents every day and have little to no lasting physical damage (my husband walked away from our accident without so much as a muscle spasm), most people don’t want to seek care if they think their symptoms will go away.

After our accident I noticed neck pain and stiffness, but I assumed that it would go away with heat or ice. I waited about three days to finally seek care after the symptoms worsened. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked in accusatory tones why I waited so long.


Who’s Insurance Pays For Care?

I live in a “no-fault” state, meaning when you’re in an auto accident it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is (pretty clever name, eh?), your personal PIP (personal injury protection) coverage is what is used if you’re injured. So, when it was discovered that I was injured, the other driver’s insurance did not come into play, because I used my own PIP coverage to pay for care. Once those benefits are exhausted, the cost of care is transferred to the patient.

The only thing the other driver’s insurance paid for was the damage to the car, which was about $4,000 when all was said and done.


Beware Quacks

In most cases, if you call your insurance company or look for a clinic to help with an injury arising from an auto accident, you’re going to be referred to an “injury center”. This is generally a place run by a chiropractor and their main methods of treatment are adjustments, massages TENS units (which some people swear by but have never helped me) and a rolling table. Although they can be helpful if all you are dealing with is whiplash, you should still be cautious.

In my experience as soon as your insurance benefits become exhausted (which will happen quickly after going to a doctor multiple times a week) they will declare you healed – even if you aren’t. This is because they know that if you continue to seek care you will probably do so with an attorney, which means they will have to see you under a Letter of Protection and then they will be asked to take a reduced amount for care. It’s easier for them to just get you out and replace you with a new patient who has PIP benefits that aren’t exhausted.

In any case, find a reputable doctor and clinic for any treatment you may need after an accident and be prepared for a lot of red tape.


Prepare To Hire An Attorney

This is another area where my ignorance got me into trouble. I’m not a fan of attorneys, as I have never met a trustworthy one, but when my medical bills started piling up and I knew I would need surgery, I had no real choice but to hire one.

No matter who the attorney is, if they accept your case they will high-ball you to get you to choose their firm to represent you. My attorney told me at our first meeting that I had a very strong case. So strong, in fact, that she would be able to not only get my medical bills reduced and paid, but that I would walk away with $100,000 for future medical care and pain and suffering. Being totally inexperienced, I believed her.

When all was said and done, I walked away with less than $8,000 to pay for future care. That will last me maybe a year and a half, and my injuries will be with me for the rest of my life. I’m 28.

All that said, I am grateful for one thing: I do not have to declare bankruptcy due to my over $200,000 worth of medical bills. So, even though the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth, it was worth it.

If you find yourself in need of an attorney, do as much research as possible. If the firm has no reviews online, don’t pick them. And I’m not talking about testimonials, I mean reviews; good, bad or otherwise. Ask friends and family for suggestions and if you ever get a feeling that you’re being screwed over, walk away.


Don’t Forget It’s Your Health & Future

Throughout the process you will be patronized, condescended and doubted, but don’t let that get to you. Just like with health insurance, an auto insurance company’s bottom line is money and they will do whatever they can to save it, including having you followed and interviewing friends and family members behind your back.

Do not let them intimidate you into not fighting for yourself. That is one of the biggest mistakes I made in this entire process. If you’ve been hurt you’re already going to suffer enough, so don’t let them make you suffer more.