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How do you start gathering evidence for your car accident claim?

UPDATED: May 29, 2020

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What you need to know...

  • All evidence matters when deciding who was at fault for a car accident.
  • The most significant evidence in car accidents is based on who is at fault and the nature and extent of damage and injuries.
  • The first-named party on the police report is not necessarily the at-fault party.
  • When it comes to calculating damages in a car accident each case is different.

If you were in a car accident, there are several things you need to do after the crash to prepare a car insurance claim. Gathering evidence may be the last thing on your mind but it is exactly what you need to do to maximize your claim recovery. Understanding how to gather evidence will increase your chances of proving the car accident was not your fault and winning your claim. In minor or major cases, a car accident lawyer will help secure evidence for your claim, as well as assess how much someone can sue for a car accident under the circumstances.

Find a lawyer in your area to help with your car accident claim by entering your ZIP code above.

How do you win a personal injury claim related to a car accident?

Evidence wins claims. The most significant evidence in car accidents will relate to who is at fault and the nature and extent of personal injuries and property damage. So, it is critical to gather as much evidence as possible after an accident to show you were not at fault in the auto accident and support your claims of injuries and damages.

How do you prove a car accident?

The following is a checklist on how to gather evidence for your car accident claim. It lays out what to do immediately after a car accident and information you should obtain to bolster your claim.

What to do at the Scene of the Accident

  1. Call for medical help: Whether injuries are minor or major, always get medical attention right after the accident. If you refuse an ambulance, go to the nearest hospital for an exam and treatment. A medical record contemporaneous with the accident is important to show your condition at the time the accident occurred.
  2. Call for police assistance: Always call the police after an accident. Law enforcement will make a written report of the accident and obtain identifying information from the other driver, passengers and witnesses. If the other driver was cited in the accident, the report will help you prove your case.
  3. Write down identifying information: Either you or the police should obtain the other driver's name, address, phone number, email address, and insurance information. Also note the make, model, and license plate of the other car, and don't forget to get the name and badge number of the officer who responded to your accident and compiled the report.
  4. Ask witnesses for contact information: Obtain the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of any witnesses to the accident. If what a witness observed supports your claim, ask if they're willing to let you make an audio or video recording of their statement.
  5. Take photographs and videos: If you or a passenger are able to do so, take photographs on your phone of any damage to your vehicle, the vehicle of the other driver, and any personal injuries you may have suffered. If the other driver doesn't appear to be injured and there's no risk of a confrontation, you may want to take an unassuming video for the record.

This video offers some tips on taking photos after a car accident:

What to do Post-Accident

  1. Keep records of medical care and expenses: It's important to have organized and detailed records of any and all medical treatment you receive as a result of the accident. Write down any and all visits to hospitals, clinics, or doctors' offices, including dates and doctor names. Also keep receipts for all expenditures, including co-pays, out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions or over-the-counter medication, and parking expenses.
  2. Keep auto repair estimates and bills: The rule of thumb is to obtain two to three estimates for any and all repairs before considering whether to accept a repair estimate offered by an insurance company. Retain copies of any and all paperwork pertaining to the damage to and repairs on your vehicle.
  3. Keep records of other expenses related to the accident: Sometimes accidents cause expenses for transportation services or car rental, extra childcare expenses, vacation or event disruptions or cancellations, clothing replacement, etc. Keep receipts of every item or service that you've paid for stemming from the accident.
  4. Log all missed work/school: Record every hour you miss work because of the injuries suffered in the accident, whether you lose wages or not. If you're a student, track school hours missed, or classes marked as incomplete due to time missed as a result of the accident.
  5. Take more pictures: To show how your injuries have progressed, continue to photograph your injuries during treatment and recovery. The photos will serve as a visual timeline of your injuries.
  6. Follow up with witnesses: Contact witnesses and ask for statements as soon as you are physically and mentally capable of doing so. Witnesses play an important role in car accident cases.
  7. Record non-economic damages: You may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, so keep a daily journal logging any pain or negative emotions or thoughts you're experiencing as a result of the accident. Keep track of how your injuries have negatively affected any and all aspects of your daily life and relationships.

Is the first party named in a police accident report at fault?

A common misconception is that the first-named party is the one at fault. That, however, is not the law and may not be the case. Whether or not you've been listed as the first driver, the police report of a car accident can be critical to obtaining the insurance coverage you need, and it should be part of any auto accident claim you file.

Most police departments have written protocol on how to prepare an accident report. When it comes to filling out the driver information section, officers are simply instructed to list all vehicles involved in the crash. For instance, New York State's Police Crash Report Submission Instructions direct officers to fill out Vehicle 1 if a crash involved a motor vehicle and fill out Vehicle 2 if the crash involved a second motor vehicle, but there is no fault system associated with the numbering.

Although the listing of drivers does not determine fault, police reports typically have sections for recording facts relating to fault, such as whether any driving violations occurred, tickets were issued, or arrests were made in connection with the accident. The Police Officer's Crash Report Manual for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania directs officers to use the Contributing Factors section to identify what potential reasons for the crash's occurrence the investigating officer deduces during their investigation.

Another common place to find indications of fault in a police report is in the Accident Description/Officer's Notes section. This is where the police officer lists information concerning actions and circumstances, be they human, vehicular, and/or environmental, that apparently contributed to a crash.

Regardless of what is contained in the police accident report, it's important to remember that all of the evidence matters when deciding who was at fault for a car accident. This evidence includes eyewitness testimony, forensic examination of the points of impact, accident reconstruction, and video footage. By gathering the evidence listed in the checklist above, you may be able to prove to the insurance companies what really happened, not just what the police report claims happened.

How much can someone sue for a car accident?

It goes without saying that your goal is to get the best car accident settlement. When it comes to calculating damages, or how much someone can sue for a car accident, there is no precise mathematical formula because each case is different.

How insurance companies calculate settlements, meaning what they are willing to pay on a claim, depends on a variety of factors. These factors include the nature of the property damage in the auto accident, whether the claim involves a personal injury, and the policy limits of the applicable insurance policies.

Property Damage

When your car is damaged in an auto accident and you have coverage, your insurance company will either pay for repairs or total your vehicle, which means the vehicle is considered a complete loss and the insured is paid the cash value of whatever it's worth.

Damages for Repair or Replacement

If your claim only involves damage to your car, your settlement compensation will generally be the cost of repairs or replacement of the damaged item. Typically, the auto insurance company is required to do a visual evaluation of damages as part of their process of determining the cost of repairs.

Although it is advisable to obtain two to three independent damage/repair estimates of your own to submit to your adjuster, keep in mind that the auto insurance company is not obligated to accept a higher estimate. Based on the damages and what is covered under your policy, the adjuster will provide a reasonable car accident estimate.

Damages for a Totaled Car

A car will be considered totaled if the repair costs exceed a certain percentage, usually anywhere from 51 to 90 percent, of the car's worth. If your car is declared a total loss, the auto insurance company is under no obligation to repair the damages, no matter how much you love your vehicle.

The video below describes what happens when your car is totaled:

If your car is totaled, you'll receive damages equal to its fair market value. Fair market value is based on what the car could've been sold for under current market conditions before the accident.

Personal Injury Damages

Other sources of compensation for car accidents depend on whether your policy includes personal injury protection (PIP). If you've been injured in an auto accident, the personal injury portion of your case is often negotiated separately from your property damage. For example, if you had a bone fracture, you would receive additional settlement compensation over and above what is paid for your vehicle's damage (assuming you have this type of coverage).

Compensation for personal injuries will be determined by the claims adjuster based on your medical bills and expenses, documented wage loss, and pain and suffering factors. The medical reports will strongly influence the amount of compensation you receive for reasonable pain and suffering.

If your doctor anticipates future treatment, your settlement should include an estimate, discounted to present value, to compensate you for future medical treatment. If your injuries have residual effects, such as a permanent disability or disfigurement, that can result in additional compensation. Generally, more serious injuries will result in higher settlement compensation.

A common concern is what happens after a car accident settlement or what to do with a car accident settlement. If you're dissatisfied with a settlement offer from the insurance company, you can file a lawsuit against the other driver for negligence. Your lawsuit must be filed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations or you will lose your rights forever in the matter.

Being in a car accident can be a horrible experience. If you have a car accident and no evidence to support your claim, the situation is even worse. Sometimes the most prudent thing to do when dealing with insurance and car accidents is to consult with an attorney who specializes in accident law, as they can helpyou gather the evidence needed to win your claim and obtain the best possible settlement offer.

Use our handy tool below to help find a car accident attorney near you.

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